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On Campaign Financing and Super PACs

So the Supreme Court in the name of free speech allowed money to swallow up free speech and opened the door to free-speech-gobbling Super PACs. We’ve always been proud of whatever it is we think denotes being American (and some folks do have profoundly different ideas on what that is). So maybe there’s a way to return to normalcy. Maybe there’s a way to switch this whole thing on its head. Just for the sake of unintended consequences. Just because we’re Americans and our proudest heritage is we keep on getting it wrong until we finally get it right.

It may be just the time to get it right.

So you want free speech, you want better political candidates who aren’t beholden to big money interests, candidates who won’t vote and support greed and big business but actually do the right thing, vote for the future? Tired of watching a Congress bickering over issues which the American people don’t consider issues? Tired of watching politicians vote so out of touch with the way the country is leaning? Do you believe you’re willing to take on a little pain if it means a better tomorrow, a more intelligent tomorrow?

Okay …..

EatingSpaghetti

Well, seems to me the little guy, the common American, has the wherewithal to defeat the Super PACs at their own game. Pretty easily without giving up too much. Again, pretty easily without much sacrifice.

In 2014 Americans spent:

  • $70 billion on Casino gambling
  • $70 billion on lottery tickets

Remember now, $70 billion Casino gambling figure

is what the casinos took in. That’s after they paid everything out. So they aren’t hurting and there are a bunch of folks out $70 billion dollars.

So it’s not difficult to see where I’m going with this. Instead of buy $10 worth of lottery tickets, buy $5 and send $5 to the new ApplePieAmerica PAC (more on this in a moment). Better yet, send $5 to the new Smart America PAC and save the $5 for your kid’s college or your retirement. The Huffington Post says a person’s chance of winning the lottery on a single ticket is one in 175 million. The odds of getting struck by lightning in your lifetime, being injured by a toilet this year, getting killed by a shark, and killed by an asteroid or comet are much more likely. And the lottery gurus are making it more difficult to win because that drives jackpots higher.

The idea is you cut back gambling & lottery tickets by 1/2 or 1/3. You keep some you give the rest to the new neutral ApplePieAmerica PAC. Just a 10% reduction would result in a Super PAC capable of spending $14 billion dollars. That would shut up all of the special interest groups in America.

What would the new Super PAC want to accomplish? What would be its platform? Well, that would be up to you.

 

 

 

Solving the Oil Crisis

Uh-oh, seems like a dropping price in oil is a bad thing, because it must mean that economies are slowing down! Are we nuts?

Ok, America uses 60% of all the oil produced every day. That’s a lot of oil. If you remember, 3 years ago GM announced that they had invented a car that could get 230 mpg. That could go a looooong way in reducing oil consumption by us fat cats and be more responsible. But I think this car is vaporware.

So I have a better idea: ban individually wrapped slices of American cheese. Think of all the oil that must go into creating the plastic sheets that get luxuriously folded around each slice of cheese.

Plus, if you’ve ever actually eaten cheese, you’ll come to realize, this stuff is not really cheese anyway.

Lack of Olympic sporting events

I guess Friday didn’t have enough sporting events going on for NBC as they started their taped 3-hour coverage segment with a mushy 15 minute tribute to the 1996 women’s gymnastic team. Really?

Add to this that, NBC crammed what felt like 20-25 minutes of advertising into each hour and you find that there was only about 95 minutes of viewable sporting news coming out of the Olympics on Friday. How about showing events in which USA is not expected to win gold? Wouldn’t that be interesting?

No? Hmmmm …

On balancing the federal budget ….

Cutting the budgetAs much as we all may distrust the 536 folks charged with setting policy, there are rational agenda-free offices within the government doing a bang up job and quietly making interesting though potentially controversial suggestions on fixing the very institutions they work for. More on these folks later.

Our sputtering economy is tops on everyone’s minds these days. And I applaud both the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements for venting their frustrations. This is America; this is a country built upon the premise that everyone has a voice. The problem with both movements is that in their frustration they rail against institutions that grant these rights and freedoms and their stridency while applaudable is not built upon promoting actionable solutions. Instead they are founded on the premise that that which they find objectionable must be torn down or removed. The government just can’t stop spending money tomorrow. Wall Street can’t stop working tomorrow or pull all paychecks. It’s not black and white, it’s 256 shades of gray. And it’s in recognizing and solving for gray that real workable solutions can be achieved.

Let’s face it, whether we like it or not, we’re all (well, maybe almost all) in this together and there are always workable solutions. This is a country that came of age and became a world leader because we were more industrious, more clever. We threw caution to the wind and came up with better more effective solutions. The time is ripe for being clever again. The time is ripe for making tough decisions and leading again by example. There is no better way to lead than by putting your money where your mouth is.Lincoln Memorial under construction

Let’s take the deficit and our debt issue…..

Continue reading On balancing the federal budget ….

New use for TV

Yes, I an an inveterate complainer about television (because it could be so much more, so much more). And I rail against the media a lot because they have strayed so far from just giving us the facts and letting us do the thinking (there’s a concept). But recently I was finally able to put television to good use.

Every couple of years we get introduced to a wacky bird. Ten plus years ago it was a cardinal, seven years ago it was a sparrow, now it’s a robin. The sparrow found an outdoor light it liked on the porch and decided to build its nest there. We found the nest a little too late. Once the nest was built and the eggs laid down, we were screwed. Bird poop everywhere and for several years after that the mom or the kids would always come back to the same light and build a new nest (in the interim we would attempt to remove every trace of the nest), drop off a couple of eggs, hatch them, poop all over and then take off. Yeah, nice knowing you too.

The cardinal as well as this new robin found their adversary in their reflection in the window. The cardinal was actually very entertaining because it was my office window right behind my desk and the cardinal was bright, bright red. I love the color red, especially a flitting-about bright red on a summer’s day against all the vegetation green. It always brings a smile to my face and so did the cardinal for about three to four years. He always came back, attacked his image in the same window, the same pane. Blunted knock, knock, knock against the window. He never beat his adversary, the adversary never left. The two of them just entertained.

Now we come to this year’s robin. He found his opponent in the door off the deck, which was unusual but again entertaining, for about a week. Then I happened to go out on the deck and see all the bird crap all over the furniture and on the door jam.

So I did the man thing: attempt to outwit the bird. I moved all the furniture away from the door so at least the bird now couldn’t come to rest on the furniture, see its reflection and go on the beak-butting attack. In theory it worked. The bird though flew a little farther down and came to rest on the railing, happened to look around and, lo and behold, saw a foe in the side window and attacked. Now there’s bird crap all over the railing and elsewhere. I outwitted myself in other words.

But I was not about to be bested. It happens that the room with the door and window is the family room which has a TV in it. My thinking now was that maybe the light of the television would interfere with my crapping robin’s reflection enough to discourage its behavior. I didn’t need sound, I figured, just image.

Son of a gun, don’t you know it worked.

Children’s shows (bright lights) seem to work best. I knew there had to be some good in television, I just wasn’t looking hard enough.

Sustainable Capitalism – oxymoron?

It is a truism that Capitalism relies heavily on growth and greed (both good and bad, though, bad greed is only determined in hindsight).  [still in progress]

A company is formed and begins to make money. Modest annual gains. The company could continue in this fashion for years, except there’s a problem. Without much-better-than-inflation growth, the company won’t be able to pay its people more each year in terms of salary increases or bonuses or both. It needs to do this to retain its employees. In simpler times, it was easier to live on a few dollars a day for many years at a time for basically several reasons:

  1. Many folks subsidized their incomes by making many of their basic needs (be it growing food or making clothes or owning a horse for years) [kinda tells you how far back I’m reaching!]
  2. Technology was not so mature that new “have to have” items were coming out at a break-neck pace requiring more money.
  3. Consumerism was not as prevalent as it is today. People didn’t spend so much of their leisure time buying discretionary items. What they did buy, they kept for life. What broke got fixed, not replaced.

In addition, the company founder needs to account for inflation: the costs of the parts that go into building his widget will creep up over time. He can buy in bulk but that means risking more money. If his widgets suddenly go out of style, he’d be stuck holding a lot of widget parts. And lastly another component that eats into profits is taxes. Taxes never go down.

So our founder has to worry about making more money each year to cover his expenses and to retain and hire good people. This fuels growth. He needs to sell more widgets to his current clientele or figure out a way to reach out to more new clients. He can also just charge more each year for a widget. At some point you’d think he would price himself out of business or he can keep the number of widgets produced each year artificially low to keep demand up. Or he has two other options: he can grow by buying another company or he can start to work out an exit strategy and sell the company and walk away.

There are other options or methods to growing: the founder can borrow money to build out production lines or purchase another company; he can go public and raise money for similar purposes. In either case he is growing and he has a need to grow.

Greed comes into play when the founder wants to grow even more quickly. I’m not going to try to distinguish between good and bad greed. That’s for another post. But greed can fuel growth. It can be creative in its approach and as long as its not about lying, cheating or stealing it can probably be considered a good thing.

Okay, so growth is a basic ingredient to capitalism: companies want to make more money so they make more widgets or they just charge more each year. But selling is a two way transaction: you need a buyer. If our company is making a consumable product (think: food), it’s easy, if it tastes good, people will be back for more. Growing food, not taking extreme weather conditions into account, is a sustainable business.

Non-consumables are a different story. How many washer dryers can a person own? If our company is building a widget, they need to consider several items:

  1. Product Life Cycle #1. If the product is expensive and is built to last, do I try to manipulate its life cycle [think: planned obsolescence]. Or do I sell the product on its ability to last?
  2. Market share. If the product is built to last [even if it’s not], then I need to consider how many people can I reach in a given time period to sell the product to. If I have competition, how do I stand out and make sure I grab a significant -growable- share of the market place.
  3. Replace/Repair. If I build quality items cheaply, I can still make the parts so expensive that when my widgets break down, people may consider it cheaper to replace than repair.
  4. Product Life Cycle #2. At some point I will need to build a new and improved widget and convince people to throw away or turn in their old widgets for a new one. Here we need a roadmap for new product releases.
  5. Expansion/Global markets. Even though my widget may be seen as old hat in my market, I can always try to go global and sell it to other markets where there might be the incremental need.

We’ve discussed some of the fundamentals for why and how companies and by extension economies grow. Technology has become a straw that stirs the drink in our capitalist economy. Since the late 40’s the push has been for consumerism. Conspicuous consumption is consumerism as an addiction. Advertising has pushed several themes upon us over the last 60-70 years. In the 40’s and 50’s and early 60’s it presented the general population with an enviable and seemingly achievable lifestyle: a car in every garage, the white picket fence, etc. In the late 60’s through the late 80’s the theme shifted into celebrity emulation or “live like the rich and famous”: dress like the stars, ride like the stars, go to the same vacation spots and restaurants as the stars. Finally over the last 20 years the message has subtly changed to: “just buy, there is pleasure to be had in just buying anything”.

This message was picked up and it drove us to buy, buy, buy and it helped fuel companies to grow, grow, grow and it made a number of people rich, rich rich.

But several things happened while we grew up, expanded and kept buying.

  1. The number of people benefiting from all this growth actually shrank. This is not good. It translates into people being convinced to buy things they cannot afford and going into debt. Without going into a laborious discussion here on this matter, it paints anew face on unwitting indentured servitude.
  2. Technology played its parts well upstaging a number of key players in that Product Life Cycle #2 [see point 4 above] became ridiculously short. Think of computers and iPhones: almost as soon as you walk out the door with your new purchase, it’s out of date.
  3. We developed a throw-away mentality. As soon as the widget doesn’t please us, we throw it away and get a better one. Things don’t last because we don’t want them to last. We’re continuously being convinced that yesterday’s product line is passe.

This is the part of capitalism that is unsustainable. Making widgets requires resources, whether it’s oil to run the machines or trees to build a product or coal or whatever. There is a finite amount of resources on this earth and we need to take this into account. Is there anything more resource-wasteful than indivdually wrapped slices of American cheese?

People vote for products with their wallets. If you stop buying a product, manufacturers stop making it. To be sustainable requires rethinking the product lines we consider vital or necessary. Yes, materials improve over time and technology can make many widgets small, both of which make widgets cheaper and better, but is it necessary, for instance, to buy a new car every 2-3 years? As cars have been priced out of most people’s budgets, leasing was created to fill the gap. This has led to shorter life ownership spans.

How do we create sustainable products or better sustainable companies. Cars, for example, have longer life spans. They last longer than they used to. It’s not unreasonable to think you can put a couple of hundred thousand miles on a car these days. Large car manaufacturers still need people to buy cars at a heady rate in order to survive. In America the answer has been to move to leasing cars. This almost guarantees that ownership lifecycle remains short. Customer turns in vehicle after a 2 or 3 year lease, company resells car as “pre-owned” [just a money-engaging way of saying “used”] or pushes the product to developing countries.

Manufacturers more than likely either need to consolidate (which would mean less choices) or to get smaller and more responsive to market trends. Getting smaller regrettably means less jobs.

Products need to figure out a way in which they remain viable for longer. [still in progress]