A Bitter Spice to Swallow

Well, here it is, January 1, 2022.  A brand new year with the same old worries plus a few more that have recently cropped up. Where to start is the big question. First there is the China Syndrome and the Covide-19 pandemic that they launched upon the world. Then there is their test launch of hypersonic missiles that circled the globe as a show of strength that they could easily annihilate any major U.S. city at will. Now they are rattling their sabers about invading Taiwan. But I am not going to talk about that.

The Russia problem never seems to go away. So what is wrong with them massing 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian border as a threat to keep the Ukraine from joining NATO? But I am not going to talk about that.

The current administration single handedly in one short year stripped us of our hard earned energy independence and is now begging OPEC to produce more oil as a solution to mitigate record fuel price increases. The solution offered was to release 55,000 gallons of oil from our strategic reserve – a whopping 3 day supply considering our daily use is around 20,000 barrels a day.  But I am not going to talk about that.

Crime is increasing at unprecedented rates in our major cities. The national debt has ballooned to $30 Trillion with the progressive administration trying to pile another $2 trillion on top with their social agenda. It seems that parents have no right to weigh in on what their children learn in school. But I am not going to talk about any of these things.

What I am going to talk about is something a little more personal. While I pride myself on staying up with the latest in technology, I am clearly old school in a lot of ways. So, what I am going to talk about is Old Spice. For you lesser-informed millennials, Old Spice is not a Captain Morgan spiced rum knock-off, but rather a line of personal care products reserved for and coveted by the baby boomer generation.

So, what I am going to talk about is the current rate of inflation not seen since the 1970’s during the storied presidential career of Jimmy Carter. I will spare the readers a rant and rave critique of the current administration economic policies because I am not sure that they deserve all the blame. Well – maybe most of it, but that is not the point I want to make. The point is that corporate America is using the current inflation headlines as a free pass to raise prices at will. This is worth repeating. Corporate America is raising prices faster than their cost inputs just because they can do so without impunity. Despite all the gloom and doom that they are shoveling upon the American consumer, profit margins are soaring along with their stock prices. Witness, the Dow, S&P 500 all closing 2021 in record territory.

Strictly Old School

Now back to the Old Spice story. As recently as one year ago, I paid $3.97 for Old Spice body wash at my local Aldi supermarket. Last week, the same item was priced at $5.97. I find it difficult to believe that a price increase of over 50% is justified based on raw cost inputs. Old Spice is owned by behemoth Procter and Gamble – a company well known for its ability to control prices in any way that they see fit to boost their own bottom line.

Follow up quotes from Proctor and Gamble press release on January 19,2022

The Cincinnati-based consumer-products company said sales increased 6% in the quarter ended Dec. 31 compared with a year earlier, fueled in part by the company’s largest average price increases since the spring of 2019.

Executives on Wednesday said its price increases will continue throughout 2022, and predicted higher profitability and improved margins in coming quarters even as labor, freight and raw-materials costs continue to balloon due to the global supply-chain turmoil.

Yes, One is the Loneliest Number

🎵 One is the Loneliest Number…

As if we needed any more evidence that 2020 was the suckiest year in a generation. Just look at the difference in my backyard orange crop in 2019 vs 2020. The only thing that could make this picture complete is if my lonely single orange were wearing a mask. It seems all of the bees that normally pollinate this tree were confined to a stay at home order by our California governor.

2019 Backyard Orange Crop

2020 Backyard Orange Crop

Georgia on My Mind

The significance of the Democratic senatorial victories in the Georgia runoff cannot be overstated. The result is a 50/50 split in the senate, with the Vice President-Elect, Kamala Harris holding the tiebreaker vote. The Senate Majority post will now revert from Mitch McConnel to Chuck Schumer. The democrats now control both the executive and legislative branches of government for the first time since the Kennedy and Johnson administrations from 1961 to 1969 – arguably, one of the most unsettling and turbulent periods in our nation’s history.

While the senatorial runoff votes were being counted and certified, a handful of Republican members of congress, egged on by Donald Trump, assembled to dispute the outcome of the presidential election based on perceived voter fraud. This event sparked heated protests among Trump supporters with thousands converging upon the Capitol grounds in mob fashion that ultimately turned violent. The police and national guardsmen were ill-equipped to handle the outbreak.

While the events of the day were despicable, there is a backstory that needs to be told regarding the media’s coverage of this. Understandably and justifiably so, the mainstream media denounced the mob-like activities and did not hesitate to blame President Trump as the instigator in chief. However, this is the same media that refused to condemn the summer riots in Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Washington DC, just to name a few. These violent protests were mostly described as honest citizens peacefully exercising their first amendment rights. Meanwhile these “honest citizens” denigrated national monuments, torched federal buildings, assaulted police, and engaged in widespread destruction and looting of small businesses all across our country.

The left-wing democratic politicians were complicit in the mayhem as evidenced by their overt silence and refusal to condemn the violence – a group that included our now president elect, Joe Biden. But then again, we should know by now that Joe Biden just does and says what he is told by the leadership of the democratic party.

Joe Biden was installed as the democratic nominee for one reason – he was the most electable among the crop of potential nominees vying for the spot and the clear choice to defeat Donald Trump. Compared to the others, his agenda was more moderate and more likely to be embraced by voters than those espousing the socialist agendas of his rivals in the primaries. After securing the nomination, the party then moved to install Kamala Harris as his running mate. This was done to placate the far left, thus keeping the party united and their socialist agenda intact. From a tactical standpoint, it was a brilliant move. From a fairness standpoint, it was a betrayal to those that voted for him on the basis of his centrist moderate agenda professed in the democratic primary debates. Now, Kamala Harris and her radical left-wing views, is just a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Make no mistake about it. Joe Biden will not serve a full term as our president. I will not speculate as to the methods and circumstances that will lead to his removal from office and ceding that position to Kamala Harris. The democrats successes in the Georgia senate runoff have all but guaranteed the elimination of the checks and balances that preserve healthy debate within our government. Gone are the days when our elected officials voted with their conscience and on behalf of their constituents. Who can argue that now, their actions are dictated strictly along party lines without much regard or understanding of the underlying issues?  

Notwithstanding the Covid-19 pandemic, our country made unprecedented progress along the economic front during the past four years. This was achieved despite the occupation of the White House by a narcissistic president. I have been consistent throughout the Trump presidency with my views – I like the idea of Trump, but I just do not like Trump as a person. Though there were speed bumps along the way, the wheels of government continued to turn but, sadly, the outgoing administration will never receive credit for any of its positive accomplishments due to Trump’s post-election tantrums.

I am not sure who should have been elected as our 46th president, but I am sure of this. Without the possibility of meaningful constructive debate between the two legislative branches, democrats will now control the agenda for at least the next four years, much to the chagrin of the republican minority. This will lead to further fracturing and polarization of the American populace. Without a civil forum to debate and settle upon courses of action that benefit the American people, one must consider the alternate methods, none of which are pretty.

Who would have thought that an otherwise obscure event such as a senate runoff race in Georgia involving two incumbents could have sparked such a widespread change in the future of our country? So, our future can best by summed up in the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s 1964 release when he said…

Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled
The battle outside ragin’
Will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin

WJ

Bureaucratic “InAction”

December 3, 2020:

Well, great news on the Covid-19 vaccine front from Pfizer and Moderna. Now we are waiting for approval from the FDA to begin distribution. The Warp Speed program initiated under the Trump administration calls for the logistics of this distribution to be overseen by the U.S. military. I see no issue with that decision except for the final leg of distribution will be managed by state and local authorities. Therein lies the problem that I hope to be overestimating.

While other countries seem to be able to initiate national policies on critical issues and have proven somewhat adept at execution, the United States of America always struggles with this. With good intentions, our forefathers in writing our constitution, gave widespread rights to the states to implement certain key directives. Unless you have lived under a rock recently, you should notice that each state tends to interpret courses of action in line with their politics. These same inconsistencies then filter on down to the county and city level.

The result is hundreds and thousands of officials, some elected and some not, all weighing in on what they think is best for all of us, thus creating a quagmire of bureaucratic muck. This is diversity in action, a condition that is unique to our country and never anticipated by our founding fathers.

Another Political Bailout

So, the Democratic controlled house passes the latest Corona Virus stimulus bill pretty much along party lines with a vote of 208 to 199. The $3 Trillion package, while including a second round of $1200 payments to individuals, also includes $915 Billion in bailouts to the states. Like most other spending bills coming out of Congress, this too smacks of political overtones and is largely a liberal wish list masked as Corona Virus relief.

For example, the state of California officially recognizes its unfunded pension liability at between $300 to $400 Billion, the real number is closer to $850 Billion and likely to continue eroding amid the collapse of the financial markets and the current climate of near-zero interest rates. Meanwhile, California forecasts a 7 percent return in their investment portfolio model required to meet pension obligations. In the absence of achieving this rate of return, shortfalls are made up by taxpayers.

This coddling of state and local government employees has got to stop. It is no secret that the generous retirement benefits afforded this group of workers is way out of proportion to the rest of us (taxpayers). Further, why are state pension recipients receiving $1200 stimulus checks. Has their monthly pension check been compromised by the pandemic? The answer is a resounding No! Why are they not asked to share in the pain that has been inflicted on non-government retirees whose IRA’s and 401K’s have been decimated and interest earning bank accounts have been reduced to nearly zero?

Why? Because the laws are being passed by liberal democrats pandering to their voter base. Further, these lawmakers are the beneficiaries of these generous retirement policies. The Lion’s share of this stimulus money should be directed to those that need it the most – mainly unemployed private sector workers and those whose main source of income has been impacted by the pandemic rendering them unable to feed their families, pay their rent, and purchase health insurance no longer provided by their former employers.  Instead we will now send another round of $2400 payments to most married couples, many of which, are still earning their pre-Covid19 income.

Payroll Tax Nonsense

As the Trump administration struggles with the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, the latest proposal just floated by Trump and his munchkin, er, uh make that Mnuchin as in Steve Mnuchin, is a payroll tax holiday. WTF? That is the most ridiculous and misguided idea that I have ever heard of.

Please enlighten me. How will eliminating the payroll tax help the 30 Million people currently unemployed? And here is another news flash. Part of the $1.5 Trillion collected in payroll taxes goes to fund unemployment benefits.

The Lion’s share of the $1.5 Trillion annual payroll taxes collected are earmarked for Social Security and Medicare. There are credible estimates that current tax receipts will be insufficient to cover Social Security outlays by the end of 2021. Just another reason why eliminating the payroll tax is just a stupid idea.

If anything, the payroll tax should be expanded to include all earned income above the current cap of $137,700. As it is, the payroll tax is the most regressive among all taxes collected. For example, a wage earner making $75,000 a year will pay $4,650 in Social Security tax, or 6.2% of his income. His boss, on the other hand with a salary of $200,000 will pay $8239, or 4.1% of his income.

It’s just not right!

My COVID-19 Manifesto

It has been said, “Opinions are like @ssholes, because everybody has one. But after weeks of holding back throughout this whole pandemic crisis, I can no longer do so. Here is my checklist of observances and opinions that keep me awake at night.

  1. Masks.  I am sickened and outraged about the lies our government has purported upon us regarding the use of masks in the general population as an effective defense against COVID-19.  We were told that they were not necessary and that their usage should be limited to health care workers. But now that the shortage of masks for health care workers seems to have abated somewhat, we are now told that everyone should wear facial coverings. But the messaging stops short of advising use of approved N95 or common surgical masks as that would further impact the supply for health care workers and entice general hoarding even more. If anyone questions the efficacy of masks as a tool against contagious disease, look no further than Japan, South Korea, or even Hong Kong as evidence.
  1. Corona Task Force Daily Briefings. I appreciate the information presented at these briefings by the respective experts in their field. But the sideshow created daily by the stupid and politicized questions from the press from the likes of Jonathon Karl, ABC (aka The Mickey Mouse Club) and Jim Acosta, CNN (aka The Communist News Network) and Trump’s generally off -topic and incoherent responses makes me cringe.
  1. States vs Federal Government. Sprinkled throughout the Briefings discussed above, Trump likes to imply that the individual states need to solve their own problems. He chastises them for not having medical stockpiles in place to fight this pandemic. He doesn’t seem to get it that the states are stepping all over each other and the federal government to procure limited medical supplies. He responds naively that the government will simply pull back its bid if they discover that they are bidding against a state. It is just absurd to think that the federal government could manage this.  Well herein lies the reality folks. States do not have a printing press with unlimited access to dollars. Further, many states have credit ratings close to Junk while burdened with hundreds of millions of dollars of unfunded pension liabilities. California alone has over $90,000 in unfunded pension debt per household. 
  1. Universal Basic Income. Well over a year ago, I penned an article for the consideration of adopting a Universal Basic Income for all citizens and legal residents in the United States. https://wjexchange.wordpress.com/2018/07/14/the-case-for-universal-basic-income/ This initiative was the cornerstone of Andrew Yang’s bid for the Democratic nomination for President. As an unintended consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, it looks like we now have such a measure in place. The government has pledged $1200 per month for all residents that meet the income threshold. Additionally, the federal government has agreed to top off state’s unemployment benefits by $600 per week. While I have no beef with the $600 weekly unemployment subsidy, the $1200 monthly program seems a little misguided to me. I fail to see how a married couple making a secured income up to $150,000/year should be entitled to an additional $28,800 annualized equivalent from this stimulus package ($1200 X 2 = $2400 X 12 = $28,800). Wouldn’t the national interest be better served if that money earmarked for the presumably well-off went to those at the poverty level? For the stimulus to work as intended, the grant money would be circulated back into the economy. However, it is my belief and conviction that this extra “found” money for those with secure unaffected incomes will merely be saved and not spent.
  1. Then there is the public outcry over Navy Captain Brett Cozier who was relieved of command for his letter exposing positive Corona Virus testing among crew members of the aircraft carrier, USS Roosevelt. While I am sympathetic to his intentions, I have a newsflash to share. “The U.S. Military is Not a Democracy.” The core of military readiness is discipline. Without it, you have an ineffective fighting force. To maintain discipline, you must adhere to the chain of command. Members of the military are governed by the UCMJ, Uniformed Code of Military Justice. Like it or not the UCMJ trumps individual liberties granted under the constitution or elsewhere.
  1. Now, a few words about the Food Supply Chain. This is an area that I know something about having served over 40 years in the business. Headlines abound about farmers dumping milk and eggs, and plowing fields of fresh produce. Half of the food supply is dedicated to foodservice, ie., restaurants, hotels, institutions etc. That business has virtually disappeared. It is very difficult to convert that foodservice output to retail. Among the obstacles is the conversion to packaging acceptable to retail and just gaining access to the system. Obtaining a vendor code alone, takes weeks and more. The concern now is will farmers reduce their spring planting because of the demand shift. This could create severe shortages in the summer months even if we defeat the virus.
  1. Finally, a last word about the Politics of the Time and how we work our way back to prosperity. Narratives should not be structured to fit into a blue or red box, but unfortunately that is the reality. Just listen to the opening line on the nightly news. If the latest model shows a range of 100,000 to 240,000 anticipated deaths from the pandemic, ABC news will lead with the 240,000 number to fit their politics, and not with the lower number. If the estimate is revised downward to 60,000, they will lead with the total deaths and downplay the progress of a reduced forecast. On the red side, Fox News will quote Trump boasting that the economy will come roaring back stronger than ever. That may happen and I hope it does, but it will take months or even years for that to happen. By the time it is all said and done, we will have added another 6 Trillion dollars to our deficit. There is no other way. It had to be done. But with the world awash with newly minted dollars, what will it do to the future purchasing power of our currency? I don’t claim to be smart enough with the answer.But it seems to me that we will have to grow our way out of this mess.  This means repatriating manufacturing and production back to the USA away from the likes of China particularly with pharmaceuticals and other critical goods. Automation and Artificial Intelligence must play a key role in all of this to make it happen. The chief reason for outsourcing to China has always been lower labor costs. As automation and artificial intelligence takes hold, the cost gap should narrow.  Before this crisis, the unemployment rate was around 3%. With this reboot of repatriating manufacturing and a renewed emphasis on rebuilding our infrastructure, it is doubtful that our labor force will be sufficient to handle it. While the transformation takes place, we will still need customers to purchase our increased output, so we there may still be a need for subsidies to the under employed and unemployable in this new era economy. This goes back to some version of Universal Basic Income.

 

Pharma Greed or Prudent Business Decisions

the principle that all people and institutions are subject to and accountable to law that is fairly applied and enforced; the principle of government by law. – i.e., The Rule of Law

So, what does the above definition have to do with perceived greed of the pharmaceutical companies as touted by the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates? The standard response to cheaper prices abroad for prescription drugs is that the single-payer health care systems in other countries negotiate prices with the drug manufacturers. While this is true, there is another factor that contributes to this practice.

Patent protection virtually eliminates competition for brand name drugs by would-be generic manufacturers.  In the United States, patent rights are vigorously defended and upheld. Beyond on our borders – not so much. So, as a result, drug manufacturers often opt to offer cheaper prices on brand name drugs to shield themselves against illicit production of generic versions.  Unfortunately to the detriment of U.S. consumers, disrespect for the rule of law by foreign countries often results in lower prices of the same brand name drugs overseas.

Like Lemmings Over a Cliff

It’s not exactly a news flash that our country is experiencing one of the most political divisions in history. It seems that every issue, outlook, and opinion is based on partisan politics. Gone are the days of independent thought as a method of arriving at one’s position on a subject.

The other day I was having a conversation with my wife on this very topic that was initiated as a result of my recent vote for our local congressman on my mail-in ballot. Congressman Raul Ruiz is our incumbent representative and he is a democrat. My wife is a Republican and I am an Independent, albeit with a strong Republican bias. My reasons for voting for Mr. Ruiz were based on his record and involvement in our local community as well as his strong commitment to protecting the rights of seniors and veterans.

While my wife agreed with me on the virtues of Congressman Ruiz, she wisely pointed out that above all else, he is still a democrat and unlikely to break party ranks on the larger national issues confronting our population. In other words, politics will prevent him from exercising independent thought if it is not in concert with the democratic majority. Doing so, would brand him as an outcast and likely ostracize him from the ruling class. Furthermore, his chances of reelection would be rendered slim without the support of his Democratic colleagues.

There is nothing on the horizon that suggests that anything will change as the issues dividing the two parties are deep and wide. Unfortunately, it seems that the only time we can come together as a nation is when we are faced with a crisis of the proportions of 911. What a shame!

The Internet of Things and Unintended Consequences

I recentlyInternet of things updated the older wall oven in my home with a new high-tech model. Among the features of this new oven is the ability to control its operation via wi-fi. This got me to thinking about the potential hazards of this feature and generally “the internet of things.”

Last month marked the 50th anniversary of the internet. Like the evolution of electricity, the internet has developed in a similar way. Early internet applications centered around transmitting and receiving limited amounts of data over telephone lines. In other words, they were hard wired. Early adoption of electricity inspired by the inventions of Thomas Edison were hard wired direct current (DC) systems, only to give way to alternating current (AC) championed by the works of Nikola Tesla. Alternating current led to the creation of the electrical grid that transports electrical power across a network of interconnected systems covering vast distances. As the AC power grid expanded in the late 19th century, along came another invention of titanic proportions – the wireless radio. Again, it was Tesla who was instrumental in the discovery of the wonders of wireless radio waves.

Fast forward a mere 100 years. Thanks to the invention of electricity and the harnessing of radio waves, we entered the digital age. The internet and its endless nodes of connectivity, both wired and wireless, simply boggles the mind. The dark side of this phenomena that we call progress is that each point of connection along this digital global highway represents a potential hacking opportunity for those wishing to do harm.  Global cyber-security and the construction and management of firewalls is estimated to be a $125 Billion industry and growing at double digit rates. However, it seems that unscrupulous hackers continue to outsmart the good guys.

Given the real danger of potential apocalyptic cyber events, maybe its time to seriously consider the principle of “data localization.” The best example of data localization is perhaps China’s “Great Firewall,” which severely restricts internet access to its critical infrastructure. China is not alone in this movement, as several other countries are seeking ways to insulate themselves from digital invaders.

It’s safe to say that any movement to limit unfettered globalism of the internet is sure to meet heavy resistance from the social media giants and the huge purveyors of our personal data whose very existence is dependent upon a willing and sometimes naive worldwide user base. Social Media subscribers mistakenly believe that these services come to them for free. The fact of the matter is that if you aren’t paying for the product, then you are the product.

Every day seems to bring new headlines of cyber terrorism, both foreign and domestic, enabled by easy access to the internet. Maybe it’s time we took firewalls to a new level and think about hard wiring some critical access points to our internet and forgo a few freedoms and conveniences in favor of additional security in order to minimize external hazardous threats to our person and infrastructure.

So, who was right – Edison or Tesla? Hard to say. But this beacon of freedom of expression so revered by Americans has indeed led to unintended consequences. Do I really want someone in Bangladesh the ability to control the oven in my home with their cell phone?