Humanity: Has Just Gone Where No Man (or woman) Has Gone Before

phot-39a-09-fullresReally? Where did we go? What amazing feat did humanity accomplish this time? Did we make it to Mars finally? Did we send a satellite through a wormhole to another dimension? Did we receive a message from aliens on how to travel faster than the speed of light?

Sorry. We haven’t accomplished any of that yet. So where did humanity go that we’ve never been before?

The answer is Planet Earth. A different Earth. One that humanity has never seen before. I’m talking about an earth which now has 400 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide (CO2) in its atmosphere. We are now living on an earth that no man, woman or child has ever witnessed before.

Measurements of CO2 levels in the atmosphere over the past decade, taken at different times, in different locations have peaked at 400ppm before. But what’s different now is that ALL measurements from around the globe are ALL averaging 400ppm. (Click here for report from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration)

Since the beginning of earth our atmosphere has fluctuated and in turn, the climate has fluctuated. This we know. The earth did have carbon levels this high before at one point, estimated at about 5 to 10 million years ago. This was millions of years before the first prehistoric-man (homo habilis) walked in the Pliocene Era, which was about 1.8 million years ago. For the past 800,000 years carbon levels in the atmosphere have fluctuated between 180 and 300ppm. (They know this by measuring air bubbles trapped in ice cores from Antarctica; read more here) It was only 12,000 years ago when modern humans arrived (homo sapiens) during the Holocene Epoch. Yet somehow, just over the last 100 years we have managed to raise carbon levels at an unprecedented rate, to an unprecedented number. I say “somehow”, but we know how that extra carbon got there. It’s no mystery. Our atmosphere has gone from 280pmm to 400ppm in the last 100 years because of burning fossil fuels; oil, coal and gas. Period! (Yes there are other sources of greenhouse gases but fossil fuel extraction and use, is by far the largest contributor to man-made greenhouse emissions)Alan-Miller-CO2-Concentration-Graph

Some people search for other improbable explanations like volcanoes. Volcanoes can have short-term climate effects due to sulfates released, but these don’t stay in the atmosphere for long and have no long-term effect on climate. While they do emit some carbon, it is very little compared to human actives. (You can read more about volcanic effects on climate and carbon emissions here from the USGS).

So we are now in unchartered territory with more CO2 in our atmosphere than we’ve ever experienced. What does this mean for us as a civilization? Nobody knows or can predict 100% into the future, but we can make pretty good educated guesses. Instead of getting tied up in politically motivated arguments let me list some undisputed scientific facts and I’ll let you put the dots together. (Each point I list includes a link if you wish to read further on each topic.)

-CO2 traps solar radiation in the form of heat. (Article from Scientific American originally published in 1959)

-The earth’s average air and ocean temperatures have risen dramatically over the past few decades. (report and figures from NASA)

-Warmer air holds more water vapor, making for heavier rain events (Science 101)

-Warmer oceans give storms more energy and more moisture (More about this here)

-Since warmer air holds more water vapor, it takes longer for the air to saturate. So the periods between rains gets longer, intensifying droughts. 

-Warmer temperatures also mean less snow. (Mountain snowpack is responsible for about 1/3 the worlds fresh water) (more about the importance of mountain snow)

-Warmer air, with longer periods between rain and less snow leads to worsening droughts. 

-Droughts impact our water supply and our FOOD SUPPLY (Bloomberg article on drought impacts)

-Warmer temperatures melt ice in the Arctic and Antarctic. The increasing speed of ice melt adds water to the oceans causing the sea levels to rise. (Sea level rise is also caused by warmer ocean temperatures. As the water heats up it expands.) It is also predicted that 10 million years ago, when there was this much carbon in the atmosphere that sea levels were about 100 feet higher than they are today. (National Geographic report on impacts of sea level rise)

-Melting Arctic ice also releases methane gas that has been trapped below the ice. Methane gas also traps solar radiation and heat, 25 times as much as CO2. (More on methane release from permafrost melting)

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California Drought, 2015

We are already starting to see these things happening around the world with our current state. We have severe droughts in California and the entire Southwest. It is also happening in other parts of the world such as Southern Brazil, India and China which are all seeing the worst droughts in their histories.  We are also seeing more severe storms and floods effecting millions. Just last month the city of Sydney, Australia had the worst flooding in over a century.

Nashville Floods, 2010

Nashville Floods, 2010

Today costal areas around the world are constantly being flooded on a daily basis. (Read here about Miami’s new-normal flooding) Many island nations have already begun plans to evacuate their entire populations to other countries because of rising ocean levels. If these things are already occurring, now lets take into account some other factors we have to look forward to.

-Global population was 3.6 billion in 1970 and doubled 45 years later to 7.3 billion people today. It is predicted our population will be 9 billion in 2040 and could reach 11 billion by the end of the century. (more about population growth)

-Global demand for water and food will increase. Yet today we are currently seeing our water and food systems being disrupted by floods and droughts.

-Global energy demand is expected to increase about 50% over the next 20 years alone. (Energy Information Administration projections)

We are already seeing the negative effects of these severe weather events with 400ppm of CO2 in our atmosphere and we are continuing to add about 36 gigatonnes of CO2 per year. Now, I don’t want to be a doomsayer, but none of these facts paint a pretty picture for the future of humanity.

Some people have suggested, “If the climate is changing, we will adapt”. And this is true. But keep in mind that adaptation through evolution occurs slowly over thousands of years. How are we supposed to adapt to sudden changes that occur over a period of a few decades? Others would like to assume a passive role, saying that the global climate will change on it’s own regardless of what humans do. This too is true, but the earth has never changed as rapidly as this and life has been able to adapt to natural gradual changes. The last sudden change in climate was what killed off the dinosaurs. (Scientists aren’t 100% sure if it was a meteor crash or intense volcanic activity or a combination of both. But it was a rapid change in climate that was responsible for the mass extinction of ¾ of life on earth)

To add to this, if the rate of carbon emissions has increased and we continue to add carbon to the atmosphere as we are doing today, these effects will continue to increase exponentially. Cause carbon is additive. Even if we stop all fossil fuel use today, we will still feel the effects for years to come, since carbon stays in the atmosphere and ocean cycles for hundreds of years. (more on the Carbon Cycle from Yale University)

While we will have to adapt our society to what is already a new normal, we can still stop the problem from getting incrementally worse. We NEED to change.

  • We need to change how we use energy
  • We need to change how we view our relationship with the planet.

For centuries mankind has looked at the planet as a place to conquer, as a never-ending resource that will keep giving whatever we take. But the truth is that it is only one small planet, the only one we have. As the population grows the planet will only get smaller.

We have to focus globally (macro) and locally (micro). On a micro scale we have to consider how we each individually are impacting our earth. It is easy to think, “I’m just one person. How can what I do make a difference?”  We each make up a part of the whole. It takes individual effort to change the collective consciousness of society. We also have to act on a macro scale, by globally using the collective power of our governments to assist in needed changes. It takes governmental policies to help change national infrastructures. Our politicians have the power to help people change the way we use energy and water.

There are lots of things we can be doing to ensure the continued prosperity for all humanity… or we can decide not to.

“There is no point to intellectual and political work if one were a pessimist. Intellectual and political work require, nay, demand optimism” (Edward Said)

I’m an optimist! Are you?

CLICK HERE TO LEARN HOW TO ACT LOCALLY

CLICK HERE TO LEARN HOW TO ACT LOCALLY

CLICK HERE TO ACT GLOBALLY

CLICK HERE TO ACT GLOBALLY

Burst The Bubble

SEE HOW YOU CAN HELP STOP CLIMATE DENIAL

Stop Climate Denial!

Dear Social Capitalism Supporters,

I appreciate all of your support, comments and critiques over the past few years. It has  been a pleasure getting the chance to engage in constructive discussion with all of you. I would also like to apologize for not posting much over the past year. This has been a side-project for me that began a few years ago, amongst the other demands we all juggle with daily: A full-time job and family.

The issues of socio-economic policies are still of great concern but there is another related issue that I feel is demanding immediate attention from my time and efforts. I am referring to the issues of Climate Change, how it is affecting our world and what we can do about it. Unfortunately, progress to tackle this growing problem has been stifled by a growing number of climate deniers.  People are being persuaded by fossil fuel companies who are spending billions of dollars to help spread an anti-science agenda, perpetuating false science.

One of the things I have done this year is to join The Climate Reality Project. This is an organization founded by former Vice President Al Gore. As part of this organization, I’ve begun giving free talks to various businesses and schools, stressing the need for climate action from all levels of government and society. 2015 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for humanity. We are dangerously adding higher levels of CO2 emissions, causing global air and ocean temperatures to rise. These atmospheric changes are beginning to wreak havoc on societies in the form of severe droughts, floods, rising sea levels and forest fires, which is effecting all of us.

Burst The Bubble Logo

This year I also started an organization called Emerging World Concepts. Our mission is to help promote the need for renewable energies. Our first effort is a campaign titled Burst The Bubble. This is a mass advertising campaign designed to combat the disinformation that is influencing people who live in what has become known as “The Conservative Bubble”. You can check out examples of our ads designed to go up on highway billboards around the country by clicking here.

Of course standing up to the financial and political power of Big Oil and Coal is no easy task and requires the collective effort from people like you. This is why I ask all of you who are concerned to please take a look at our crowd-funding campaign here.  Any financial assistance to help make this campaign a success is much appreciated. But if you are unable to assist financially, you can still play a very helpful role by sharing these sites and campaigns with your friends and family. We also have a Burst The Bubble Facebook page you can visit and LIKE here.

I thank you all for being concerned citizens of our world and helping to make a positive difference for today and future generations.

An Invitation To Conservatives

Gallery

This gallery contains 11 photos.

    This article is about finding a common ground between the political left and right on the issue of climate change. Talking to my conservative friends, they are apprehensive when it comes to governments that look to impose rules … Continue reading

Recent Amazon Review

5.0 out of 5 stars Balance Is Everything!!!, February 18, 2014
Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
I give this book five stars mainly because I believe in a balance between socialism and capitalism. After many trips to Venezuela I have realized that strong socialism doesn’t work. On the other hand, strong capitalism doesn’t work in this country either. Unfortunately many Americans seem to think “Whatever is good for business is good for America.” If this was true the Bernie Madoff’s of the world would not exist. Lawrence F Mignogna does a great job of tackling the complex task of attaining balance between socialism and capitalism. Hopefully more people like him will discard their strong Republican / Democrat beliefs that cause division in this country and come together as Americans resulting in a balance of socialism and capitalism.

Mark Fackson
Author: Lean Powder Coating

Who Are They To Talk? The fiscal narrative that doesn’t add up

What do these Republican Senators have in common?

Dan Coats of IndianaTom Coburn

Tom Coburn of Oklahoma

Bob Corker of Tennessee

Mike Crapo of Indiana

Mike Enzi of WyomingJames Inhofe

Lindsey Graham of South Carolina

Chuck Grassley of Iowa

Orrin Hatch of Utah

James Inhofe of OklahomaMitch McConnell

Mike Lee of Utah

John McCain of Arizona

Mitch McConnell of South Carolina

Jerry Moran of Kansas

Rand Paul of Kentucky

Pat Roberts of Kansas

Marco Rubio of Florida

Jeff Sessions of Alabama

John Thune of South Dakota

Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

First, they all consider themselves “Fiscal Conservatives”. So much so, that all these Senators voted against the Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill. There were 31 total Senators that voted against the spending bill. But what is so special about these 19 Republican Senators who call themselves fiscal conservatives? They all represent states that get more money from the federal government then they contribute towards federal revenue.

This is in contrast to the states of New York and New Jersey who would of received the bulk of the benefits from this bill. Together the states of New York and New Jersey contribute about 150 million dollars more each year to federal tax revenue than they receive in benefits from the federal government. So I want to ask, “Who are these Republican Senators that would deny assistance for two states that continually pay more to the federal government then they receive.

But lets not stop thinking there. If we look further we can see a startling pattern emerge when it comes to Republicans who represent Red or conservative states.  Many Americans have bought into the conservative narrative: that Blue States are full of irresponsible, out of control, liberal spenders. Conservatives would also like to consider themselves and the states they represent as responsible, live with-in your means types. However, when we look at the facts, this narrative isn’t supported at all. The facts actually tell a completely opposite story.

Looking at the federal tax revenue received from all states we can see that the 26 states which voted Democratic in the last election, pay the federal government on average $9,363 per person. Compare this to the average $6,854 per capita that the federal government receives from Red states that voted for Romney. Next, let us look at what federal funds each of these states received from the federal government. The 26 Blue states received on average $8,547 per person and the Red states received an average $8,832 per person. So the Blue states CONTRIBUTED $1,816 more per capita to the federal government and the Red states RECIEVED $1,978 more per person than they gave.Contribution By state

Of the 26 Blue states, only 12 have a negative contribution to the federal government. (Or 46%). But out of the 24 Red States, 19 or 80% take more money from the federal government then they contribute. What kind of fiscal conservative practice is that? So in contrary to the idea that liberals aren’t fiscally sound, it’s actually the Blue liberal states that have been supporting the fiscal shortfalls of the Red states.

It also proves contrary to the statement Mitt Romney made during the campaign, which is often reiterated by fellow Conservatives. He said, “47% of the country is reliant on government”. They insinuate that those who rely on government are the liberals who support and voted for Obama. Well it looks like Romney and the Republicans should rephrase their narrative. “80% of Conservative states are reliant on the federal government”

When it comes to disaster relief, we are one America that should help each other in times of need. But what if you had to make a fiscally conservative decision and decide who should be entitled to disaster relief? Just remember New York and New Jersey both have a positive net contribution to America. Oklahoma is one of those Red states with a negative federal contribution.  This is something the 19 Senators listed above seemed to have overlooked.

Instead of Banning Assault Rifles, How About This? A True Compromise.

Semi-automatics at gun show          In light of the gun debate circling the nation, I’ve decided to further research the mass shootings we’ve had in recent years and the weapons used in these incidents.  After which I’ve reached a sad conclusion. I don’t believe a ban on assault rifles would have much of a positive impact.  There are millions of these semi-automatic weapons already in circulation.  In the shooting that happened at Columbine, a semi-automatic Tec-9 was used. Although banned at the time, this was an older weapon, grandfathered in and considered legal (although it was sold illegally to a minor). On top of this, the previous Federal Assault Weapons Ban had a long list of things that qualified a weapon as illegal. The gun manufactures simply made other weapons that were just as deadly, but still met the federal requirements. This is why I would say that a ban on semi-automatics would have little effect. Instead I have formulated my own proposal that looks to compromise. Helping to deter those who would do harm while still preserving everyone’s 2nd amendment right to own fire arms.

The first part of this plan is in line with what President Obama and Democrats already proposed. It is also something supported by over 3/4ths of the country. Universal Background checks! Currently, background checks are required only for weapons sold by federally licensed gun dealers. Gun showBut 40% of guns are sold at gun shows and through private exchanges that don’t require a background check. If I was a criminal who wanted a gun, I have many legal options of obtaining a weapon by simply going to a private party or gun show. To many others and myself, this seems like the most sensible measure that could be taken to help avoid guns ending up in the wrong hands. Not only should there be background checks for all purchases, but every weapon should be registered, logged and recorded for better tracking if the gun is ever stolen and used in a crime.

I would also add on one further measure. The background check should also be required for ammunition purchases. If most of these killers weren’t able to simply walk into K-mart and pickup a few hundred rounds, with no questions asked, many lives may have been saved. If you are a legitimate, law-abiding citizen, there should be no room for concern here. The Universal Background Check is the single biggest measure that can be taken to help curb gun violence without denying people their right to own and operate a gun.

Then there is the assault weapon ban. Like I previously stated, I don’t believe a ban on these weapons would do much to curb violence. Instead I offer up a different idea. Rather than banning these weapons altogether, we simply require an extra permit for those who want to own and operate these weapons.weapons permit It’s the same kind of permit as the Concealed Weapon Permit. This would help to further ensure that people who have these weapons are safe, responsible individuals. Again this doesn’t infringe on the right to own a semi-automatic gun. This should apply to all semi-automatic weapons: new purchases and for people who already own these weapons.

As for the issue concerning high capacity magazines, (the idea of limiting the number of bullets allowed in a gun clip), I would apply the same idea of obtaining the necessary permit. Let’s say 7 bullets are allowed for the average handgun and anything more requires an additional permit. It’s the same as our driving laws. If you drive a semi-truck you need a special Commercial Drivers license. Then in addition there are endorsements. If you want to drive a bus with a certain number of passengers, you need a special endorsement. If you are going to drive hazardous materials, again you need a separate endorsement.

These two issues alone; the universal background check and special permits for assault weapons and high capacity magazines can help deter those who would use weapons to harm others, while protecting everyone’s right to own a gun.

Law enforcementFinally, no law or regulation will be effective unless it can be enforced. In order for the background check system and permit laws to be effective, the ATF needs to be empowered to make sure gun dealers and their sales are applying the proper background checks. Also the database itself needs to be accurate and updated, which will take people and resources. It should be a coordinated effort with law enforcement, to make sure these weapons are being sold and used properly. What good are laws if you can’t enforce them?

Part of enforcing and deterring gun violence is proper punishments for those who break the law. I don’t mean just for the killers themselves (there are already punishments for murderers, and as we’ve seen, many of them don’t care about being punished). If it is found that a gun dealer improperly sold a weapon without the necessary background checks or permits, then they should be held liable if the weapon is used in a crime. The same logic applies for gun owners. Strict punishments should be enacted for gun owners who are found negligent, allowing their weapon to be used by someone else in a crime.  It is important for those who deal and use weapons to understand and respect the responsibility that comes along with their rights.

Nothing I’ve mentioned here prevents law-abiding citizen from owning guns. What it does do, is look to keep weapons out of the wrong hands by having a complete record of gun sales and holding people accountable for the use and distribution of these weapons.

Do you like the ideas listed here? Then please make sure to share with friends, family and more importantly, your government representatives.  Like people have correctly stated, “You can’t legislate morality.” So does that mean we should do nothing?Enough is enough

With Rights Comes Responsibility

victimsWe should all know the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution. It says

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

It is the right of all American citizens to own guns. But does that mean everyone should be able to hold any weapon at anytime without any restrictions, regardless of the conditions we face in society? Apparently there are many of you who would answer this question with a definite “YES!”

Gun advocates often sight the 2nd Amendment as an absolute truth that cannot be restricted in anyway what so ever.

So the government is supposed to protect our 2nd Amendment rights. But guns aren’t the only right we have. Every American also has the right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. In order to ensure these other rights, the Constitution states that the government is to “insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense…” As the President eloquently stated in his recent address at the White House; every victim of gun violence has been denied his or her right to Life and Liberty. It is the government’s job to not only protect the rights of gun owners, but to also protect everyone else’s right to Life.

Therefore, in the interests of protecting the people President Obama has put forth a list of measures that he and many others feel will help protect everyone’s right to Life. In trying to balance the protections of our citizens while still protecting the 2nd Amendment, none of the proposals put forth would prevent a law-abiding citizen from owning a gun; even two, three or twenty guns. What has been put forth are some very popular measures to help ensure that guns don’t end up in the wrong hands. Initiatives such as background checks for all purchases, including mental health checks and more resources to better enforce current laws are all for the sole interest of protecting the people.

Automobiles are weapons in their own right. We have a full regulatory system starting with the need to get a license to operate a motor vehicle. Then once you have your license, every automobile must be registered, tagged and titled. Then if you sell your car privately, it must be recorded and transferred. This is all done for one reason only: To protect everyone’s right to life.

The attack on 9-11-2003 killed 3,000 Americans. Another 2,000 U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Billions of dollars were spent. A Republican President and a Republican Congress enacted laws widely considered invasions of privacy, all in the name of security and safety.

Between homicides, accidents and suicides, roughly 30,000 Americans die every year as a result of guns.  Add on to that number the thousands more injured from gun violence and gun accidents. If we were so concerned in the aftermath of 9-11 that killed 3,000 people, shouldn’t we be concerned about the 30,000 that die every year from guns. Background checks and registries for gun owners don’t deny law-abiding citizens the right to own a gun. They help to ensure everyone’s right to Life and Liberty.

The U.S. is number one in the world for gun ownership. There are 88.8 guns for every 100 people. Lets take a moment to look at other developed nations with high gun ownership rates. Switzerland, Finland and Sweden are all on the Top 10 list of countries for gun ownership. But their gun related death-rates is only about 15% of ours in the U.S. How do they have a low death rate from guns with such a high ownership rate? We need to recognize that all these countries I’ve mentioned have full bans on automatic weapons. All have stringent licensing requirements with full background checks to purchase any weapon and ammunition. And yes, they all have mental health checks as well. All have a national registry of all firearms, and all require special additional permits for semi-automatic ownership. These are all sensible steps that are proven to work, without denying responsible citizens to own guns.

But some would still insist that these measures go against the 2nd Amendment, disregarding everyone else’s right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.  Hypocritically, these same extreme Republicans who insist that all forms of gun regulation trample on their 2nd Amendment rights, didn’t seem to think that their coordinated efforts to impose Voter ID laws last year, infringed on anyone else’s Constitutional right to vote.

Just one further piece of advice to the NRA and gun enthusiasts. If you are involved in any activity that could potentially cause harm to others, you should probably show that you are taking every means necessary to ensure the safety of others, lest you risk others telling you how to safely operate and regulate your activities.

Gun Violence: Lack of God, Regulations or is it Simple Economics?

Prayer vigil
In light of recent events involving mass shootings, we find ourselves asking: Why? Why would someone do this? Why have we seen an increase in these horrible episodes of mass shootings at schools, malls and movie theatres? In the past few years we have seen a dozen instances of guns being used to carry out horrible atrocities, inflicting massive damage, leading to unfathomable pain and suffering.  My heart goes out to all those who have been affected by this form of violence.

In the aftermath, we ask “why?” and start to point fingers towards the cause, the reasons behind these types of attacks. Some will say it is due to a culture of godlessness. Others will blame a lack of gun control, regulations and enforcement measures. More recently people have been questioning our ability to diagnose and handle people with mental illnesses. Each of these factors may play their own role in the equation. Do we make access to lethal weapons too easy? Do we have a lack of spirituality that would prevent people from committing such atrocities? Do we ignore those suffering from mental anguish?

Maybe the root causes come from a more basic aspect of our society: our economics. Could it be our economic situation is the underlying cause? Common sense would tell us that typically people who are doing well economically and monetarily are less likely to commit violent crimes. There is even strong evidence to support such a theory.

Lets start by looking at one of the more telling economic indicators, the Gini Coefficient. For those who don’t know, the Gini Coefficient is a ratio used to show wealth inequality within a country. A larger Gini Coefficient signifies a large wealth gap between rich and poor. A small number indicates a more even distribution of wealth. Gini Coefficient
We can look at this world map showing the Gini Coefficient for most countries around the world. The United States has an income disparity that is comparable to China. The only places around the world with a higher income disparity are in South Africa and its neighboring countries along with most of South America.  Countries with a lower Gini Index or more equal distribution of wealth can be found in most of Europe, Canada, Australia, and most of Asia (excluding China).

            Next we can compare this with the following map showing murder rates around the world. Looks pretty similar don’t it? Again, the only places with higher murder rates are in South America, Mexico and Southern Africa. (Exception to this comparison is Russia that has a higher murder rate). But again those countries with lower murder rates are all in Europe, Canada, Australia and most of Asia.murder rate

            If we look at more specific figures, the U.S. has about 9 gun related deaths per 100,000 people. For the countries that we have statistics for, all 11 countries with higher gun death rates each has a higher Gini Coeficient. Convinced yet?

So we can point to godlessness or government regulations, but I’d be willing to bet an improved economy would do much more to quell the rise of violence.  For those who look towards mental illness, I’d also be willing to bet many (not all) mental illnesses can be traced back to economic causes. People who struggle economically are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. Then there is the economic situations parents face and how it impacts their children. Parents who have to work long hours, takes away from time and attention spent with their children and are more likely to raise children with behavioral problems. Then there’s the issue of malnutrition and it’s impact on child brain development.

If we want to have a safe society we can start by helping each other economically. Making sure every one has an equal chance. Making sure people and parents have decent paying jobs, giving them a chance to raise their kids in a decent environment that isn’t just reserved for the selected few. When we talk about the top 1% verses the 99%, it isn’t just about money. It is about the entire culture in which we all live and the effects that culture has on all of us in society.

Capitalism and Our Infrastructure

airlinesIn the interest of furthering our discussion concerning the economics behind capitalism and socialism, and in looking for places where we can find balance, I would like to begin here by focusing on the airlines.  As a worldwide traveler I’ve flown on just about every major airline in the world, multiple times. So when it comes to air travel, I guess I could be considered an expert.

Just this past week I had an experience where my Cathay Pacific flight from LAX to Hong Kong was delayed an entire day due to a mechanical failure on the incoming flight, which resulted in an emergency landing in Alaska.  It wasn’t that bad, as when I got to LAX, the airline already had the flight and our connections rebooked and hotel rooms waiting for all 300 of us to stay the night in LA.  When I finally boarded the flight the next day, I was sitting next to an Australian businessman. We got to talk about how great Cathay Pacific is. That we’ve both flown them numerous times, this being the first delay we’ve experienced with them, but that the airline handled the situation wonderfully. Then we were in agreement, imagining if it was an American airliner that this happened with. We were both quite certain it wouldn’t have been handled nearly as well. We both went on to praise how great all the other Asian airlines are. Japan, Korean Air, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Thai Air are all top notch. Also the Middle Eastern airliners of Emirates (which is now the largest in the world), Qatar and now Etihad out of Abu Dhabi are again all top rate airlines. I would like to add that LAN in South America and a number of other South American airlines have drastically improved over the past few years. The absolute, hands-down, worst airlines in the world are all American carriers. Traveling on U.S. airliners with outdated old planes, plagued by constant delays, horrible customer service and added fees for everything from baggage to soft drinks, makes traveling in the U.S. by far the worst experience.

While no airplane food is anything like a home cooked meal or a five-star restaurant, the food on many airlines isn’t bad and some are quite good. I actually look forward to the Bimbambop (Korean rice dish) whenever I fly Korean Air. The food on most of the airlines I’ve mentioned above is quite decent. But American airliners, if you are lucky to get a meal, are still pretty horrible.

So why is there a big difference in quality between U.S. air carriers and Asian/Middle Eastern carriers? The answer is government subsidies! While all U.S. airlines are privately owned and operated, almost all of these other airlines mentioned are heavily funded by the Asian governments. They do this because they want to make their countries attractive to foreigners, and no better way to attract foreign interests by the first impression a foreigner gets while traveling to a country on their airline.

korean air

Korean Air cabin

Actually the airline Cathay Pacific that is from Hong Kong is a 100% privately owned airline, but they do get some government help and they have to compete with all the other government subsidized airlines in the region.

Just about every year we hear of American airline companies going bankrupt. Warren Buffet has even stated “you’ve gotta be crazy to go into the airline business. The expenses and logistics of it are a losing business proposition.” Hence the biggest investor in the world will not invest in airlines.

Here is just one example of a need, which is necessary for society, individuals and businesses alike. But running an airline can often be too overwhelming for a private company to handle and do well.  Am I suggesting the government should takeover running our now private airlines? Not at all. But as a nation, do we recognize certain areas where businesses need the help of government? The first and most obvious area that government can and already helps with is at our airports and our air traffic controlling systems. Most airports are already run by government entities, but with recent budget woes, funds to help upgrade these systems have been cut and withheld. Again this is one of those areas where private business and government need to work together to help provide the country with what is best, but of course government needs the funds to do it.

America is a great place for innovation and advancement. Hell, we invented the airplane and the airline business. So why have we fallen so far behind? We can find comparable situations looking at other industries. We invented the cell phone and were the first to advance cellular technology and bring it to market. But then came  the more advanced system of GSM networks that we have been slow to adopt. The same could be said of our train system and even our power standard. America was the first to distribute electricity to the public and we did so at 120volts. Then Europe figured that a 220volt system would be more efficient and more cost effective. After we’ve already spent and developed our 120volt systems, it would be too expensive for us to switch over. As globalization ensued and many countries have been able to develop rapidly, they were able to first implement these systems using the better method, while we are stuck with our original, outdated implementations.

This is where government assistance and initiatives are needed. All of these systems, if we want to improve and move ahead of the curve, need some form of government backing. Both in will and in monetary assistance. If we want to advance, we do not need government takeovers, which is socialism. It is Social Capitalism, where government plays a role in helping businesses to advance and progress for the good our entire country. But progress cannot be made if people continue to simply believe government should get out of the way, and that government should simply spend less. Here is where I would like to end with a quote from President Obama “We cannot simply cut our way to prosperity.”

Moving Forward

John BoehnerA long grueling election season has finally come to an end. The president was reelected and just as important, the power in Congress has remained the same. Democrats still control the Senate picking up a few more seats. The Republicans remain the majority in the House of Representatives although they lost a few seats there as well.  Even though I tend to be more on the liberal side, I’m still glad that Republicans control the House. It means that the half of the country which is Republican still have a strong voice in the federal government. I say that I’m glad to have Republican control in the House for one reason…compromise. As long as John Boehner and his constituents are willing to compromise, we can get something accomplished. This means they should refrain from remarks like “Our main goal is to deny the president another term”. If they can get away from this kind of politicking, things may actually be able to get done. (I know the president can’t run again in 2016, but the GOP could state their main goal as that of regaining power in the White House.)

Republicans, running on their high from the 2010 midterm elections thought they were given a mandate by the people to stop Obama and the Democrats at all costs. After this last election, now they may be second-guessing that thinking. Either way, what the American people want most of all, is government to work and their elected officials to do what’s best for the country.

And finally we have some hint of compromise from Republicans in the House when Mr. Boehner recently agreed to look at raising tax revenue. He still says he opposes raising tax rates, but at least there is a better tone of compromise. So what could a compromise on budget and taxes look like?

Democrats want to raise tax rates. Republicans want to cut spending.  So a compromise would be a bit of both. It is the “balanced approach” President Obama has spoken of for the past 4 years. Boehner mentions raising revenue by cutting deductions. Which deductions do we eliminate or reduce that would have little impact on the struggling middle class and be able to raise enough revenue? Most middle class people rely on the Mortgage interest deduction and the Student Loan interest deduction. But what about the Foreign Income deduction? Here’s one that I think few could argue against eliminating; getting rid of a deduction that rewards people whom keep money overseas. But this is just one example of a deduction that can be eliminated which would affect few people. What other deductions are there, which unfairly reward a small percentage of people?

Next let us look at individual tax rates for a moment. In the recent past when Democrats wanted to extend tax cuts for everyone except those in the top tax bracket, the Republicans wouldn’t allow it, calling it unfair. As a Democrat, I would point to what the original Bush Tax cuts did. They lowered taxes for everyone by 3%. But the top income bracket had their rates lowered by 4.6%. Talk about unfair. So, maybe as a starting point we could make up this unfair difference by raising the top tax rate by 1.6%. Can we at least get Republicans to agree to this?

But an even more important piece to the tax puzzle is the Capital Gains tax rate. Under Clinton the tax on Capital Gains was 20%, already far below individual tax rates. Then Bush lowered it even further to 15%. This is the biggest tax loophole! It is what allows Mitt Romney to pay a lower tax rate on his income then most middle class families.  This low capital gains rate severely benefits the wealthy disproportionately since very few middle class Americans actually see income from capital gains and dividends. (More on this argument in my book Social Capitalism). How do we fix this? First we can either raise the rate again or we can do as the recent “Buffet Rule” called for a minimum tax rate on those who earn over a million dollars. It is in essence an Alternative Minimum tax for the wealthy, which would limit deductions. If Republicans in Congress want to talk about their mandate given to them by the American people, how about the polls, which showed about 77% of Americans favoring the Buffet rule. Even Mitt Romney proposed limiting deductions. The Buffet Rule is a perfect example of how you can do this.

Then finally, in our quest for sensible compromise we have the issue of corporate tax rates. Everyone agrees we should lower corporate tax rates. It is now at 35%, which is high when you compare it to rates in other countries. If we want to be competitive around the world and want to help our businesses here at home we can and should lower this rate. It is one thing the Republicans have always wanted and we can give it to them! But with our fiscal situation we cannot risk drastically loosing revenue. So at the same time we make sure to close loopholes and deductions for the big multinationals. Deductions that reward moving jobs overseas, or keeping profits overseas. These are just a few of the loopholes that cost us billions every year. I’m sure here is a sensible compromise that could be easily reached.

Then there is the issue of spending cuts. We can come up with a sensible budget that trims the fat is some areas, but preserves our most needed government functions. With the Iraqi war over and Afghanistan winding down, the defense budget, which makes up about a quarter of government spending can be significantly reduced. As for Medicare and Medicaid, these costs have already begun to be tackled in part by the Affordable Healthcare Act. One of the key purposes behind the law was to lower healthcare costs not just for individuals, but for the government as well. Only that it won’t be until 2014 when the full law goes into effect, and it will be another year or two afterwards before we can see if the law is successful in lowering our country’s healthcare costs. Further moderate reductions can be made to these programs in a sensible fashion that doesn’t jeopardize the intended benefits of these programs.

You don’t have to agree with all these ideas. The bigger point is that there are many issues to look at and there is room for compromise in all of it. Not everyone will get his or her way 100%. But for progress to be made, each of these issues needs to be debated sensibly in a moderate fashion, free of past pledges and promises.  Hopefully a solution can be reached that looks to benefit our entire nation and all Americans. We are tired of the past few years where partisan politics has prevented our government from taking action in a time when we need progress the most. If I could say anything to Congress I would say, THIS IS YOUR MANDATE, to work together, compromise and find solutions; even if it means staying up to 2am and forgoing another vacation. Git er done!

If you like some of the ideas laid out in this article, you may read further on how we can find common ground and compromise in my book Social Capitalism: A Return to Balance and Reason.