Friday, October 23, 2015

Democratic Socialism

As independent senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders has a real chance to become the Democratic candidate for President in 2016, it is time for the American people to understand what he stands for.  Sanders’ party is the Democratic Socialist party.  So, what is a Democratic Socialist?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Snowden and the NSA

Benjamin Franklin by Joseph Duplessis
After the homilies he immortalized in Poor Richard’s Almanac (“A penny saved is a penny earned,” “Early to bed and early to rise …,” “Old too soon and wise too late”), Benjamin Franklin is best known for two more mature aphorisms: “A Republic, madam, if you can keep it” and “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
In other words, alongside of the wise Mr. Franklin, I am squarely on Edward Snowden’s side in this contest between the forces of civil liberties vs national security.  If we can’t protect ourselves without resorting to undermining the very freedoms that make us proud to be Americans in the first place, well then, God help us.
Having said that, this is a tough one.
I don’t think we want to live in a society where every government worker takes it upon himself to decide what government secrets ought to remain secret.  There ARE legitimate government secrets and we need not air all our dirty laundry all the time.  I don’t think I need to have access to the conversations of the President with everyone he speaks 24/7, as long as I know they will all be made public, for the sake of history, after 20 years’ time.  Same for all his cabinet secretaries.  And Senators, and Congressmen.  The lives of the public (I mean “us”) are quite busy enough, as long as we get to know the results of all their conversations, as long as the press gives us what we need to be informed citizens.  I think it is appropriate that we criminalize behavior that is anti-social, and revealing classified information to the public is surely at least anti-social; in a few cases, indeed, it may reach to treason.
On the other hand, it is quite clear that government can be over-zealous in protecting itself by classifying way too many conversations and documents as top secret, often to spare the official actors from embarrassment, often to spare them from revealing to the public what the public really needs to know.
So, to come to the point: should Edward Snowden be charged with treason, or some lesser crime, and spend a long time in prison for confronting the American public with the dirty laundry of how we protect ourselves, behind closed doors?
click photo for story
When I began this piece, I was going to end with a humble “I see no solution.  While I applaud what Snowden did, I do not want to encapsulate his actions into law, I don’t want all our secrets to be fair game for public scrutiny, I don’t want every public employee taking upon himself the mantle of whistle-blower.  So, what do I do with Snowden?  I don’t know.  Read Melville’s Billy Budd for a thoughtful treatise on the right vs. the law.  Sorry, no easy answer.  You’re an American hero, Ed, but don’t come home, because you will be headed for federal prison.”
But I think I begin to see the glimmer of a solution.  The jury at any criminal trial in America consists of twelve men tried and true.  They represent us, all of us.  Let them, before the man who thinks himself a patriot stands trial, decide the question of damage, damage to the republic for having its dirty linen aired in public.  Let them decide if damage has been done to us.  If they decide that he has done us harm, let him stand trial for the harm he did us.  If they decide that he has done us no harm, let Snowden walk – no damage, no crime, no trial.  If they decide that damage was done us by those who classified the documents as secret, let us look into that.
I would be happy to sit on such a jury.  But of course, my mind is already made up, so I would never be seated.  <sigh>
Would Edward Snowden take the chance and come home to stand trial?  Weigh in, if you like.

Friday, October 2, 2015


The Obama administration likes to boast that it is responsible for 59 straight months of employment expansion, of employment growth, the longest positive economic growth in American history.  I cannot comment on the streak as I don’t have that level of data, or for that matter that level of interest, to affirm or deny that factoid.  On the other hand, the level of employment growth leaves a lot to be desired.   “Why,” you may ask, “this is an impressive accomplishment, isn’t it?”  I guess it is.  But not as impressive as you may think.  Here is why.
The population of the United States grew from 281,421,906 to 308,745,538 (Census Bureau data) in the ten years from 2000 to 2010 (a growth rate a bit slower than the previous ten years).  We will assume that that rate of population growth has remained roughly constant ever since.  That rate of growth is 9.7% over ten years which is 0.93% for each year and 0.0927% for each month.  That rate of population growth will generate a monthly population increase of 260,878 at the beginning to 286,206 at the end of the period.  How many months (of those 59) saw employment growth that exceeded population growth for the same period?  Nine.  So, out of the last 59 months, 9 (15%) have seen an increase in employment that exceeded the increase in population.  For 50 of those 59 months (85%), the increase in population was stronger than the increase in the employment figure.
So, while we are adding to the work force, we are not keeping up with our natural increase in population.  Even though the news sounds good, it is only good compared with … worse.    You will have to play with the Years
This is great news for the Republicans, isn’t it?  Sure, as long as they don’t subject their own record to the same scrutiny.  The BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) says that we have been losing ground steadily since about 2000 (Dot Com bubble burst).  And that we peaked (labor force as % of the population) in 1990 (Dot com bubble begins) and again in 2000.  Straight downhill ever since.  And 9/11 seems not to have anything to do with it.

What made me think of this subject?  I just read Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground between Humans and Robots.  Chapter Three is called: A Tough Year for the Human Race.  You want a real political issue to chew on?  This is it!