DIVIDE and CONQUER…

Divide and Conquer… one of the oldest axioms of war. Nineteen months to the next presidential election, and here we go again!

9033698_mlFirst, a disclaimer – I am not enamored by any of the three (so far) current Republican presidential candidates – but, I am disgruntled and concerned that CBS This Morning decided today (April 15, 2015) to dedicate nearly five minutes of news-time reviewing and discussing Hillary Clinton’s “low-key” campaign antics, and ZERO time or mention to any of the other campaigns or political views now on the market.

Seems to me that the first requirement of a fair election process should be equal discussion and exposure of ALL of the candidates and their policies. Our system is already skewed by the weight of the huge monetary contributions that favor certain political elite. The Press at least should not add to this, whether they believe they are a balancing factor or not.

If the Press is going to cover the political process, and they should, then fair, equal, and impartial coverage of all of the candidates and their views should be required. Wouldn’t it be interesting (or at least more constructive) to use this exposure to discuss the country’s problems, politics, and potential solutions rather than the polemics and vagaries of favorite political actors?

All we do is fuel the divide and feed the partisanship when Fox News touts only the Republicans and MSNBC fosters only the Democrats, enhancing the closed-mindedness of their predisposed audiences. I know that I am ranting against the wind, but they do all of us a disservice by not reporting all of the issues, problems, and potential solutions in an open and unbiased forum. And we do our country a disservice by not seeking to broaden our knowledge and choices.

© Copyright 2015 James Mills

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Is it Racism or Economic Inequality ?

19667309_ml 123RF Stock PhotoLast Sunday morning on Face The Nation, CBS commentator Bob Schieffer tried to draw a parallel between current racial upheavals and purported racism in our country, and the fact that at least sixty-five percent (65%) of American voters did not vote in the last election….. His contention was that somehow voting would lead to a solution.

I won’t argue that our lack of political involvement is an issue, or that racism is still a problem, but to blame the latter on the former is a bit of a stretch. Perhaps it was the way he framed his comment, blaming a major social woe on low voter turnout, that causes me to think he sorely missed the mark.

The lack of voter participation is not the “problem” per say, and Mr. Schieffer’s comment that “the most effective way to affect change is… to vote”, shows his apparent disconnect with the American people. When less than 35% of voters feel inspired to vote, it is more likely a symptom of a flagging political system where too often the choices to be made are between two evils, or at best two different (but not very) versions of a stale status quo. It shouldn’t be difficult to understand the frustration with our leaders when such condescending ineptitude is foisted upon us by two political parties bought and paid for by political and big-money special interests. Given the choices, its little wonder that so few of us are inspired to make them.

Racism as well, is far more than a simple problem in today’s world. It is also a symptom of even deeper social problems rooted in economic and cultural inequality and an exploding world population. The fact that so many of the recent protestors on our streets were so racially diverse, and therefore lacked the direct racial experience and motivation for their protests, should be a clear indication that it’s not just about race. Yes, racism exists, and there will always be racists (ignorant people with irrational fears) within the full spectrum of the human race. But it is far more prevalent and pronounced at the lower echelons of society. We have made great strides in the racial diversity within our government and society over the past decade, but with apparently little effect on our social anxiety and predicament.

More diversity in our police forces will help resolve some of the immediate pressures, but economic inequality and poverty are the true culprits that need to be addressed. People with opportunity and hope don’t protest and riot. Racial and cultural divides will only exacerbate as the wealth of our nation continues to be redistributed among an ever increasing world population, creating more of a divide between the wealthy and the not. A population that continues to outgrow its economy will always result in economic inequality. Perhaps the criminal elements involved in the recent protestations deserve no better, but for the bulk of the others their frustration is justified, and the symptoms of both voter apathy and racism will most likely persist until our growing economic inequality is resolved.

© Copyright 2014 James McV

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Are Business Principles and Politics Incompatible?

Why are we so willing to accept so much less from the public sector?

Business principles and politics have never been compatible much to the detriment of th20163804_mle public-sector. All one needs to do is take a look at how our exalted politicians and bureaucrats manage the people’s business to confirm that. Congress’s inability to address even the most basic of issues confronting us today is more than indicative of their ineptitude, it exposes a system mired in convolution, quid pro quo, and blatant ostentation.

In business the process is simple. If something is broken or even if it’s just not running quite as well as it should the powers-that-be get together and fix it. If it still doesn’t work they get rid of it and find a new solution. Problems are identified and fixed, goals achieved, and objectives reached or the business slips quickly and surely into obscurity. Remember Pan Am, Woolworths, and Plymouth? Whatever happened to Montgomery Wards?

Why are we so willing to accept so much less from the public sector and our politicians than we would ever accept from private enterprise?

Give a politician a problem to solve and they will find fifty ways to compound it and confound it. A simple solution can’t exist because then the problem would be fixed, and apparently there is nothing that expands a politician’s worth more than an intractable problem. Our politicians and public servants have become very adept at diverting our attention with the old slight-of-hand – first you see it, and then you don’t. What cup is the real issue under?  Problems seldom get addressed until everyone has piled all of their baggage on that political train. As a result, the typical bill going through Congress these days has so many amendments and riders attached it looks like a television ad for some amazing new drug, with more side-affects than cure. Its little wonder that nothing worthwhile gets done.

If our objectives are really to resolve the immigration dilemma, cure the national debt, provide universal health care (at least at some level), and eliminate poverty in America, then we need to be focused on those objectives without convoluting the process. Are these problems not big enough that they need more moving parts and confusion? Even now, after an election that removed a number of ineffective incumbents, some of our politicians that survived are threatening to shut down the government as an alternative to their apparent inability to resolve the immigration issue. Is this problem so huge, so insurmountable that our so-called leaders must resort to the tactics of a suicidal maniac to accomplish their end? They do appear somewhat reminiscent of, Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned.

Fortunately, and regrettably, there is an example and lesson on the current political scene that our so called leaders can’t ignore. The unfortunate part of this opportunity is that it was created by a series of colossal failures in policy, leadership, and management at the second biggest bureaucracy in our nation’s government. The debacle at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs not only failed miserably to serve the interests of our veterans and the American people in general, and will no doubt cost billions of taxpayer dollars, it also cost untold human lives. Hopefully this failure of our political system to serve the interests of its constituents and customers will serve as a much needed warning to those overseeing our defense, social security, and health and welfare administrations, of the potential consequences of their current policies and behavior.

The new administration at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs may prove to be a shining beacon of hope, however. The new Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs, Bob McDonald, is a private-sector business leader who seems to have an understanding of what public service should be about, and the concept of putting the interests of the American people ahead of the political bureaucracy. He is already cleaning out the existing rats’ nest and transforming many of the Department’s business policies and practices. He is certain to face strong headwinds against change, and support for the status quo from the political-interests-that-be. Hopefully he will be able to stand up to both and ultimately apply some business acumen to the public-sector for a change.

Change is not always a comfortable process, but it is always inevitable. The world has evolved. And it’s time for our politicians and bureaucrats to recognize that perhaps evolution is not so bad. Unless, of course, you are one of those entities that is incapable of evolving. Ask a Cro-Magnon Man, if you can find one.

The Democrats took it on the chin this year losing a significant number of incumbents, and may be facing further extinction. The new Congress has an opportunity to move forward and resolve a number of deferred issues, and the Republicans would do well to remember that they will find themselves on the chopping block soon, with more than sixty Congressional incumbents seeking re-election in 2016. Remember American Motors? They couldn’t change either!

© Copyright 2014 James McV

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EMPTY SEATS vs EMPTY POLITICS

I’ve been watching the political advertising on TV by the various candidates, their PAC’s, and other support groups for the upcoming elections, and my question is “Why would you vote for any of them?”!

The 7th District Congressional race in California is a prime example of how convoluted our political process, and far-removed the politicians, have become. Based on candidate Doug Ose’s campaign, his incumbent opponent Ami Bera is an incapable, misguided, and corrupt liar, whereas on the other hand, Mr. Ose is reportedly a scheming, money-grubbing opportunist out to destroy the American Dream. Neither candidate has been able or willing to attest to any significant positive accomplishments or attributes of their own, much less even the most obscure vision of potential solutions and improvements in government. One can only assume that either they have none or they believe that focusing on such issues might somehow obscure the more pertinent (really?) issue of their opponent’s character.

This unfortunately leaves us only with a choice between two thieves. If even a portion of their claims against each other were exposed in a normal job interview neither would be considered for any other job in the world, and if the claims were proven at all they would probably both be in jail. If neither of them is a crook or incompetent then they are both certainly liars.

Given the choices, it’s no wonder that less than 30% of registered voters will probably vote in this election. While the remaining 70%, by sitting on their hands, are in fact voting for “non-of-the-above”, the effect of this voter complacency is that the self-perpetuating political system we live with continues to produce mere mirror images of ineffective, self-serving demigods masquerading as leaders to run against each other.

Unfortunately it appears that the politicians are secure in the system since there are few if any leaders willing to place or even argue common sense, common good, and common interests ahead of the negative campaign strategies that mask their common special interests.

The people of Hong Kong are currently struggling against a one-party system that wants to control their so-called political choices. Here we have a two-party system that seeks to accomplish the same end, though seemingly through a somewhat less tyrannical process. Admittedly, we are stuck with what Winston Churchill once described as “the worst form of government, except for all the rest”, but such observations do little except serve to perpetuate and justify a broken status quo.

A viable solution to this historical dilemma and gridlock might include a real “non-of-the-above” choice on every ballot for all of our so-called Representative elections. Empty seats in the various chambers of government would send the strongest message. The huge financial contributors who now dictate our choices would most likely withdraw since their money would potentially buy nothing but an empty seat, and even without a quorum it is doubtful that much less would be accomplished than with the current empty heads in those seats today.

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The NEW Normal?

This morning on CNBC Erin Burnett did a segment on “Street Signs”, discussing the supposedly recovering economy, during which she hosted a number of financial experts, querying their viewpoints on such topics as the escalating government debt, the increasing price of gasoline and other inflationary pressures , and the continuing debt crisis in Europe, and their effects on our financial future. One of the questions she asked was prompted by recent comments made by the CEO of PIMCO Financial, voicing concern over growing government debt levels and other financial risks to the economy; “Are we living in a new normal?”

It seems difficult to argue that we are living in a new world, but I find it very disheartening to accept the premise that the current economic conditions may be “normal” or that we should accept them as such. The financial wizards on CNBC all seemed comfortable with the premise though; one of them even going so far (or not so far) as to say that he felt that we were in a “new normal”, but that it was starting to look a lot like the old normal… Huh?? As for the government debt levels, they also all tended to agree that this escalating debt is not really a problem since governments have an indefinite longevity and therefore it is fine if their debt lasts forever also. Yikes!! Obviously none of them ever studied history; have we forgotten the Romans, the British Empire, the once mighty Egyptians. So far there has never been a civilization, much less a government that has lasted forever, and most that collapsed did so at least in part due to fiscal malfeasance.

I doubt that we should be looking to the self-serving financial experts, who took us to the brink of financial Armageddon a couple of years back, for any leadership out of the remaining morass, and I have even less faith in the financial press as any sort of voice of reason or even truth. If we have not learned from our mistakes we are most likely destined to repeat them; the increasing frequency and severity of the financial bubbles we have suffered through are proof enough of that I think. The pundits who claim that high government debt is not a problem have their heads stuck somewhere other than on their shoulders (or think that we do). In their short-sighted fantasies I have no doubt that they are comfortable with the scenario, but I for one do not want my tax dollars to be used to pay interest to the banks and financiers who are getting rich off of our stupidity while leading us toward a dark and uncertain future that they will most likely not suffer through.

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Taxpayers Ripped-Off Again by GM IPO

The Federal Government has proven once again their total incompetence, or indifference, when it comes to investing our tax dollars with the Treasury Department’s apparent acquiescence to the ridiculous structure and pricing of the new Initial Public Offering (IPO) of General Motor’s stock set for this week.

The Treasury, which holds a 61% ownership stake in GM, has reportedly agreed to an IPO of 365 million shares at a price range of $26 to $29 per share, but a number of investment banking specialists, and financial pundits, have gauged the value of the offering at as much as $44 per share. This is not uncommon in itself; IPO’s are typically designed to provide huge initial returns to the big money elite who get to play in the beginning, buying low, and then selling quickly as the rest of the market clamors to be involved, and then either loses their shirt at the top or finds themselves stuck with a stagnant aftermath. The good-old-boy network appears to be firmly in place, and the same Wall Street and Main Street crooks that caused the financial debacle that took down GM, and so many other companies, and jobs, and ultimately American working people, and were then bailed out by the US taxpayer, stand to make BILLIONS off of this deal.

Besides this obvious inequity, there are a number of other issues to deal with here, based on the large differential in the initial offering price and the huge profits to be made by selected interests. In the first place this IPO will not add substantial capital to GM’s balance sheet since it involves the sale of so much existing stock already issued and held by the Federal Government. The BIG question then is why is Treasury selling GM stock, owned by the taxpayers, at a significant loss, when demand is so high and the price is so low? The Federal Government initially gave GM $50 billion to save the company. Approximately $7 billion was in low-interest loans (which have been paid back, reportedly), and the remaining $43 billion was for a 61% stake involving approximately 930 million shares of stock in the company. At that price taxpayers paid approximately $46.25 per share. As currently structured, the IPO will liquidate 280 million shares of the Treasury held stock, about 30% of total holdings. At a price of $29 per share that will return approximately $8.1 billion, about 19% of the $43 billion investment, but at a loss of $16+ per share. Given a choice, even a high school dropout probably wouldn’t take that deal.

At a price of $29 per share both the government and GM are leaving a huge amount of money on the table, as much as $5.4 billion assuming a value of $44 per share, which could be used to bolster GM’s balance sheet and create jobs, as well as make taxpayers whole again.

Even the Chinese stand to make billions from this deal. A large block of stock is being sought now, and will probably be awarded to Chinese interests hoping to foster relations, and no doubt create new jobs in new GM plants in China.

Finally, with the sale of existing shares and the issuance of additional new shares, the taxpayer’s interest in GM will be significantly reduced to no more than 40%, a minority, non-controlling interest. For the Treasury to recoup the remaining $35 billion investment made by taxpayers the remaining 650 million shares would have to be sold at nearly $54 per share, not a likely scenario in the foreseeable future. Of course we will still be funding the company at zero interest, while we borrow more money to finance the deficits created by this misguided policy at three to four percent per year from the fat cats and foreign financiers who will also grow fatter from this IPO.

At this point it appears that the American people lose again, all for the benefit of financial cronyism. There is some small chance that the IPO will be adjusted to reduce the inequities, but the big money investment banks and brokerages stand to make billions, and I doubt that we can expect the Federal Government to look out for our best interests.

More insanity from The Edge… Thanks for your Input.

James McV

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It’s Deja Vu All Over Again!

For me at least, the recent election was disappointing, and will no doubt prove to be more disappointing in the long-run. I hate to be a cynic, but once again nothing has changed, and our political leaders are busy positioning themselves to drag us blithely back into the future again.

My previous blog extolled the virtues of voting for “none-of-the-above”, unfortunately the majority of the American people chose once again to vote for “more-of-the-same” and so it appears that we are headed for two more years of do-nothing politics. Some of the pundits, politicians, and press were initially exclaiming that the electorate had produced a sea-change with our votes, that we had sent a strong message to our representatives, and that they understood it. I remain somewhat cynical however, and if Senator Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) recent comment is indicative, then I am right.

“The mandate for change is directed at the other guys,” he said. Based on that type of rhetoric, it appears that we simply replaced a strongly partisan government with left-leaning tendencies with a new strongly partisan government with right-leaning tendencies. Even Bill O’Reilly recently stated on his broadcast that “many politicians in both parties have separated themselves from reality by focusing on their politics instead of the American people”.

It’s hard to believe that such seasoned politicians could remain so ignorant and dismissive of the real message from the American people, but they have gotten away with it for centuries. George Washington portended the situation and consequences well in his Farewell Address of 1796, when he cautioned about potential rancor of the two party system, saying: “The alternative domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to Party dissension…..  is itself a frightful despotism”. After more than two hundred years we have still failed to learn this lessen that politics as usual, and gridlock in particular, solves nothing, and serves no one but the politicians and the status quo.

There is some hope I think that newly elected members of Congress at least may understand the sentiment of the people despite the old-guard rhetoric of partisan politics. Marco Rubio in Florida, and maybe even Rand Paul in Kentucky, do seem to understand that they were elected not because they were “Republicans”, but because they were not the incumbent, and seemed to understand the real issues that concern the American people. Hopefully the old leadership in Congress will not seek to marginalize the newly elected members and the message they are carrying from the middle of the people, that it’s time to start focusing on the grass-root objectives of the country that we agree on, instead of the philosophical principles of the political parties that divide us.

The “Republicans” have won nothing in reality, but the spotlight. If they insist that “job one” for the next two years is simply over-throwing the current administration, then we will see nothing but two more years of gridlock and polarization, which of course all politicians thrive under, but denies us any solutions or progress. The world is a different place than it was two hundred years ago, it is moving much quicker than ever before, but change still comes very slowly. It may take another election cycle or two to really get the country any relief from the politics as usual gridlock that has held us hostage for so long. History does not portend well though, and I can only hope that we have that much time, with the spiraling deficit, rampant unemployment, crumbling American-Dream, and the crashing dollar all being swept under the political carpet by the press, the pundits and the powers-that-be that continue to prosper from the short-sighted politics.

More insanity from The Edge… Thanks for your Input.

James McV

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