Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Why We Can't Be "Denmark!"

Why We Can’t Be “Denmark!”

A Reasoned Response to Bernie Sanders
And the Neo-Socialist Mantra

            I would like to start this article out with a very special “thank you” to both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. You’ve got Bernie far out on the Democratic Left and Donald far out on the Republican Right drawing record crowds because they are both offering bold visions about what’s wrong with America and how to fix it. It doesn’t really matter at this point that their philosophies are off target. The important issue is that they speak with passion! They care! Above all else they are both symbols of just how fed up the American electorate is with politics as usual.  It has become more serious than any other time in modern American history. And that is a good thing!

            By now, just about everyone gets Trump. “The Donald” is one of the five best-known American celebrities and ranks in the Top 10 in global awareness. I covered him in my article two weeks ago and haven’t really changed my opinion much since then:

           For now, I want to focus on Bernie—God bless his good intentions—and how he has become the new flashpoint of American politics. For those of you who can’t look up from texting long enough to observe the world around you, Bernie Sanders is Vermont’s self-confessed Socialist Senator challenging Hillary Clinton in her bid for POTUS while galvanizing frenzied crowds of “Feel the Bern” groupies, shouting “Socialism” as if they had just invented it. 

            Although he has a detailed list of big government initiatives, Sanders’s political strategy is simple. And it comes in two parts. Part One: “Promise everybody more stuff. And be sure to bang on the rich…especially the Super Rich.” Part Two: “Look longingly to Denmark...and Sweden and Norway and all the other countries in what is known as the Nordic Model as role models for what can be done to develop the perfect society—one where you have free-university education, universal health care, double the minimum wage we have now in America, and about $100 a day for people who can’t work and earn a living for themselves.”

            The social structure of the Nordic Model is often referred to as a Social Democracy, a term that is catnip to liberals because Social Democracies are often perceived as the final rung on the ladder to a purely Socialist state. Of course, liberals are buying into this utopian notion mainly because they haven’t done their homework.

            So I’m going to try to explain the nature of this kind of naïve economic reasoning as regards the American political dynamic. And I offer a spoiler alert from the outset. Before this article is over I will be accused of being the following: a socialist; a radical right wing hack; a racist; an America-hating cynic; a flag waving patriot fanatic; and (by a few I hope) someone who actually cared enough to find out how things really work.  

            Finding out how things really work means ultimately getting to the core truth of how nations view themselves. And in truth the governments (and businesses) of these five “Social Democracies” prefer to call their economic model Nordic Capitalism, all five nations avowing that they have managed to strike the balance between “competitive capitalism,” a free-market economy, and an appropriately responsible welfare state.

            Yes, that last term, “welfare state,” is the ultimate poison pill to every conservative reading this, because in America it smacks of FDR’s New Deal, LBJ’s Great Society, Barack Obama’s feckless “New Beginning” and every other cynical attempt to bribe the vast unwashed with “more free services” that are anathema to every hard working, tax paying citizen in the USA.

            In Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Iceland they actually understand the true meaning and apply it. It means striking the balance between government, corporate, institutional and individual investment. For this plan to work, everyone has to commit to the Social Contract—all of it! And all participants had to “buy-in” at the same time with a shared long range goal in mind: the fact that if they paid in today, they would—in 20 or 30 or 40 years—be eligible for the full package of social benefits at the other end.

            Criticize this or not, the Nordic Model has worked exceptionally well since it was first set up during the 1950s. And they have been apparently doing something right because today the five Nordic countries rank in the Top 10 in every significant category:

            • World Happiness Index. That means citizen/individual satisfaction with quality of life, personal freedom, expectations of security, and trust in government.
            • Social Equality [Inequality] Index. This defines the social platform that provides a “level playing field,” equality of opportunity and rising to higher levels of success.
            • Democracy Index. This encompasses political integrity, the political culture, civil liberties, individual freedom and freedom of the press.  
            • The Legatum Prosperity Index (LPI). This includes such intangibles as quality of education, entrepreneurship, personal security and general economy.
            • Gender Equality. This includes equal pay for equal work, political opportunity, and elimination of sexual discrimination. Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden take the top four slots in this area, while Denmark comes in at No. 8.

            To answer the overarching question, the United States ranks an archaic 23rd in Gender Equality, logging in just after Burundi and just before Australia.

            So you have to be asking where does the US come in in the other indexes I just noted? The truth is that we do surprisingly well, given the fact that we have a highly pluralistic multiracial society that is also the most overregulated on earth. We rank in the top 20 (of 161 nations) in most of the above categories, except when it comes to Social Equality where to drop to a disappointing 28th, Quality of Education where we log in at 29th and Freedom of the Press where we rank an abysmal 47th.

            Otherwise the U.S. ranks “A #1” in the most prisons and the largest prison population, exceeding those of Number 2 China and Number 3 Russia combined. We are Number 1 in the most millionaires, deaths by violence, plastic surgeons, and small arms exports. Additionally we rank Sixth in medical expenditures and an absolute Number 1 in spending for entitlements, at $2.3 trillion a year. Lamentably we come in at Number 2 in child poverty levels, at 23%! And yet to add to the Paradox that is America, “We the People” are the most generous nation on Earth, and the only country that ranks in the Top Five of the 3 Standards for charity, relief contributions and helping those in need.

            What most Socialists choose to ignore is that the USA is already one of the largest per capita welfare states in the world. In fact, nearly 110 million Americans (or 34.5%) are on some form of welfare. When you add in Social Security and Medicare the number jumps to 154 million or roughly 49% on some form of government subsidy. Add to all this the fact that American tax payers rank Number 8 out of the Top 10 most heavily taxed people on Planet Earth and it would seem that we are more than doing our part. This is especially significant when you take into consideration that 30% of us are paying 90% of the individual taxes levied in this country (including the evil 2% Super Rich who pay 24% just on their own).

            But Bernie Sanders, the Don Quixote tilting lances at the windmill of Income Inequality continues to sing “The Impossible Dream” to the vast army of the disenfranchised—43% of whom pay no income taxes whatsoever—for our need to tax, restrict, legally handcuff and bring down those rich nasty moguls and who happen to be responsible for about 72% of the actual GDP of this nation.

            To the surprise of no one, Bernie and his Neo-socialist groupies like to cherry-pick their objections and then oversimplify on their solutions. Then again, one has to excuse “The Bern” because he is from Vermont, and life is simpler there…and is able more or less to operate on the Nordic Model of government. That’s because Vermont is our second smallest state with a population of just over 630,000 people, with a middle-class Caucasian ethnicity sitting right at 94%. Small by US standards, Vermont has the same population as Oklahoma City but nearly twice as many people as the entire nation of Iceland, (at about 323,000). And by now the light should be clicking on, because one of the secrets of the Nordic Model is that it works quite well with smaller populations with shared middle class values—ones that are demographically consistent and possess a large degree of cultural and ethnic uniformity.

            In truth the other four nations that follow the Nordic Economic Model—Finland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden—have a relatively small, ethnically uniform, middle class demographic that makes their economic model very manageable indeed, especially when you add-in four other factors that most of the world’s major nations lack. In terms of population, Finland, Denmark and Norway each have slightly over 5 million people. Sweden, with 9.6 million is the most populous. And all five Nordic nations combined total 25 million people, or about 62% of the population of California (at 38.8 million).

            I use comparisons to California, not only because it is the 9th largest economy in the world but also because it is the most aggressive welfare state in the 50 United States. Longing to be a model for Socialism, California is sadly the poster child for bureaucratic corruption at every level and an utter failure as a social experiment. As America’s only “Sanctuary State” it now ranks Number 1 in levels of poverty, Number 48 (out of 50) in Quality of Education, Number 1 among most heavily taxed citizens, the most illegal aliens (3.1 million), and the highest crime rate in America. 

            In the meantime, however, let’s get back to the five nations with the Cooperative Capitalistic Model, including the four major factors that go into making it work.

            The Nordic Heritage. The Vikings of the 10th Century notwithstanding, the Nordic nations have been the paragons of longstanding “civilized” societies with at least three of a democratic mindset. Technically, three of them (Norway, Sweden and Denmark) are Constitutional Monarchies. Finland and Iceland are pure democracies. All have had a longer record of ranking at the top of civil rights for all its citizens than other countries. All of them had the good sense to stay out of World War I, and were only on the fringes of World War II, due mainly to German and Soviet aggression. (Only Finland has actually fought any kind of real war in the last 100 years [1939], where it became the only nation in history to pay-off all debts to the US, while battling its Russian attackers to a standstill and eventual truce.) If it sounds like I’m making a case for Nordic superiority, I plead guilty. But from what I can see these nations long ago proved themselves, mainly because they truly understand The Art of the Deal.

            • The Universal Participation of All Parties—business and industry, government, institutions, and the individual taxpayer—all buying-in at the same time. At various stages of the 1950s, each government of the Nordic nations sat down with its business leaders, trade unions and political representatives of the people and mutually agreed upon roughly equal payment from all groups that they would receive back in a proportionate measure of social services. Everyone is symbiotically invested. And from a broader perspective the entitlements are actually more of a monetary incentive package (a universal 401 K if you will) that everyone realizes will be honored…without concerns that their government might throw them under the bus with the next administration.  
            • Institutional Trust and High Levels of Integrity—Integrity is the key issue here, and in a way it is the only thing that matters. Trade Unions work well with industries and corporations. They have kept a balance between wage levels that are superior to the national average of American workers but not so extortive that they drive corporations to send jobs overseas. 77% of the companies in Finland, Norway, and Iceland keep their jobs inside the country with slightly less than that in Sweden and Denmark. People in the Nordic Model are also intent on keeping their word. That is why Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark make up four of the top five most honest nations in the world. Iceland recently dropped down to Number 12 due to their financial corruption scandal in 2008. But true to their national character, Iceland threw their top financial CEOs in jail for conspiracy to defraud (rather than bail them out and give them platinum parachutes). The main point is that this kind of system can only succeed if the moral compasses of all parties are pointed toward true North; and a singularity of purpose follows.

            Demographic Consistency.  Essentially all five Nordic nations have one large middle class. Aristocracy and the super rich represent the usual 1%. The underclass (including minorities) represents less than 5% in most instances. About one in five citizens are involved in domestic management (house wives/husbands). That leaves a vast number of about 78% working most of their lives. And given their relatively high minimum income, about 70% of all workers pay into a tax system from which virtually all benefit. Most of the beneficiaries of entitlements, retirement, health care and welfare usually represent less than 32% of the labor force, which means that until recently surpluses in overall national treasuries were the expected norm. Almost all Nordic countries boast about 45% of renewable sources for energy (solar, wind, geothermal and hydro).

            In all instances, all Nordic nations have a 95% Northern European Caucasian population, and it was only recently that they intentionally diversified by letting in political refugees from Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East. In 2010, Sweden instituted a very generous open-door policy to “refugee” Muslims from Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Somalia…and in the last five years has sadly become the Number 2 Rape Capital in the world after South Africa.

            Naturally all is not perfect up north. Sweden, Denmark and Finland—due to their membership in the EU—are feeling downward pressures on their currency from the financially profligate nations of Greece, Spain and Italy. Largely, however, the Nordic Model is about the best and most universally heralded in the world.

            So why not us? Why not here in the good old USA? I’ll try to keep the answers simple, but easier said than done. First, the Nordic Model is based in Cooperative Capitalism where Integrity is the byword.

            The short stormy history of the United States of America is one based in what I have come to call Adversary Capitalism—a system by which no one trusts anyone. Government, business, institutions, labor and the individual taxpayer have been at odds with each other almost since the founding.  Economics here tend to be Darwinian. The ethnic mash-up over the last 100 years has been a quantum soup of corruption, confused ethics, racial mixes and social mores from six continents and hundreds of cultures. Everyone is trying to “beat the system.” And that System is the Government. Rather than spend the next 20 pages explaining the complex economic mosaic generated inside our flawed but brilliant nation over the last 250 years, I will try to hit the highlights in what amounts to a print version of The 2 Minute History Of America.

            Like most colonial empires in this hemisphere, the United States of America started out as an agrarian society formed primarily by wiping out the indigenous peoples and rapidly institutionalizing a system of slave labor that we fought a Civil War put an end to in 1865. That was quickly replaced by an Industrial Era in the late 19th Century that in turn introduced sweatshops, child labor, seven-day work weeks and predatory “Company Stores” that amounted to nothing more than indentured servitude to millions of miners and factory workers, a system that finally brought on trade unions and guilds to protect the overworked, underpaid labor force and actually started out as a very good thing because they helped put a tight leash on “robber baron” enterprises already glutted with huge profits from wars, demands of industry, monopolies and polluting the food chain with rotten goods and fake commodities. In fact the abuses of this Malicious Mogul Capitalism were so severe by the turn of the 20th Century that none other than Theodore Roosevelt had to shut them down with hardline USDA food standards and “trust busting” antimonopoly legislation. About the time things were coming into balance and labor, industry and government, were starting to understand one another, along came Woodrow Wilson and the Sixteenth Amendment that introduced something called a permanent Income Tax. Starting out as a modest assessment, it quickly got ramped up in 1917 to help fund our participation in World War I—a senseless global conflict fought by 135 nations and killing 16 million people that, to this day, no one can either justify or explain.

            After World War I and the massive industry always generated from conflict, America enjoyed yet another post-war boom era with things like automobiles, trains, transportation, heavy mining, mass broadcast communications, and easy money, 90% financial leveraging and a manic global stock market with no safety net.  Not surprisingly, bogus corporations, bad financial models and overbuilt, undercapitalized industries became rampant. Unfortunately, the nation’s banks were the primary funders of this profligacy, and did so with absolutely no “backup plan.” So when the wheels came off on Black Friday 1929, the banks collapsed and everyone’s personal savings went down the tubes with them. Meanwhile our nation’s surviving financial institutions decided to double-down on the corruption by foreclosing on farmers, householders, small businesses and anyone else unable to hold up their end of the economic Golgotha that followed.

            Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal came along just in time in 1932 to rescue the average man with work projects and welfare, damn the corporations with a run of new regulations, managing to build individual trust in the Government while subliminally demonizing the evils of our financial institutions (many of which deserved it). In truth FDR did some truly great visionary things like set up the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the FDIC to insure the banks against failure, and Social Security to give people a savings system for retirement. As for just about everything else, Roosevelt created a massive Socialist Structure that made government the Nation’s largest employer, incorporating about a thousand different works projects administrations and utter collusion with Labor Unions who, around that time, became the single most powerful special interest in American History. He also decided that Income Tax, a relatively minor assessment to that point, was a really good idea. So, right in the middle of the worst Depression ever, he doubled taxes on the average family and jacked it up to  90% for millionaires and large corporations. Then he took us off the Gold Standard and incorporated a new kind of cash called “Federal Reserve Notes,” deciding along the way that it was OK to print more money—a lot of it—to pay for everything else. Statistics now support the fact that much of this actually made the decade long depression even worse, until World War II came along, giving everybody jobs and enabling anyone with a dram of enterprise to get richer in the process.

            After we helped fight and win World War II (a real war against real evil), the US emerged to become by far most enterprising nation with “The Greatest Generation” in the history of the world. So we decided to leverage our power and influence by rebuilding a war ravaged Europe (including funding our defeated enemies) through the Marshall Plan and other very generous “loans,” none of which were ever paid back by a Europe that ended up 20 years later thumbing its nose at us for our profligate economic policies.

            All this put a drain on our national coffers. And the truth is that, even though we won World War II, the USA continued fighting more wars (from Korea to Cuba to Vietnam) for the next 20 years—all framed around the USSR and the Cold War Communist threat. So, until the mid-1970s we basically had an economy structured upon a Military/Industrial complex that none other than Dwight D. Eisenhower tried to warn us about. John F. Kennedy (a closet conservative) actually saw the advantage of a ramped up MIC, but still managed to lower the optimum income tax back to 50%, revamped our national economic emphasis toward space and high technology, ushered in racial equality and tried to rein-in the insatiable power of the Federal Reserve Commission. After Kennedy was assassinated for reasons too numerous to mention, he was succeeded by Lyndon B. Johnson and later by Richard M. Nixon along with a series of the worst political and economic decisions in modern history.
            LBJ and the Great Society. Not only did Lyndon Johnson reboot the Vietnam campaign and send us into a 10-year war in Southeast Asia, he also used the legacy of JFK to launch an economic welfare package called “The Great Society,” and “War on Poverty,” which initiated a kind of systematized national indolence. Privately proclaiming that this legislation would guarantee the Democrats “The n***** vote for the next 100 years,” Johnson appealed to the nation’s blacks by saying (in subtext): “This is your compensation package for 250 years of slavery, abuse, discrimination, social humiliation and deprivation. In order to make it up to you, we are providing you with food stamps, free health care, free housing and unemployment compensation. But this all comes with a hitch: You’re not eligible for any of these benefits if you work for a living.” Not all blacks (and poor) bought into this welfare Faustian pact, but about 10 million did, helping to create an unprecedented drain on the national coffers that LBJ and the Dems provided for by ramping up the national debt, all the while alienating businesses with higher taxes that sent a lot of corporations seeking refuge in overseas bank accounts.

            Richard Nixon and the Super Bureaucracy.  Richard Nixon’s legacy was tarnished for his inability to end Vietnam and for the Watergate scandal. But what people don’t realize is that he was the biggest closet liberal in US political history. Not only did he shut down oil depletion allowances that discouraged drilling, he also helped make us dependent upon Arab oil and the ultimate “OPEC” embargo that quintupled the cost of gas at the pump in the 1970s. Nixon also helped create the EPA and OSHA clamping down on both environmental and work safety standards that caused many small businesses to go broke in compliance. Already squeezed by what had become overpaid, underperforming labor unions, US industries soon discovered that they could ship the majority of their jobs overseas, pay workers less than 1/10th those of US workers and often make a better product. And so the mass Exodus of jobs leaving America began…but by no means ended. It also hastened a paradigm shift away from an industrial economy to that of a consumer-based economy.

            Citibank South Dakota and the Rise of the “Loan Shark Nation.” By 1981, the US economy was in full stride, changing over from the most influential industrial power in history to becoming an economy based in consumerism. Rapid advances in technology, computer technology, communications, entertainment and easy credit—especially in the form of credit cards—kicked off the new Era of the Consumer Cow.  Seductive credit offers and "super malls” made it easy for shoppers to stock up on all kinds of new toys from electronics to personal computers to cars and “put it on plastic.” By the 1980s we had also ushered in a period of unprecedented loan shark interest rates underwritten by all major banks. This was jumpstarted by Citibank (after a favorable Supreme Court “loan shark” ruling in 1978) by going through the Legislature of South Dakota whose lender laws stated that interest at any level up to 100% could be levied without being defined as Usury. This sent a stampede of banks and financial institutions set up shop in Sioux Falls, issuing their VISA and MASTERCARD and DISCOVER cards from there, thus enabling US Credit to enjoy a world reputation for unethical loan practices, easy balance transfers and bait and switch interest rates that often ran up to 60% per anum.  That practice carries through today: Ask anyone late with a couple of credit card payments or any of the hundreds of thousands of people still in their 10th year of paying off their student. In fact, for the last 35 years or so, America has become a Loan Shark Nation. We feed off the milk of the overburdened, overcharged Consumer Super-cow. The problem is that now the Cow has stopped giving milk and started giving blood. (Bernie Sanders is upset about this. And “The Bern” is right.)

            NAFTA and the Wave of Open Borders.  Once upon a time, the United States had an immigration policy that was a model for the world. Especially around the turn of the 20th Century, “The poor and huddled masses longing to be free…” would actually come into NYC, log in at Ellis Island and apply for citizenship. It was an honor. It took work. The US actually enforced its immigration statutes. That enforcement started getting lax in the 1960s with loose border checks and bribed entries through the Sun Belt states. But the real coup de grace came with the National Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) enacted in 1994 and broadly supported on both sides of the aisles of Congress. In his book and film, Save Your Job Save Our Country, Ross Perot warned about NAFTA as a vehicle for the Mexican Government to export its marginalized labor force over onto us but no one listened.  Since that time, the flood gates have opened, and an estimated 24 Million “undocumented workers,” (pick a term) have come across, taken millions of low wage jobs, gobbled up about $240 billion a year worth of free health-care, education and SNAPS, all while they send $122 billion a year back to relatives across the border, for a total of $2.4 Trillion in the 20 years that has enriched the Mexican economy while eviscerating ours. (Ironically, Bernie Sanders wants to repeal NAFTA. But he thinks it’s unfair because Mexican workers are being exploited. I believe they would all come over tomorrow if they could. This is America: The Land Of Opportunity. They know that even if Sanders and his minions do not.)

            Finally we get to the two longest nails in the coffin of the American socio-economic model. 

            America’s Role as the World’s Policeman. With practically no time to heal from the ravage of World War II, we were forced into a Cold War mentality that lasted another forty years. We were given the role as the world’s policeman, and embraced it. And we still do. I won’t even go into George W. Bush’s contrived Iraqi war that cost $2 trillion (and 8,000 American lives) or the fact that the US has a reputation for throwing its allies under the bus, while selling military hardware to help prop up the nations that seem to hate us most. Looking beyond that political myopia is fact is that we have spent more than $31.5 Trillion on the US military machine since 1946 and have precious little to show for it other than government defense contracts that provide the ultimate manual for manufacturing graft, price-gouging and waste… and the fact that we have abandoned gigatons of castoff military weapons and equipment scattered all over the world—left in the hands of ISIS, Al Qaeda and other hate groups dedicated to our destruction. No one has ever dared open the lid on the money pit created by defense contracts. But if they did, they would be appalled at the “profiteering” and bureaucratic mishandling that goes on to this very day. Meanwhile, we have managed under the Obama Administration to dismantle and disempower our nation’s armed forces to their weakest point since 1939.

            Quantitative Easing. The Great American Ponzi Scheme. So, the inevitable question leads to the Elephant in the Room: How have we paid for all this over the years? The answer is obvious. We print more money. It now has a fancy new name originated by the Japanese in 1991 when they devalued the yen: Quantitative Easing. But the US Government coopted the concept under FDR, and we are still the master-makers of “funny money.” Twenty years ago it was still OK to do because America was still the engine that drove the world's economy, and we had a government surplus. That was more than gobbled up by the two most inept administrations in American History—the one two punch of Bush and Obama—until we now have printed up about 3.8 trillion dollars that we have buried inside the FED, not yet released into the global marketplace because, if and when it is, it could easily trash world financial markets overnight. China and Japan (holders of 44% of our debt paper) know this. And that is why the world's money indexes are shuddering at this very moment.
            Much of this Quantitative Easing is due to the reboot the US Government had to do in 2009 after the criminal mismanagement of our financial institutions, and the main reason Bernie Sanders is so pissed off at the very rich (.1%). In many ways I couldn’t agree more. If we had thrown a few financial CEOs in jail back in 2009 as Iceland did, justice would have been served and the public confidence might have been restored. Instead, we bailed them out, gave them immunity and made a couple of them Secretary of the Treasury.

            Meanwhile rogue corporations convicted in the last four years, such as JP Morgan Chase, GM, Toyota, ING, and HBSC—who are guilty of everything from funding terrorists to knowingly selling cars that kill people—need to have some of their CEOs prosecuted for criminal conspiracy. Instead they are slapped with billion dollar fines—the punitive equivalent of a scolding—while the Scoundrels In Charge (SIC) get bonuses.

            In that respect, I am all for Bernie Sanders’s crusade. Unfortunately, Bernie and his populist tigers have at last fallen for the big Socialist lie that runs to Government as the blunt instrument of enforcement, starting with new draconian policies against big financial institutions, along the way embracing the myth that our nation's Billionaires are somehow to blame for all our troubles. We’ve got a little news for you, Bern: Even if we seized the assets of everyone in America with a net worth of $100 million, it wouldn’t generate more than $660 billion, which would cover the cost of running the US government for about three months.  And clamping down on corporations doesn’t work, because any fool knows that corporations don’t pay taxes, ever! They pass on all those hits to the end consumer in the form of raised costs of goods and services…and mutually agreed upon price floors. And that is the paradox of Adversary Capitalism: that businesses have always found a way to beat the system. We already have a zillion laws on the books that clamp down on business and industry, and it just hasn’t worked.
            Still Vermont’s Favorite Son has galvanized his base with yet another one-two-punch of political rhetoric. One is to raise the minimum wage (to $15), and the other is to provide even more government services that he has no idea of how to execute or pay for because he hasn’t addressed—and no one has—the real rotten-to-the-core corruption of the Modern American Mindset.
            Some of it has to do with the fact that the Great American Welfare State is already so entrenched that, according to a very recent study from the Cato Institute, 33 of the 50 states from Hawaii to South Carolina offer “income relief” benefits (up to $60 K a year!) that pay much better than actually having a job. And 13 states have entitlement packages that actually break down to more then $15 an hour tax free, which means most recipients are far better off just not working…so they don’t.

            With the firm belief that in a Democracy we get exactly the government we deserve, I offer a few more statistics that “We the People” need to address before we decide to pull the trigger on true Socialism and even more government control. And it comes, not by embracing the delusion of who we think we are, but by addressing the reality of who we really are.

            • Even though we represent less than 4.5% of the World’s population, the US gobbles up more than 13% of the world’s total food supply. Every American consumes 1993 pounds (nearly one ton) of food in a year. We are the fattest nation on earth at 62% overweight and 31% clinically obese. And we overeat to the tune of about 2 billion calories a day—enough to feed a nation of 80 million people (the population of Mexico).
            • We have the cheapest food prices of any other nation—88% of it GMO. And we spend twice as much on fast foods (junk food) as the next 5 nations on the list.  
            • Due to bureaucratic glitches and fear of liability, we throw away 40% of the food we produce, enough to feed the entire nations of Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Chile.
              Having only 4.5% of the world’s population we consume 24% of the world’s energy—including petroleum, gas, coal, electric and renewable sources.
            •. In fact, US citizens own 256 Million—25.6%—of the world’s 1 Billion passenger vehicles. And we own three times as many flat-screen TVs, computers, smartphones and iPads per capita of any other nation.
            • We have more credit cars, credit card debt and credit card fraud than the other Top 3 economic powers combined.
            • We take twice as many prescription drugs as any other nation, and have three times as many deaths due to drug overdoses.
            • We are in fact a nation of Guinea pigs medically manipulated by a $2 Trillion dollar “Sickness System,” evidenced by our National Affordable Health Care act that opened its coffers to the Big Pharmaceuticals and the insurance companies, allowing them to triple their rates prior to its introduction in 2016.
            • Meanwhile, we have gutted Medicare to the tune of $700 billion to provide free health coverage to 15 million Americans who don’t have it—which ironically approximates the number of “undocumented workers” hanging around.  
            I bring up all these statistics because we are a sensation-saturated, drug-addicted, credit corrupted nation of overweight, over-shopped, super-entitled, narcissistic, star-worshippers, leveraged to the hilt and deluded by our 24-hour access to an orgy of media and internet into believing that we are entitled to everything we want without having to take responsibility for any of it. We want our social services and we want them now! We don’t know where they will come from or that the price they extract will be less and less personal freedom. All we know is that we are going to follow anyone who promises us more without requiring anything…from us.
            So now we come back to the moment, and the new political Zeitgeists…or are they? We have Donald Trump on the right, bleating out testosterone tirades about throwing 15 million people back across the border, building up our military and making economic war on China. And we have Bernie Sanders on the left, a True Believer trying hard to think outside the box. Unfortunately for “The Bern” he has leapt out of the box and onto the Socialist bandwagon, along with some political penis envy of smaller more tightly run Nordic Countries whose government models are far easier to manage.

            In truth, Bernie, the only purely Socialist nations in the last ten decades were the USSR that collapsed in 60 years under the weight of its own Cold War Machine, China that slaughtered 43 million people before it turned Capitalist 25 years ago, Cuba that has underperformed since its inception, and North Korea that ranks 161st out of 161 nations in Quality of Life…and spends most of its time building nukes and nuclear delivery systems. 

            Winston Churchill once deftly described Socialism as, “A philosophy of Failure, the creed of Ignorance, and the gospel of Envy. Its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.”

            Let’s stop deluding ourselves into thinking we can imitate Denmark or Norway or Finland or any other nation in the unique Nordic model by calling it “Socialism” and tricking ourselves into chasing it down while reviling success and the hard working people who made this imperfect but dynamic Democracy possible. The Nordics are not socialist. They are Social Democracies. They are Cooperative Competitive Capitalism. They are a group of nations that had a dream, sat down with all hands, set an economic game plan and stuck to it. And they kept it simple. They are what we once were becoming but lost touch with about fifty years ago. And we so desperately need to get it back.

            In his inaugural address in 1961, John F. Kennedy said: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Rather…ask what you can do for your country.”

            So I offer this recommendation, Bernie: The next time you show up in front of your record crowds, start challenging them to take responsibility for themselves. Educate them on the glorious legacy of something called “Citizenship” and the responsibilities that go with it. Teach them how to save their money, eat sensibly, limit their incessant involvement in mindless media, get an education, give back to their communities and start making contributions instead of demanding them.

            Try that message to your groupies. But when you do, don’t be surprised if you hear a collective “WTF!” Just before they pause to check their earpieces and then go back to taking “selfies” on their iPhones.

10/12/2015. A Footnote: Since I originally published this piece, I've been contacted by several people in Scandinavia, including an offer from Sweden to write an article, and several contacts from Denmark. Without exception, they have informed me that their economies are being undermined and plunged into debt by immigrants, especially those from the war-torn Muslim nations in the Middle East, who do not work, get on their national welfare rolls and largely contribute to their nation's rising crime rate. I would suggest that Senator Sanders might want to take a closer look at what is really going on in the Nordic countries. After he does, he might want to reexamine his simplistic socialist game plan ... unless of course he is satisfied with convincing others that up is down, wrong is right, and that a society based on something for nothing has any chance to survive. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Will Trump Trash the GOP?

Will Trump Trash the GOP?

Donald is on a Roll
And Hillary Has Got to Love it. 

            In case you just haven’t been paying attention, there is a pretty good chance we might be headed for a Three Party Race for President in 2016. Or in an even more bizarre scenario, we might actually have a bona-fide eccentric, super-rich media mogul running on the Republican side of the ticket. Either way, it has to have Hillary Clinton’s campaign mavens already polishing up the crown and scepter to adorn her coronation.

            Of course, that Third Party Candidate/GOP Neo-populist Bully Boy, would be none other than Donald Trump—the delight of the “talk radio” wing of the Republican Right and the only man in the room during the first GOP Presidential Debate who wouldn’t swear his support for the party’s nominee should it not be he. But let’s be frank about it, shall we? If Trump had not participated in that soulless, soundbite beauty contest it would have garnered ratings just a notch above the USA Women’s Collegiate Softball Finals.

            As it was, it drew an audience just north of 24 Million people, becoming the most watched event in cable news history—more than triple the ratings of any other political debate ever. In fact, when you watched “The Donald” standing up in the same room with his $3000 dollar Armani threads, his dead muskrat hairdo, his billionaire swagger and sucking the oxygen out of the room, he actually came off like genuine American folk hero—especially when stacked up against the sanitized choirboy Stepford clones coming straight out of the Conservative Christian cookie cutter. 

            If the First Republican Presidential Debate just ten days ago had any objective at all, it convinced me of several things right out of the gate: First, we’ve all finally come to realize the degree of loathing the general public has for Political Correctness and all it represents. Next, Donald Trump has proven beyond all doubt that, when you’ve got 10 billion dollars you can rail at the world like someone’s redneck drunken uncle and still get away with saying about anything you want. Third, America has become a soundbite nation, seduced by TMZ and having abandoned logic and accountability in the process. We the People don’t really want the facts any more.  We want Entertainment. We want clever sounding quick-fix solutions that no one will bother to vet.

            Something has also struck me before and since, and that is the fact that—when it comes to PC—Donald Trump is pushing the envelope so hard that one might suspect he is deliberately trying to sabotage his own campaign. And it’s not working yet, even though the RNC is doubtless sitting up nights trying to figure out ways to run him off.

            There is no doubt on that fateful debate night that FOX News and Megyn Kelly in particular planned to have the best of Trump with a stack of tough questions that flew straight into his Curmudgeon Castle Keep. And “The Donald” took the bait. Although he more or less kept his cool during the two-hour show-and-tell, he retaliated after the fact with a spate of nasty tweets and appearances on MSNBC and CNN to denounce FOX and news team itself as being some backroom conspiracy to sink his political fortunes. And to everyone’s shock and amazement Trump entirely had his way with it.

            Even despite the fact that Megyn Kelly, Chris Wallace and Bret Baier did a recap where they declared the event a failure for Trump and foresaw a new rising star in Senator Marco Rubio (who was at least a bit Presidential), their prognostications fell flat and Trump’s post debate numbers soared—up anywhere from 5 to 10 points at around 30% and over twice that of the nearest Republican challenger Jeb Bush (who seems to hang-in there, despite coming off like a 21st century version of Herbert Hoover).

            But that kind of butt-whipping wasn’t enough for Donald who has absolutely no filter whenever his billionaire pooh bah sensibilities are challenged. So he chose in the aftermath to attack Megyn Kelly personally—with a lightly veiled sexist remark about her bodily orifices running red, which garnered a legion of women rushing to Kelly’s defense oddly followed by an orchestrated pushback from Trump’s harem, defending Trump himself as “having reverence for women.”  Then “The Donald” quickly followed a couple of days later by winning a stare-down with FOX Newsgroup President Roger Ailes that managed to get Kelly—arguably the most popular news anchor in this century—sent packing on a sudden sabbatical “to be with her family.” Now, sufficiently placated, the Donald has agreed to return to FOX to spread his apocryphal imperatives with virtual impunity. (So much for freedom of the press.)
            The real casualty in all of this is not Kelly or FOX News or the GOP or even Trump himself. The greatest loss in in all of this is something called political substance. Instead we have a war of words, a new sport called media bashing and bad gossip column fodder that is almost as embarrassing to report as the public responses to it. Because the political mindset of the American public has apparently been run off a cliff and straight into a pit of mindless drivel that has nothing to do with solving this nation’s problems and everything to do with giving yet another bully pulpit to extremists and fools.
            If you happen to be among those few remaining who don't really believe that Donald Trump is a serious candidate for President in 2016, you weren’t around for his speech to a $25 a plate crowd in the Detroit suburb of Birch Run, Michigan last week. And anyone who saw it or heard it realized just how well “The Donald” knows how to work a room. Since Detroit, capital of the “Rust Belt” with an 18% unemployment rate, is the socio-economic equivalent of a battered wife, Trump’s sudden appearance for dinner was well timed. Playing his mantra like a prosperity harp and preaching to raucous applause, the billionaire mogul denounced the recent opening by Ford Motor Company of an Auto Plant in China as if it were something unheard of, while he promised that if he were made POTUS he would shut down the channels of commerce to China and bring all these jobs back to the USA. (Of course it was utter nonsense because that ship sailed twenty years ago with NAFTA and the Trans Pacific Pact [TPP]. Major car manufacturers are permitted to go where the labor/profit ratio benefits their bottom line, and there is nothing the government can do to stop them other than enact major treaty restructuring which would take years and benefit no one.)  

            If one choses to remain naïve about this, one could believe that Trump is just being himself—brash, loud, rude and utterly convinced in the rightness of his behavior. The truth is that Donald Trump has gone out of his way to offend the GOP and everyone in it. He baits, berates and insults every powerful party figure from John McCain to Jeb Bush, and in fact does not have one single close friend inside the party power structure with which he has chosen cast his lot. He is setting himself up as a man apart—as a third party—and one has to ask why? God only knows Trump is driving the Republican establishment crazy, and they’re praying he’ll go away.

            I personally think he just might do that. But only after he has had his way with them all—either bringing them to heel and turning the entire GOP into a cheap demagogic side-show or by bolting before everyone finds out that the Emperor has no clothes. 

            So my Conspiracy Theory is this: Donald is doing all this intentionally, because he can. For reasons that can only be explained through the lens of a megalomaniac, Donald Trump knows he is in a Win-Win scenario. If he continues front-run by double digits and bend the Republican Party to his will, he will gain the nomination and make the race far more interesting than it otherwise would have been. If Trump gets bounced by the Republicans—something, in this incendiary political environment, that is possible at any time—he is perfectly positioned to start a Third Party Movement and provide the political gut-shot to the GOP that the Democrats have been praying for.

            The challenge lies in the fact that, at this point, The Donald is gaining rather than losing momentum. He is bending the ratings-crazed mainstream media to his will, and he has struck a match to reignite a Republican Party passion that until now has lost all sense of itself. Desperate for anything that looks like a winner, the right-tilting GOP rank-and-file is willing to abandon both logic and accountability. In doing so, they haven’t bothered to vet much of anything Trump has said or backed in the last 20 years, and are more than happy to enjoy this three-ring Barnum and Bailey replete with clown-car, Ringmaster and a hi-wire act that is yet to have a “flyer.”  

            Despite the recent titillating chain of events, most political pros know very well that eventually the Circus leaves town. Donald will have to stop acting like a gambling casino owner-gunslinger and become presidential. He will actually have to come up with policy answers and not prattle on about sending in boots on the ground to fight ISIS when our military has been so badly gutted we couldn't defend a shopping mall in Nairobi. He’ll have to stop all the economic trash-talk against China who owns 34% of all our debt paper. And he’ll have to come up with a solution to our immigration dilemma that doesn’t come off like an “Off with their Heads!” declaration straight from The Queen of Hearts. In essence,  he’ll generally have to start acting like an adult.

            The fact is, Trump doesn't want to, or need to. He’s a billionaire brat with a brand new toy, and he’ll play with it until it tires him…or until someone will stroke his Titanic ego enough to convince him to set up a Third Party run for President. There is a good chance he will, especially when the public catches on that there is no “there” there—that in fact Donald is historically a populist and redoubtably a liberal on most issues. Insiders know this. And no one could be happier about this than Hillary Rodham Clinton.

            The fact is that Donald Trump doesn't have one single close ally inside the GOP. In truth, he is far closer in political sentiment and allegiance to an entire squadron of Democrats than he is to any Republican of any stripe. He was a de-facto Democrat for his entire adult life, until he made a sudden conversion to the GOP in 2009. He contributed generously and often to his close friends Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, and heavily invested in Kerry’s 2004 run for President. He aggressively backed Hillary Clinton’s primary campaign for POTUS in 2008, and he has openly declared Bill Clinton to have been one of the best Presidents the US has ever had. Trump’s daughter Ivanka just happens to be Chelsea Clinton’s BFF, and they have all shared weddings, political rallies and social outings in great profusion. Coincidence? Perhaps. But it is no coincidence that The Wall Street Journal recently corroborated a series of meetings during which Trump and his handlers consulted with Bill Clinton a few weeks before deciding to dive into the Republican primary. And by all reports, the former POTUS encouraged Trump to work his way into the GOP political landscape.

            Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think for a minute that Donald Trump would intentionally be anyone’s stalking horse… or Trojan horse for that matter. But be realistic. It is not hard to stroke a gargantuan ego like Trump’s, especially if you are a former President of the United States and someone Donald highly reveres. So there is at least a reasonable chance that The Donald’s entry into the political arena has been orchestrated—and quite possibly manipulated—by someone with a whole lot more political savvy than Trump himself could ever hope to have.  
            So, here we have it. The stage is set. And we have a Hobson’s choice. If Donald Trump drops his adversarial approach to the GOP power structure and actually schmoozes his way into the nomination, it will prove beyond the shadow of a doubt just how desperate the Republicans are to field someone who has a ghost of a chance at the White House. Even so, he will face Hillary in a National election and get his clock cleaned, because no one in his or her right mind among the 41% of non-aligned "independent" voters wants to go anywhere near a hip-shooting, knee-jerk, egomaniacal hothead with his foot on the throat of this nation’s media and his hand on the Nuclear trigger. (Besides, Hillary already has leverage with this nation’s Millennials who represent 21% of the vote and haven’t a clue about what anyone stands for, but have already looked up from the iPhone text-orgies long enough to decide that it’s time for a woman to run America. End of story.)

            On the other hand, if Trump breaks off on his own and throws us into a Three Party Race, he’ll virtually assure Hillary Clinton’s election that way, because three party races have historically sabotaged either one political party or the other, and the consequences are usually dire…as it will this time for the GOP.

            Anyone who has been around for more than a couple of decades remembers that Ross Perot’s Presidential run in 1992—despite his paranoia hiccup in the 7th inning—still trashed George H.W. Bush’s bid for reelection and served as the single reason Bill Clinton became our 42nd President. Richard Nixon cannily survived a George Wallace Third Party run in 1968 that cost him four key southern states, including Georgia and Alabama. And Harry Truman miraculously managed to come out on top of a Four Party Race in 1948 that included defections from the Dixiecrats (and a loss of four Southern states) and the Socialist Party fronted by former VP, Henry A. Wallace. And of course, the most famous three party race involved Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party in 1912 that utterly undercut the reelection of Republican President William Howard Taft and thrust Woodrow Wilson into the White House.  

            The difference in all those races and the one before us now is the fact that—once upon a time twenty, forty and sixty years ago—the American public actually took the time to be truly informed about the issues. And back in the 20th Century the political parties truly stood for something. They hadn’t been taken over by vocal lunatic fringe on both sides. A lunatic fringe, by the way, that Donald Trump often spearheaded in the past. One needs merely look back a couple of years to find that he is the ultimate extremist/conspiracy theorist. He was a borderline “Truther” in the wake of the 911 crisis. And up until 2013, he was an avowed and aggressive “Birther” who openly challenged Barack Obama’s credentials for citizenship as well as his patriotism.

            All of this will, of course, be hurled in Trump’s face by Hillary Clinton should they square off in 2016. “The Donald” is going to have to be able to defend that, and so will any party that sponsors him.

            At this point, Trump just doesn’t care. He’s having his way with a dying party that has lost its political moorings and just basically having a damn good time. To be perfectly honest, so are we all. Donald Trump is the flavor of the day. Donald Trump is media meat and a simplistic sound-bite mirage.  And no one is happier about this that than the Clinton Political Machine.

            In truth all this is coming as something of a relief to Hillary Clinton who is currently facing a mountain of challenges, including possible ethics violations while Secretary of State. Notwithstanding the fact that she has the campaign personality of a Stegosaurus, she is also being bombarded with a surprising far-left surge from self-confessed Socialist Bernie Sanders and his “Occupy Wall Street” groupies who have, temporarily at least, found a new place to pitch their Hate America tent. And (just in case Hillary gets indicted) the Praetorian Guard Democrats are oiling up the hinges on Joe Biden’s suit of armor should they need to, because no one inside the mainstream of the Party wants Sanders to get anywhere near the Democratic nomination, mainly because he is selling his Quixotic version of "The Impossible Dream" that simply will not hold up under serious examination. 

            In the end it all comes down to understanding who has the legs to go the distance. One has to wonder whether or not the Donald really has the discipline to go all the way. At this point, why should he not? Everything is going his way. The American voters are so sick of the deadly pall of “business as usual” inside the Beltway that they are temporarily at least ready to try anything new. Trump has unlimited funds and is beholden to no one.. He is a multibillionaire with no world’s left to conquer. And he has a terrific command of media buzz.

            In truth, no Presidential campaign in history ever has cranked up so early in the game. It’s happening on both sides of the aisle. And it is symptomatic of a nation that has at last had enough with business as usual. Or has it?

            The philosopher Eric Hoffer once wrote in The Ordeal of Change that human nature is so intrinsically opposed to change that it will often resist it even when circumstances become intolerable. The question then is this: Have We the People finally reached our limits? Or do we once again revert to the mean once the media buzz dies down? The Conventional Wisdom of both parties is betting that we will. But, as Donald Trump is proving daily, “Convention” is no longer Wise.