As we get dumber and dumber…

June 11, 2019

Often I get my ideas for a post from one article. The following paragraph from a piece in the ny times opinion section caught my eye:

Automation, robotics and machine learning will, as many august bodies, from the Bank of England to the White House, have predicted, substantially shrink the work force, creating widespread technological unemployment. But that’s only a problem if you think work — as a cashier, driver or construction worker — is something to be cherished. For many, work is drudgery. And automation could set us free from it.

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I’ll have more later, but for now I can only say that true some jobs are pure drudgery, and where they can they should be replaced with technology or eliminated outright. But then again our work is part of our soul. It is part of what makes us human. And do I think my work as a truck driver should be cherished? Well each month when I pay my rent and each year when I take what has become my annual trip to Spain I do. And also when I awake each day and realize that I have a purpose. And what happens when we automate everything, even those cerebral jobs, with not only mechanical tasks but artificial intelligence? In a generation we will dumb down ouselves to the point of oblivion. No one will have to do or think anything. And no one will be able to.

Maybe I just said it all there.

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Trump: the good, the bad, and the ugly…

June 8, 2019

How can I be upset with President Trump’s efforts to slap tariffs on other nations when it comes to protecting American jobs?

(Of course he is also using tariffs as a power play in international relations — later on that.)

To the extent it protects American jobs I am not upset. Problem is we are so far into the global economy with our own so-called American industries inter-tied in an integrated global network, with components of products supposedly American made, that tariffs come back to bite us. We can put ourselves out of business if we go too far with tariffs.

But it would be nice to see a re-emergence of good ol’ American industry (not that it ever died; it is alive and well, just not as mighty as it once was). I always thought the move away from industry to the service economy was a bad idea. We need both. But dumping industry in a land with so many resources is absurd.

I mean nations such as the Netherlands (Holland) historically became world traders because they lacked land and resources.

But I think American capital moved toward the service economy because it was seen as a way to make money without so much overhead, that is without having the burden of a large payroll of workers. If there is one thing capital detests it is having to pay workers.

“Rob a man of his money!”, Scrooge sniffed, at the thought of poor Bob Cratchit, his clerk, wanting Christmas Day off (and with pay!).

Don’t get me wrong. I am not an anti-capitalist. Seems like capitalism is just human nature for the most part. But human nature can be good and bad, so we have to set some amount of control. How much is always the question.

Trump has upset all norms. He has broken presidential protocol, defied rules of public decency, attacked our allies in the world and cozied up to those who would likely do us harm, and set himself up as a near dictator.

But he was elected according to the rules, and the party he used to get into office I suppose feels stuck with him because to break with him would be to give up their own power and to admit to their own ineptitude by letting him win their nomination for the presidency in the first place. I well remember those so-called presidential debates where all those other Republican candidates seemed dumfounded and could not stand up to the bully.

And there is the fact that Trump has put forth or backed some policies Republicans like, such as tax breaks for business and the dismantling of those pesky health and safety and environmental rules.

Also, even his detractors (even I) cannot complain about a good economy. However, there is the economy of the nation as a whole and then there is the economy for individuals — they of course do not always jive. But you have to make policy more on the macro level and individuals have to figure out how to get by within it.

My question is why could have not Trump done whatever good he might have done without all the vitriol? Probably because it is the only thing he knows. While he tells us all that he is highly intelligent I think savvy to the poorer side of human nature, which he twists and turns as a demagogue to his benefit, might be more accurate, or savvy to realpolitik, the practicalities of the moment, but not history nor ideology nor morals.

And as far as the economy — there is the luck of timing to consider. Trump has been able to build on the recovery that began under Barack Obama, the recovery that came after the disaster that hit us under George W. Bush, our first Master of Business Administration president, I always like to add, sarcastically. W’s only valuable credential in business was the family name. And I doubt, by the way, that the Great Recession was all his fault. Presidents get the blame for bad economies and the credit for good ones (well not always — Obama seems not to get much credit for the upturn).

I imagine the economy was going to rise just as it fell but when you add the promise of a little more of a laissez-faire approach that Trump presented, that probably gave the big boost capital was looking for. But now I notice capital watchers, such as the folks of the Wall Street Journal opinion section, are wondering how long the good times can be sustained.

The economy is Trump’s trump card. Without it he is toast in 2020 no doubt.

One curious thing is how Trump has unilateral power to enact tariffs as he pleases. Well one thing, he just does it. But another is apparently over the years, like in so many other things (such as waging wars), congress has ceded powers over to the president. Congressmen and senators are notorious for covering their behinds in the blame game. They prefer the rewards at the public trough over the responsibilities.

But of course in crises, the people may feel more secure with a powerful president who does not have to or cannot take time to go before congress to plead his case.

However, not everything is a crisis. I feel congress has abrogated too much of its constitutional responsibilities.

Over the last 12 or more hours as I am writing this Trump announced that he has called off the plan to place punitive tariffs on Mexico over a non-trade issue — that is migration. Trump had threatened to use his questionable power to enact a punitive tariff on Mexican goods coming into the United States over his complaint Mexican authorities were not doing enough to stop Central and South American migrants from going through Mexico and pouring over the U.S. border to seek asylum. Mexico apparently felt the pressure and/or Trump also felt pressure from members of his own political party who thought disrupting important trade might have been a bridge too far for even their own fearless leader.

What really confounds me is the fact that Trump, using a power ceded him by some past congress, has by declaring an emergency allowed the sale of U.S. arms to Saudi Arabia, arms guided by sophisticated technology, heretofore closely guarded, but that now will be shared with the Saudis. It is feared by some that the Saudis, using the technology, will be able to make their own bombs. Something no one wants to seem to take the responsibility for are mass casualties among civilians, including a lot of women and children, in the war being waged in Yemen by Saudi Arabia with the backing of the Trump administration — and apparently the Republican-controlled senate.

Is what little good Trump might have done worth it all?

My opinion is no. I think that the Republican Party and the evangelical movement that so wholeheartedly supported Trump made a deal with the devil.

We will all pay for that deal one day, if we are not already.

With Trump it may be a case of the good, the bad, and the ugly.