Sunday, October 30, 2016


As we edge towards a final vote in the States there have been a few developments that threaten to heat up the atmosphere even further in an unhealthy direction.  They are mostly non consequential in relation to real issues.

The increase in Health Care premiums for many is jumped upon and exaggerated.  It is not everyone who is going to be hit with 50% increases and the poorest have been given some protection.  The Republicans have steadfastly tried to undo it while offering nothing to replace it.  They have had plenty of time to do so and this time they are consistently negligent in suggesting how they could handle it better.  No one seems to get excited that most advanced nations offer their citizens a longer life span and at less cost.

The FBI statements under James Comey might be relevant.  Again the Republicans are jumping on it. They act like they have clean hands--they don't.  When there was a real scandal involving Attorney Generals appointed and fired by Republicans in the George W. Bush era there was not very much response from Republicans about missing emails.  It is only casually mentioned how other Republicans destroyed their email trail such as George W. Bush, Mitt Romney and Colin Powell. but there is a hint of politicization with the announcement that the FBI had uncovered some emails that prove that Hillary committed a crime.

Hilary has been victimized by countless scandals for years, yet they all amount to next to nothing.  But they all leave an odor.  The worst are the rumors that never reach public scrutiny.  The problem is that she is perceived as an uppity woman.  A last minute "scandal" has a better chance of catching on.

Transparency is an ideal that is not always practical.  Negotiating with the enemy or with anyone with vested interests is made more difficult if not impossible if every word can be broadcast.

Fundraising is a difficult project.  Personally I avoid many pleas for charity (there are dozens every day).  My charitable giving usually springs from funerals as a respect for the deceased wishes or something that really hits home.  The Clintons set up a Foundation that has harnessed goodwill to help make life better for literally millions of people around the world.  I am sure there are many informal exchanges that result in them getting more money for good causes.  Is it very strange that other people benefit?

A good case study is Donald Trump himself who uses his Foundation blatantly for self benefit.  Incidentally Trump faces court cases for both fraud and rape that have been delayed until after the election.  He has many people accusing him of cheating them with respect to their work.  He also has many women claiming he took unwanted liberties with them  His character seems forgiven by many.

Really important issues are climate change, inequality, healthcare reform, campaign finance, international hostility, nuclear risks, reducing gun violence, automation*.  Donald Trump has displayed his ignorance countless times--he knows more than the generals, climate change is a Chinese hoax--Mexicans send us drug dealers and rapists (with the assumption also a few good people), Mexico would pay for a wall, etc., etc.

A Canadian example of last minute "revelations" was when ten years ago the RCMP stated they were going to investigate a Liberal insider crime.  The investigation led to nothing (a government employee was fined), but the Liberals lost power for the next ten years.

The truth is that social conservatives care about social issues while fiscal conservatives (more accurately those who support the 1%) support fiscal issues and will use any tool to get what they really want.  Nobody can predict what will happen, but it is a bad omen when misleading information forms opinions.

*automation added in, recognizing it as key factor in declining jobs

Thursday, October 20, 2016


Much as I pretend to be rational, there is an element of dogmatic thinking in my brain. How about you?  It is very hard to understand how others can be so crazy, but maybe there is a reason that can be respected. was a very humbling blog for me.

As a partial counter, I offer some positive thoughts on the opposition, in this case Republicans under Donald Trump.  For some there is only one issue and it might be abortion, gun rights, ISIL etc.  Much as I might disagree I have to respect your views.  I do respect the conservative Republicans who feel humans need incentives, but would temper that with a need for equal opportunities.  I can see why many Americans think the Democrats are soft on terrorism, although I believe the critics are short sighted and even counter productive.

There really are different mind sets and in many cases they complement one another.  In other cases they differ to a point of antagonism.  At the same time it is likely they can coalesce around something in common and perhaps develop in different directions.  The rest of this blog is mostly pointing out critical differences, but with the hope that somehow we can bridge the gap and develop a more rational view that serves everyone.

Rigging is a dangerous notion.  Unfortunately Trump takes it to an even more dangerous level.  He is suggesting his supporters keep an eye out for ineligible voters.  In open carry states this could be especially intimidating to visible minorities.  The suggestion that the final count is rigged could lead to  violent polarization.  The media--yes there has always been bias-as a distant observer it seems that has been slightly to the right.  In this particular campaign Trump initially got an inordinate amount of coverage that he exploited to hit what he identified as his core supporters.  He was definitely given a pass on vetting during the primaries.  He is such an egotist that he reacts to the smallest slights.

Climate change has not been nearly talked about enough and is still ridiculed by conservatives.  The U.S. military has identified it as one of the most critical concerns for national security.  Insurance companies are not fooled by deniers.  But there is not much discussion which must suit the opposition financed by powerful vested interests.
Gun control is another emotional issue.  One side wants an open ended second amendment while the other side suggests a few restrictions.  I believe international statistics back up the merits of some limitations.

Abortion is for many the most emotional issue.  Few Democrats see abortion as a positive thing, but see a lack of choice leads to misery in many different forms

The Israel/Iran situation causes heartburn for many conservatives.   American politicians seeking power seem to bend to the will of Israel with only token words for the Palestinians.  Iran is mistrusted by Israel, Americans and much of the rest of the world, but Iran has a case.  They have had a democratically elected leader deposed in a coup organized by the Americans and British.  They have had a passenger plane shot down with only monetary compensation and no apology.  They have had secret police organized by Americans terrorizing their citizens.  They have had an Iraqi invasion supported by Americans.  Still I think the average Iranian is more sympathetic to America than those in power.  The Iranian deal that was delicately negotiated over several years (with some positive input from Hillary Clinton) should be respected.  To force Iran to some humiliating concessions it was necessary to gain co-operation of other nations including Russia and China.  The so-called "ransom" was really an unpaid debt that Americans used as leverage.  There will likely be some very significant trade actions that benefit all parties.  There are ethnic and religious factions that create a lot of tension, but if we do not waste this opportunity such tensions can mellow with benefits to everyone including America and Israel.  If everyone is not satisfied that they squashed Iran sufficiently they should be advised to look at the overall picture and seize the opportunities that are now available or find their prophesies self-fulfilling.

International trade is again another emotional issue with Donald Trump being very vocal about lop sided trade deals.  It is easy to point to displaced manufacturing workers, but overlook how consumers have more money to spend and choice often resulting in jobs that are not directly linked to the trade deal.  And you now have some trading partners with more money to spend as well.  Others would also point to environmental concerns.  Corporations have more power than labourers and environmentalists.  Protectionism is not the answer but fair trade is better than free trade.  Displaced workers often overlooked by corporate negotiators  need to be considered and retrained.

Inequality leads to a vicious cycle of poverty that is negative for everyone.  As usual one party favours giving more money to the "job creators" who in the past have invested elsewhere.

The election does force one to take sides.  Canada has multiple parties that do have an influence and reflect a variety of opinions.  Torn between ranked and proportional--many criticize that proportional would lead to minority govt which is really a check on political power.  Take money out of the equation and more opportunities to reflect the true opinion on Americans will be revealed.

Unfortunately each of the two main sides cannot understand any merit in the other.  Education is part of the answer, but in reality we all have to understand better where the others are coming from and rather than stop at criticism try to develop connections.

Did you see the debate?  Who do you think had the better temperament?  Who do you think made the most sense?  The rational thing is for Americans to vote for the most rational choice.  The rest of us will be watching.

The photo is a partial mural by a favorite artist, Lester Coloma

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Outsiders can never quite understand conflicts the way insiders do.  Conflicts create impressions that can affect outcomes.  In some ways outsiders can be upset that there is a conflict and in others they take sides.  I feel the conflict between Bollywood and Pakistan cannot be ignored.

At base is the conflict in Kashmir that is disputed between Pakistan and India.  Terrorists have taken action over the years, but this past September terrorists killed 18 Indian soldiers.  The whole Kashmir situation is controversial and is very emotional for both sides.  To me, like in most situations I would be most concerned about what the actual people living there want.  Then the next thing is how to treat those who might lose out.  When the Indian subcontinent was partitioned in 1947 an immense amount of suffering resulted.  Feelings from that long ago date still stir resentment.

Only recently have I been conscious that there are Pakistani actors in Bollywood.  Fawad Khan in "Kapoor and Sons" made a strong impression, but at this point he seems to be the focal point of this issue.  He was cast at a time of India reaching out to Pakistan, but the good feelings are now gone.  In fairness it is not so much the Bollywood producers as the distributors (pressured by nationalist party MNS) who are leading the backlash.  Not too long ago I saw an interesting promo for "Ae Dil Hai Mushkil," but more recently I learn that because Fawad Khan has a prominent role in it some distributors are refusing to carry the film.  Karan Johar is promising never to hire another Pakistani actor.  I bought some of the music from iTunes several weeks ago.

India is amazing in the number of religious groups that live with each other.  There have been serious problems between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, but on the whole India has survived and grown.  Pakistan is more a one religion country and has had more tension between extremists and moderates.

A movie I had looked forward to was "Tigers" which I read about when researching for a post on Danis Tanovic.  The main theme dealt with corruption in the pharmacy trade in Pakistan.  Although shown at the Toronto International Film Festival, a few years back, it has not been released to the general public.

I dislike censorship, but I don't feel comfortable with  hard core pornography or extreme violence.  I can also understand a case for libelous content.  But those in authority are sometimes abusive.  The distributors are imposing political censorship  based only on participation in a movie.

Terrorists feel strongly, but are powerless to organize an army.  They attempt to gain their ends by shock and often welcome backlashes.  ISIL is trying to convince moderate Muslims that they are hated by others. They have been a little successful in this regarding recruits whenever Islamaphobia erupts.  I suspect the Kashmiri terrorists are pleased at the reaction of Bollywood.

In the United Arab Republic they are filming a tv series with both Pakistani and Indian actors.  One of them Javid Sheikh, without knowing he was Pakistani, had been commented on for a Bollywood film I enjoyed The tv series will likely be distributed in the UAE and it is likely that both Pakistani and Indian audiences will seek it out.  Both countries enjoy each others' tv serials as well as movies.

Bollywood is always looking for talent wherever they can, but it has not been a one way street. Nandita Das, Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri have all appeared in Pakistani films.  Musicians have crossed the border in both directions.  Bollywood stars are quite popular in Pakistan and have even appeared in tv. commercials.

I hope this situation is resolved before next January when Mahira Khan's role in "Raes" will be released with Shah Rukh Khan.  I am not aware of Pakistani involvement of other non Bollywood Indian films such as Tamil that I sometimes am able to watch.  I hope it doesn't result in any more censorship.

Dialogue is critical.  There actually is not enough of it.  A resolution to Kashmir is needed to undercut the terrorism, but if not done fairly may unleash even more.  India has resisted the idea of a mediator and I imagine their concern is to get an impartial one.  Perhaps the best one would be someone totally removed from the situation--perhaps a retired UN president or someone like Jimmy Carter.  Everyone on both sides has to respect what the actual residents want--an issue might be the preferences of ex-patriots.

Bottom line.  I like to watch good movies wherever they come from and whoever helps make them.  I also prefer dialogue to emotional arguing.

Monday, October 17, 2016


My first reaction deciding whether to waste time on this movie was confusion.  Brazilian movies have left a positive impression, but this movie highlighted Martin Sheen, who I enjoy and another American star, Mara Rooney.  What kind of mix could this be?  I put it on my reserve list as a sort of filler for when I couldn't find something better.  Inevitably that time arrives.

A big surprise.  Almost from the beginning one could appreciate this is no amateur production.  One comment I read was that it really was American expertise, but checking closely it has quite an international contribution, but is rooted deeply in Brazilian realities.  A lot to enjoy.

It alls start with the writing.  Andy Mulligan wrote the book.  He is an Englishman but had spent time in Brazil, Vietnam and Philippines as an English and drama instructor.  "Trash" was his second book and at one point had been nominated for a children's book award, but was rejected because it contained violence and strong language.

Richard Curtis born in Wellington, New Zealand wrote the screenplay.  An earlier film, "About Time" was one of my favourites watched in 2014.   He also wrote "War Horse," " Notting Hill "and "Four Weddings and a Funeral."

As with many movie plots it is difficult to credit a series of improbable events that lead to a desirable conclusion, but they are not inconceivable.  Years of research on a family tree have convinced me that  all of us are the result of a series of improbable events.  This movie provides clues so you don't feel that the outcome hid important information from you.  This viewer found it credible enough and more importantly intriguing.  By intriguing, we all are looking for something fresh, but obviously there are few totally new plots.

A lot of the dialogue is from street boys.  As an outsider it seemed realistic and I suspect is one of the contributions of Felipe Braga who was credited as a writer providing extra material.  He had been born in Rio de Janeiro and written a number of Brazilian movie and tv. scripts.

Stephen Daldrey, the director has a reputation of working well with youngsters, one example being "Billy Elliot" and another, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close."  One of a director's tasks is to make the actors seem believable.  Other of his movies I have enjoyed  include, "The Reader" and "The Hours."

Chase scenes were on foot, but very intense.

Christian Duurvoort was credited as being a co-director.   He has a background as an acting coach in such films as "Blindness" (read the book, but not yet seen the movie) and "The Pope's Toilet."  His work must have been recognized as this was his first credit as a director.

Martin Sheen and Mara Rooney both speak a few words in Portuguese, but they do not pretend to be fluent. Their roles really were supporting, but necessary to get financing and marketing.  The main characters are three boys played by Rickson Tevis, Eduardo Luis and Gabriel Weinstein.  Some prominent Brazilian actors had key roles.  Wagner Moura who recently played Pablo Escobar in the mini series "Narcos" and Selton Mello played a corrupt police officer.  There were many supporting actors and they all played their roles well.

English plays a role when a code has to be broken and it is based on an English Bible.  The unilingual Brazilian boys struggle and stumble (logically) on the clues.

Editing is mainly behind the scenes.  You really don't usually catch it.  In this movie several times they want you to realize different events are happening at the same time so you feel the noose tightening.  It is done very well.  Elliot Graham has also edited "Milk," "Restless." and "X-Men 2" (which I have not seen).

Brazilian music has a type of celebration that people associate with good times.  A wide variety is used in the background.  La Traviata by Verdi is a nice touch for one scene.  Antonio Pinto added original music which I had bought from "Central Station."  Other movies he composed for include "Self/less," "McFarland USA," and "City of God."

Adriano Goldman, the cinematographer did a stunning job.  It is usual to expect scenic vista shots, but a lot of ordinary shots were extraordinary.  Some others of his films I have enjoyed included "August: Osage County," "Conviction," "Xingu" and "The Year My Parents Went on Vacation" (discussed in link below).

Filmed in Rio de Janeiro mostly in poorer sections with some scenes shot in Puerto Rico.

A few years back I discovered Brazilian films (and also Argentinian) and wrote a blog you might find interesting with a few connections to this current blog:

Saturday, October 15, 2016


One political commentator used the term "binary" election to describe the choice Americans face in electing a president.  Some voters don't even realize there are more than two choices on the ballot.  However binary is an appropriate word because it is a winner takes all (in a narrow, but significant sense) system and for a variety of reasons it is far too expensive to mount a viable third party.

So in essence there are two choices, which some people pare down to:  liberals and conservatives. That is over simplified, but generally the candidates form packages that are most easily described that way.

In truth most people have a streak of conservatism in them because they are most comfortable with the status quo.  However the conservatives with money want to protect and expand their control while others who hope to reach the top of wealth want to protect their path.  This means that the smart money wants rules that in effect give them an edge.  In reality most Americans (indeed most people) are content to stay in their comfort zone, but do notice that they are being taken advantage of. Examining the program set out by the moneyed conservatives would be rejected by the majority of voters.  Their solution has been to partner with what are labeled "social conservatives."

Social conservatism is a loose term which can be a bit slippery to define and many of us share some views but not others.  Many of us evolve our thinking regarding what is acceptable and what is good. We all discriminate in one way or another, but we come to view some discrimination as unfair and even counter productive.  Some of us appreciate that the world is changing and some new things and ideas need to be considered.  Some issues which might upset the status quo can no longer be ignored.

Racial discrimination has always been and to some extent always will be.  It is normal to think the group you belong to has characteristics that are superior to other groups.  Americans boast about how prosperous their country is due to their work ethic and "freedom," but they overlook that an important initial factor was slave labor which could only occur when Europeans were able to class black Africans as inferior and undeserving.  That stigma that made slavery possible is to some extent still with us.  In many ways the views on blacks are self-fulfilling in that if one is constantly confronted with obstacles sooner or later one gives up.  I grew up in a white society and I remember when my father drove me and my sister to Buffalo he told us not to stare.  Blacks to-day are more common and do not elicit idle curiosity.  A powerful perspective is

Immigrants have always had a rough time.  At one time it was the Irish and the Italians, but to-day they and other Europeans are well assimilated.  In the United States, Mexicans have come to symbolize cheap labor and different customs.  From a globalized world immigrants come from all sorts of "weird" places and now a" troublesome" component is Muslim with seemingly a very different life style.  The hope for the world is that we assimilate together.  We are unconscious of the many gifts that have come from "others," but are gradually finding acceptance of new gifts such as tacos and fallafels.  These gifts and many others have enriched our lives.  My experience with refugees:

Sexual behavior has always been a potentially volatile element.  Marriage was instituted as a way of controlling it and families are the base of society.  That some people didn't want to fit into the standard one man, one woman mould was something to be hidden, not only on pain of ridicule and ostracism, but sometimes as extreme as death.  I grew up snickering at the concept of homosexuals, but secretly feared them.  Then because of changing times I actually met and even socialized with some and was struck that they weren't all that different.  Now we hear or read that some people are born into a sex they feel very uncomfortable with and have the option to change.  New and very frightening to those brought up in a "normal" atmosphere.

Religious beliefs are the most defining for many people.  It not only is a set of core beliefs that help us deal with life, but bonds us to people with the same beliefs.  To me it is the height of arrogance to believe that we are 100% right and everyone else is wrong.  But should you find yourself in that trap (I do myself) it is neither fair nor practical to condemn everyone who subscribes to a different view.  Tolerance is a desirable religious trait as perhaps best personified in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Abortion is for many the core of social conservatism.  The thought of what an abortion actually is, is very repulsive to most of us.  Even if you have no religion it is hard to imagine anything more sacred or basic than life itself.  What is our life worth if someone can take away anyone else's?  I say that from the comfort of a male who will never have to directly face the problem of an unwanted pregnancy and of someone who went to Sunday School.  We all know that sex is a powerful drive and the result is sometimes an unwanted pregnancy.  If you don't have to face the consequences it is easy to pontificate about it.  Some women have killed themselves rather than deal with the consequences or more commonly suffered in other ways.

For those who feel abortion is the worst possible choice I am not too far from your view.  For that reason I favor sex education and contraception, but many social conservatives are against that as well.  Sex is seen as an evil thing that must be controlled and promiscuity cannot be forgiven.  On the other hand sex develops bonding between parents.  Sex is one of the key drivers of humans and can be a great joy and motivator for all civilization.  Other remedies include adoption and perhaps most important, acceptance.  For my views on sex education:

Many people cannot condone what they see as "murder" and I can respect that.  On the other hand we all need to realize that elected politicians deal with many other life and death issues.  Executions and the power to declare and manage war are pretty direct.  Health care is also a matter of life and death to all of us in one sense or another.  In fact a lot of regulations are aimed as curbing risk to life.  Euthanasia is also becoming an issue.  In all these cases voters have the power to impact other lives.  Hillary Clinton has said "Abortion should be legal, safe and rare."

Another aspect of social conservatism has come to be gun rights.  The desire to protect yourself and loved ones cannot be denied.  On the other hand a truly open gun policy would likely lead to anarchism and a lot of violence.  Most people accept that there needs to be some limitations just as we have come to accept limitations on the use of automobiles.  Some feel that any restriction on their gun rights is a limitation on their freedom. They are right in this, but to be functional we all have limitations on our freedom.  This is another life and death issue.  For my views on gun control:

The economic conservatives have learned that by offering assurances they understand social concerns they gain votes and power.  Admittedly there is a natural alliance among those who like the status quo.  On the other hand many people realize the conservative approach is a key factor in inequality.

When Lyndon Johnson signed a bill of rights he realized his party was going to suffer for decades.  It wasn't long before Richard Nixon started a Southern Strategy.  Ronald Reagan followed with a lot of "dog whistles" that signaled he understood southern sensitivities (as well as northern bigots).  Americans did elect a black president, but it must be recognized that a lot of citizens resent him and question his legitimacy.

Hillary Clinton was recently "caught" admitting that she is one person in private and another person in public.  This was presented as a shocking revelation, but in fact we are all guilty, more so if expecting to accomplish any goal.  The justification she gave was regarding a portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in the movie, "Lincoln" rings true.  Conservatives certainly have goals and have long ago realized the image they present to the public is not always how they think in private.

Monday, October 10, 2016

"Truth" the Movie Version hits home

Some movies hit a nerve.  If it has an element of historical fact and you already had some awareness and maybe even an opinion it can be compelling to watch. "Truth" amazed me in that it took up a sensitive topic and came out as the 2016 election is happening.  In the movie we learn that the protagonist, producer, Mary Mapes had intended to do an investigation of George Bush's military service before the 2000 election, but her mother died and she was distracted.  So here we are 16 years later and there is still some political life left in the story.

The story about the investigation made the news.  I don't recall" 60 minutes" at the time, but do recall learning about the events in newspapers.  Admittedly my inclination was the Republican party had misled Americans and were up to a lot of bad things.  Much has confirmed my feelings since then.  I remember watching John Kerry make his military salute, reporting for duty as he accepted the Democrat nomination.  Not too long after the Swiftboat campaign started discrediting his military record.  It has always concerned me that somehow a war hero was discredited while an actual non combatant was protected.  That is the baggage I carried over to the movie.

Previously I had written about movie producers and this movie focuses on a television producer.  Dan Rather was the key person in what I recalled, but the movie was told more from the point of view of the producer Mary Mapes.  The viewer gets an inside view of the background to what appeared on the air.

At the end, Mary makes a speech to the effect the whole issue boiled down to fonts and some confusion over testimony instead of the "truth."  What the truth actually was, I can only speculate, but I agree the truth was buried.  As she put it, the core issue was that a privileged son was able to avoid going to Vietnam and that was never denied.  She defended her integrity by pointing out that in order to fake the documents someone had to have intimate knowledge of procedures and personnel and after mastering all that detail use a Microsoft Word software program.  The script suggested news has become entertainment rather than just news.  More than entertainment it was part of a business.

I noticed at IMDB a lot of negative political comments, but they seem very partisan and in a way proved that power is afraid of the truth.  I cannot vouch for every word in the script, but the general thrust is very easy to believe.  I suspect there was some informal political boycotting.

The movie itself was well produced.  They gave a good feel for newsrooms and also home offices.  Actors were well chosen and directed.  I didn't notice the music which I normally listen for, but it was there and supportive.

Special feature not only captured thoughts of the actors, director, writers and producers, but also of the real Mary Mapes and the real Dan Rather.

There does seem to be a concentration of media power.  Ronald Reagan took steps that encouraged this development--public service requirement dropped and lowered restrictions on ownership concentration.

Mary Mapes wrote the book that inspired this movie.  She was very articulate.  After being fired (other participants were forced to retire) she was awarded for her coverage of the Abu Ghraib scandal (perhaps a motive for how hard she had been hit).  She felt she had to explain herself.  More and more reporters felt they have to do the "safe" thing.

Dan Rather who was forced to resign also was very articulate.  He noted that today's younger generation pays little attention to main stream news dismissing it as propaganda and sophistry.  Trust must be earned.  There is often a powerful person who doesn't want the truth to be known.

Robert Redford, an activist (noted by co-star Cate Blanchett) pointed out that if truth goes against power it can be crushed.

A few weeks ago I watched "Spotlight" which was about an extensive investigation into child abuse in the Catholic churches in Boston.  One can appreciate that such efforts require a lot of manpower and runs up against powerful opposition.  We are better for it and are in danger of losing such efforts.

Dan Rather had been accused of dropping one of his signature farewell words, "Courage" which he did revive with emphasis on his farewell broadcast.  I interpret it to mean that we need courage to tell the truth.  We lost a lot when Dan Rather was (relatively) silenced.

Writing this after the second debate between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump I caught a post on Facebook with commentary from Dan Rather.  Watch the reader comments as they are mostly supportive of Dan Rather and I think he deserves the last word for this posr.

Thursday, October 6, 2016


Donald Trump has galvanized voter attention.  To too many, he can do no wrong, but fortunately he is energizing those who realize he would be a disaster.  Many are reluctant to vote for Hilary who has been victimized for over 25 years with mostly disproven accusations.  Hilary was a strong feminist when many politicians resented them.  Others would prefer to vote for a third party.

This is being written after the Vice President debate.  Tim Kaine was seen as an interrupter (which he was) and nervous while Mike Pence was calm and prepared.  A day later more people are commenting that in fact Mike Pence helped  perpetuate all the lies and hateful statements actually made by Donald Trump.  All in all it looks like Hilary will emerge as president in November.

It is true the president has more power than any individual,  It is not true that they are omnipotent.  Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have clogged up progress and are in a position to perpetuate their obstruction with fatal consequences.

This election illustrates the power of money.  Most voters spend minimal time assessing the merits of each candidate, but are hit with literally millions of dollars worth of targeted ads.  Too many of the ads are negative and too few give an honest assessment of any issue.  Big money can shift their money where it can have the most impact.  Republicans spent their resources wisely back in 2010 giving them the power to determine district boundaries, called gerrymandering.  This has enabled them with fewer votes to gain real power in the House of Representatives.  Between campaign finance abuses and gerrymandering they have entrenched themselves to be able to resist a progressive agenda.  The Republicans actually have more to fear from their primary voters than the people they are supposed to represent.

For gun rights, the issue spills across both sides of the aisle.  The NRA makes it clear they will target any one who dares to oppose any of their rights.  They have successfully blunted the majority of voters who wish some reasonable curbs on dangerous abuses.  They pretend to protect the Second Amendment and to be interested in public safety, but they suppress any efforts that would curb gun revenue.  The Democrats have some common sense gun control ideas that do not infringe on majority gun rights.

After over 25 years of mudslinging that used up valuable money and time. Hilary unfortunately became more defensive which also seems to count against her.  If she were perfect perhaps that would overcome her reputation among ill informed voters, but who can claim that?

At the moment the Senate has brought to a standstill efforts to replace a Supreme Court judge that leaves many issues fogged up.  The House of Representatives stymied efforts to combat Zika and have clogged up efforts to boost Medical health insurance.  Climate Change requires a serious effort, but Republicans  (financed in large part by the fossil fuel industry) are proud of being deniers.  Racial harmony is being assaulted.  Social security is resented by the 1% that finances the Republican resistance. They would like see abortion abolished, campaign finance loosened, minority protections lessened, gay marriage abolished, gun rights expanded, and more changes to keep the 1% entrenched.  Obamacare would be repealed.

Donald Trump didn't come out of nowhere.  He is articulating a lot of what was coded before.   Republicans have long realized few would vote for their economic policies so they have courted social conservatives and to many of us it seems like bigots who resent "others."

For many voters it is easier to vote the same party at the bottom of the ticket as they have at the top.  Rich people like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers have made a shift to protect their selfish interests.  They are supporting very conservative candidates for the Senate and House.  This means that the average voter will not have to endure as many Trump ads, but will be bombarded with messages, often very misleading why thy should not vote for the Democrats.

Net result, it may not matter a lot if Hilary does win.  She could find her efforts blocked.  The election is not just about two diverse personalities, but about philosophies that affect everyone.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

You Could be "The Wisest One in the Room"

You, my readers, are undoubtedly fairly reasonable people, but you are surrounded by unreasonable people.  Lee Ross and Thomas Gillovich help guide us to a more enlightened way of looking at what surrounds us.  We tend to admire the person who can come up with a quick response to a problem.  The authors maintain the wisest person in the room is slow to judge, preferring to wait for more information.

A quote from the authors:  "...many mistakes are made not because the right answer is too hard, but because the wrong answer is too easy."  In the first part of the book Ross and Gilovitch recount many different psychology experiments to demonstrate that most of our responses (and those of others) are pre conditioned.  When we judge we tend to overlook the bigger context.  Most of us could be labeled "naive realists" meaning we think we are realists, but we never know the whole picture.

Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, "I don't like that man, I must get to know him better."  The first question after encountering something new should be "Why might my initial impression be wrong?"

Difficult changes occur only after many incremental steps.  They recount some stories of people doing amazing things, but at the end of many smaller achievements.

The Middle East baffles those trying to wrestle with it.  The authors are reluctant to make specific suggestions.  They noted an instance with a Palestinian speaker who admitted their faults.  It is more common to complain and believe the other side is the one who is unreasonable.  There is a lot of distrust that needs to be broken down.

Closer to home they deal with racial minorities and disadvantaged youths.  They are the ones who feel like they do not belong.  Do not be patronizing.  The authors suggest set high standards and assure them you believe they can achieve them.  When the disadvantaged are better understood and encouraged they can be just as productive as anyone else.

Climate change is perhaps the greatest challenge for mankind and it has been a very big nut to crack.  Individuals are aware their efforts are more than likely counter balanced by those who won't make any effort.  There are vested interests with huge amounts of money campaigning against any efforts.  The issue has become politicized and bundled with other policies on the Right or Left.

Environmentalists fear an emphasis on mitigation (such as building sea walls) as a distraction, but the authors disagree.  Lee and Gilovich see mitigating efforts as a foot in the door.  There is an acknowledgment of a problem and sets people to thinking about the next step.  Again big changes only happen after a series of smaller steps.  Some small steps would include celebrating achievements by individuals, industries or communities and at the same stigmatize offenders, foot draggers and discredit deniers.

A general comment is that the younger generation has helped many positive changes and a wise person would listen to them.

The book ends with an example from Nelson Mandela.  After being released from prison and shortly after being elected to run the country he was well aware of antagonism from the whites.  Rather than encourage vendettas he decided to adopt one of their interests.  He campaigned to get the World Rugby Championships to South Africa and rallied the whole country to the national Springboks.  It is well to remember while the whites were obsessed by the Springboks, blacks resented and hated them as symbol of oppression.  When Nelson, wearing his Springbok jersey and cheering the team the whole nation united in its support.  After their victory the white captain was asked how it felt to get the support of 63,000 fans in the stadium he responded, "...We had the support of 42 million."

There are many psychological insights in the book that a wise person would want to consider.  Small things can lead to big things if you think wisely.

Sunday, October 2, 2016


For many the title implies that some people do the work and others just live off the profits generated by workers.  Job creators and moochers is part of the thinking (or rationalizations) that enable a few to exploit the many.  The financial trade employs 4% of jobs, but extracts 25% of corporate profits.

There have always been some people who strive to take advantage of their naive comrades, but Rana Foroohar brings us up to date with some modern twists.   One starting point was with the American Civil War.  Abraham Lincoln needed to finance the Union cause, but learned he needed support from banks and they wanted concessions.

Not too long after the Civil War in both Britain and America the legal concept of limited liability started gaining momentum.  This meant an investor could not be held liable for financial disasters.  Basically it removed a hesitation to be a partner in a business when you could be liable for more than your investment.  It freed up a lot of capital for the benefit of most and also increased the willingness to take risks.

By the 1920's 3/4 of major household items were bought on credit.  This was just the start of making it easier to spend money one did not have.  As advertising helped create demand for more products, the cost of living or "keeping up with the Jones" got more expensive, more women became workers and then found even that became more difficult  to get ahead without credit.

American business schools have come to emphasize efficiency.  A short term view to boost shareholder profit.  This can be seen in countless companies that emphasized cutting costs at the expense of research.  Many companies could make a large part of their profits from financing.  Short term profits at expense of real long term growth (which might require research, training) has become normal..

Avoiding taxes is a priority  I am reminded of Mariana Mazzucato who felt governments were not given enough credit for their efforts for research  Many governments are responsible for significant improvements.  Read more at:

Companies are finding more ways to avoid taxes.  A new strategy is called inversion where a large American company merges with a company in a lesser taxed nation and arranges their affairs to reduce taxes.

Commodities are the stuff of life, but not previously considered a very sexy investment.  Still huge investment firms always looking for new opportunities found a few.  One of the net results was the rising of prices including food.  Another interesting example was Goldman Sachs hoarded aluminum to raise the price.  Amongst other companies affected by that were Coke and Coors that used aluminum for canned beverages.

The author commented that the government chose to bail out banks rather than give more support for those with risky mortgages that often were arranged with a fraudulent element.  Basically the government did fine companies when they were able to prove fraud, but virtually none of the heads of the fined companies were sent to jail.  Jail time has proved to be more effective than fines.

Rana quotes Luigi Zingales, "Even in the United States public resentment against finance can undermine the expectation that the rule of law will be respected in the future.  Without this expectation the competitive, democratic and inclusive finance will quickly become unsustainable."

Because financing is so critical to a society they should adopt an equivalent of the Hippocratic oath.

Many other examples and explanations are in the book.  The average voter is unaware how finance has dominated their lives.  It is amazing that with 4% of the jobs, finance controls 25% of corporate profits.  Who are the makers and who are the takers?