Category Archive: politics

  1. 2017 Year in Review: Revenge of the Women

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    Women’s March – Jan. 2017

    2017 started at one of the bleakest moments for American women since the birth of the modern feminist movement in the 1960s.  Women faced the prospect of being governed for the next four years by an admitted sexual predator and a Republican Congress hellbent on taking away their health care.  To make matters worse, White women had actually put Trump in office, voting against the first female for President.  From this bleak beginning, a remarkable thing happened.  Women finally broke their silence.  They finally said enough is enough.  Starting with the massive Women’s March in January, which was larger than the inauguration of the Groper-in-Chief, and accelerating with the #MeToo movement that exposed sexual harassment in every corner of our society where men hold exclusive power, women are truly the biggest story of 2017 in the USA.

    Politics

    Pundits warned us that Trump was unfit to be President throughout the presidential campaign, but did the American voter listen?  Of course not.  We don’t need no stinking experts to educate us about anything.  Instead, Americans voted their misogyny by electing a man who promised to put White men back in charge and back in the privileged positions that they had enjoyed for centuries until the civil rights movement insisted that everyone have an equal opportunity to succeed.  After Charlottesville VA, we learned that “Make America Great Again” really means “Make America White Again.”

    So, we got what we knew we were going to get — an ill-tempered, bigoted egomaniac who is utterly unfit to be the Commander-in-Chief and Leader of the so-called “Free World.”  Even his dwindling band of supporters must constantly apologize and clean up after their idol, who like an incontinent cow, continues to spew bullshit everywhere he goes, setting records for the number of lies that can be packed into 140 characters. While the media focuses on his Twitter feed, he is attempting to destroy the federal government by preventing public agencies from executing their stated missions and instead turning them into privatized entities for the benefit of the wealthy.  The Republican Party acts like the biggest problem in America is that the rich don’t have enough money.  So, in their sole legislative achievement of 2017, they passed a tax cut that gives 60 percent of the benefits to the top 1 percent. For all they care, the rest of America can die of an opioid overdose in a cardboard box under the nearest freeway overpass.

    Never in American history has a President been embroiled in so much scandal so quickly.  Trump’s National Security Advisor lasted all of 3 weeks and has now plead guilty to a felony.  Three other Trump campaign aides have already pled guilty or been indicted.  His son and son-in-law are rumored to be next in line for indictment.  As of last count, 18 Trump campaign officials met with Russians tied to Putin during the campaign and every single one of them lied about it afterwards until caught.  Russian agents and bots used Facebook and Twitter to interfere in our election in support of Trump.  We still don’t know the full extent of the collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, but what has already come out in the past year should be cause for alarm.  If the Russians had sent their warplanes and bombed Washington, DC, we would have declared all-out nuclear war.  Instead, they sent their secret agents and cyber warriors to attack our election using our own media as a weapon against us, and we are sitting around arguing about whether we should do something to defend ourselves.  One thing is for sure – Trump has a man-crush on Putin.  We still don’t know exactly why, but that will come out eventually, perhaps in 2018.

    Trumpism has also brought us cronyism, nepotism and many other forms of corruption.  Having seen first-hand overseas the devastating consequences of a culture of corruption, where nothing gets done without bribery and quid pro quos, I am particularly troubled at the rising level of corruption in our own federal, state and local governments.  People used to run for office to serve the public, but now it has become a means to serve and enrich oneself and one’s campaign donors.  If we don’t get money out of politics, we will face the same level of political corruption that we used to laughingly refer to as “banana republic.”  Perhaps we will be the first “apple republic” (with a nod to Johnny Appleseed).

    Economics

    The U.S. economy continued to expand in 2017, growing at a rate of just over 2 percent, about the same as 2016.  The global economy also recovered from a slowdown in 2016 and posted healthy gains.  U.S. unemployment declined to 4 percent, reflecting continued hiring, although much of it was due to replacement of retiring boomers rather than business expansion.  Some economists argued that the U.S. had achieved full employment and that further hiring would be limited by the lack of willing workers.  Others pointed out, however, that about 18 percent of the workforce are working part-time or as contractors when many would prefer full-time employment.  Moreover, millions of Americans who dropped out of the labor market during the Great Recession have yet to return.  This suggests the economy can still absorb more new hires if employers are willing to offer full-time work at living wages with benefits.  Unfortunately, that does not seem likely, given the corporate world’s addiction to outsourcing and contingent workers as a means of controlling costs.  Although full-time employment as a percentage of the total has recovered from the Great Recession low of 80 percent, it has stalled over the past several years, while part-time employment continues to grow.  Moreover, wage growth has also not accelerated as one might expect in a tight labor market.  The average American got a 2.5 percent raise this year, barely keeping pace with inflation.

    Meanwhile, U.S. corporate profits rose by an average of 6 percent in 2017, spurring the stock market to record highs.  What are companies doing with all the extra profit they earned?  As we’ve seen above, less than half of the profit went to higher salaries.  The rest of it was handed to shareholders in the form of dividends, spent on buying up competitors through mergers, or was simply banked as undistributed profits, expanding the already sizable horde of cash that companies are piling up in tax-free havens around the world.  Technology investment rose in some sectors, particularly robotics and artificial intelligence.  From self-driving vehicles to self-service banking and retail, the future looks increasingly automated.

    The one thing few businesses did with their largess was expand operations and hire new workers.  You might be wondering why businesses don’t reinvest more of the money in growth.  The reason most cite is that the demand for new products and services is simply not there.  Every first year Accounting student knows that if a company produces more than it can sell, it will suffer a loss in the form of unsold inventory. Since the U.S. is largely a consumer-driven economy, demand only grows when people have more money in their pockets to spend.

    Instead of stimulating demand, the huge tax cuts recently passed by Congress are aimed at stimulating supply in the form of more money circulating in the economy.  The 40 percent reduction in the corporate tax rate and 5 percent drop in the rate paid by the wealthiest Americans amounts to a nearly 5 trillion-dollar give-away over the next decade.  The government’s own accountants estimate this will add 1.5 trillion to our bulging national debt and will exacerbate the widening gap between rich and poor. Things have already gotten so unequal that just three Americans – Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos – possess more combined wealth than the bottom half of the U.S. population representing 160 million people.  Republicans claim that the tax cuts will spur so much economic activity that they will pay for themselves in increased tax revenues from all the extra money circulating in the economy.  Based on history, this trickle-down, supply-side economic theory is about as likely to happen as your winning the lottery.

    Predictably, government revenues will decrease dramatically and Republicans will be back in 2018 suddenly shocked (shocked!) to discover that tax receipts have declined, despite their prior assurances that no such thing could ever happen.  They will then call for cuts to all the government programs that they oppose (which now includes everything but the military).  Pundits have pointed out that the Republican Party even has a name for this strategy “starve the beast.”  It is a two-step process.  One, cut taxes on the rich and reduce government revenues. Two, cut the social safety net for everyone else to bring spending in line with reduced revenues and increase the tax burden on the middle class. This tax bill is candid about who it is intended to help – corporations get a permanent 40% tax cut while individual tax cuts will expire in 10 years, leaving the middle class on the hook to pay at least $1.5 trillion more in debt.

    Evidence from past Republican tax cuts going all the way back to the 1920’s and repeated in the Reagan and Bush eras shows that most of the extra tax relief provided to the rich never makes its way back into the economy to benefit the lower classes.  Instead, the wealthy tend to keep the money for themselves, increasing their luxury lifestyles.  Moreover, all the money sloshing around in the hands of the wealthy leads to rampant speculation and an overheated bubble which will eventually burst, leading to recession or worse. It happened in 1929, 1987 and 2008 and it will happen again in a few years, mark my words. Republicans may have bought themselves temporary victory in 2018, but this will blow up in their faces before long.

    If Congress really wanted to stimulate the economy, the most direct way would be to give every single American more money to spend, not just the wealthy.  If the 5 trillion in tax cuts was divided up equally, every single American man, woman and child would get $15,600.  Most of us would spend every penny of that on increased consumption, saving or debt reduction, providing a huge stimulus to the economy.  Instead, the average American worker will be lucky to get $1,000 extra and about one-third of the middle class will get a tax increase due to the elimination of many popular deductions, while the one percenters will get millions and even billions in tax relief they don’t need and won’t productively invest.

    Apparently, the real purpose of tax cuts is not to stimulate the economy, as advertised by advocates, but simply to enrich politicians and their wealthy donors at the expense of everyone else.  Since most Congressman are millionaires themselves and their top political donors are 1 percenters, they stand to benefit the most from the latest tax cuts.  Trump’s family alone is estimated to receive a one-billion-dollar windfall from the elimination of the estate tax, despite his repeated false claims that he will personally owe more.  Of course, there’s no way of telling for sure, since he refuses to release his tax returns and has declared it is smart to avoid paying taxes altogether.

    Culture

    The #MeToo movement sprung up after shocking revelations about sexual harassment and assault in the entertainment business, starting at the Weinstein Company.  As more women took up the gauntlet and revealed their own #MeToo moment of sexual misconduct, more powerful men were exposed and forced to resign – TV news anchors, producers, actors, musicians and politicians among them.  By now, it is a movement that is flexing its political muscle, preventing accused pedophile Roy Moore from election to the US Senate. By exposing the misbehavior of powerful men, #MeToo has revealed a culture that is far from its professed ideal of treating women as equals.  Much as Americans like to criticize the rest of the world for its treatment of females, we now know our own house is full of lechery and abuse.

    Although the vast majority of #MeToo stories are from women harassed by men, a few stories have also been shared by men.  After over 50 years of silence, I have a #MeToo story I am prepared to share for the first time.  Emboldened by the bravery of the women who have come forward, I began to reflect on my own life experience.  When I was 14 years old and on a cross-country bus trip to Reno, NV, an adult male got on the bus and sat in the seat next to me.  He was perhaps in his late 20s or early 30s.  I said little to him during the long ride.  That night, while I was asleep, he reached over and grabbed my crotch.  When I awoke with his hand fondling me, I immediately jolted and turned away from him.  Moments later, I got up to use the restroom and when I came back, I changed seats.  I never said anything to him nor did he ever speak to me.  I felt dirty and ashamed that I let this happen, but never uttered a word out of embarrassment.  Did I suffer any long-term effects?  Not really.  I put it out of my mind and tried to never think about it.  Still, it was a shocking introduction to homosexuality for a 14-year-old boy who knew nothing of this at the time.  When I think back on it now, I realize he committed a serious crime, but at the time, I was convinced that no one would ever believe me or worse yet, would think I somehow invited the unwelcome conduct.

    Based on my own experience, I understand why some women take years before they can summon the courage to come forward and report what they have hidden in shame deep within themselves.  However, as painful as revelation can be, it can also be liberating.  When we speak out about the unspeakable conduct of predators, we put a name and a face on ugly behavior that has gone unreported since the dawn of human society. We make it harder for predators to get away with their abuse.  I hope that this leads us to a better society where we respect each other, not prey on each other.  I realize this is hopelessly optimistic, given our dog-eat-dog culture, but I applaud all the women who have had the courage to step forward and take a stand for dignity, respect and equality. We have so much work ahead to achieve the American dream of prosperity, liberty and justice for all.  

    Personal

    This year was kind to everyone in my immediate family, myself included.  Despite attempting to cut back as I ease into retirement, I wound up working and earning more than last year.  My girlfriend Tania is busy opening a new restaurant in Redlands, my mother Harriet is enjoying retirement in the middle of her eighth decade, my sons Vince and Steven are both building their careers and granddaughter Jade has started school and loves it.

    My business continued to reap the benefits of increased investment in training and development.  According to Association for Talent Development’s 2017 State of the Industry report, both spending per employee and average hours of formal learning increased last year. Thanks to my many wonderful clients, I took trips to Haiti, UAE and the Philippines this year, and I managed to work in a bit of pleasure along with the business.  I also traveled to several U.S. cities for business, including San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Austin, DC, Phoenix, Erie PA and Dothan AL.  I am truly blessed to have three reliable clients who together give me all the work I can handle.  With customers like I have, I doubt I’ll ever retire!

    I decided to have my DNA tested this year to find out more about my ancestry and medical history.  It was quite an eye-opening experience. Medically, I was relieved to find out that I am unlikely to pass on any hereditary diseases to my off-spring, although the test did confirm that I have a hereditary disease that affects blood clotting and a 25% increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. This news gave me pause, but I would rather know what may happen and take steps now to prevent it than face the future in a state of ignorance.

    While the ancestry tests confirmed that I am primarily Irish, British and Scottish, I discovered other parts of my ancestry that I had never known, such as Italian, Romanian, Gypsy, Jordanian and West African lineage on my mother’s side and Native American (Iroquois) on my father’s side.  I had always thought of myself as a plain vanilla White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, but I found within my genes a much more diverse human being.  I believe if we were all to learn about our ancestry, we would realize that we have much more in common than the superficial differences which divide us.

     

    Priceless Moments

    2017 gave us many priceless moments we won’t soon forget, even if we tried.  Here are a few of my favorites.

    North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jung Un:

    Your juvenile shouting match with Trump alarmed the world and led many to declare you crazy, but I see an insecure, unqualified leader who is desperately clinging to power at any cost, even if that means threatening to destroy the whole world.  In that way, you are just another tin-horned authoritarian with an oversized bullhorn.  The world has a bumper crop of leaders like you, including the current resident of the White House.  

    Former Presidential Press Secretary Sean Spicer (aka ‘Spicy’):

    It’s not easy lying with a straight face to cover the blizzard of lies emanating from your boss’ Twitter feed, but you took deception to a whole new level with claims that photographs showing far fewer people at Trump’s inauguration than Obama’s were fake.  After all, who are you going to believe?  The President’s false claims or your own lying eyes? Even Nazis didn’t lie as blatantly as you.  At least you provided employment to one person – Melissa McCarthy made a mint caricaturizing you to perfection.

    Movie Mogul Harvey Weinstein:

    One would think a wealthy kingmaker like you would be able to attract females without resorting to assault, but maybe it isn’t about the sex after all.  Maybe it’s about using your power to get whatever you want, because according to your buddy Trump, “When you’re famous, they let you get away with it.”  Well, not any more, bub.

    Late Night TV Comedian Jimmy Kimmel:

    Your monologues about your baby’s illness and the vital importance of health care probably saved the Affordable Care Act from certain Republican repeal.  Thanks for thinking about others who are less fortunate than a millionaire celebrity and might see their own infant die from lack of money to pay for outrageously-priced health care.  But I wonder what it says about America when a late-night comedian has more moral authority than the 49 U.S. senators who voted to deny coverage to 20 million people?

    Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg:

    The next time you block my FB account because I posted a 30 second clip of a copyrighted concert, please remind me to buy a FB ad with Rubles so I can reach 120 million of your customers with fake uncopyrighted propaganda.

    Singer/composer Luis Fonsi of Despacito (Slowly):

    Your catchy little ditty loaded with sexual innuendos was the smash hit that we could not get out of our brains, but the title also aptly sums up the government’s response to the devastating hurricane that hit your home of Puerto Rico.  Three months later, 30% of the island is still without power and potable drinking water.

     Bitcoin cryptocurrency:

    The latest speculative craze to sweep the world, bitcoin enjoyed a spectacular year, rising over 1500%.  But when everyone and his brother is telling you to jump into this gaming pit or suffer FOMO, it’s time to head the other way.  The big boys have made a killing and are about to pull the rug out under regular investors.  Remember the dot.com boom and bust?  This will be bigger yet.