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Patanjali Sokaris

Pondering the universe

Opinion

Some opinions which might interest you.

COVID-19 may help good economic changes         ^

This coronavirus outbreak is forcing us to cause less harm to the planet and societies, particularly in the travel industry, which is well known for its conspicuous use of resources.

Travel consumes fossil fuels en masse, and is largely driven by pandering to people who want a distracting indulgence. This is not the best way for the planet to be used. There are plenty of other ways to entertain people. We are already relying upon virtual interactions for much of our spending and entertainment, so all this is just helping us continue the process of change, but much more quickly.

Such viruses force us to consider how much we gather in large close-quarters masses, and may give further impetus to utilising virtual experiences, such as teleconferencing and teleworking. We are not ready for that yet, but we may be forced to really get our heads around the real logistics of making that a daily reality. There are a lot of trust issues to be resolved, and it will force changes to oppressive management routines if businesses are to survive.

The virus doesn't have to actually kill too many people for changes to be adopted, but if we avoid making them, hoping we can just proceed as we have done, we may need further casualties to show us the folly of our obstinance.

Making huge plantations of monocrops leads to the significant detriment of delicate ecosystems, and produces increasing masses of predatory inserts and animals that run rampant upon the crops, requiring more extreme measures to protect them.

Similarly, having huge concentrations of poorly-protected people opens us up to detrimental and even catastrophic predations by what would otherwise be locally-contained sporadic outbreaks of dormant diseases that normally lack enough victims to significantly affect us.

While many learned the lesson of the 1918 influenze outbreak, the current la-la land thinking that pretends reality and facts don't matter is risking a repeat of past complacencies, with detrimental effects upon societies.

These viruses don't discriminate between belief systems nor obey monetary economics, but will pillage where people are not adequately resourced. While the rich may be able to quanrantine themselves substantially from their fellow citizens, they are heavily reliant upon them for their status and lifestyles, and will similarly suffer when the technology and societal systems they rely upon break down.

While the extremely rich seeming to survive in poverty-striken third-world countries may give comfort to the rich in first-world countries by thinking that they will be able to thrive after economic degradations in their own countries, the former rely heavily upon functioning first-world economies. With those suffering mass breakdowns, the world economic system is too interrelated for its distributed manufacturing to survive enough to keep rich people priviledged.

Selfishness is no protection against viruses, but mutual cooperation will reduce the risk.

The US constitution is flawed         ^

The impeachment enquiry in the US is about the constitution, which some have held up as somehow perfect. Well, it is failing to adequately deal with the type of demagogery that it was supposed to prevent.

The constitution was written in a time when the founding fathers had just fought a war with their former colonial owner, Britain, and were concerned about preventing the taking away of the ability of people to determine their own future.

Consequently, they embedded a set of so-called checks and balances that were meant to prevent any one arm or level of government gaining too much power, perhaps through the influence of foreign powers.

What they didn't know was that an ideology that could span the world could simultaneously subvert the multiple arms and levels in a way that could prevent its influence being undone. That ideology is conservatism, supported by a self-serving Christian theology that promotes massive financial self-indulgence by the few as a blessing from God.

Currently, many state governors and legislatures under the control of conservatives have used their positions to favour the election of their federal colleagues by substantive gerrymanders. The original intention was that the arrangement would prevent the federal members doing gerrymandering of their own electorates.

Doesn't work if they are part of the same conspiracy. Of course, the obvious course would have been to have given the drawing up of electoral boundaries to a statutory body charged with doing so fairly, as in countries like Australia.

The constitution was designed to be adaptable by allowing amendments, as was done with the first 10 that form the Bill of Rights. The problem now is that the corruption of the electoral system has made it difficult to get the votes to make it fair, as amendments require fairly elected houses to get the numbers to get an amendment passed.

Of course, there is also the rampant manipulation of social media by domestic and foreign influencers that were totally unknown at the framing of the constitution. These two 'elephants in the room' are just so outside what was predictable back then that it is folly to think that the constitution is strong enough to properly handle them, let alone the worse challenges to come.

Trump and politicians are a distraction         ^

Trump and the circus of conservative politicians around the world are a distraction from the real 'deep state' of selfish billionaires funding organisations to ensure they remain in ultimate power.

These billionaires are not interested in democracy or countries or the welfare of their citizens. They will happily shunt money out of the way of taxing by governments unless it is on their own low-or-zero tax terms.

Trump and others just provide a convenient cover for those nefarious activities. Impeachment is just another ring in the circus, and will probably keep going up until the election, giving the manipulative money-hoarders time to further shore up support for their 'cause' by funding lobbyists and organisations to bias the elections.

It is a case of rampant corruption of politicians and thus democracy. The conservative agenda is about putting capital as the most important consideration of society, with support from religious philosophies that are based upon the idea that monetary abundance is evidence of being favoured by God, conveniently forgetting the lies, deception and unhealthy employment conditions that have gone into making it.

The clue to the coordination of the corrupting effort is how similar the rhetoric and operational playbooks are between the various wanabee dictators around the world being funded by the same organisations, and stirring up the same white supremacy sentiments, conspiracy theories about their opponents and the masses of lies and real 'fake news'.

Of course, the real question is why these people are willing to sink the planet and trample over people's welfare just to make more money than what they already cannot ever use. It's atrocious greed that they have managed to get moral support for by appealing to the greed and aspirations of the middle classes with tax cuts from politicians, though the rich are themselves the biggest beneficiaries.

Manufactured economic disparities, exploitation and rampant corruption have hobbled many peoples ability to change their circumstances, giving further opportunity for the greedy rich to sabotage the economies of poorer countries, entrenching widespread poverty, and so feeding the exploitation cycle for the next generation.

Nowhere is the stupidity of their rationale more evident than the continued funding of efforts to undermine action upon climate change, which will only hurt their own childrens' future. However, I suspect that is why Bezos and Musk are funding space travel for the rich, possibly as their way off the planet that their exploitation has sped upon a path to humanity's doom.

Economically, the most productive times in recent decades have been in times of high taxation, especially of the rich. Perhaps it is time to go back to that. Some may try to argue that that means many of the rich will want to take their money and live elsewhere.

The counter argument is that we are probably better off without their exploitation, and there would still be plenty of people with the requisite expertise to run big corporations extremely competently without excessively high remuneration packages, or the need to engage in punative employment practices to enable that.

It appears clear that the handling of climate change and extreme wealth differentials will both require dealing with the greed of the same few, which makes the solution a lot clearer: take the money off them, as their willingness to sacrifice the earth and humanity shows that they are not entitled to keep it.

Money only gets its value by our belief in it, and the support we give to its use. In a democracy, especially when faced with existential threats from its misuse, we must ensure its proper use.

It used to be said that some companies were too big to allow to fail. We are faced with the reality that a greedy few are the cause of our failure, just as they were the cause of the failures that led to the bailing out measures, just as their greedy forebears profited from the most destructive wars on the planet.

It is time for us to own up to the responsibility we have to the planet and humanity to undo the folly of money being our master, and bring it back to it being an enabler of social mobility and opportunities to use our free will to make a fairer society.

Tax – zero is not the baseline         ^

Many seem to think that zero tax is the baseline, but without tax, there is no government and its services, and no monetary system. So let's get back to reality and work out what is the right balance point.

Modern societies need government to maintain all the systems that keep the monetary system up and running, as well as all the services that enable businesses to employ people. Without governments ensuring that there is some competition in the marketplace, a few powerful people could manipulate the system to their own ends.

That manipulation is inherent when people have so much power and resources that they can pressure governments to do their bidding. This has been the standard modis operandi of large businesses since the British East India Company, and anyone who expects such power will not be abused is delusional.

Democracies have enacted many laws curtailing business excess, but these have usually been in response to substantial abuse over long periods. We have to be more pre-emptive about this, and not make them so piece-meal.

The whole issue is then about how much tax is required to balance supporting business and providing services to a government's citizens. This is subject to a whole lot of ideological debate, filled with gross over-simplifications and unsubstantiated claims about causal relationships between low tax and general properity.

Unfortunately those claims are only backed up by theory, and have been shown to spectacularly fail whenever they have been attempted to be put fully into practice. Also, they seem to rely on appealing to selfishness in the middle class and demonisation of the disadvantaged to really only provide advantages for the very rich.

The problem is that tax rates are only a factor in influencing prosperity. How the tax money is spent plays a great part in the how much the prosperity is spread across society.

How much is spent upon infrastructure also plays into setting up conditions for future prosperity, especially if there are significant impediments to quick economic benefits arising from the investment, such as significant distances between urban population centres, as in Australia, where significant railway infrastructure, well beyond the level possible by private investment at the time, was required to support cheaper freight across the nation, supporting greater prosperity for country towns and regions. Governments had to foot that bill well ahead of any recoupment of costs.

Since poorer people tend to spend most of their income on necessities, allowing them to keep more of it means the money soon re-enters the economy. Very rich people tend to put most of their money into property and other fairly static investments, which lock that money out of circulation. Middle classes, while prolific spenders in good times, tend to pay off debt in leaner times, leading to further contraction of the economy.

Judicious stimulation of the economy, coupled with tax rates that ensure that the most money keeps circulating, while maintaining adequate savings as a buffer against more difficult times, will go a long way to maintaining a widely-shared prosperity. Of course, changing internal and external circumstances require periodic adjustments to the rates and the targets of infrastrucure spending and incentives.

However, all that is a long way from the simplistic low taxation = prosperity line, because that only guarantees properity for the rich, and reduced capacity for governments to keep their economies in healthy shape.

RBA rates – another misleading number         ^

Much is made about how the big banks should fully pass on the current Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) interest rate to their home loan rates. However, the RBA rate is almost irrelevant to the banks.

The RBA rates quoted are for the overnight loan rate that banks get charged. It is only of relevance to the banks if they actually ever get charged it, yet it is held out as a yardstick. I know one big bank only used the RBA overnight facility once in 10 years.

I don't think home loan payers would want short-term pay loan lenders' rates applied to their loans, so why should overnight rates affect what a bank should charge for loans with decades-long repayment times?

It just seems that too many times, an irrelevant number is being used as the basic of much more than it should really be applied to. Another number that too many place meaning upon is the unemploment rate, which is defined in Australia as anyone looking for work who is working less than one hour per week.

Now, the obvious use of that silly number is that it gives low unemployment rates, but it is pretty meaningless as an indication of employment levels, as people only receiving the moneys from two to a dozen hours per week would be below the poverty line. Therefore, using such a calculated unemployment rate is almost useless as an indication of a country's financial health. A more worthwhile figure would be the percentage of people below the poverty line.

These are two examples where numbers are bandied about as if they are meaningful, but are actually misleading, so basing policies upon them is likely to increase financial risks to the country.

Australia – not immume to selfishness         ^

For so long, we have generally thought that Australians were mostly all on the same page, with just a few nutters at the edge. The 2019 election dispelled that illusion.

For so many years, the two parties had seemed so similar, with each paying huge deference to big money and the wealthy. This election seemed to be the time the Labor party finally decided to take a stand more for longer-term goals for our society than the next election.

Against the seemingly chaotic coalition parties, there seemed to actually be a united party with worthwhile policies. All that the coalition was offering was an exhaltation to be selfish, and it worked for them.

So, we have finally had the mass short-term selfishness seen in the US and UK rear its head on our shores. The adherents of that selfishness undermine any efforts at equity and fairness, as it seeks to undermine democracy by embedding the biases of their own selfish ideology in the political processes and institutions.

Politicians have generally been self-serving, but at least tried to give some outward veneer of altruism. But that has all changed in the countries that have proferred themselves to the planet as the bastions of democracy.

We are seeing the parties traditionally more allied with the rich and powerful, but in a 'nice' way, move to being unashamably partisan and discriminatory, mangling the primary institutions of democracy to fulfil their selfish ideologies.

Fortunately, we are seeing those who have been rather self-centred, but with some leaning towards a sense of fairness and goodwill, actually having to decide to stand up and be counted among the servants of humanity, or succumb to their own self-interest.

That means that in democracies around the world, the enemies of democracy and their supporters are showing their true colours, making a centralist stance of ambivalence impossible, as the selfish appropriate the services of government to their own ends. Time to stand up for democracy, and not let it be swamped by those who treat it as weakness and something to be swept aside for the selfish in their persuit of power.

It is true that dictatorship is always a possible choice of a free democracy, but they are usually enabled because people have allowed themselves to be seduced by appeals to their self interest. However, that self-interest has often been as a result of those supporting dictatorship creating economic pressures that push the general populace to be more accutely concerned about their own welface, rather than others or the country.

In that atmosphere of the masses being accutely aware of their own vulnerability, some 'strong' brash leader promising their salvation seems like a good idea. Of course, such dictators are not interested in the good of the people or the country, but instead rob the country of its resources and boost their own fortunes, while allowing pervasive corruption that will take years to pull the country back from.

Australia now has a prime misister who is arrogant and dismissive, with no real policies, but a seeming mandate to promote selfishness of the worst kind. So, what do those of us that thought our country was more than the foolishness that seems to be plaging other democracies? Move to New Zealand, where there is a prime minister that seems to have their head and empathy and intuition rather aligned, or fight and point out the fire and brimstone to which mass selfishness leads?

After we recover from our anger and grief at our fellow Australians for selling out our future and that of the planet, perhaps we can stand up and bear witness to what we want to see for this country and the planet. The future is still ours to change. That will take courage and perseverance, but those are two qualities that must be brought to bear if we are to actually have a planet than can support us.

Concerted mass action to better the country and the planet will always be more successful than a lots of self-interested people squabbling among themselves. It is time to find our common purpose and focussed actions, rather than just being another mass of squabblers. Pick the people worthy of representing us, and give them our support, but keep the eye on the prize: a planet worth living on!

Sack Labor marketing         ^

The Australian Labor leader, Bill Shorten, has been conspicuously low key for a while, but this has been a trend for several years with Labor, since Kevin Rudd.

While political parties are currently part of the currency of democracies, it seems that Labor has been remiss in actually promoting their achievements, let alone letting their leaders lead.

At the press conference Kevin Rudd gave after his sacking, I was quite surprised when he read out the long list of achievements the governement had racked up in such a short time. My surprise was at why those achievements were not part of the public discourse before that.

There was a huge amount of legislation passed under Julia Gillard's rule, but we heard nothing about it. These are the types of things that a party would be expected to crow about, but we heard nothing.

Now we come to Bill Shorten, and his general absence over the years, except for a few times. Had it been just his absence, it could just be put on him, but that it has been the general Labor publicity stance, it comes back to the decisions around marketing the party. Whomever has decided this strategy is doing the party a huge disservice. Sack them!

I think the party publicity machine has no idea how to market Bill Shorten, yet his performance on the couple of the ABC's Q&A programs shows exactly what the Labor publicity needs to promote, especially to dispell all questions about his leadership.

I think that every time an issue comes up, he should do a town hall q&a session with real people asking real questions, from which ads show him at his best: dealing with reality while demonstrating that he actually understands the issues in depth, and at a local level. Priceless, yet totally ignored.

The same strategy can be used to follow up policy announcements. The party has to be proactive with their publicity agenda, so they catch the coalition on the hoof, as they would just not be prepared for it. The current coalition leadership is too distracted to really pull off any counter to it.

The coalition still relies on the ideology of trickle-down economics, which was so diastrously disproven by its introduction en force by Kansas governor Sam Brownwick, with even his fellow Republicans having to step in to save the state from disaster. Practicality has to win here, and explaining that to real people is where Bill's forte seems to lie.

This is the only way to deal with the stupidity, childishness and general incompetance of the coalition, who have been flaying around on policy so much that they have ended up borrowing some Labor policies. Focussing on Bill Shorten's core competencies would take debate out of the quagmire and make voting a no-brainer for most of the electorate.

People have grown disillusioned with politicians because they are always spinning how great their party is without dealing with people's realities, which include many aspirational aspects, like climate change and gender equality, and not just money. Showing that Bill Shorten actually understands the issues, and the practicalities of dealing with them, as demonstated in his Q&A appearances, would bring back sanity to political debate.

Oh, and don't riddle ads with Labor party spin, as that will kill the real message that showing Bill in his element would send.

Related sites ^

Undermining democracy         ^

The Russians have been accused of undermining the faith of US citizens in their democracy, but how does helping Trump in the 2016 elections help that?

How can supporting a self-deluded liar and misogynist like Trump fuel distrust in democracy? Doh! However, I don't think the Russians expected so many mainstream Republicans would willingly climb onboard.

Now, that would seemingly be a bonus if half of the country is living in a la-la land delusion. Unfortunately for the Russians, the previous apathy would have been better, as the other half of the US is waking up and affirming their desire for a better country based on fair values, and that will not produce a weak US.

On the contrary, a mobilised population will, eventually, build a stronger US, as they will force a change in thinking. Of course, there will still be a whole lot who will still believe that a liar will make their lives better, but they will become disillusioned, and either settle back down into apathy, or join the new thinking.

2016 was a belief watershed, but in its wake will come a new consciousness that will not tolerate being lied to, and that demands fidelity to the truth, something the Russians have been avoiding themselves for too long. In the long term, the effort to destabilise the US may well lead to the undoing of their own political structure, again!

Related articles ^

Rewarding successful CEOs         ^

Much is made of the salary and parting package for the former CEO of Australia Post, Ahmed Fahour. While it was certainly at the seemingly excessive level many CEOs get, yet, given that, Mr Fahour certainly earned it more than many CEOs for transforming a loss-making and tradition-bound government corporation into a profitable and modern business.

The problem with the whole remuneration scale for senior executives is that it increases rapidly with each level up, while low and middle management typically don't get much extra for taking on a whole lot more stress compared to those they manage.

For those whose political spin depends upon the belief that government cannot do management, Mr Fahour's success will probably be a thorn in their side. That's because it shows that it can be done, but also indicates that the problems that do occur may not necessarilly be with the public service, but with their de-facto CEOs, the Minister responsible for them, which implies that the politicians themselves cannot be trusted.

Family trusts – the model for all of us         ^

The Australian Labor Party just claimed that they would close the tax splitting advantages of family trusts. However, maybe that use could be extended to all of us.

Splitting income among members of the same family is probably more equitable per person across Australia than the current tax arrangements. It seems silly that two people that are in a family relationship, but only one works while the other is doing home and childcare duties, is taxed more than two flatmates with the same total income, so getting the lower costs of shared living while not being in a relationship.

Of course, there would be some debate about whether children would be allowed to be included. I would say no, but there may be situations where that may be legitimate.

Administratively, the Australian Taxation Office already uses both partners' income in calcalating the individual tax assessments, so it only involves a change in how the tax is calculated, because the rest of the assessment infrastructure to support shared tax is already there.

The idea could be taken further, and be applied to any group of people that want to support some others who would be performing unpaid work otherwise. One example is for supporting one or more people who need to work on an innovative idea, but long before they are ready to get funding, either from venture capitalists or government grants.

This is the way for governments to support innovation, rather than just giving large enterprises more money to incrementally expand their current business model. Innovation happens in garages, not well equipped development teams.


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