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    • Noam Chomsky Owns Sam Harris and Indicts Bill Clinton
      Noam Chomsky had a private email session with Sam Harris about Clinton’s bombing of a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory which Clinton allegedly believed was also manufacturing a nerve agent. I really recommend reading the entire exchange, which is hilarious and horrifying on multiple levels. First, because Harris just doesn’t get that Chomsky is smashing him f […]
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The Conflucian policy advice to Hillary Clinton on economics

It’s a bit much for one dragon.

She didn’t ask for my opinion but she’s getting 200 advisors to tell her theirs. The problem she is facing is how to rebalance the country in terms of income inequality without, you know, pissing off the ultra wealthy. I’m not sure it can be done. A little bit of a snit is to be expected in all likelihood. Although, maybe she could have someone from Vox put together one of those cool and groovy graphics that demonstrate that no matter how hard the vanishing middle class works, we will never be able to afford our own yachts. That might bring a tear to the eyes of the 1%. The graphics should show how big a boat you can buy on a lifetime of $32000/year (if you’re lucky enough to get that these days) compared to what Steve Ballmer can buy.

Ok, so what would I recommend? Well, the rich are not going to like this but I’m not really interested in how the rich feel about these things. I’m only interested in bringing back prosperity, income security and innovation to the American middle class. It’s not all about them, except they are behaving like greedy dragons sitting on a giant pile of gold. If they’d just get off the stash we wouldn’t have any problems with the rich. I don’t envy their wealth and don’t want to be like them. I just want to be fairly compensated without feeling like I just got a handout that i didn’t deserve.

What I see as the biggest obstacle to income equality is what I call “exploitative profit mining”. That is the idea that Americans  can be harvested for various wealth through rents, fees and deregulation. I don’t want to feel like a crop anymore. The number one biggest policy initiative that I would propose is to eliminate the incentives to take advantage of everyday Americans simply because there is no one making sure it doesn’t happen. Than means reregulation. I can already hear the screams and howls from the flaming swamp monsters of the ridiculously rich. We can start at Wall Street. Let’s stop rewarding excessive financialization and risk taking. Maybe this would mean that Wall Street bonuses have to be capped at no more than 15% of income. That’s right, give those guys a straight salary. Maybe this would mean you can’t work an analyst to death at 100 hours a week. Go through every industry and increase the compensation to all stakeholders, not just the shareholders. Hire good managers and stop making CEOs co-owners who have an incentive to increase the values of their options at everyone else’s expense. That’s not socialism. That’s fairness.

Speaking of shareholders, I would like to see an alternative to the 401K. Americans should not be forced to gamble their retirement savings at a global casino. It’s immoral to require non-wealthy Americans to do this. Sorry, I’m not into it. I don’t like risk, especially when I’m going to have to live on that money. Plus, the 401K system undermines industries and innovations that create jobs. We have all seen investments gain in value when jobs are eliminated. The work still has to be done but it’s sent overseas or heaped onto the backs of people who are left after the lay off bloodbath. It’s inefficient and it destroys wealth of the middle class. Again, shareholders are not the only people who count. Bring back defined benefit pensions.

Medicare for all. There I said it. It’s ridiculous that anyone in this country has to be at risk of losing everything they’ve worked for all of their lives because cruelty is the flavor of the day on TV and radio. Let’s stop beating people when they’re down. If there are going to be sacrifices, everyone should have to make them, including the people getting rich on hip joint replacements and hospital beds. If you can’t get Medicare for all, at least impost cost controls and uniform fee schedules. Insurance companies shouldn’t have to negotiate different payments for each course of treatment based on how much profit providers think they can reap. Obamacare is not the wonderful panacea it’s been made out to be and it was never supposed to control costs. Let’s stop lying about it.

For god’s sakes, do something about long term unemployment. We’ve been hanging out here for too long. The jobs numbers are not telling the whole story. There are too many part time positions, too many temp positions and salaries are too low. Plus, ageism is rampant. Those of us who have decades to go before we can retire need to live on something. In the meantime, our lives are on hold. We can’t spend money because we don’t have it. That’s a drag on the economy and it depresses the wages of everyone else. People in the sciences especially need help. There’s a blighted generation that needs to be working. Set up some  private-public research labs, pay us a living wage and let’s get on with it already. We’re being wasted out here.

Those are some of my suggestions. I can think of a zillion more. We need to work on infrastructure, especially broadband. We need to gradually free ourselves from fossil fuel. The lefties will make climate change the reason but I’m just as interested in loosening the control of the super rich oil barons on the rest of our lives. Their price manipulations affect everything from mass transit initiatives to food prices. We should be allowed to choose whether we want to be owned by oil. I choose not to.

By the way, I don’t want profit sharing. I want a nice, steady income with a living wage. I’ve seen profit sharing schemes and they’re not serious. They are no substitute for stability. Our corporate overlords have a different value system than average Americans. Some of us do not want to be our own bosses, aren’t particularly turned on by playing capitalist games and just want the sweet relief of a regular paycheck. Recognize this. It’s important. Let’s stop measuring success in terms of how many yachts we can buy. Success can mean many things from discovering a new drug to being the best baker around. It’s not all about money.

I invite other Confucians to chime in here. What would your advice be to Hillary?

Finally, here is a video from one of my favorite straight talking Australians, Jane Caro. Caro has a background in advertising but she has been a popular speaker on education and feminism as well. In this video, Caro speaks about Dangerous Ideas. Her bit on quotas for women on boards and other institutions is brilliant. Not to be missed. So, I would add as a final suggestion to Hillary to institute a Gender Glasses program like they have in Finland. That is a government office that actually gathers cold, hard statistics from workplaces that demonstrate whether there is discrimination that prevents women from succeeding. No more “he said/she said”. If statistics are good enough in sports, they’re good enough to prove sexism in the workplace. Let’s measure everything. This country is way too deferential to men’s needs and ignores the economic impact on women’s lives.

Fast forward to about the 3 minute mark to Jane’s introduction.

The Hobbit Eve- Tolkien and wealth

Pete Petersmaug

I challenge Stephen Colbert to a Tolkien Geek Off.  I can name all of Galadriel’s names in Quenya, Sindarin and the Common tongue.  I know who the Fëanturi are. I know how many Glorfindels are running around Arda. Take that, Stephen!  He won’t take me up on it because he knows he doesn’t stand a chance.

Anyway, The Hobbit- An Unexpected Journey starts on Friday and there’s a good chance that I will be at the very first showing.  My local theater will show it in 24 fps but I don’t care.  I’m going for the story.

And what a story it is, a quest to burgle win back the Dwarves gold from Smaug the dragon. While I was reading advanced reviews of the movie, I came across this reminder of Tolkien’s thoughts on gold and wealth.  The New Yorker reviewer went back to the book to explain the greed of dragons:

It is there in every shimmering scale of Smaug, the dragon; deprived by a mouse-quiet Bilbo of a single precious cup, he falls, Tolkien writes, into “the sort of rage that is only seen when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy suddenly lose something that they have long had but never used or wanted.”

Like tax cuts they didn’t need on top of the insane amount of money that they have already hoarded for themselves and have been sitting on for more than four years.  It’s too bad this movie is split into three pieces and we won’t get to The Lonely Mountain until towards the end of the second movie*.  Tolkien didn’t like allegories but Smaug the dragon is a timely metaphor.  He is the very picture of greed without purpose, sitting on a mountain of gold and keeping all of that capital out of the hands of the people of Middle Earth who could put it to use it to set up their own Inns, mills, vineyards and small biotechs.

I won’t tell you how it ends if you haven’t read the book.  Let’s just say that dragons aren’t the only creatures with lust for gold.

One of my favorite quotes about wealth and gold from Tolkien comes in the Fellowship of the Ring when Galadriel asks Gimli the dwarve what he would ask of her as a gift.  Dwarves are particularly attracted to shiny objects and the craftsmanship of intricately worked gold and silver.  She would have given him whatever he asked for.  But he asks for a single strand of her beautiful golden hair.  She gives him three and says:

‘These words shall go with the gift,’ she said. `I do not foretell, for all foretelling is now vain: on the one hand lies darkness, and on the other only hope. But if hope should not fail, then I say to you, Gimli son of Glóin, that your hands shall flow with gold, and yet over you gold shall have no dominion.’

Discuss.

**********************************

Andy Serkis becomes Gollum:

*It has occurred to me that I might die before I see all of the Hobbit films.  I could have a house dropped on me or catch some nasty MDR bacteria or my kid could be infected with a zombie virus and will eat my brains some night when I neglect to arm my bedroom door.  It could happen.  It’s possible that I will never see film three.  Peter Jackson should rethink the timing of the movies.  Wait.  I had this very same irrational fear when the first LOTR movie came out and nothing bad happened.  Nevermind.

But I was 12 years younger then…

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