Monday, December 29, 2014

Does the World Get You Down?

This is my last blog.  The world is so fuXXed up that it is not possible to comment on all its absurdities.  Besides it is too depressing.  The only way to preserve sanity is to look at it with rose colored glasses, so I shall devote myself to things of beauty such as poetry and literature. 
     If you have not seen my historical novel, “The Quest for Land and Fortune,” may I urge you to go to Amazon and get a copy while they last.  It is narrative non-fiction, the people are all real, but what they said to each other and what sort of blogs they might have written, is fiction, I was not there. 
      The New York Times of December 28, 2014, had a section entitled the “Year in Pictures.  I list the cut-lines to illustrate my point.
01/09/2014  Displaced people on ferry led fighting between government forces and rebel in South Sudan.
02/24  Women took shelter from sniper fire in The Ukraine.
02/19  Anti-government protestors burned barricades in The Ukraine.
04/17  A protestor hurled a Molotov cocktail during clashes with police, Caracas, Venezuela.
04/30  A lockdown drill to address the threat of school shootings in a eighth-grade class, Belle Plaine, MN
03/12  A girl was wounded between riot police and anti-government protestors, Istanbul.
05/05  Mourners attended funeral of Julia Izotova, 21, killed during clashes between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists.
05/11  Civil War set of a vast food crisis, among the malnourished were a mother and her 5-month old. Malakal, South Sudan.
07/09  Mexican authorities deported miners on a flight back to El Salvador.
07/24  Relatives look into a hospital operating room at those injured in an Israeli air strike. Gaza Strip.
08/15  Palestinians prayed in the rubble of a mosque. Gaza City.
07/01  A Jewish woman prayed during the funeral for three Israeli teenagers who were killed in the West Bank.
07/02  Migrants traveling toward the US on a train known as “The Beast” because of violent crime.Tenosique, Mexico
09/23  A marina owner on the boat dock in the dried-up Huntington Lake CAL.
08/25  Michael Brown Sr. mourns as his son’s coffin is lowered, St. Peters Cemetery, Normandy.
08/27  Yameen Ritaj, 16, left her abusive husband during her pregnancy. Refugee camp, Jordan.
09/05  Medical workers took James Dorbor, 8, into a Ebola treatment center. Liberia.
011/25  Police clash with pro-democracy demonstrators, Hong Cong.
11/28  Senator Mitch McConnell re-elected from Kentucky. (He has declared global warming a hoax spread by those who dislike his state’s coal.)
10/18  Displaced persons camp where 140,000 have been uprooted. Myanmar.
09/27  A cradle left behind by Kurdish refugees along the Turkish-Syrian border.
11/28  Protest because Grand jury decided not to indict Daren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, Delwood MO.
12/08 Protestors against police brutality in the wake of Michael Brown, Berkeley.
12’16  Women mourn Mohammed Ali Khan, 15, one of 130 students killed during a Taliban attack on a school, Peshawar, Pakistan.
11/18  Ultra-Orthodox Jews listened to a eulogy for a Rabbi Killed in a synagogue by Palestinian gunmen. Jerusalem.
12/06  A four-year-old known as Sweetie, one of thousands, monitored for symptoms of Ebola. Sierra Leone
         I add one event that does not photograph--the new Republican Congress has vowed to cancel Obama's Affordable Care Act.  I suspect that much of the opposition is a continuing racist reaction to the Black President.

See what I mean.  During the Vietnam War, depressed by the daily body count, I stopped listening to network news.  I never began again.  Today, I canceled my subscription to the New York Times.
      Thanks for following my blog.  If you want more, I recommend following Bill Moyers and Robert Reich.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Big Oil Spoils North Dakota

Big oil companies in North Dakota said their impact on the environment would be minimal. They lied.  The citizens of Tioga witnessed the largest land oil spill in recent American history in September, 2013.  Also in 2013, the locomotive of an oil train derailed and exploded in a collision near Casselton.  This year North Dakotans discovered illegally dumped oil filter socks, a source of hazardous radiation. A landfill with waste from oil fields is near the banks of the Missouri River.  Some families experienced dirty drinking water.  “One company, in fact, sued three activist landowners in 2011, seeking damages for trespassing after the men tried to document what they believed was the cover-up of a saltwater spill.”  Federal wildlife agents asked the oil companies to cover their waste pits as migratory birds sometimes dived in.  They were refused.  Thirty percent of the natural gas produced in the state was being treated as a byproduct and burned off, spoiling the air for neighbors.

      The oil drillers are lightly regulated by the three-member North Dakota Industrial Commission composed of the Governor, Attorney General, and the Agricultural Commissioner.  In their eagerness to gain great wealth, the state largely let the oil companies police themselves.  The oil companies made contributions to the governor’s campaign in 2012, a total of $550,000 from oil-related executives.

         A family signed a lease and saw their first well drilled in 2008.  Then June, 2011, they were informed that Burlington Resources intended to create a 30,883 acre oil production unit that would override their lease agreement.  Instead of receiving royalties for their land, the revenues would be split by all owners in the mega-unit. The mega-unit would include part of the Little Missouri State Park (three storage tank batteries inside park boundaries). The family learned that their consent was not required.  Only 60 percent of the unit’s owners were needed, and Burlington together with the Federal government land already amounted to 60%.  This freed Conoco Phillips, successor to Burlington, from boundary lines that required 200-foot set-backs from the borders of each production unit.  The companies would not have to negotiate easements or rights of way for pads, roads, and pipelines.  Dec 20, 2013, the commission approved the mega-unit.  This amounts to private eminent domain—taking of land by private companies for their own benefit.
             Source: New York Times, Nov. 23, 2014

Thursday, November 27, 2014


There are still some things to be thankful for--like not living in Buffalo NY.  Apologies to buffaloes.

Monday, November 24, 2014


" In a world where 2 billion more people have entered the workforce since 1989, the insecurity of those suddenly forced to compete that much harder was always bound to grow. If you’re one of the beneficiaries of this massive upheaval, you’re fine. But for the millions who fear they are losing out, and who see their town or country changing around them, including through immigration, it’s natural to hold on tight to, and fiercely defend, an identity that feels safe and familiar." Jonathan Freedland writing in the Guardian UK. 21 Nov 2014
    Cultural arguments are taking the place of what used to be bread and butter issues.  The Republican party has exploited this very cleverly, while they turn the bread and butter toward the very rich. When will the 90 % figure it out? And, when will the Democrats figure out that identity politics is where it's at.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Neo-liberals and the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA)

Cass Sunstein was appointed head of OIRA from 2009-2012 and led it to delay and eviscerate a host of environmental regulations.  Pres. Reagan created the office ostensibly to improve decision making by insisting on benefit-cost analysis of all rules, but industry used it to escape and delay regulation.  An example of its over-reaching and bizarre twists is to count lost pleasure from smoking as an off-set to health benefits of reduced smoking.  Besides, early death saves health care costs over the smokers' lifetime they claim! All of this is justified by the neo-liberal championing of what they call liberty-enhancement. If some want to kill themselves, they should be free to do so.  This is a neat trick that diverts blame from systemic corporate malfeasance to individuals. 
   This is documented in Robert Kuttner, "Obama's Obama" Harpers, December 2014." A must read by those interested in good government and avoidance of the siren song and paternalism of the neo-liberals. Obama does not come off well. Sunstein and Obama prove once again that smart and wise are not the same thing.

Virunga, Congo

Oil companies are circling Virunga National Park in the Congo, home to several endangered wildlife species such as mountain gorillas.  The oil company thugs stoop to bribery and murder.  The Government is silent saying they must support anything that will lift their people out of poverty.  One could be more impressed if they were putting a large part of their royalties into a trust fund for all its citizens, such as Alaska did.  
 The Congo has been home to natural resource exploitation by the Belgians for generations and where are the jobs it was supposed to create?  Any natural resource eventually runs out and the people who get rich are government officials and foreign companies.
Source: NYT 16 Nov 2014

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Japan's Folly

Japan's economy has been in the doldrums for years.  So what are they doing? Their central bank is buying government debt just like the US Fed was doing.  Supposedly, these purchases keep interest rates low and stimulate borrowing and growth.  But the evidence is to the contrary in  a country with zero interest rates and still little investment. If this policy worked it would have worked before now, but evidence be damned! We live in a world driven by ideology and bankers.

Brussels Riots

Riots broke out a few days ago in Brussels as people protested the government's austerity policies. In Europe when people are fed up, they riot while in the U.S. our low income people accept their fate and believe it is their fault. Austerity policy has not worked anywhere in Europe, but they hold to it like a dog with a bone.  Germany lost WW II but they dominate Europe and the EU and insist all countries should follow them no matter how different are their economies.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Belief and Experience

A post-election message by Harry Cook
"How lovely it would be to trade belief and believing for experience and reason. That was the great contribution of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who birthed an America that, like the autumnal doe, takes care of its young, its weak and those however disadvantaged through no fault of their own.

It was not a hardcore belief system that informed Roosevelt. It was experience. Experience is a far better guide than belief. The former is rooted in what eye can see, ear can hear and heart can feel. The latter is rooted in abstraction and, as often as not, self-serving."

Monday, October 27, 2014

Obama Popularity

Why has Obama's popularity plummeted?  He has accomplished a great deal that is not getting talked about.  He is the victim of the press and his opponents (some racist) that keep chanting "Obama Care" is bad.  This seems to stop further thinking about actual consequences.  It reminds of Gov. George Romney whose campaign for the presidency coincided with the Vietnam War.  He went on a fact-finding mission and came back and said he had been "brain washed" by the generals.  Well, we can't have a president who can be brain washed and the press repeated this trope over and over again and Romney's quest for the presidency was over.  The press and many people did not want to know more. 
Culture is a strange animal that is hard to understand.  Words can enter the language, and no matter how misleading, they have a life of their own, albeit pushed along by opinion makers.  Why is not "Affordable Care" is easy to say as "Obama Care?"  But, then the opponents would have to admit that they simply don't want to give aid to the poor--they don't deserve it.

Friday, October 24, 2014


Due to computer glitches, there have been no posts for some time.  Hopefully, the problem is fixed and posts will continue on a more regular basis.  Thanks for sticking with the "Troublesome Economist."

Louisiana Flood Danger

Louisiana is slipping into the Gulf caused by oil company channels, drilling, and pollution that kills vegetation on coastal marshes.  "Each day the state loses nearly the accumulated acreage of every  football stadium in the N.F.L."  John Barry is a public spirited citizen member of a regional flood protection board.  The Board brought suit against the oil companies, but Republican governor Jindal persuaded the legislature to condemn the suit and order its cancellation.  The oil companies applauded, even though they know that the next hurricane would destroy a lot of their property. There is a distinction between "dumb" and "stupid"--not acting on your own best interest.  This is an example of the latter.
Source: NYT Magazine, Oct. 5, 2014.


If you want to be poor forever, keep doing what you are doing.
An analysis suggests that people are recruited to your activities because they are searching for "Personal Identity."--People wanting some cause to give meaning to an otherwise meaningless life. Couldn't they find something less murderous?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Institutions and relative incomes

Important insight by Robert Reich--
"The myth is you get paid what you’re worth. Yet for many occupations it’s just the reverse: Pay is inversely related to the real benefits to society. Social work, teaching, nursing, and caring for the elderly or for children are among the lowest-paid of all professions, but the benefits to society are considerable. We desperately need these people." 
   Couldn't say it any better.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Quest for Land and Fortune

Three hundred thousand books are published in the United States every year. A few hundred, at most, could be called financial or creative successes.  Failure doesn’t afflict only the lesser talents.  John Keats, now regarded as a great poet, who died at 25 with a collection of bad reviews to his name, asked for his gravestone to read: Here lies one whose name was writ in water. He died convinced of his obscurity.
Help me avoid a similar fate: buy a copy of my historical novel, “The Quest for Land and Fortune” at Chapbook   You can’t go wrong at $20, about the cost of two movie tickets.
Search for Alfred Allan Schmid

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision

"Benjamin I. Sachs, a law professor at Harvard University, notes that while federal law lets union members prevent the use of their dues for political purposes, shareholders do not have similar rights. “If we’re going to say that collectives have speech rights, then we should treat unions and corporations the same,” Sachs told me. Employees are even more vulnerable. When companies like YUM! Brands, which owns KFC and Taco Bell, campaign against minimum-wage increases, they are effectively using the profits generated by their employees to limit the compensation of those same employees. And of course, some of Hobby Lobby’s 13,000 workers will now need to pay for contraception." NYT 20 July 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

For Shame America

For Shame America.  More than 57,000 young migrants have been apprehended, coming without parents, mostly from Central America since October.  At great expense, we have thousands of immigration control officers and elaborate fences.  I try to imagine the desperation of parents to send their children north hoping to escape killing and rape by drug gangs.  Do we need extensive interviews to determine if these children are eligible for entry? We are ruining our neighbors.
      The whole thing is our fault.  If we treated our addicts, the demand and profits of the drug trade would dry up. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Why We Have No High-speed Rail Lines

America is the only rich country in the world with no high-speed rail lines connecting our major cities.  As any European tourist quickly notes,  fast trains such as the Euro-Star and the French TGV are comfortable and reliable and cheaper than flying.  And, you are not treated like a crimnal while boarding.
       Opponents of rail improvement argue that roads are self-sustaining via tolls and gas taxes.  But, in fact the US Treasury yearly transfers from its General Fund to the Highway Trust Fund huge sums that do not equal all of the Amtrack subsidies for the past 40 years.  Federal highway subsidies were $41 billion in 2013; aviation subsidies were $16 billion, while Amtrak received only $1.6 billion.  (Reported in Harpers, July 2014)  
       Wisconsin's Republican Governor rejected a Federal offer to build a high-speed rail line from Madison to Milwaukee.  General Motors and Exxon and the oil exporting countries must have cheered this stupidity. 

Why Do Many Embrace Inequality?

Papers and books describe the widening inequality in our society.  They provide little understanding of why the 99% put up with it.
          The explanation of Prof. Justin Friesen  et. al. suggest that "When we feel a lack of personal control, we compensate by looking for order or predictability in our environment.  So we desire and perceive governments and gods to be particularly powerful.  Those who suffer inequality often even defend the social system responsible,  rather than accept that life has been unjust." (reported in the NYT June 22, 2014)
       The constant litany in our press and TV emphasizes that capital provides jobs, and we can't threaten it or it will go away.  This slogan translates into no protest against the favorable treatment of capital gains and low effective tax rate for the super rich. 
    It is just as true that labor provides opportunities for capital, but this is seldom noted.  Our political energy is captured by the Tea Party who rails against big government (whatever that means) and ignores inequality with the lame excuse that doing anything about it would mean more government (whatever that means).

Merger Fever--the patient is sick

The Federal Reserve has gone to great lengths to keep interest rates low.  So what have American firms been doing?  Borrowing to build new plants and employ more people?  Wrong! 
They are using retained earnings and borrowing to buy their own stock and other companies.
Prof. Richard Roll of the University of California has formulated "the hubris hypothesis of corporate takeovers."  "Lately Prof. Roll has been studying the role of narcissism--a personality disorder characterized by excessive self-love--in corporate takeovers.  When executives are excessively self-involved, he said, they may ascribe unrealistic attributes to themselves, like great strategic vision or deal-making ability, leading them to extend their domains by seeking acquisitions and wheeling and dealing rapidly." (reported in the NYT Jun 22, 2014)
         And what are the results? Prof. Rene Stutz found that during the Merger and Acquisitions mania of the period 1998-2001 shareholders of public corporations over-all lost huge sums. 
         Economic theorists have gone to great lengths to exclude psychology from economics, but it comes at a cost of reality.  Just because psychology does not fit mathematical models is no reason to exclude it. Theorists deride the above as just telling stories.  But, a good story is worth a lot of equations that miss the point.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

WW I and other Idiocies

It is the 100th anniversary of WW I, one of the bloodiest and unnecessary wars in human history.  The excuse for the war was the assassination of the Austrian Archduke by a crazy man.  The Austrians demanded compensation (as if there is compensation for murder).  When it was refused, countries began to take sides based on historical and cultural ties—not unlike kids choosing sides on a playground.  The tragedy was compounded by the generals who did not understand machine guns.  Wave after wave of soldiers were sent to slaughter on both sides.  The eventually “victorious” Allies demanded huge reparations from the Germans. The consequence was bitter resentment that provided the base for Hitler’s rise.  We ignored the push-back of human emotions.
      Among the other idiotic moves was the drawing of uninformed boundaries in Africa.  We are still living with the consequences such as ethnic wars. Another result was a revulsion against war that resulted in Western delayed response to the armed invasions by Hitler.

Inequity and Hierarchy

“When we feel a lack of personal control, we compensate by looking for order or predictability in our environment.  So we desire and perceive governments and gods to be particularly powerful.  Those who suffer inequity often even defend the social system responsible, rather than accept that life has been unjust.” 
Based on Friesen and Kay as reported in NYT 22 June 2013
Case in point, the popularity of Putin in Russia and popular working class support for the Republicans who are anti-labor in US.