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All Hands on Deck: The World Has Not Gone to Hell in a Handbasket—Yet

by: Richard John Stapleton
Saturday December 21, 2013 - 17:12

This is the first All Hands On Deck meeting on this Ship’s Log page at http://www.effectivelearning.net/Bu... since March 13, 2013. A good bit of water has gone under the bridge since then. Obama got elected again in November 2012 and we have now sailed almost five years with his administration. He got us out of Iraq as promised, and, as I understand it we are pulling troops out of Afghanistan as promised, although not as many as promised, if our military and the Obama administration get what they now want, to leave US troops on the ground in Afghanistan until, would you believe, 2024, 11 more years. This is beginning to sound more like permanent occupation rather than war fighting and nation building to me. As I understand it the US now has military troops on the ground in about 100 countries, doing one thing or another. What would Earth do without the US military? Republican politicians want to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid expenses, but they do not want to cut military expenses, because their sugar daddies in the military-industrial complex paying their political expenses do not want their sales of military hardware cut.

US troops were supposed to completely withdraw from Afghanistan after 2014, but after 14 years of fighting the Pentagon is now crawfishing on the deal. Apparently they are worried the Taliban will again take over as soon as they pull out, or maybe they just like to hang out there in their bases. So now they have had John Kerry, US Secretary of State, craft some sort of Bilateral Agreement that would allow from six to twenty thousand US troops to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely after 2014, or at least until 2024, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai refused to sign it, saying he wanted all US troops out as agreed after 2014. Chuck Hagel, US Secretary of Defense, says he is confident he can get Karzai to sign the Bilateral Agreement with the US and NATO, which would at least allow NATO to keep troops in Afghanistan after 2014, including no doubt US troops, as advisors. Meanwhile Karzai is getting friendly with Iran, worried about foreign presence in the region, and apparently has signed some sort of bilateral security agreement with Iran. This is not a pretty picture any way you look at it. Bush II got us in Afghanistan looking for Osama bin Laden, who was supposed to be hiding there. When we did not find him we should have got the hell out then. No country in history has ever been able conquer or cow down Afghanistan. How long will it take the Pentagon to figure it out they can’t either? Or is it they just plan to stay there forever trying?

Ah, foreign policy. Having been primarily an economist and management consultant, I knew it was near impossible to find right answers for an economy or a small business, and I knew the problem was much worse dealing with nations around Earth. So I never gave foreign policy much thought. Henry Kissinger, I think it was, used to say back in the 1970s there were no known answers to this or that foreign policy issue, such as Vietnam. I wonder if there have ever been any known answers for any foreign policy issue? You would think after the Russians tore down the Berlin Wall and we won the cold war, foreign policy would have been a cake walk from then on. But, no, things never seem to get any better, and the US military just keeps getting bigger and bigger, now bigger than the militaries of the next several rich nations combined. The hot spot globally since 2000 has been the Middle East, especially after the US got out of the frying pan into the fire by bombing Iraq. After ten years of war fighting in the region, spending over a trillion dollars that could have spent on the US domestic economy, the region is now worse off than it was in 2000, when the US Bush II regime took over for eight years. Instead of brutal dictators ruling the region with an iron hand terrorizing all groups, the region has now morphed into a no man’s land not ruled by anyone, with extremist religious groups now killing one another any way they can, suicide bombing still being one of the most common means. Most dictators in the region have been gotten rid of one way or another, except for Syria, which has now descended into a sectarian hell. Some say Assad, the dictator of Syria, has killed 100,000 of his “own” people trying to stay in power. This is not true. For sure he has not killed 100,000 Alawites, his “own” sect. Many of the people his army killed were also killing their “own” people, as they are now, Syrians who are members of different religious sects. Bush II’s Secretary of Defense, Rumsfield, thought it would be a cake walk liberating Iraqis from Saddam Hussein with US bombs, and Bush II thought things would be hunky-dory from then on. Instead they set loose a hornet’s nest of sectarian violence that continues to this day. For sure there are no known answers for this religious hatred and violence, and for sure our US foreign policy experts have not known what they were doing dealing with it. See my article “Is Syria the Last Straw?” at MWC News (Media With Conscience) at http://www.modernwriters.org/focus/..., for my layman’s take on the situation.

The Obama administration got us through the Great Recession and the Banking Collapse of 2008 after the Federal Reserve pumped trillions of dollars of new money into the banking system, thus saving the hides of miscreant bankers and enriching them even more, thus keeping the economy afloat, but not creating many new jobs, especially good jobs paying a living wage. More and more Americans are now living on food stamps and working two or more part-time jobs to keep body and soul alive. About 20 percent of all US citizens now live in poverty. The official unemployment rate of the US, the percent of working age workers, starting at age 16, actively looking for a job, is now 7 percent. The actual unemployment rate, the percent of working age workers who would like to have a job, is probably about 25 percent. The percent of working age workers not working, counting housewives and househusbands, successful people who retired early, lucky children being reared in affluent homes who spend their after school hours doing homework and other things, and disabled people, is about 40 percent.

The OA (Obama Administration) oversaw the creation of a new banking reform law that did very little to reform the basic problems of the banking system. They should have restored the Glass-Steagall Act of the 1930s, http://www.intrepidreport.com/archi..., that forbade banks from using other people’s money to gamble in financial markets buying and selling stocks, bonds and other securities, such as collateralized debt obligations, and, especially, buying and selling weapons of mass financial destruction known as derivatives, the worst form of gambling yet devised by human beings. The world is now saddled with about $600 trillion of nominal derivatives contracts that could explode at any time. These people are betting with one another that any of them may not make their loan payments, principal and/or interest, at any time, having no assurance that any of them will have the ability to pay off their bets if they lose, knowing full well the whole house of cards will implode if most of them lose at one time. They place their bets in the first place to make it seem they have less risk of getting their money back on money they have loaned out, so they can then borrow more money to loan out, and buy or sell more derivative contracts to reduce this risk, and on and on, thereby stretching the actual collateral, i.e. skin in the game, in the system thinner and thinner, which is unfortunately necessary for banksters to earn bigger and bigger bonuses and get richer and richer.

Just today (November 10, 2013) I read US banking regulators intend to impose a new Volcker Rule on banks that will cut down on their gambling and force them to act more like real bankers. How long it will take to get this rule operative remains to be seen. Quite naturally the banksters are opposed to it and are fighting back.

US stock markets have reached new highs during the OA, and a good many people have made some money in the stock market, primarily the elite rich who did not need the money, thanks to the Federal Reserve pumping trillions into the system and keeping interest rates low, thereby enabling the OA to reduce the federal deficit. Interest rates have been the lowest in living memory enabling the federal government to sell its short-term bonds for almost nothing and its long-term bonds for less than 3 percent. The outstanding federal debt is now about $17.2 trillion. If the average interest rate the US treasury has to pay on this debt goes up to 5 percent, the federal interest expense will be about $850 billion per year, up from about $400 billion per year now, which will cause the budget deficit to go up again.

Needless to say, things are by no means financially sound now. How long will it be before we have the next financial crisis? Nobody knows.

In order to reduce systemic risk something should have been done to create jobs and help the real economy since 2007. This requires raising the after loophole effective tax rates of large corporations and the elite rich back to 1980 levels where our wisest and fairest ancestors set them, http://www.intrepidreport.com/archi..., and borrowing and printing money to directly fund infrastructure jobs in transportation, green energy, education and the like, which thanks to a multiplier effect would create millions of jobs in the small business sector. Unfortunately all the stimulus money to date has been used to directly fund banks and large corporations run by rich banksters and CEOs. Republicans have righteously and steadfastly refused to allow these tax increases to happen to keep getting funding from their corporate and elite rich patrons.

The OA was able to get a health care reform act passed that will help some low income people and make some improvements to our overall healthcare system, however inadequate it is. Republicans have fought this tooth and nail to no avail. What we should have had was a single payer system, such as Medicare for all; maybe we will get it sooner or later. See my article “The Affordable Care Act—No Gain Without Pain”, at , http://www.intrepidreport.com/archi....

How good of a job has Obama done? Not as good as he said he would, but not nearly as bad as Republicans say he has, but much better than Reagan and Bush II did; and, I am convinced, he has done much better than McCain or Romney would have. He has not done anything totally stupid like bombing Iraq, or getting caught fooling around with a Monica Lewinsky. Despite Clinton getting caught with his pants down, he and Al Gore cut federal expenses and eliminated the federal budget deficit, producing a $200 billion per year surplus by the time they left office. Bush II, in my estimation the worst president in US history, turned the Clinton-Gore budget surplus into a $1 trillion budget deficit in short order. I vividly remember talking with a colleague in my GA SO Univ office, who happened to be a retired Army lt. colonel, who had taught at West Point, who seemed to think bombing Iraq was ok if “they” decided to do, right before Bush II actually started bombing Iraq, and me telling the former lt. colonel if they did it the budget surplus would be totally wiped out.

Unfortunately, I hit the nail right on the head. The budget surplus was wiped out, setting in motion one of the worst economic episodes in US history. I still can’t believe the US federal government was dumb enough to do that, or our system would give someone as unethical and irresponsible as Bush II the power to make this sort of decision. Bush II, to use his assumed Texas vernacular, did a heckuva job snatching decline from the jaws of economic success. And it’s been downhill ever since.

Obama’s biggest downfalls in my opinion have also been caused by military problems—not closing down Guantanamo, detaining terrorist suspects indefinitely, and spying on everyone with electronic surveillance. Drones, as terrible as they are, it seems to me might be justifiable dealing with some hardcore terrorists. I think Obama ought to get us out of Afghanistan in 2014 as he said he would. I think we have had enough militarization.

Obama’s approval rating has fallen to about 40 percent from his high of about 75 percent; but he has some way to go before he sinks as low as Bush II, 25 percent, who sunk from a high of about 90 percent.

Since retiring at GA SO Univ in 2005 I have published two books and several articles, and I decided to post them on this Ship’s Log page, at http://www.effectivelearning.net/Bu..., in annotated form with links to the actual articles in the media in which they were published. To read any of the books or articles all you have to do is click on the link. Most professors do something to stay productive after they retire from teaching. Some get involved with civic clubs and the like, some volunteer with community groups such as Habitat for Humanity doing things like helping build free houses for poor people or selling used goods in Habitat stores to help poor people; some join breakfast clubs or lunch groups that regularly meet; some do pro bono consulting; some continue to do research and writing. Most do something to “give back”. In my case I have tried to give back by doing something to help make the world a better place through pro bono volunteer consulting, research, writing and publishing, however quixotic or grandiose this notion might be. Following are some jousts at windmills since 2005, at http://www.effectivelearning.net/Bu....

Quite a few of my Facebook friends and fellow writers have decided while Democrats are definitely better or less harmful than Republicans in Washington, both parties are addicted to corporate and elite rich campaign financing and both parties must please the rich at the expense of we the people. Some of us think the best remedy would be to vote all sitting politicians out of office ASAP. In my opinion if you were to randomly select educated intelligent US citizens off the streets, who had no desire to be politicians, and send them to Washington to replace all senators and representatives the US government would improve overnight, since these citizens could use their common sense to vote for the right thing for we the people. Most government problems are not that complicated. The problem is obvious solutions cannot be implemented because of vested interests. Therefore you have to put in office people with no vested interests to bring about significant change. See various posts substantiating this conclusion and suggesting ideas for how to do it on my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/richard.st....

I think the best long run hope for Earthians is to create a Magnum Computer System and use management science techniques to schedule, produce and distribute the necessities of life for all Earthians, leaving everything else in the hands of entrepreneurs and small business operators freely competing in a system of fair free enterprise, overseen by fair referees and umpires. See my essay, perhaps the best I have written, “Toward the Creation of Spaceship Earth Incorporated,” at MWC News (Media with Conscince) at http://www.modernwriters.org/focus/..., for basic instructions on how to do this using linear programming.

Richard John Stapleton, www.effectivelearning.net, December 21, 2013



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