Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Ah, the naivete of youth! Perhaps you've read about them - the students of the divestment movement - pushing for their respected universities to stop investing in fossil energy companies. These kids apparently haven't figured out that screwing everyone's tomorrow is the only way to live well and get an affordable education (cough, cough) today.  Perhaps the students are biased, thinking they have more of a future ahead of them than most of the (older) administrators do.

The typical assumption is that investments should be green (like the little green leaf on the back of cars to make us feel better about using them), or socially responsible. I doubt most of the students in these campaigns would protest against their university administration if they were instead invested in wind and solar companies. This assumption is where the true naivete shines through, however.

There is no such thing as green or socially responsible investment, at least none that would be available in any of the major stock exchanges or brokerage firms. The legal structure of publicly owned corporations ("green" or not) prioritizes the need to generate shareholder return above all else. In so doing, it subjugates the human qualities of morality and empathy that would otherwise temper business decisions. Come to think of it, I'm not aware of a single publicly owned corporation that exists outside of the industrial economy. Any business which uses fossil fuel extracted by the "bad" energy companies, is really just "bad" once removed.

It's not just that public corporations are inherently driven to do bad things, like skirting, ignoring, (or re-writing)  our lax environmental regulations. Investing in corporations is exactly what feeds the beast that has subverted democracy around the globe, with a particularly egregious example here in the US.  You did read that we now fit the textbook definition of an oligarchy, right?

Investment in corporations is what blinds people to the corporate behavior that subverts governments and destroys nations. "Don't look a gift-horse in the mouth" or you'll loose your retirement.

The subversion of democracy is very much in play right now with the Trans-Pacific-Partnership negotiations, which amounts to NAFTA on steroids. NAFTA played a huge role in destroying manufacturing and the middle class in the US while destroying agriculture in Mexico. This lead to destruction of thousands of families in Central America, waves of desperate illegal immigrants in the US, and the creation of new corporate wet-dream worlds such as Ciudad Juarez just south of our border with Mexico. Witness also the rise of super-powerful Mexican drug cartels soon after NAFTA was implemented. Coincidence?

Let's assume for a moment that you're a sociopath with no friends or family, concerns or desires beyond money itself. Social and environmental responsibility mean nothing to you, and you think democracy is massively overrated. I have a convincing argument for you to divest your portfolio as well. It's called peak oil. Oil drove the industrial economy of the 20th century, with stock markets and GDP closely tracking oil consumption.

When the peak in conventional crude arrived as predicted circa 2005, the economy started sputtering. Attempts to fill our tanks with unconventional oil since then haven't helped much. After 2007's now forgotten heart-attack, the stock market is again climbing quite nicely. Do you think that's because the economy is still really growing, or even capable of significant further growth? The Quantitative Easing game of twister currently employed by central banks around the world might make you think so, but eventually this tangled mass is going to fail.

So let's say you're a normal person still set on the concept of retirement, or are already retired. Our culture of the last several decades says that investment (in anything!) is a-okay so long as you don't peek behind the curtain too often. No investment means no retirement, and who wants to keep working until the day they die?

Well... sometimes there is no good answer, but there may be less-bad answers than business as usual. My own answer thus far has been to first invest in myself. First of all, paying off any debt. This will usually garner greater returns (through the fact that you will forego *paying* interest to someone else) than you can expect from much investment now anyway, and the returns are guaranteed. That's a no-brainer in my opinion.

So you're already debt free, and need to invest just to have income? I can't recommend any sure thing for returns, but I do have a suggestion which might ameliorate the damage of investing. The closer you are to your investment, the better.  Perhaps that's investing in yourself through classes that might allow you some increased returns (monetary or otherwise), or skills that may be useful now or in the energy-constrained future.  Perhaps it's a friend or family member that runs a business. Perhaps it's just someone you trust to remain human, and who is operating on a scale which makes that possible. The point here is to avoid the separation of monetary and human interests which occurs with larger corporations.

Ultimately, all investment will again be as it once was - with people we know personally and see daily, and probably with no money involved or needed.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Are your teats sore too?

I tend not to relate much to the Tea Party, but they are in fact on the right trail in some respects. I don't personally mind paying my taxes. I do mind, however, not getting anything in return.

In the interest of improving efficiency, I'd like to suggest that we all petition the IRS to allow us to make our tax payments directly to the corporations they're ultimately ending up with. The robots we've created - the ones with the primary purpose of generating shareholder return - are working exactly as designed. Not surprisingly, they've converged on one of the largest, most easily diverted streams of wealth on the planet. It's the stream that flows from you and I to the federal government in the form of federal taxes.

Never fret though... "mainstream" media articles like this are written to make us feel better about being robbed. Apparently people in other countries pay more than we do, on average. This article forgets to mention all the things they actually get for their money that we don't, however (free university education, healthcare, etc).

A few weeks ago, I received a call from the Farm Service Agency, who is tasked with providing money to farmers, ostensibly to support farmers. Our farm is classified as having the potential to grow commodity corn and soy (a fate befallen most farms in our area), which makes us eligible for price supports even though we don't grow either crop. The price of both are down this year, meaning it should be a good payment year, though I don't yet know just how good.

In the absence of such price support payments, farmers would stop growing until the prices rose to the point of making it worth the effort again. Because all farmers receive the supports equally, such market forces are greatly reduced.  These payments serve only to keep the price of such commodity crops artificially low.  Thus, the payments aren't really going to the farmers -- they're going to the purchasers of such commodities, such as ADM or Cargill, and ultimately large industrial producers of "food" like General Mills or Tyson. These industry giants have all the assets they need to ensure that such subsidies "for the farmers" stay in place, especially in a government where being a corporate sell-out is a requirement for successful campaign finance.

This business model isn't limited just to agriculture, as it turns out. Retail corporations have figured it out too! They've figured out that social welfare programs, when given to their workers, allow them to accept starvation wages without actually astarving. Wal-Mart is even known to provide paperwork for such programs to their new hires, demonstrating how important these programs are to their business model.

How well does it work?  Apparently very well indeed, as 6 members of the Walton family of Wal-Mart now have more wealth than the bottom 40% of all Americans (128 million people).

The ironically named "healthcare industry" now has their own program as well. The pharmaceutical industry has Medicare part D, in which our legislative and executive branch promised to let the industry set their own pricing without any negotiation on our behalf.  Strangely enough, prices paid by Americans for various medications are often orders of magnitude greater than those paid by others in the rest of the world.

The "Affordable Care Act", which has doubled my own family's insurance rates for what appears to be nearly identical (i.e. crappy) coverage, has been a real boon for the insurance industry, who turns out to have written most of the bill. How are they faring as a result?

Never one to be left behind in terms of government teat-sucking, the military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about has far exceeded his worst nightmares. With the collusion of a purchased corporate media, they've convinced most Americans that we need to blow up just about everyone else on the planet, preferably with ultra expensive hardware.

They've even convinced us that we need to poke the nuclear-armed Russian bear, by encouraging and funding the neo-nazis in Ukraine to attack their own people, and then blaming Putin for "aggression" when he helps the ethnic Russians in Ukraine. Unbeknownst to most Americans, Kiev (the capital of Ukraine) once served as the capital of Russia.  Brezhnev was from Ukraine. When I asked a Russian friend about his thoughts on our antics Ukraine, he was incredulous. "It's like Russia funding a revolution in Michigan, and then blaming us for American aggression in trying to keep it!", as he put it.

The F-35 joint strike fighter, deemed un-usable at a current cost of 1.5 *trillion* dollars, has in fact performed exactly as intended by the military-industrial complex.  It has transferred enormous amounts of your tax dollars to someone else, for which you've received absolutely nothing. Better yet, the carrier specifically designed to accommodate the fighter is apparently going to need numerous expensive upgrades in order to actually accommodate it.  Strange...

Somehow, I don't think voting for Jeb or Hillary will change any of this, as they both have a long history of catering to corporate wealth at our expense.  We're going to have to stop choosing our candidates from the corporately sponsored menu if we're to ever be to the land of the free.