Monday, July 27, 2015

To Deal or Not to Deal - That's the Question

Most Americans don't even realize that we have been propagandized to the point that when certain words are mentioned, we automatically display a negative or a positive response. Psychologists call this, a semantic reaction. For example, when we hear someone talking about Communism, Islam, Iran, ISIS, etc. we are expected to go ugh, accompanied by a dour expression. When we hear terms like patriotism, military service, freedom, capitalism, etc. we are conditioned to involuntarily puff up with pride. We are continually being trained to react favorably or unfavorably—even if we know or care little or nothing about the subject mentioned.

How does this happen in a "free-thinking" society where people pride themselves on living in the greatest country on Earth? Perhaps it's because we aren't really free-thinkers after all.

The uproar about the recent proposed nuclear agreement with Iran has the TV pundits in a dither. You can hardly turn on a political program without being assaulted by streams of rhetoric about this proposed treaty. After listening for a while, an unbiased observer might reasonably have a number of questions that, strangely, aren't being asked. We are told to take the arguments presented about the "untrustworthy" Iranians at face value—no proof required.

The anti-treaty folks seem to have fallen in love with the "straw man" logical fallacy. The first line of defense is that Iran could use nuclear weapons to attack Israel (even though this would be national suicide). Also, Iran could transfer these weapons to a hostile third party. Or they could use them to invade one of its neighbors. Or allow it to increase its support for terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Everyone would respond to these concerns with a rousing NO because these are so hypothetically extreme that anybody in their right mind would reflexively reject them.

One could ask why the same anti-Iran arguments do not apply to all members of the atomic weapons club. Does the US have a right to nukes because we are the "good guys," and would only use them responsibly (as if there is such a thing)? Is a nuclear-tipped Iran, who has not invaded any country since 1798, really the dangerous player in this scenario? Why do these discussions not also bring into question Israel's right to have such weapons? This last issue seems to be off limits for discussion by any of our esteemed pundits.

Finally, the argument is posited that an Iran with nuclear weapons would remain a persistent source of instability in the Middle East. Apparently Israel's and Pakistan's nukes do not give rise to the same concern. Why, Iran could resort to coercive diplomacy (and behave like guess who?).

Unfortunately, the public position of many of our legislators—along with the requisite amount chest-thumping--is to display hostility to any treaty with Iran. In effect, they believe that the public has been fed enough fear that it will not question their conclusion: Such a treaty is a bad idea.

Lost in the rush to knock these straw men down, is any rational discussion about eliminating nuclear weapons altogether. This country club wants to retain its monopoly and doesn't want any new members.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


Hubris – noun: excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.

Often times, despite historical precedence and its consequent lessons, the American government continually promotes actions that fly in the face of reality, exhibiting a hubris that defies common sense. There are many examples in recent history—not the least of which is our military misadventures in foreign lands. The French failed in Vietnam? What do the Frenchies know? We'll take 'em on. The Soviets failed in Afghanistan? What do the Ruskies know? We'll show 'em who's boss.

The fact that so many Americans not only go along, but also cheer this contempt of the obvious is disheartening. "We're number one!" is the throaty response, without any forethought as to the mantra's validity or its consequence. This stance sets the tone for taking any desired military action regardless of its inadvisability or chance of success. How dare anyone stand up to American power and superiority!

Ironically, this attitude sets up the rank and file for insidious governmental manipulation. There are relatively few actions that can't be framed in terms of the American "national interest." We are told that we've got to "fight them over there before we have to fight them over here." Or that they might give terrorists aid to attack us. Our troops, whom we absolutely must support and thank for their service, are "fighting for our freedoms." Never mind that since the end of WWII, this jingoistic falsehood has been thoroughly disproven –most notably in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. Wars have been lost without any documentable loss of "freedom," unless you count the erosion of our civil rights due to the implementation of the security state.

Ironically, amid all the bravado, and tacit acceptance of illegal spying, we are continually reminded to be vigilant because the enemy is all around us waiting to strike. "They are coming to kill us," blurted one prominent US senator. The warnings about terrorist activity during the recent Independence Day holiday, absent any known credible threat, were broadcast over and over by a complicit media. The holiday passed uneventfully, with the only casualties caused by the stupidity of the revelers themselves. But the fire of fear was appropriately stoked and the populace remains primed and ready for whatever moves our government "must" take to protect us. How can so powerful a country, and so proud a people, be so afraid so much of the time?
Ever since the end of WWII, we've been caught up in the belief that we can do whatever we set our minds, and money to—even if no one's done it before. Why, we put a man on the Moon, didn't we? How hard can anything else be?

Until the public comes to grips with the fact they are continually being manipulated by special interests, and that their patriotic hurrahs are misplaced, these reckless misadventures will continue. The ultimate cost to the citizenry for this hubris will be lives lost, and treasure wasted that could be better spent at home for the benefit of all, especially the least among us.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Does America's Economy Depend on Failed Business Plans?

Whenever the issue of minimum wage or overtime pay comes up, right-wing think tanks such as the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute, plus the Chamber of Commerce, join forces with impressive sounding articles—all of which rail against raising wages for the lowest earners among us. We are then treated to a sad collection of businessmen claiming that any such raises will put them out of business. "Can't afford it," they say, "It'll make us uncompetitive!"

Really? Just which competitors will you be uncompetitive with? It can't be foreign companies, because you've already shipped those jobs overseas--to take advantage of third-world slave wages. It can't be domestic companies, because the wage laws will be the same for them. So, who is it that will now offer lower prices and make you uncompetitive?

Another argument is that higher wages will cause reduced employment because the companies, in protest against increased labor costs, will lay off workers. So, why do they have these employees if they can now dispense with them? It's hard to imagine that businesses are so generous as to give employment to people they don't need. In addition there are at least 64 reputable studies* that show this claim to be false.

"It could result in higher prices to the consumer," is another complaint. Isn't it strange that prices keep going up even as wages are kept low? Trips to the supermarket verify this all too well. In fact businesses spend little time worrying about the cost to the consumer, unless it's to see how they can be raised. They are, however, very concerned about the prices charged by their competitors. If all producers have to use the same wage scale, simple logic dictates that no producer will have the advantage in labor cost structures.

The irony in all this is that Congressional opposition to a minimum wage increase (heeding the call of their corporate masters) causes the neediest in our society to seek public assistance in order to survive. This in turn causes the additional expenditure of billions in taxpayer money to fund these programs. The Republican answer is to cut these programs while they unabashedly beat the drum for yet another pay raise. Since 1988 Congress has raised its own pay (currently $174K/year vs. $14.5K/year for a minimum wage earner) fifteen times while raising the minimum wage just three times.  

The time has come to call the bluff of these companies and their political lackeys. Any business plan whose success is predicated on keeping wages below the poverty line, or free overtime, does not deserve to survive. In reality, they are only one step above the southern plantation model—the owners of which were willing to go to war to preserve their labor cost structure. How far are these current profiteers willing to go to preserve theirs?

Raff Ellis, an MBA degree holder, is a retired CEO of a hi-tech company