Category Archives: Politics

2016 Politics

2016 candidates

Boomers are confused and angry. Millennials are angry. Younger folks are pretty much living their lives as young folks always have, but they aren’t happy.  So what’s going on in the US and in the world today?  Can it be fixed?  I’m going to ramble a bit here…

I have a retired history teacher friend who constantly amazes me with bits of history that I didn’t know.  I took the required history courses in school, of course, but (a) they are all taught from the state’s point of view and (b) we didn’t get told the whole story.  History, as it was taught to me anyway, wasn’t very interesting, and that’s a problem.  Reading, writing, STEM classes, athletics, and the arts are all important.  We aren’t ‘human’ without all of them.

Still… as George Santayana (among others) said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And Kurt Vonnegut, who I love dearly, responded in Bluebeard: “We’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive. It’s pretty dense kids who haven’t figured that out by the time they’re ten…. Most kids can’t afford to go to Harvard and be misinformed.”  While Vonnegut’s rant is a bit harsh (that’s his style), he makes a good point.  Kids do figure out that situations repeat and they adapt to the world.  The more situations we are exposed to, the richer our experience of the world and our ability to predict how a new situation will play out.  And that’s one reason why a lot of travel before age 30, say, is such a good thing.

Ok.  The US political system has pretty much been a two party system from its inception.  The names of the parties may change, but there are two major political parties.  More than that is a problem.  Yes, we have fringe parties and candidates now and then, but they have no chance of being elected.  They can only take votes away from the two main parties.  That’s history, folks.  So the line you’ve heard about “throwing your vote away” is, unfortunately, true regarding third party candidates.

Personally, I like Bernie Sanders.  I like him; I trust him; I like what he stands for; I like his solid record of standing on his principles.  But Bernie will not be one of the two candidates the major parties put forward.  On the Republican side we see a what appears to be a buffoon named Trump whose claim to fame is manipulating people into investing in commercial schemes, draining cash for his own gain, and then taking the companies bankrupt, transferring his investors’ cash to his own pocket as well as cheating his employees and vendors.  The man has exhibited bigotry, misogyny, and dishonesty in so many ways it is a wonder how any American can take him seriously.  I do not understand his appeal.  On the Democratic side we have an experienced female candidate, Hillary Clinton, who has demonstrated a career-long commitment to improving the lot of all people, particularly women and children.  Unfortunately, anyone who has been in the public eye for a long time will have a history which can be twisted and spun to the opposition’s advantage.  That’s politics.  It amazes me that Hillary’s peccadillos are shouted louder than Trump’s perversities.

Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” —Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov was a Russian immigrant to the US when he was three years old, so he was effectively as American, culturally, as any of us.  He grew up seeing our foibles and our strengths.  His writings thoroughly demonstrate his observations about human nature as seen in the USA.  His quote, above, describes the Trump supporters as I observe them.  Ignorance is always scary because it encourages people to do things which others (with more experience and/or education) know will lead to no good.

The only thing which encourages me to believe we’ll pull through this election is an observation by Winston Churchill that “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”  I hope to God that we’ll do the right thing this time.  On the other hand, Britain is a bit crazy now, as is much of the world.  How did we all wind up where we are today?

It seems to me that, after World War II, the world pulled together to rebuild the developed countries.  The United Nations, the Marshall Plan, and scientific progress throughout the world were all pulling together to make a more productive, peaceful, and better life for humanity.  Nothing is perfect and not everybody benefited equally from progress, but as a whole things went well for many years.  Then we get to the more recent years when the US pursued military objectives in the Middle East leading to huge economic deficits at home, hatred and revenge by the persecuted population of the Middle East, and an overall downward trend in the quality of life in the US.  Bill Clinton pulled the US out of a huge deficit and possibly Hillary Clinton might finish the job Obama started to right our economy from the $1.4 trillion George W. Bush deficit.  Obama reduced the deficit by over $1 trillion.  That’s pretty amazing since he was saddled with an opposition controlled Congress which refused to address the country’s economic and social issues.  History, by the way, demonstrates that the US stock market (and the economy in general) does better under Democratic administrations than under Republican administrations.  A rising tide really does lift all boats.

While I am not a deeply religious person, I was raised as a Catholic and understand something of the Bible and Christianity.  I cannot help noticing that all the world’s great religions share common themes of “treat others the way you would like to be treated” and “help those who need help.”  Not only do the great religions share those principles, in times when and where those principles prevail, everybody (yes, everybody) seems to have a better life.  There is a reason these principles have been promulgated for thousands of years:  they work to the best advantage of the largest number of people.

I have to make a politically incorrect statement now.  When I look for reasons why things have fallen apart in more recent years, I look at the difference between how the boomers were raised and how more recent generations are being raised.  If mom has to work to provide enough money for the family to survive, mom is not at home raising the children and transmitting cultural values to those children.  The cultural values being pushed in recent times have been the violence and intolerance of movies, TV, and video games.  We humans are very visual animals, so these are powerful transmission vehicles.

So I blame a rising cost of living, rising expectations to own technology, and salaries that do not keep pace with those costs.  I blame CEOs who for decades have hired consultants to justify boosting their compensation packages.  Now CEOs are paid obscene amounts of money.  The middle class of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s has disappeared.  Mom has to work.  Kids do not receive the guidance and attention that earlier generations received from their families.  But kids do learn.  Now kids learn from commercial sources with a profit motivation.  There is no effort to instill moral and ethical values on the cable networks.  Heck, you don’t even find a fair treatment of world news in today’s media.  Intolerance is presented as a religious value and it goes downhill from there.  If you read people’s thoughts online, which I do occasionally to see what’s in the public marketplace of ideas, you will also see the follow up comments from people who read those thoughts.  Some of those comments are thoughtful and reasoned.  Some are angry, illogical, and come from a different planet than I have known.

The US would appear to need another Democratic administration.  Therefore, I’m voting for Hillary.  No US elected official is chosen without the support of the people who control and manipulate our economic system.  The Koch Brothers’ Tea Party cost them a lot, but it is pretty much dead at this point.  (Isn’t it?  It’s so hard to tell what’s really going on.)  The Tea Party’s influence continues among those most susceptible to its claims and stories.  That influence seems to have delivered people to Donald Trump.  How and why any woman or any halfway intelligent person would support Trump is a complete mystery to me.  I don’t understand what possible appeal he has to anyone who knows anything about his history.  He may belong behind bars, but surely not running for president of the United States.

I wish Hillary were more likeable.  I will vote for her and I believe she will do a good job.  I just don’t have warm and fuzzy feelings about her.  I’m a bit suspicious of her relationship with Wall Street but hope for the best.  We shall see.

Guest blog: “If We Were Emperor!” by jan howard “wombat” finder

Jan Howard Finder died February 26, 2013.  He will be remembered and missed by many people around the world.  I’m proud to say jan was a friend and will leave this entry here as a reminder of his character and convictions.

This is a first for my little blog.  A friend of mine, jan howard finder, wanted to post this piece online and I volunteered to host it on my WordPress blog.  Mind you I did offer to set him up with his own WordPress blog, but here we are.  The topic is how to get the US moving again economically.  I’ll have a comment at the end, but for the moment, here’s jan:

If We Were Emperor!

by jan howard “wombat” finder

[“If We were Emperor” is the style I am using in order to frame my opinions.   I do not advocate the overthrow of the current US government or the Constitution.]

There are several things We would do in order to get the country and economy back on track:

Taxes: 

  1. Repeal the two big tax cuts instituted by President Bush, in 2001 and in 2003.
  2. Stimulus plan:  A cheque for $5,000 to everyone who has filed a 1040-based tax return in 2011.  [Assuming 150 million taxpayers, corporations NOT included, this would cost $750 Billion.] This would put the money into the hands of those who would give a boost to the economy, the consumers, by buying durable goods, paying down mortgages, etc. It would do what The President Bush said we should do, just after Sept 11, “go out and spend money”; it was said to individuals, not to corporations.
  3. Boost for Lower and Middle-classes:  Raise the personal deduction to $7,500, indexed to the Cost of Living.
  4. Cap the amount of taxable deduction for interest on home mortgages to $25,000 to $50,000 per year.  The interest cap could be indexed to the Cost of Living Index for that area.
  5. Cap other governmental agencies at current spending levels for 5 years.

Education:

  1. Grants: We would expand grants to students attending accredited institutions of higher education.
  2. Loans: Students would pay off the Federally Funded Student Loans either: (a)    by paying a percentage of  their GROSS income, 1%, 2%, or other suitable percentage. This allows graduates to accept a lower paying job of their choice rather than be forced to accept a job that will not advance their careers.  (b)   or a standard loan agreement over 10 years at the Prime Rate plus 1%, payment to start one year after graduation.
  3. Tuition Rebates: We would set up tuition rebates for students in Mathematics, Sciences, and Engineering at accredited institutions of higher education who achieve a cumulative 3.5 GPA or better by the end of their 3rd academic year.  The rebate would be up to $10,000 or $20,000 in tuition rebates for the 3rd and 4th academic years.  This tuition rebate would also apply to Graduate Students.

Energy:

  1. Energy Production: Accelerated depreciation [5 years on a plant designed to last 40 years.] on the Capital Costs of creating non-fossil fuel energy production assets, e.g., Wind turbines, Photovoltaic cells, Solar Updraft Towers, Hydrothermal plants, etc.
  2. Equipment Installation: 100% deduction, depreciated over 3 years, for equipment and installation of alternate energy producing units by individuals and businesses in the tax year of installation.

Transportation:

  1. Increase Federal gas tax: Add a10 cent a gallon increase in the Federal tax on petroleum products with the money going to maintenance and repair of existing infrastructure. NO NEW CONSTRUCTION! The Federal tax is earmarked for existing roads and bridges. We would add up to 10 cents every year for 5 years.  Each one cent [0.01] increase brings in about $1 billion dollars in revenue.  This is equivalent about 25,000 new jobs.  Each new job will bring in about 2 or 3 additional jobs into the market.  The 10 cent a gallon or equivalent increase in the Federal tax on petroleum products could result in approximately 500, 000 and 1 million new jobs.
  2. State gas tax fund: Require states to put state gasoline taxes into a separate fund, to be spent on roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure. Most state gasoline taxes go into the General Fund and never get spent on infrastructure.
  3. State funding: All states would be required to spend, not allocate, a minimum of 90% of the previous year’s road transportation budget or lose ALL Federal DoT funding the following year.
  4. The cost of the increase in the tax is about $48 a year to the motorist who drives 12,000 miles a year and gets 25 mpg.  If one drives less and or has a more fuel efficient vehicle, the cost would be less.  What is the cost of a new tire, wheel alignment, wheel balancing, shock absorber, ball joints, etc.? The US’s poor infrastructure costs motorists $67 Billion a year.  [Taken from an ad by Audi.]

Social Security:

Raise the taxable limit for Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax to $250,000.  Increase this to $500,000 24 months after the previous increase.

Currently, someone who earns $102,000 pays 6.2%.  Someone who earns $250,000 pays 6.2% on the first $102,000, and pays 0% on the remaining $148,000.  Someone who makes $500,000 pays 6.2% of the first $102,000, and 0% on the remaining $398,000.

The first change would mean:  Someone who earns $250,000 pays 6.2%.  Someone who makes $500,000 pays 6.2% of the first $250,000, and 0% on the remaining $250,000.

6.2% of that $148,000 is significant. When the limit moves to $500,000:  Someone who earns $500,000 pays 6.2%.  Someone who makes $750,000 pays 6.2% of the first $500,000, and 0% on the remaining $250,000.

If someone currently making $102,000 or less can pay 6.2% of their income to FICA, certainly someone making $250,000 or more can manage.

Health:

  1. Medicare/Medicaid: All Medicare, Medicaid, etc., payments would be frozen at current levels for 5 years.
  2. Health Insurance:  Any US citizen would be allowed to sign up for The Federal Employees Health Benefits [FEHB] plan, the plan that is available to all federal government  employees. (It’s the same one members of Congress use.)  This would be a “Public Option.”  The Federal Government would pay approximate 75% of the premium and the individual-family would pay the other 25%.  The insured would be free to choose any of the several private insurance plans in the insured’s area: Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Kaiser Permanente, or in my case for example, the Capital District Physician’s Health Plan [CDPHP].  I get to choose my doctors [I easily switched urologists recently]. 

Department of Defense

  1. A 5% across the board increase in pay and benefits for all Military Service personnel.  They don’t get anywhere near what they deserve.
  2. The DoD budget would be frozen for 5 years.  While research would be encouraged, development would be limited to proof of concept prototypes.
  3. DARPA would be encouraged to expand  its challenge programs: Set standards and let private inventors meet the challenge.  Sort of small X-Prize offer.
  4. Decrease the DoD budget, potentially 5% a year or more, for 5 years:
    1. by evaluating the necessity of building expensive equipment simply because it’s “new”, when existing equipment is more than adequate for current and near-future projections of enemy capabilities (we’re not fighting the Soviets any more);
    2. by evaluating the necessity of building more of the expensive equipment that no longer meets the operational needs against current and near-future enemies (how many aircraft carriers do we need to fight, or support fights, in small towns in the Middle East?);
    3. and by bringing our service personnel and materiel back home. The ability to mobilize quickly, to transport personnel and materiel needed for quick strike missions, no longer requires the tremendous expenditures of overseas bases.

X-Prizes:

We would set up a series of Federally funded X-Prizes in areas of  need, i.e., energy, space exploration, engineering challenges.  The money would go to the winning teams, not to the institutions for whom they may work.  X-prize funds are not paid out until the established goals are met!

[This is my opinion.  I encourage you to write your own screed.]

—————————

This is Mary again. It’s an interesting proposal. I think an open debate would probably not decrease the DoD budget, most of which goes to pensions, as I understand it. And if we want to encourage R&D, in my humble opinion we need to invest in it, not offer prizes to be awarded when the work is done, since it may never be economically possible to provide a proof of concept.  Still, lots of these things are good ideas.  Your thoughts?

While I’m on the topic, if you do a Google Images search for “jan howard finder” you will find lots of photos from Science Fiction conventions and other places which are the natural habitat for wombats. The lower case spelling is traditional for jan, although they have it wrong on Wikipedia. But then they didn’t mention jan as fan guest of honor at a Sci-Fi convention in Metz, France, either… when Robert Bloch was the guest of honor… or lots of other things, so maybe he’ll write a memoir!

Movement for a 28th Amendment to the US Constitution

I received an email today which asked me to forward it to still another 20 people.  I thought this might be more useful.

It’s time for another Amendment to the US Constitution.  I do believe this.  And I like everything in the proposal below.  See what you think and you are more than welcome to copy and forward it to your friends and Congresscritters.  It will take a huge amount of effort to get this passed because it is not in the best economic interests of the members of Congress.  But it’s worth raising the possibility.

 

“Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people.”  —Theodore Roosevelt

 

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” —Theodore Roosevelt

 

The rest of this post is the content of that email:

“The 26th Amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only 3 months and 8 days to be ratified.  Why?  Simple!  The people demanded it.  That was in 1971… before computers, before e-mail, before cell phones, etc.

“Of the 27 Amendments to the US Constitution, seven (7) took 1 year or less to become the law of the land… all because of public pressure.

“I’m asking you to forward this email to a minimum of twenty people on your address list; in turn ask each of those to do likewise.

“In three days, most people in The United States of America will have the message.  This is one idea that really should be passed around.

 

 

Congressional Reform Act of 2011


1. Term Limits.

An elected Congressperson may serve a maximum of 12 years only, defined as one of the possible options below:

A. Two 6-year Senate terms

B. Six 2-year House terms

C. One 6-year Senate term and three 2-Year House terms

2.  No Tenure / No Pension.

A Congressperson collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

3.  Congress (past, present, and future) participates in Social Security.

All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately.  All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people.

4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise.

Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

6. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

7. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

8. All contracts with past and present Congresspersons are void effective 1/1/11.

“The American people did not make the current contract with members of Congress.  Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.

“Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

“If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it will only take three days for most people (in the U.S. ) to receive this message.

“MUCH OF WHAT WE FACE IN TERMS OF PRIVILEGE AND SELFISHNESS IN THIS COUNTRY MIGHT BEST BE CHANGED STARTING FROM THE TOP DOWN.”

Me again.  I poked around on the web and found the organization which is working to make this happen.  Amendment to Reform Congress is on Facebook.  And their website is here. In my humble opinion it’s time we got together and agreed on some, most, or all of these changes to our representative government.  The current approach creates a divide between the governed and the government which is hurting our country.  With this Amendment can can continue to be a government OF the people, BY the people, and FOR the people.

It’s time to align the self-interest of Congress with that of the American people and not with that of lobbyists.

Updogs, Downdogs, Marketing, and Politics

Yoga gives you time to think. And updogs and downdogs get me thinking. Thinking about optimism and pessimism.  Thinking about how we view the world, ourselves, and each other.

Mothers are traditionally considered nagging, restrictive, etc. by their children. All of that is true, of course, and the species benefits by the concern of the mother (and father) for the welfare of their offspring.  “Look both ways before you cross the street.” “Don’t talk to strangers.” “Wear your coat.”  “Be careful.”  Sometimes negative sounding words are said with love and concern.  On the other hand, mothers cheer their children on, applauding every step forward, marveling at their beauty and cleverness. Downdogs and updogs?

When we are an updog, we bubble humor and positive vibes, let’s say. We look to the sun as we bend upward. We’re optimistic. Then we have to do something nearly the opposite, designed to stretch an entirely different set of muscles and ligaments. The downdog brings blood to our head, focuses our attention on the ground, and might be considered the narrow, pessimistic, protective position.

Actually both positions remind me of the Village People making large letters, but that is neither here nor there. (Peter Minister gnomes below)  Yoga is fun and I’m easily amused.

So, my thinking drifted towards the difference between blogs that are light and amusing and those which are serious and about subjects which are important to the future of life as we know it.  Various marketing analytics have proven pretty conclusively that the most popular blogs are positive.  Let’s restate that to simply upbeat and downbeat posts: updogs and downdogs.  We all have enough stress in our lives, it seems, that we do not actively go seeking more.  So it would appear that the best advice for bloggers and marketing folks is to emphasize the positive.  Dwell on the solution, not the problem so much.  And, whatever you do, do not disparage the competition.  Ignore them.  Point out how your product is strong in an area, not how theirs is weak.  Your customers aren’t dumb, they’ll figure it out.  Know what?  It works.

But this is an election year.  And while it’s true that gunfights and fisticuffs rarely break out on the floor of the US Congress today, the verbal equivalent is everywhere, all the time.  The scandals that arise, the anger expressed on all sides are amazing to me.  I’m wondering how anyone can conceivably consider THAT candidate when they are obviously a perverted, arrogant tool of corporate interests with a massive negative advertising budget.  How can that be?  In the political world, “going negative” is done repeatedly, because everyone believes it works in the political sphere.

Why would “going negative” work in the political sphere but not in business to business sales and marketing?  Even consumer products rarely go “very” negative.  A taste test, perhaps, but Tide would never say that Arm & Hammer is terrible laundry soap and just plain doesn’t work.  (And it makes you fat!  Actually I recall a beer company years ago that set up a hotline phone number you could call and they would say things like that about their competition.  It was a hoot, but it was traded virally, under the table, not advertised. It was funny because it was snarky and underground.) That would be foolish.  Hardly anybody would believe a blatant lie about a commercial product.  But people will believe mudslinging charges thrown back and forth regarding political candidates, according to studies. I don’t find negative ads engaging or educational, but that’s me.

I am much more reminded of Adolf Hitler’s Big Lie Theory, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”  I read that many years ago and rather hoped it was not true.  But time has shown that it is, in politics.  Hitler is also known for having said: “It is always more difficult to fight against faith than against knowledge.” And “The victor will never be asked if he told the truth.”  Big, simple, lies, often repeated. Sounds like a description of political ads this time of year.  So how is it that so many people vote against their own best interests?  How do we allow some of these horrible human beings to run for office and actually elect them?

Tis a puzzlement to me. Updogs and downdogs are both designed to do us physical good.  Optomistic and pessimistic blogs may not be equally successful, but they can each have been written with good intentions.  Not every product review on CNET is a glowing tribute.  We seem to have invested so much emotion and faith in our political views, that a party which aligns itself with one important political view of yours would appear to capture your heart without your brain considering ALL the views of that party.  Belief is strong.  And unquestioning.

There is a 2004 book (with an awful cover) called Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate — The Essential Guide for Progressives by George Lakoff,  Howard Dean, and Don Hazen.  They raised questions about how the right was so successful in framing the debate and winning the hearts and minds of Americans.  Well, it seems simple enough.  When you control the media, all the media, you are likely to be able to get your point of view across better and more persuasively than any other view.  Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, and Lucy were shows of another, more restrained age.  I’m not arguing for their return.  Far from it.  In recent years I’ve enjoyed Chuck, 30 Rock, Psych, Burn Notice, Glee, and bits and pieces of other shows.  I can’t abide the bad manners, anger, and side of humanity I see in so much of TV: reality TV, Fox News, and so on.  These are values we’re transmitting to our children.  We’re teaching them that those behaviors are acceptable…. or they wouldn’t be shown on TV as part of our commonly shared (accepted?) culture, right?  Tipper Gore wanted warning labels on rough rock lyrics.  The  poor woman must faint dead away if she listens to what passes for some “rap music.”  Why do people watch these things?  Why do people listen to these things?  They presumably reflect something already in their lives.  Or their lives come to reflect them.

Is there a conclusion here?  The same one that’s been around for hundreds if not thousands of years: we are each responsible for our vote.  That people are trying to manipulate us and make finding “truth” very difficult is pretty much the human condition. The search for The Truth is an arduous, but worthy goal.  I can’t help but believe that a strong vision of the future and an expression of specifics the person would fight for makes better political advertising than mudslingging.  Or do I mean “better” in terms of how I would like to think of our society, as opposed to what constitutes effective political marketing?  Which is why I like business to business marketing, and not political marketing.  Please vote next Tuesday.

So tell me more about this economic recovery thing

Forbes magazine, both in paper and on-line, has always struck me as one of the good places for intelligent people to explore economics and investing ideas.  John Mauldin, shown below, has a nice blog piece entitled:  Impossible Things And Our Economic Recovery. This is well worth reading and is presumably the first of a group of pieces he will write on the topic.  I encourage you to read it/them.

I responded with the following comment which may have a delay in being posted or may not appear at all.  Who knows?  I just write these things.  Forbes controls the “publication,” at least on their site.  So here’s the comment:

Well done, John. It’s all true, unfortunately. That so few people understand basic economics and continue to vote for the status quo is sad.

As you say, an increase in GDP depends upon an increase in (working age) population and/or workforce productivity. Back in 1999 Harry Dent’s book The Roaring 2000s Investor described the international demographic and technology trends we could expect to see play out in the 2000s. Country by country, I’d say he did pretty well with it. Dent’s book is now too old to be on the World Future Society’s current book list. Those folks who never read Dent’s book aren’t reading the rest of the WFS’s book list, either. (Here’s where we mumble something about those who do not study history, or the future in this case, are condemned to relive it, or play it out, or mumble mumble mumble…) Dent’s arguments, much like yours, rely on inescapable economic concepts.

The US has “outsourced” most of our manufacturing jobs. Big mistake. The US has created a pink puffy cloud of financial nonsense to spur personal consumption. Big mistake. The political structure of the US has enabled powerful, wealthy individuals to become ever more so. Big mistake. Increasing disparity in wealth translates into increasing political partisanship. Big mistake. The founding fathers are spinning in their graves.

Don’t you wonder what happens when somebody brings a war to our soil? Whoops, they already did that. I meant to pose the question: what happens when we can no longer manufacture anything of value? What happens when we don’t or can’t produce steel or silicon or the basic components of our modern lives? Maybe vertical integration isn’t always the best path for a corporation, but it has a lot of strategic safety for a country. It isn’t likely the US government will try to reverse our decreasing ability to manufacture. We are far along on our way to becoming a farming and service economy. That will not permit us, ultimately, to pay off our consumption debts. And if the rest of the world becomes angry because they believe the US is responsible for economic problems faced everywhere today, what leverage do these other countries have against us? A lot. Financially and production-wise.

The US has the benefit of observing economic laboratories around the world. Some have worked better than others. But the results of those lab experiments are not readily visible to the average American. Our media would rather produce cheap junk reality shows. One thing the world laboratory has proven is that universal healthcare is a good economic foundation for a country. But that doesn’t play out well with the power and wealth entrenched in the USA. The US used to have a small wealthy class, a small poor class, and a large middle class.  The middle has been crushed over the last 10 to 20 years. Now .1% of the US population controls some 20% of the country’s wealth. Big mistake.

I love the French. Their food, their wine, their art, their language, their French Revolution. Watching the Enron, Adelphia, Countrywide, etc. stories unfold, who wouldn’t want to see a guillotine factored into the proceedings?

Let’s just say it establishes a threshold beyond which tyranny is unacceptable to a rising middle class. Whoops, the US middle class is not rising and it lacks leadership to establish significant changes. So it goes. The US government reflects the best interests of the wealthiest citizens. Capitalism and democracy have lead to politicians being hired by the wealthy and their corporations in return for the campaign funds that get them elected. Long term big mistake. Looking forward to see if you have any ideas how we can dig ourselves out of this hole!

Repeal 40B

Boston.com has a great map of Massachusetts showing the percent of “affordable housing”  for all 351 MA cities and towns.  You can take a look here and click on any town or scroll down through the complete listing:

SNAPSHOT: SUBSIDIZED 40B HOUSING IN MASSACHUSETTS, 2010

There is also a one-question poll which asks the question: Should the government encourage economic diversity in communities through affordable housing laws like 40b? And your possible answers are Yes / No / No opinion/other   I have a problem with the question because I DO believe the government should encourage affordable housing.  I don’t think affordable housing and economic diversity are exactly the same thing.  The two concepts come with different problems and opportunities.  I personally KNOW that 40B does not encourage economic diversity, nor does it encourage affordable housing.

If you respond to that question you will see something below that which says

Discuss: Should government encourage economic diversity in communities through affordable housing laws like 40b?

If you read through the comments, you will find mine, some of which I include here below with modifications and additions:

40B is a disaster for cities and towns. The question posed is itself a problem.  I firmly believe that the government can help improve the overall economic health of its citizens by encouraging the production and maintenance of “affordable housing.”  Unfortunately that is not what 40B does.  MA Inspector General Sullivan has completed many studies of 40B projects, calling the law the greatest source of corruption in the Commonwealth and a “pigfest” for developers.  (It’s all up there on the web.)

The MA South Shore is 38% wetlands.  It was settled in the 1600’s.  Over the last 400 years, the good land has been built on.  Our strange road systems where you have to go North on Route 3 up to 128 then down 24 to go what should be a straight shot West is due to wetlands, rivers, and stretches of unusable land.  In Norwell we had an area on Route 53 that had 30 families renting trailers and small cottages.  Very affordable.  But a horrible local developer and his builder buddy (Murphy and Sullivan are the names) bought the land, threw the tenants out on the street in a New England February, cleared the land and built LUXURY CONDOS… all under 40B.  The town fought it in court, but the land courts and appeals courts are all under the illusion they are promoting “affordable housing.”  Karma is such that none of the luxury condos have sold in 2 years.  Who wants to live in a condo in a swamp when you can buy a house in the same town for less?  These luxury condos are still for sale, look it up.  The developer and the builder have moved a few units back and forth between themselves, but nobody is living there.  Just so you get the idea:

40B enables developers to bypass zoning bylaws.  Those bylaws are there for a reason.  Norwell, for example, has town water, but the land is very wet and every home that is built at this point generates further local flooding and requires mounded septic systems.  40B enables a developer to build dense housing on wet land, raising the water table and flooding property for a half mile circle or more around it.

Town Zoning Boards have learned that they cannot “reject” 40B proposals because the housing courts overrule the towns and approve the projects.  So Zoning Boards “approve” the 40Bs with enough conditions to protect the town.  Those conditions would make construction impossible or unprofitable, so back to court we all go.  40B results in local neighborhoods spending tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers and engineers to demonstrate to the housing court that these dense developments are inappropriate.  And still they get approved.  Look at the MA South Shore.  For the most part we have low levels of “affordable housing.”  Those are the reasons why.  There is no more buildable land.  Certainly not large tracks of it to build 40 to 100 units of dense housing.

Norwell has an Affordable Housing Committee.  The best we can do is find small, individual lots and build one or two affordable units at a time.  Even that is dependent upon when such properties become available.  There is no public transportation in Norwell.  There are very few jobs.  There is a lot of water and flooding.  And we’re fighting 40B for our survival with lawsuits brought by neighbors and the town.  This is a nightmare none of us expected.  The state government is killing us.

Did I mention traffic?  Norwell is a rural town.  Because of the wetlands, we have narrow, winding, twisting roads with dense vegetation often right up to the road.  The line of sight on these roads is ridiculously small because the road curves away from you so often.  The town does not have a drainage system, so they have open trenches alongside many of the roads.  That means no place to pull off.  No shoulders on the road.  If you are forced off the road or you skid off the road you land in the drainage ditch or you hit a stone wall, a tree, or a telephone pole.

Just as a point of information, the above accident – one of many at that very spot – is on Forest Street in Norwell.  As I type this there are two, count them…2, telephone poles on this one mile long street that are now double poles because Verizon knows how often they are hit.  And, by the way, that car crashed about 20 feet from where a road into a new 40B project is proposed.  Want to see this same piece of road after a rainstorm (the broken telephone pole is just off to the left):

That house has been bought by the developer proposing the 40B project.  It is scheduled to be torn down to put in a road to access the project.  Get the idea?  Water is a problem.  Traffic is a problem.  It will only get worse.   This is 40B in Norwell, Massachusetts.  Well meaning, but a nightmare for cities and towns on the South Shore.  And a nightmare for other MA cities and towns, too, just a slightly different nightmare.

I’ve been trying to get Governor Deval Patrick to recognize the problems caused by 40B since BEFORE he was elected.  I explained the problem to him at campaign rallies before his election.  I’ve mentioned it to him since then.  He doesn’t want to hear it.  The only person on Beacon Hill who is fighting for the South Shore against 40B is the Republican state senator Robert Hedlund.  That’s Senator Hedlund and Governor Patrick in the photo above at a speech the governor gave in Hull back in the summer of 2008.  I wore my green 2006 Deval Patrick campaign tshirt so he’d know I was a supporter.  (Dear Ghod, it’s a horrible photo, but there it is.)  None of the three candidates for governor in 2010 will say anything about 40B.  Officially they are all FOR it.  It is a complex subject and nobody wants to be caught with a sound bite that might be against “affordable housing.”  It’s a complicated subject.

This fall, let’s REPEAL 40B.  Encourage your state level politicians to pass some better legislation.  Stop this “pigfest” for developers.  Last year proponents of repealing 40B needed around 65,000 signatures to put it on the ballot statewide.  They gathered around 85,000.  The state threw out about half of those signatures, so the petition was not on the ballot last year.  This year another grassroots effort has gone forward to repeal this miscarriage of justice and hopefully it will be on the ballot statewide this fall.

We need to replace 40B legislation with something that works.  We need affordable housing in Massachusetts.  40B is not the way to do it.

Note:  Repeal 40B signature collection ended Wednesday June 23rd and by all reports, we are well over the 11,099 needed to put 40B repeal on the November ballot.

A tweet from @dougknowles76 – also of Norwell, MA – provides some corrections to the original July, 2008 slide presentation.  The West End Way 40B was originally proposed as 40 units; Silver Brook finished at 30 units, with 8 classified as affordable.  I will assume he is correct.  The original slide presentation is located as a Slideshare upload: Experiencing 40B in Norwell, MA http://bit.ly/atKRQQ Presentation to MA Housing & Community Development Agency in Boston, July, 2008.