Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Middle America: We really can have it both ways

November 14, 2016 Leave a comment

The best testimonies are personal ones. By day I am the Compliance Manager of a major financial institution. My staff and I keep track and implement hundreds of government rules covering every single aspect of our operations. Financial Services is one of the most highly regulated industries, and for good reason. Financial institutions hold all the money, everybody’s money, your money. The vast majority of financial regulations are there to protect the customer, from both thieves and from the banks themselves.

Part of the outcry from Middle America is government regulation is stifling business’s ability to thrive. Product quality controls, OSHA standards, overtime rules, and environmental impact are expensive, but it’s not hard to understand why these are important. On the other hand, there appears to be a huge disconnect when it comes to the regulation of financial services.

One of the most damning claims against Hillary Clinton during the campaign was how she befriended the big banks that were responsible for the 2009 economic collapse. But you need to look a little deeper. Clinton has always been an ally of Elizabeth Warren who is a chief champion of more government banking regulation to prevent crises like 2009. Warren was the original choice to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB has forced banks to use proper underwriting on loans so folks don’t get ripped off, and prices reflect real values instead of bubbles. This is an expensive proposition for banks, but it means a fair deal for you. Why would Clinton endorse this kind of limitation if she was in fact in the pocket of the big banks?

Part of diplomacy is to sit down with your enemies and get to know them. Sometimes you even need to tell them what they want to hear to get them to the bargaining table. During the campaign I saw posts from the Right accusing her of agreeing with the humanitarian abuses of the Saudi government based on pictures of her being polite with diplomats. Never mind that she spent her entire career fighting for human rights. So I was not surprised or upset to read the leaked transcripts of her speeches with bankers behind closed doors. Yes, the biggest banks, the ones who run Wall Street, are still getting away with too much. But the CFPB was the agency that busted Wells Fargo for ripping off millions of customers in a credit card scam last month.

The Trump Administration will act in concert with the Republican controlled Congress to disband the CFPB. This has been a very high priority of Republican Congressional leaders (right behind Obamacare) for many years. Expect the ax to fall by March 2017. Congressional leaders are already scheduling legislation to disband Medicare. OSHA will be next, along with the EPA. This is what Middle America voted for.

It may be too little too late, but Middle America needs to understand that well-heeled, well-entrenched industries are not our friends. They do not create jobs for Middle America, and they cannot be trusted not to rip us off. The housing bubble burst of 2009 and more recently the millions of folks ripped off by Wells Fargo, are things that happened while the government thought it had a handle on things. That handle is about to be let go.

A politician doesn’t have to cozy up with bankers to let them get away with robbing America. In fact, appearing to cozy up to them is probably maneuvering for tactical advantage. No, you let the big banks rob America by gutting the regulations that keep them in check. Yes, the very thing Clinton was berated for is exactly what Trump is about to do.

So what can we do now? Move your money out of the big banks into community banks and credit unions that have a charter to service communities, not shareholders and not Wall Street. Watch for shenanigans and write to your Congresspeople whenever you see the big banks ripping off their customers. Demand fair treatment and clear disclosures any time you deal with a bank. They have your money, they need to work for you. Talk to your neighbors and make sure they understand that voting for politicians who give away our protections are selling out to big money and not acting in our best interest.

Regulatory overreach is a thing. Compliance with government rules can be expensive. So vote for politicians who understand how to craft fair and reasonable rules that don’t shut down business but still protect people from unregulated greed.

My expertise is in financial services, but this same pattern is true of product safety, work safety, environmental safety, healthcare, and all the areas where government puts rules on business.

The Devil is in the details. Headlines and internet memes do not tell enough details to inform people to make good choices. Keeping business thriving and people safe at the same time is called governance. People, all of our people, have to understand how critically important it is for government to find that balance. Middle America has come to believe we have let the pendulum swing too far to safety to the detriment of business. They see jobs disappearing with no apparent advantage to the safety regulations bring. So now the pendulum is swinging way too far the other way, and people are going to get hurt.

“Moderates” sounds boring, but extremists do not strike the essential balance that leads to everyone thriving. The next time you hear a politician say we need to eliminate something or tighten down on something, ask yourself if that will achieve the balance of safety and business. If their aim is to drive too far one way or the other, call them out on it. We do not need to choose between safe unemployed people and employed but injured and ripped off people. We can have it both ways. But only if our electorate keeps its politicians on target.

Categories: Politics, Uncategorized

Your Dystopian Novel is Ruining Our Real Future

Get two or more science fiction authors together for more than five minutes and they will start trading theories on why dystopian fiction is so popular. It is, but no one knows exactly why. Are people thrilled to visit bad times and be glad their lives aren’t so bad? Have people lost faith in tomorrow and want to explore our options? Are post-apocalyptic stories appealing because all the crowds are gone, or because tough times would offer more opportunities for heroism? Maybe it’s all of these, and others, or none.

One thing we can point to with certainty is how this genre contributes to the backlash against intellect. Intellectuals are nearly always the ones responsible for the downfall of civilization. Some egghead figures out how to subjugate humanity. Some egghead unleashes a biohazard. Some egghead tries to rob the system and breaks it for everyone else. If this wasn’t bad enough, the heroes of these stories almost always win the day with heart and not thought. Heroism, faithfulness, and integrity are portrayed as the antidotes to unrestrained curiosity and self-interested scheming.

In the Golden Age of science fiction, threats were exigent enemies that could only be defeated with intellect. Heart and firepower alone were useless against the ravages of space, alien invaders, or technology run amok. Educated thinking applied with a healthy dose of competency porn would find the solution and save the day.

As much as we fans loved those stories, the general public never bought into the notion that scientists were going to save us all. The public saw plenty of evidence to the contrary, with the atomic bomb, oil spills, and breaches of medical ethics. There is a reason why hard science fiction was always and will always be a very small market segment.

More importantly, we have recent and compelling reasons not to trust intellectuals. When the economy failed, Congress called in the heads of Wall Street banks to explain their role and to justify their ludicrous commissions. The bankers didn’t bat an eye. They hire only the best and the brightest who deserve disproportionate pay. They play a vital role in the economy and we should all be glad we have them managing the economy for us, regardless of how they crashed it with unmitigated greed.

The novel I want to see is where the security guard standing behind the banker is smart enough to see through the lies, pulls out his gun and caps the bastard.

Wouldn’t that feel good?

That’s the problem.

When real life paints intellectuals as evil, it only makes sense people would flock to a genre of fiction that has perfected the formula. How far has this gone? Check the box office. Check the bestseller lists. Ask random people around your workplace. Everyone loves a rousing dystopian tale, even hard science fiction fans who believe in intellect.

So is dystopian fiction causing a backlash against intellect? No, but it is fanning the flames. We are at the endgame of a social engineering experiment that started in the 1960s. The Republican Party saw an opportunity in the wake of the Civil Rights movement to win over disgruntled white Southern voters who had historically voted Democratic. This tactic of appealing to people’s baser instincts proved successful, and became the model for divisive politics ever since. Strategists were able to paint silver spoon candidates as everymen by playing negative cards such as racism, classism, and anti-intellectualism. The irony of our times is that evil intellectuals are gathering support from folks who have been bred by those intellectuals to hate intellectuals.

I have no solutions. I have to clench my teeth, grip tight my faith in Jefferson’s majority rule, and hope a majority of people in the upcoming election will see the manipulation for what it is. This is not a foregone result.

As writers we should be aware of the impact we have on the public. There is a lot of money to be made in dystopia right now. But unless you want to see it come to be, I can only plead for you to think twice before you paint another coat of hate on your intellectual bad guys.

Note: Until I can figure out how to get the RSS feeds to work from my new website, I will continue to post from here. Please visit my new site to stay up to date on all my projects. Thank you for your support!

Categories: Politics, Writing

Why is Oscar So White?

January 18, 2016 Leave a comment

Once again the Oscar nominations are out, and once again it seems the movie industry is openly demonstrating racism by not including a single actor or actress or color, in either a leading role or a supporting role. Nominations are submitted by people who work in the categories they nominate – actors nominate actors, producers nominate producers, etc. So why, with so many actors of color working in film, do we get an entirely white slate of nominees?

The answer is history has created an enormous bias, but it can be easily corrected, if the industry wants to. The nominating members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences amount to about 6000 folks. To be a member, you have to have enough screen credit to be allowed in by the existing membership. The current breakdown tells the tale. 94% are white. 76% are male. The average age is 63. So how is it that 3000 members are over 63 and only 3000 are under 63, when new actors get on screen every day, and old actors die every day?

Up through the 1960’s, studios signed actors for multiple picture contracts. Once you were signed, you could expect at least two films a year for many years running. Since the 1980’s, studios no longer sign such contracts. Actors are all free agents, and roles are open to competition. So a lot more actors under 63 have appeared in one or two films, and a disproportionate number of older actors have dozens of films to their credit that they made decades ago.

Given this pattern, it is no wonder we have the membership demographics we have today.

The solution is to open up membership to actors who have shown their commitment to the craft, but not wait until they have multiple films released. I do not know enough about how the industry sees itself to propose a simple formula, but if the Academy wants to be taken seriously, they need to fix the membership demographics immediately. The membership needs to reflect the people who actually work in film, not just the ones that have the biggest track record.


Categories: Politics, Writing

Have we achieved the science fiction future we had in mind?

August 26, 2015 Leave a comment

I am considering developing this into a TED talk. What do you think?

Have we achieved the science fiction future we had in mind?

Science fiction writers and readers have long imaged what the future might look like, good and bad. Dreams were given life and cautionary tales were crafted in the safety of book pages. Due to the march of technology and economics, many of these future visions have become reality, seemingly in the blink of an eye. I am left wondering if this is what we had in mind.

We have placed the accumulated storehouse of all human knowledge and experience in everyone’s hand, along with the logic and intelligence to apply that knowledge anyway we can find an app. Branding strategy is now a sufficiently fine-tined science that hard work and affluence have become disconnected. Wealth is so concentrated at the top that even politicians openly admit voters have no power to change policy. Boomers and X-gens watched agape as this happened faster than expected. But we now have an entire generation, the Millennials, who grew up under these circumstances, and it has molded their world view.

Science fiction did its job and predicted this, if not the path it took to get here. But who among us thought we would see the lessons of science fiction become so relevant in the real world? Government surveillance is assumed, and wars are fought entirely to support industry, not unlike Orwell’s 1984. Dating software has duplicated the detached promiscuity of Brave New World. Digital convenience is demanded, work hours have to be flexible, and any creativity is expected to return rewards, just like many science fiction visions of the future.

But did science fiction predict a generation of workers who expect to be able to experiment with careers and lifestyle choices throughout their 20s, and not become responsible adults until their 30s? Did our lofty visions of the future include a consumer economy where no one learns how to fix anything because everything is simply replaced? Did we anticipate mobile phone apps taking over so many functions that people at large forget how to do anything practical for themselves, like navigation, personal finance, or holding a face to face conversation? Cyberbullying is an expected result of online anonymity, but it goes hand in hand with the larger problem of an entire generation of young men raised on violently misogynistic pornography as a preferred relationship model.

The Millennials’ dependence on technology is understandable, but their impractical world view is also the fault of their enabling parents. We let the rich rape the world economy badly enough that the Millennials will be the first generation in hundreds of years that will not live as well as their parents. So we have stepped up and let them boomerang home, or take decades to finish college, or spend their time on get-rich-quick thinking. There are enough examples of people making fortunes on apps, or celebrity, or crowdsourced start-ups, that they don’t see any incentive to start building a career. They look at the hash we have made of the world and have rejected eight-hour workdays as a formula for stagnation.

I am not saying all young people are spoiled layabouts. And get off my lawn while you’re at it. I am saying their expectations and their buying patterns and their relationships are very different than people only ten years older. They see themselves as entitled to explore innovation in everything. Nothing is above questioning. They see how the world can be changed with the invention of one thing, like the smartphone, and so they spend their energy looking for the next big thing. They also do not bother developing job skills. I worry that they will be ready to take over the reins when their time comes. They know they are ill prepared. They love apocalyptic fiction for its even-worse-then-now escapism. But rather than gear up, they would rather find a work-around. They expect other people to invest in their ideas, yet they will not invest their money in anything risky. How will that work when they become the investing generation?

So what vision of the future can science fiction offer this generation that seems to have inherited a world made of our dreams? Like Dr. Morbius’ Creatures of the Id, dreams often do not make for a livable world.

The old school science fiction ideal was to mirror ancient Greece, with robots taking the place of captured slaves doing all the work, freeing citizens to live lives of creativity and leisure. Well, that’s not how we employ our labor-saving technology. We have apps to bring the world to our fingertips. Having access to, and manipulating information is the preferred way to add value. Today, being “sharp” is more important than producing a work product. It’s as if the world has turned into one huge derivative marketplace, where everyone trades the value of deals without ever actually moving any of the underlying materials. Somebody has to produce the materials. Somebody does.

So instead of ancient Greece, our tech savvy generation has modeled the British Empire. The landed aristocracy inherited its wealth, and used it to own the means of production which was overseas. Their “work” was to make decisions that were carried out by third world workers in fields, and later, in factories.

The problem with empire economies is they collapse. The workers demand better living conditions and the whole structure becomes unprofitable and unsupportable. The plastics workers in China, the electronics assemblers in Indonesia, and the engineers in India, all want better, and they will earn it. Within the next twenty years, standards of living in the third world will rise too high for a generation of decision makers in the first world to rely on them to do their dirty work. The Millennials may have inherited the means to live a clean hands life, but their dependence on it will bring about its end by the time they become the steering generation.

So what does science fiction have to say about surviving collapsing empires?  Lots of science fiction adventure has been written from the viewpoint of the heroes who bring down oppressive empires. Have you ever wondered about the economic aftermath of such collapse? Any number of science fiction evil empires were in fact economically stable. Does science fiction blindly accept the Jeffersonian ideal that free men will find a way? What happened to interstellar trade after Paul Atreides usurped the Padishah Emperor and broke the sweetheart deal the Guild Steersmen had on Spice production? What hope does science fiction have to offer when rising third world standards of living inflate device prices too high for coffee shop entrepreneurs to afford?

Old school science fiction thinking would say technology will cure all ills. Maybe technology will take the laboring oar from the workers in Asia as well, and they can join the thumb jockeys in Europe and America. Maybe we are in a transitional phase, and the first world Millennials are just the leading edge.

In economic terms, automated production would have to become less expensive than the cheapest available human labor. If living standards rise fast enough and manufacturing technology becomes efficient enough, this could become a reality. If this pattern became worldwide, we could replace the Empire model with the Greek slave model. All of mankind would be freed from hard labor into lives of creativity and entrepreneurship. Science fiction ideal achieved.

Therefore I say we are seeing pieces of the science fiction future we have dreamed of, and under the right twists of fate, these could blossom. In the meantime we have a younger generation who has rejected pretty much everything we have to offer (except our money) but whom we need to nurture and educate to be ready to take over the world. Even if their future world does not include day jobs and mortgages, Robert Heinlein was still right about the need for widely varied skills and adaptability. We are not insects.

Categories: Parenting, Politics, Writing

Now on Twitter

October 28, 2013 Leave a comment

I finally joined Twitter. @jayhartlove. Look out world.

What about those rating agencies?

I tried to explain this to folks who asked four years ago. Here is Rolling Stone’s explanation, complete with newly uncovered damning evidence. Corruption again reveals itself to be our worst adversary.

Categories: Politics

Real Gun Control

December 18, 2012 Leave a comment

The Second Amendment needs to be repealed. Not because we need to take away the rights of Americans to arm themselves, but because sheltering that right under the banner of a Constitutional Amendment creates a cultural and legal paradox that threatens the very society the Second Amendment was designed to preserve.

There is no Constitutional Amendment saying you can drive a car, or drink alcohol, or smoke cigarettes, or take recreational drugs, or participate in X-games, or any other dangerous behavior. And for good reason. Legislatures and law enforcement can regulate and control and intervene in the danger that these activities carry. The government can protect the rest of us from these dangers by taxing and licensing and monitoring these activities, and by enforcing laws against those who abuse them. But with an inalienable Constitutional Amendment, the government can only treat the symptoms and patch up the results of gun abuse, not route out the causes.

In 1994 the Clinton administration directed the Justice Department to put some numbers on how often citizens protect themselves with guns. The study estimated that 1.5 million crimes were defended against with guns every year. A lot of people feel safer with a gun, and there is clearly good reason to feel that way. Removing the Second Amendment will not remove any rights of gun ownership. But it will let us reduce the gun abuses that terrify us, sadden us, and anger us.

The Second Amendment says, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Notice first of all, the wording does not create the right to keep and bear arms, but rather it says the already existing right cannot be infringed. The founding fathers who wrote this language argued about it, and in fact this version that was ratified is slightly different than the one Thomas Jefferson circulated for ratification. If the authors of this sentence had doubts about it, then why do we treat it as immutable?

More to the point, the “shall not” comes with a qualifying explanation. The right to own a gun shall not be taken away because we need guns for a secure society. Unfortunately for us, the authors did not consider that the security of the state could be threatened by gun abuse. Clearly they had in mind a secure society where it wasn’t every man for himself with a gun. But that is the legal legacy we inherited from these words.

In contrast, part of the First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The critical difference here is there is no qualifying reason, just an absolute prohibition. This is why the government can’t tax the income churches make. “No law” means no law. Since the Second Amendment gives a conditioning justification, gun ownership should not be such an untouchable right as is freedom of religion.

We must make mass killing weapons illegal. The massacre in Newton only happened because the shooter’s mother collected mass killing weapons, legally. Yes, he would have killed a few people with a revolver, but not 27. He was armed to kill hundreds. That has to stop. People who want to protect themselves with guns need to see that making mass killing weapons illegal is NOT the first step down a slippery slope that will one day take away their pistol or hunting rifle.

Making mass killing weapons illegal must also include shutting down the channels by which such guns are sold to Americans. Selling them must be considered a high crime. The only reason you can buy a semi-automatic carbine rifle with a 100 round clip at Walmart is the manufacturers of these weapons bought off enough congressmen over the last fifty years to make sure they were available. And available they are. There are now 89 guns for every 100 Americans, which is twice the per capita for cars. That’s right, two guns for every car in America.

We can start by closing the gun show loopholes and improving the enforcement of the gun registration laws we already have. We can stop buckling under the political pressure brought by gun manufacturers and finally define broadly what is an illegal weapon of mass killing. We can make owning a gun just like owning that potential killing machine in your driveway, with licenses, registration fees and required insurance. People will be less likely to take gun ownership for granted and let their weapons fall into the wrong hands if they know the government is keeping track of every legal gun. The taxes can pay for public service gun education. The insurance money will be there to pay recompense to the victims of gun crime.

We cannot make any of these needed changes as long as gun ownership is sanctified by a Constitutional Amendment.

We need to start treating guns like all the other things that pose threats to our civilized life. We cannot let a legal conundrum prevent us from protecting ourselves. Guns are dangerous. People need to grow up with the knowledge of how serious that danger is. The Second Amendment did not give you the right to be careless with a killing machine. Yet that is exactly how far too many people feel about their guns. The Newton shooter’s mother collected mass killing weapons, knew her son was unstable, yet let him have access. Yes, she paid the ultimate price for her stupidity. The problem we face is, her attitude is commonplace. It is that attitude we need to change. If the millions of law-abiding, conscientious, careful gun owners find that they cannot buy mass killing weapons, and if they have to take an extra step or pay an extra fee, then that will serve to reinforce how dangerous guns are.

If everyone feels they need a gun to protect themselves, then that means law enforcement has failed in its mission. If “I need a gun because criminals use guns,” then we need to get serious about punishing the use of guns to commit crime. Our legal system is built on the notion that intent matters. Lawyers call it “mens rea,” and it means criminal intent. It is the one thing a prosecutor needs to show for a crime to stick. The only reason a person would use a gun to commit a crime would be to kill someone if necessary in the committing of that crime. If you weren’t prepared to kill someone, then you wouldn’t have brought a gun along on the robbery or whatever crime you were planning. We need to make it a crime to have a gun with you if you are committing a crime. And the penalties need to be significant, like 20 years in prison, with no bargaining. Just having a gun during a crime must be considered a violent crime.

As it is now, because owning a gun is so completely protected by the Second Amendment, a criminal can rob you at gun point and get caught and be proven guilty, and only serve time for the robbery. Granted, armed robbery is a more serious crime than non-armed robbery. Yet, the criminal meant to kill you if the need arose. That is additional criminal intent, far worse than intending to rob you. It should be punished like attempted murder.

There was a movement back in the 1980s that if you used a gun in a crime, that gun possession guaranteed jail time. It went by the catchy slogan, “Use a gun, go to jail.” It did not do enough to deter the use of guns in other crimes. Now the slogan needs to be, “Use a gun, face life in prison.”

In many states, if you are convicted of a gun crime and serve your time, you are prohibited from possessing a gun again. If you are caught with a gun, that becomes a crime in itself. If such a person is caught committing another crime with a gun, the penalty must be severe, far more severe than the penalty for whatever crime was being committed, to make the point that society takes guns seriously.

How dangerous are guns? Obviously they serve one purpose, to cause destruction at a distance. They make the destruction of life too easy. Out of 12,600 murders in America in 2011, 8,500 were caused by firearms. When a gun is involved in a crime, the likelihood of a fatality is three times as high as if there were no gun. States that have toughened up their gun penalties have seen significant drops in gun-related crimes. So this approach does work. It has to work a lot more.

Don’t get me wrong. Despite everything said about gun violence in America, we are actually not any more crime ridden than other countries. The actual rate of robbery or aggravated assault per capital is about the same for America as for places like Australia and Finland, which have far fewer guns. Fewer guns just means a lot fewer deaths during those crimes.

If you hit someone with your car while sober, depending on the circumstances, you may not face any criminal charges. Hit someone while drunk and you can lose your license and/or go to jail. We need the same enormous step-up whenever a gun is present, not just fired. We need to treat having a gun with criminal intent as the serious crime that it is.

Putting real teeth into gun abuse laws must go hand in hand with repealing the accidental over-protections of the Second Amendment. Citizens need to feel safe. If we are going to make changes in the rules for their gun ownership, then we need to step up and protect them better.

The first and biggest difference must be to make mass killing weapons illegal. Period. Thankfully that conversation is now happening in Washington. We cannot let that conversation end without real change. Any changes that will really help will have to be big. Big changes mean big fights. We can’t let the news cycle move on and let the average American fall back into complacency. It was average Americans who lost their children in Newton. Write your congressman, keep up the blog postings, raise awareness. And know that you are not just railing against an immobile, unsolvable problem. We have tools for controlling dangerous things in our society. We need to convince America at large that these same tools should be used to create real gun control.

Categories: Politics
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