Sunday, October 22, 2017

What Does Halloween and Politics Have in Common?

Halloween. My most favorite of annual holidays. After all, what's not to like? You have cool fall weather with the smell and crunching of falling leaves, not to mention the vibrant colors. Then you have all the kiddos dressing up like their favorite villain or super hero knocking on the door and that near unison shout of "Trick or Treat" as they bravely hold up their plastic pumpkins, bags, or optimistically, a pillow case in the hopes of a successful treat hunt. Of course, Halloween gives adults the excuse to dress up too; be it their favorite monster or character from TV, the movies, or simply their imagination. Halloween is also a time to watch classic horror movies (Lugosi, Karloff, Price, Lee, Lorre, Hitchcock, or Chaney) or more modern fare such as the "Slash and Gore" genre (Freddy Kruger, Jason, Saw or Leatherface),witches, demons, or the latest from Stephen King, plus let's not forget "The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown" or "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" ("It's a jump to the left..."). Then there are all those sweet "leftover" goodies...and we don't even need another excuse, it's Halloween!

Of course, Halloween is meant for fun; at least these days. We know it's fake, though we enjoy the bit of fright it brings. But what are we really afraid of? What is it that actually scares us? I'm pretty sure it isn't the prospect of Zombies or mummies. So what is it that makes us worry or uncomfortable? Well, according to an article in 'Market Watch' by Jacob Passy, our top ten fears, as published by Chapman University, are, from least to most, as follows. Starting with tenth place is air pollution. 45% of Americans are most worried about foul or dirty air, which I could see as a real problem, particularly in some cities like Los Angeles or Louisville (California has 7 cities in the top 10 for worse air quality. Pennsylvania has 2 and Kentucky has 1). Coming in ninth is North Korea at 48%. Apparently, a sizable number of Americans are worried that the "Boy Dictator" may not be bluffing this time and just might launch an attack against South Korea, Japan, Guam, Hawaii, Alaska, or maybe the West Coast on a good wind day. However, 52% think the Kim Jong Un is simply trying to obtain more freebies from the West to keep his economy running for a bit longer, and why not? By threatening a war with South Korea, Japan, or America, the Kim Dynasty has been able to extort billions in aid and credit which has kept the Hermit Nation in kimchi . But if Kim was to launch a nuclear or chemical attack against the U.S. or its allies in the Pacific, American response would be swift. Who knows? A ill-conceived attack could result in South Korea suddenly becoming an island .

Next on the list is global warming/climate change. It too came in at 48%. Apparently, large minority of Americans aren't buying the line from Republicans that the earth isn't getting hotter. Perhaps it has something to do with increase in the number and intensity of storms, tornados, and hurricanes. It may be the dry weather and longer lasting droughts or maybe the number of forest fires and the increase in so-called "dead zones" in parts of the oceans. Of course, their concern could be the seemingly increase in sea ice resulting from large chunks of the Arctic melting. Of course, some well known scientists such as Stephen Hawking, Michio Kaku, and Neil deGrasse Tyson claim that the existing scientific data indicates that there is an increase Earth's overall temperature (just saying). Of course, that still leaves 52% who think that the changing conditions are simply the result of cyclical weather patterns. As for the other data, they're called "seasons".

Another 48% of those polled said their greatest fear is that the U.S. will be involved in another war. Sorry, but I think that's practically guaranteed. Since America's founding in 1776, we have been at war---declared or not---222 years out of 239 years. That represents 93% of our history since our we told the Brits to take a hike. Folks, that's not good. Right now, we have been at war longer than at any time in our nation's existence. Sadly, I don't see any prospect of this changing. America, as many of you know, is no longer a democratic republic. We let that slip away while focusing on mindless TV programs, sports or video games, not to mentioned accepting the dumbing down of schools. We were kept busy trying to keep our jobs, finding healthcare, and so forth. We saw the growing number corrupt or incompetent millionaire politicians and keep reelecting them. We saw the government take some action, like the Wallstreet Bailout and while we said "no", Washington did it anyway without any fear of repercussions. Besides, they could always manufacture a new "crisis" to distract us anytime they wanted. As the founder of Athenian democracy, Pericles (495 BC - 429 BC), once said, "Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you".

America is now an Oligarchy; a plutocracy. Our foreign and domestic polices emanate from boardrooms and backroom deals. This Oligarchy is not about money. Heck, they literally control the money supply. This is about control. Control of assets and resources. If they can't get what they want through co-opting, bribery, intimidation, or extortion, then they will seek to use our military if necessary as their enforcers. Domestically, they've neutered most unions, while others have simply been brought into the fold. They've exported good paying manufacturing jobs overseas where they don't deal with union salaries and benefits, safety issues, wage and hour, etc. All they have to do is grease the right palms. Domestically, you and I get what's left. Yes, some jobs are pretty good. They pay great and benefits, but they're few and far between. Those who go to college end up with a monstrous loan debt which will take decades to pay off, and still with no assurance of a job. Those who go no further than high school have an equally tough time finding a job, unless they went to a trade school. Luckily for this "excess" demographic the military is always hiring. Wars and pseudo-wars are what keep our economy going. Without them, our economy tanks. Meanwhile, we've become economic serfs ("wage slaves" as some say) where our credit rating represents our value to the system.

Medical bills are next on the list; again at 48%. I can easily see why many have a fear of this, especially those with pre-existing injuries or seniors. No matter what side you're on, I think most of us can agree that we are facing a healthcare crisis. Originally, people simply bought coverage out of pocket or got it through their employer (especially before the manufacturing jobs were exported). Obamacare was a nice effort, but ill-conceived and ultimately a failure. President Trump is trying to rewind the healthcare clock, and that too isn't going to work. Let's also not forget than many healthcare professionals have taken early retirement, gone into consulting or private healthcare groups. In some cases, this leaves individuals with substandard care and overworked doctors, nurses, and staff. It's true that the U.S. was the only developed nation without a nationalized healthcare system. It was equally true that we didn't worry about waiting lists or whether our care was subject to some bureaucratic committee's approval (ironically called "death panels") like they in some countries with nationalized healthcare.

What added salt to the wound was that the President, Judicial System, Congress, and Federal employees were exempt from Obamacare. It was like they were saying that Obamacare was beneath them and that rubbed people the wrong way. Personally, I prefer a single payer plan. It would provide a basic level of courage and would allow for individuals or employers access to buy from supplemental plans. That way, small businesses could at least compete with larger companies for potentially better qualified employees while low income individuals would still have at least some coverage. Additionally, it would require everyone--including all government employees---to participate. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Not surprising , therefore, is fear of not having enough money for the future is next on the list. 50% of those surveyed said that running out of money was a real concern. Given our discussion about healthcare, that's understandable. For those with 401K or other retirement plans, there is the issue of market volatility. My best advice is diversity and a willingness to ride out the highs and lows. You have to think long term. Downsizing and the loss of a job as a result of consolidations or mergers represent another real concern. One has to worry about rising taxes and fees, which never seem to end. Another factor to consider is the extremely high cost of college, often with mediocre prospects of finding a decent job after graduating for many majors. Those who obtain engineering and applied science degrees tend to do the best (both of these disciplines require excellent math skills by the way).

An alternative to a four or more year college degree without debt in the six figure range, is through trade school. First, and most importantly, there is real demand for plumbers, tool and die machinists, electricians, heavy equipment operators, carpenters, and auto mechanics. Secondly, most programs are reasonably affordable, while many have apprenticeships which allows the student to earn as they learn. Lastly, you can earn great money in the trades and you have the option to work for someone or go into business for yourself (as an aside, these jobs aren't exportable), and the jobs are transferable. You can go anywhere and find a job.

The next two fears are closely related, so we'll treat them as such. One is drinking polluted water at 50% and the other is pollution of the oceans, lakes, and streams with 53%. It seems to me that polluted drinking would be a byproduct of polluted waterways and oceans. However, this could also be viewed as part of a failing infrastructure. As some of you might know, America has a serious issue with outdated and decaying infrastructures such as dams, dikes, roads (including interstates and US highways), crumbing bridges, our electrical grids, sewage systems (including pipelines which can easily be over 100 years old), and, of course, our water treatment plants.

As Hurricanes Katrina, Irma, and Harvey showed us in New Orleans, Huston, and parts of Florida, it doesn't take much to create a backflow into the water treatment plants to effectively shut down the city's water supply, which often takes weeks or longer to clean up. Texas Governor Greg Abbott estimated that Hurricane Harvey created between $150 billion to $180 billion in damages. A German disaster firm, Center for Disaster Management and Risk Reduction, estimated that the damage to the infrastructure in Texas would top $267 billion, while home damage was estimated at $35 billion. For the record, the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, then the most expensive in U.S. history, cost $108 billion.

Next on our list of top fears for 2017 is "Trumpcare", which polled at 55%. Like the ones we just discussed, this could tie back into America's fear of the increasing cost of medical care as well as the fear of not having enough money over time; especially for any type of retirement or unexpected emergencies. Given the relationship between categories, I think it's safe to assume that healthcare, employment, and retirement are the key domestic issues affecting most Americans, and they should be. These issues affect us personally more so that infrastructure or pollution issues. As, it's the failure of Washington to find a solution which is also causing serious concerns for most of us.

At the time of Obamacare, House Republicans fought tooth and nail to defeat it. It was ultimately save by the Supreme Court when it, unconstitutionally, rewrote the bill into a tax. Nevertheless, House Republicans repeatedly stated that once they won the White House, and assuming they maintained a strong factor in the House, Obamacare would be "smothered in the cradle". Senior Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that House Republicans would continue to work on the matter and would have workable plan available to "pull out of the drawer" when the opportunity arose. Well, they didn't. They had nothing. Zippo. Nada. Zilch. They lied. And you know what? Nobody really expected them too. Voters knew damn good and well that nothing would be done, and as usual, the public was right.

Finally, we come to America's top fear, which shouldn't come as a surprise. In fact, it's the same fear that Americans have had decades. 74% of Americans are afraid of our corrupt government. Going back to 2015, that figure, which was also ranked top, was 58%. According to Gallup, the approval rating for Congress stands at 16%, which is pretty darn good when you consider that in early November 2015 it was only 9%. Interestingly, I had to go back to the week of June 12, 2005 just to reach 50%! In most countries, an approval under 55% is enough to set off alarm bells and brace for a possible coup at the polls or a revolution in the streets. Yet, we endure decades of poor Congressional approval ratings with barely a whimper. Why? As I've often said, Americans know our political system is broken beyond repair. We've come to accept that the time for reform is long past. No amount of tweaking is going to work. Uncle Sam is on life support with no pulse or brain activity. All that awaits him is for those who loved Uncle Sam the most, ordinary Americans, to perform a final act of compassion for him and pull the plug, and then to start our great experiment all over again. Hopefully, we will have learned from our mistakes.



Americans are most afraid of this---hint: it's not Obamacare or terrorism



America has been at war 93% of the Time--222 out of 239 Years-- Since 1776




Hurricane Harvey could cost $190 billion, Topping Hurricane Katrina




Gallup News: Congress and the Public


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