Category Archives: politics

Ebola: Who’s at Fault?

The fault with Ebola can be spread far and wide.   Start with our Homeland security not seeing Ebola as a threat.  Move to a do-nothing congress unwilling to fund research and development, equipment and training. Then look at a racist, hubris filled country which did not demand action while this disease was decimating African nations and believes that somehow chanting USA! USA! makes us better and more capable than other nations.  That is the pot.

Next add a drug industry uninterested in developing medications and treatments for conditions and diseases which don’t pay and instead concentrate on developing drugs for men (Viagra, Cialis) and the wealthy (Botox, Cancer treatments). Stir in apathy and a large portion of unwillingness to see beyond the bottom line.

Bring to a boil over a fire of mistaken belief that Americans are John Wayne clones who can handle any threat with enough gun fire.

Now go to Texas where these beliefs are exaggerated.  Enter a corporate hospital where oversight is slack, and budgeting focuses on corporate gain instead of patient care.  Investment in employee training and personal protective equipment is minimal, despite the deaths overseas and the growth of local refugee populations.  Overconfidence and lack of understanding of the situation upon patient admission left any who came in contact exposed.  The incompetence and lack of training of the state and local health departments as well as the hospital’s concerns about liability (nurses were advised to use their best judgement) combined with a media mandate to minimize the threat in order to not “cause a panic” despite the very facts they were reporting, to create an environment in which contamination and transmission were practically guaranteed.

Finally, sprinkle liberally with a health care system that encourages the poor to stay away from diagnosis and treatment until they are in extremis and you have not just a recipe, but a mandate for disaster.  At each level ignorance, greed, overconfidence, dodging of responsibility and racism are putting not just Americans, but the entire hemisphere at risk.  

However, this is hardly the time to be divesting ourselves of experts. Reporters at CNN stated “Americans don’t want to be told to stay at home and watch daytime TV for three weeks”.  Of course we don’t.  But, it doesn’t matter what we want now.  It doesn’t matter what the bottom line is.  It doesn’t matter how many guns you have or what political party you belong to.  We have to put all that aside, admit it and deal with it. 

Ebola is a deadly epidemic and it’s here.  It’s in Dallas, and it’s quite possibly cropping up in other Texas cities, in New Haven, Connecticut and perhaps Ohio. It will show up in other places.  We can’t close our borders to disease.  A wall won’t keep it out.  America is going to have to buckle down and prepare.  We will have to spend money.  We will have to learn something.  We will have to train people.  

We don’t have time to argue about blame.  That will have to wait.  We need to get to work.  Together.

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The New Dust Bowl

The New Dust Bowl

Long Dunes

This is an image of the formally fertile Texas Panhandle.  These dunes are created by topsoil blown from tilled fields which have received no significant rain for months.  We are having frequent dust storms which obscure visual range and cause traffic accidents.  And soon, no doubt, we will begin having riotous range fires.

On a typical day in the Spring, sustained winds in Amarillo, Texas may run thirty miles per hour, gusting to sixty.  Downslope winds coming from the mountains of New Mexico dry as they expand, wringing any humidity from the air as it travels Eastward.  Likewise, air coming in Westward over the Caprock is forced up and cools rapidly, causing precipitation to fall before it reaches us.  All this results in nothing but dry, hot air.  And it’s getting drier and hotter.

Native plant which grow here are used to little precipitation.  This is, after all, a high, arid desert.  But with irrigation and an acceptable annual rainfall in the past, this area grew wheat, sorghum, soybeans and cotton.  Now, with an average rainfall of less than two inches per month, very little grows here without a huge amount of irrigation.  With the dryness of the air, tremendous amounts of water are lost to evaporation before they even hit the ground.  The water is wasted, the plants are stunted, the harvests are low. Fields are left with stunted crops unharvested, dried out: fire hazards.

Dead trees and dusty ground have thinned herds

Two Steers

The Panhandle was alive with cattle at one point.  Herds of Black Angus, Hereford Whiteface, Longhorns and Limosin roamed the area.  But as grazing land dried up, ranchers sold off their herds due to the cost of grains.  This is an image of two hybrid cattle on a dusty, overgrazed field.  Many of the trees here are dead, the rest twisted to the Northwest from the constant push of the Southwest winds.  A fire in this field would spread in an instant, fueled by the bone-dry vegetation and high winds.  It would travel faster than these two steers could go, roasting them alive before anyone could get there to help them.  It’s happened before.

Firefighters can barely keep up with the fast moving flames.  Grass fires create their own winds as the rapidly rising hot air sucks in the relatively cooler air along the ground surface.  The firestorm pulls in fuel, oxygen, rocks, and builds strength as it travels.  They are hot, they are quick, they are deadly.  In Arizona last year 19 firefighters were killed in one blaze alone.  Every day we have fire weather warning.  We keep our fingers crossed.

calf or foal being covered by drifting dust

Dead Calf

The losses suffered are not just financial.  This image is of a young foal being covered in the drifting sand is not remarkable in itself.  What is frightening about this scene is that at three o’clock in the afternoon, at a temperature of 88 degrees, there was not a single fly on this carcass.  Under ordinary circumstances, there would be a visible cloud of them on and over the body.  But there were none.

In fact, in 1974 there were grasshoppers, cicadas, dragonflies, ants, praying mantis, bees, wasps, beetles and any number of other insects in the area.  Car windshields had to be cleaned of insect parts after a drive in the country.  There would be swarms of gnats, mosquitos, mayflies and other flying creatures in the yards, fields and ponds.  Now there are not.  Our cars are not covered with bugs, just mud.  There aren’t roly-polys under the rocks, just sand.  Our wasp problems have solved themselves.

As for the birds that used to eat those bugs?  They’ve just disappeared.  We have the occasional Robin, but the others: meadowlarks, mockingbirds, flycatchers- they’ve moved on. Instead we have sparrows, finches and doves; the seed eaters.

I have a story told to me by a friend about a local rancher and his elderly mother.  The rancher went over to his mother’s house during a particularly bad recent dust storm.  He found her crying at the window.  When he asked what was wrong, she turned to him and said, “This is how it started the first time.”

The geographical center of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, according to filmmaker Ken Burns, is just short of two hours’ drive from here.  There are still a lot of older adults who remember the harsh, dry conditions and the monster, daylight eating dust storms.

They are afraid.

I am too.

Schroedinger’s Economics

The tangle of quantum physics is a pattern of thought which includes observation as a defining variable in the outcome.  In 1935 physicist Erwin Schroedinger posed a thought experiment in which he brought the quantum principle of entanglement into the macro world.  Schroedinger started with a cat was put in a sealed box with a radioactive particle and a bottle of poisonous gas.  If the particle decays, the poison is released.  If not, the poison is not released.

Here’s the weird part.  To the universe outside the box the cat is either dead or alive because we don’t know.  And because he is either dead or alive, he is both dead and alive at the same time until someone opens the box and observes the state of the cat.  Among other things, this experiment makes us think about the divergence of timelines.  The life of the cat and, I suppose, the cat owner, are traveling along in nice straight parallel lines.  Suddenly the cat is scooped up by a crazed physicist and shoved in a box.  The cat owner is insanely angry and beating on the old professor, crying and yelling about how she wants her cat back.  Schroedinger holds her by the shoulders and says, “We must wait a few days”.

So the two timelines are still parallel, owner’s outside the box, cat’s inside the box.  Finally Schroedinger goes to the box.

The owner asks, “Is my cat dead?”

Schroedinger answers, “Yes.”

The owner says, “Are you sure?”

Schroedinger says, “No.”

She gives him the stink eye.  “What are you talking about you crazy, catnapping maniac?”

Schroedinger says to her, “Your cat is dead.  Your cat is alive.  Your cat is both until I open that box.  Once observed, the probabilities collapse.  Then your cat is either dead or alive.”

The cat owner shoots Schroedinger and opens the box.

This is where those timelines diverge.  If the cat is alive, their timelines continue on in tandem until the cat wanders off or its owner is struck by lightning.  If the cat is dead, only one timeline continues on, the owner, without the cat.  So the owner’s timeline, when she opens the box, splits into two possibilites: dead cat, live cat.

How does this appy to economics, you ask?  Well here it is.  There are two different views of investments.  There is the classical investor’s physics paradigm where when the stock market falls, he loses money and it if rises he makes money.  This is a short term view and for long term investment, not really indicative of what the outcome will be.

On the other hand, the quantum view of investments is that when the market goes down, she has not lost money.  When the market goes up, she has not gained money.  In the quantum field of thought, only when it is observed, or in this case withdrawn, can the value be assessed.  So in the quantum view of economics, money can go through twists, turns and permutations, but is not measured until it is called back to it’s point of origin.   Assesment is what makes assests have value.

So, if you are like me this is completely confusing, but I’ve tried to muddle through it.  The main points have to do with observation causing collapse of alternative outcomes and divergent timelines that exist immediately prior to that collapse.  And, of course, how to use these insights to observe investments, especially in the stock market.

And finally, keep your cat at home.

Tax Cut Voodoo

Magical thinking is the belief that facts can be changed by repeating words or phrases that are not based in reality.  In this case it’s that cutting taxes will cure our financial problems.  Ask any Tea Partier, tax cuts will solve the financial problems of the United States.  Big businesses will use that money to expand and hire more American workers, money will be spread around and everyone will share in the wealth.  All this if we just cut taxes.

Unfortunately, the reality is that big businesses have had tax cuts and still do have them and none of these outcomes are happening.  Unemployment is still high, businesses are still shipping jobs overseas and citizens are losing their homes in record numbers.  This is the actual result of tax cuts. Still, there are a lot of folks in Congress are sprinkling dried toad powder into bowls of stumpwater, chanting their magical spell: Tax cuts will save the nation.

In the past I have asked senators and congressmen who’ve contacted me for my support to explain the tax cut magic to me.  None of them have answered me.  And I’m not surprised because when you really start looking at the system, it makes no sense.

  1. The biggest employer in the United States IS the United States.  If the Federal Government stops spending, jobs are lost.
  2. When jobs are lost, those who lose them are no receiving incomes.
  3. People without incomes are not getting tax cuts.
  4. If folks aren’t getting tax cuts (or incomes, for that matter) how are they going to spend?
And in an economy where no one is spending, no one is making money.
Then, when you have tax cuts, state and local governments have to let employees go.  These people live in communities where grocers, auto repair shops, plumbers, electricians, contractors, lawyers, doctors, farmers, teachers, shopkeepers, funeral home directors and other businessmen and woman live by making money providing goods and services to the people in their community.  With their customers out of work, these people stop making money.  And under these circumstances, who is going to expand, even if they are getting tax cuts?
Meanwhile huge corporations who built their wealth on the backs of hardworking Americans are treating their employees like first wives who got them through college then leave them behind for a more attractive, cheaper workforce.  Except these corporations aren’t paying their child support. Tax cuts won’t be spent in the United States.  Tax cuts these companies receive go to India and Thailand and China.
So my question is, when based in reality and not wishful thinking, how do tax cuts actually help our country at this time?  In a recession or depression, spending money is the only thing that helps.  And the only folks with the where with all to do that is the federal government.  The Roosevelt Administration put into place programs to employ workers such as the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps.  He also put regulations on banks that maintained integrity in our financial systems until the Reagan Administration.  When Reagan started dismantling our carefully crafted safeguards, the result was the great Savings and Loan failure beginning with the Penn Square bank in Oklahoma City.  Further dismantling has been done until the thin line between corporate banking and personal banking disappeared.  The loss of limits created an environment in which speculators and unscrupulous investors made mortgage loans into snatch and grab schemes and defrauded Americans out of billions of dollars.  This loss of regulation, the “gud fer bidness” attitude of the Bush administration left Americans out in the cold.
So now we’re being held hostage, being fed a thin gruel of “tax breaks” as the ultimate nutrition for the country.  Look around.  Tax breaks won’t help the citizenry.  They won’t have an effect on those of us in the most need.  They will only help those who are already draining this country dry. And where will they put their money in off-shore accounts and investments.
Spending in the United States is bad mojo.  But if you really believe in magic, maybe tax breaks will help.  And maybe Santa and the Easter Bunny will will bring us gold from the end of the rainbow.
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