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Posts Tagged ‘Musings’

Today, the national unemployment rate is at 10%.  So far, the Obama administration has spent only about $200 billion of the allocated economic stimulus money- about 1/4 of what has been appropriated. One might conclude that President Obama doesn’t have a sense of urgency about the country’s economic situation.  While the President’s attention has been turned to health care and Afghanistan, American’s have continued to lose jobs every month since he was elected – and for many months before he was elected. George Bush was equally unable to create jobs for Americans. Why?

First of all, we need to admit that the U.S. government does create a lot of jobs for Americans. About one half of our entire national budget is spent on defense. So, if you work for Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics or other defense contractors, or if you work at one of the national labs that does defense research, or if you are in the military – Uncle Sam has created your job. The problem of course is that these types of jobs do not create additional revenue. i.e. the only customer, by definition, is the U.S. government.  So the income that people receive from these jobs is sort of like taking money out of one pocket and putting it in the other – the total wealth of the country doesn’t increase – and by the way, for many people, the money to pay for these jobs is coming out of their pockets and going into the pocket of someone else. Remember – that is fully one half of all the money our government spends, and we have been doing that for many years.  It’s a big part of our economy – such as it is.

The rest of our economy is in a shambles.  We all know that.  That’s why we have been depending on a real estate Ponzi scheme to make money for us for the past several years. Now that the bubble has burst, it is pretty clear that we can’t re-inflate that particular bubble anytime soon.  We’ll have to find another way to make money for the part of the population that doesn’t feed off the defense budget.  And this is where the problem lies. This is Obama’s Dilemma.

There are many places we can turn to illustrate the roots of Obama’s Dilemma, but perhaps none are so illustrative of the problem as everybody’s favorite store: Wal-Mart.  The problem with Wal-Mart can be found in their motto: Save Money, Live Better Wal-Mart.  We all like to save money and it is difficult to find any place that sells stuff for less than Wal-Mart, but that is exactly the problem, and it started a long time ago. Next time you go to Wal-Mart see if you can find anything (except food) that carries the label “Made in USA”.

For those of us old enough to remember, we know that once upon a time television sets were made in the USA. So were refrigerators and other appliances; so were cars; so were airplanes; so were clothes; so was furniture. I guess you can see where I’m going here. We, well not exactly we – but the wealthy people who actually run this country and it’s government – found that they could make a lot more money by building stuff in China and India and Mexico and Costa Rica and Egypt and almost anywhere that much cheaper labor could be found. These “Americans” who own the multinational businesses that make our stuff exported our jobs throughout the world. While the American people played Ponzi real estate bubble, the wealthy class exported our jobs. We now live in a multinational economy but the problem is that we can’t compete because our wages are too high.  We can buy, but we can’t sell.

So, while businesses like Wal-Mart and many, many others flushed our economy down the toilet – while they made fortunes for themselves, most Americans were unaware of what was happening. Now we face a hard reality. The jobs are gone and they are not coming back. The bubble has burst and we can’t play bubble games anymore.  We are a bunch of high rollers who have spent our last few dollars and our credit is no longer any good at the banks.  We need jobs but, outside of more defense jobs, the government is unable to create anything that would have much of an effect.

So, President Obama dabbles with Green technology ideas – as if that will put ten or twenty million Americans back to work.  We have cash for clunkers and rebates for first time home buyers and other little tricks that give temporary surges.  It’s like when your car is out of gas and you add a pint of gas to the tank. It doesn’t take you very far. The question we all need to ask is this: can this thing be fixed?  The answer is no – at least not very soon.

Our wealthy “un-Americans” have enriched themselves at the expense of the entire country’s economy.  Globalization has been a boon to some Americans in the short run – but the short run is over – now we are in for a long-term disaster.  Globalization means flattening, that which is high is lowered (that’s us) and that which is low is raised (that’s China, India, and soon to be Africa).  A few of John McCain’s class will benefit but many, many more will suffer and our government has let this happen, slowly, over the past twenty to thirty years. There are many people to blame, but Obama is not one of them.  Even so, he will be blamed if he can’t solve the dilemma.

The problem is that the solution is not palatable to the wealthy, ruling class.  The solution is to scale back globalization.  The solution is to level the playing field via tariffs on imported goods so that American made goods can compete again.  Only then will there be jobs in the U.S. again.  Our economy won’t be healed until we once again build televisions and furniture here. We won’t have stability until we build quality cars in this country that compete in price with foreign-made cars. We won’t have good technical jobs in this country until we have more than one company building commercial airplanes and at least one company that builds commercial ships.

Wal-Mart is not the cause of globalization, but it is the poster child for the siren lure of cheap foreign imports. Our economy won’t be finally healed until the Mom and Pop clothing stores and hardware stores on Main Street can compete fiercely with Wal-Mart. However, that is something that is abhorrent to many, if not most, of our very wealthy Senators and Congressmen, their sycophantic lobbyists, and the hidden oligarchs of our society.

Even so, it must be done, and how to make that happen is Obama’s Dilemma.

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The book is in the bookstores, the crowds are eagerly waiting in line for autographs, the book tour is set to travel through a number of key battleground states. So is this it? Is this the beginning of Sarah Palin’s 2012 Presidential campaign?  Sarah’s supporters are already saying they would vote for her in the next election.  She is being compared to Ronald Reagan, the former movie star turned President of the United States.  Let’s face it, if Ronald Reagan, a man who got his inspiration for important government decisions and policies from watching old Hollywood movies, could be elected President – twice – there is certainly a reasonable chance that Americans might also vote to put Sarah in the White House. I know it is something that is hard to accept for a lot of people, but we have to consider it, just as scientists and policy makers contemplated the “unthinkable” many years ago when it seemed that there was a possibility of global thermonuclear war.

So what would happen if Sarah were elected President? Can we discern anything from her actions as a mayor of Wasilla and governor of Alaska?  Is there something in her speeches and interviews that provides us a foretaste of things to come, should the unthinkable come to pass? Most of her political experience comes from being the Mayor of Wasilla, a small town in Alaska. She was mayor for ten years and seems to have made several accomplishments, although in a heavy-handed way, that helped the town to prosper. She appears to have a record of trying to “clean up” Alaskan politics and is driven by an ethical concept that seems to be shared by a lot of Alaskans. She only served as Governor of Alaska for two years and her time as Governor was marked by significant friction with the political establishment. She seems to place little value on being a “team player”.

Interestingly, although she is officially a Republican, she has supported some initiatives that required major government intervention.  It would be hard to characterize her as a Libertarian in her deeds, regardless of her words.  She wholeheartedly supported and signed a bill that would provide government funding to build a trans-Alaska gas pipeline. She also signed an energy bill that gives $1,200 to every qualified resident of Alaska. The money comes from Alaska’s revenue from the oil and gas.  It sure seems a bit Socialist to me, hardly a Republican ideal, and certainly something that no pure Libertarian would ever dream of.  In her statement about the gift of government money to Alaskan families she said that these people needed the money to buy groceries and heat their homes.  An admirable thought, but hardly Republican ideology.

In an attempt to save money for the state, Sarah sold the governor’s jet plane and fired the governor’s private chef.  It seems, from her actions, that she has no problem with spending hundreds of millions of dollars for gas pipeline construction, some of the proceeds of which will then be given as a gift to the people of Alaska so they can buy necessities , but she is against spending taxpayer money for non-essential things, like jet planes and chefs.  Overall, it appears that her political philosophy is more aligned with the Democrats than the Republicans.  However, her religious views can only be viewed as deeply “conservative”.  And it is the clever alliance the Republicans have made with the conservative Christian movement that seems to be the principle reason she calls herself a Republican.

Now we come to the last election.  Sarah was quickly catapulted into the national limelight as John McCain’s Vice Presidential running mate. The infamous interview with Katie Couric clearly showed that she was in way over her head. And that is the problem.  The simple fact is this: if there is one thing the campaign showed us about Sarah Palin it is that she is woefully unprepared to be President of the United States. Her knowledge of foreign policy and geography, the fact that she seems to read almost no magazines or newspapers, her inability to respond intelligently on major issues of interest to Americans simply showed that she has not concerned herself with the world outside of Alaska.

So now she’s written a book – a best seller, even before it was in the bookstores. It shows what name recognition can do for you – the one thing that the American publishing industry cares about (but that is a subject for another time).  Now she is on the campaign trail, sort of pretending it’s a book signing tour. There is no doubt that she will find many supporters who love her down-home, simple, goldurnit, aw shucks logic.  The question we all have to ask ourselves though is this: does she really have the knowledge and skills to run the country? Could she be a good President? The thing to recognize is that while many people might have what it takes to be a good mayor of Wasilla, after all there are thousands of Wasillas and thousands of good mayors all over the U.S., it is quite another thing to be President of the United States. Well, what about being Governor of Alaska? Remember, she was only governor foe two years, and then she walked off the job there.  Remember also that she was continually at odds with the other politicians in Alaska.  She has a sort of “take no prisoners” way of doing business when she is in charge. It’s her way or the highway, it seems. Not exactly the way a competent and seasoned politician operates, and certainly not the way to be successful in Washington.  It is my guess that if she were elected, she would be the most ineffective president in our history, because she doesn’t understand how the U.S. system of government actually works. In a word, she is naive.  And that spells great danger for our country, because the same people who voted for the movie star, Ronald Reagan, might vote for her too.

Our forefathers anticipated this potential moment in our nation’s history. The knew that a time might come when the common people might be deceived; they knew that it is possible for a slick talker to convince people, based upon emotional arguments, that they are the best candidate, when in fact they are simply incompetent.  That is why we have the electoral college. It is our last hope – a group of people of learning and experience, who in the end have the ability, the right, and the obligation to overrule the people and protect them from a grievous error in judgment.

When I contemplate the unthinkable I am left with this: This small group of people, the electoral college, may well be the only thing that can save this nation from itself in 2012 –  I wonder if they will have the courage to do so.

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The search by physicists to understand the way the world works has been going on since the first man wondered why things fall down but they don’t fall up.  In the long history of physics, there have been a few preeminent physicists whose reputations have spanned the centuries.  Isaac Newton made a huge leap in knowledge when he was able to describe the force of gravity mathematically.  Newtons equations very reliably predict the trajectory of a cannonball or the motion of the planets.  However, it is interesting to note that Newton was frustrated by this thing called gravity and admitted that he did not understand how it really worked. In Newton’s own words in his Principia he writes: “I feign no hypothesis… That one body may act upon another at a distance through a vacuum without the mediation of anything else, by and through which their action and force may be conveyed from one another, is to me so great an absurdity that, I believe, no man who has in philosophic matters a competent faculty of thinking could ever fall into it.”  In other words, although Newton had an equation that seemed provide the capability to determine the gravitational force of one body upon another, he had absolutely no idea of the mechanism of how the gravitational force was exerted by one body upon another.

Centuries later another of the giants of physics took on the problem of gravity.  Albert Einstein, winner of the Nobel Prize in physics for his explanation of the photoelectric effect and one of the founders of quantum theory (he actually coined the word “quantum”) would eventually develop his crowning achievement, the General Theory of Relativity, which provided a mathematical description of the gravitational field far more exactly than Newton’s equations.  Today, NASA wouldn’t consider putting a satellite into orbit using Newton’s equations, it is always Einstein’s equations that must be used to account for the relativistic effects of the high speeds of the satellites as they orbit the Earth.

It is therefore curious to the average person that Einstein and his philosophy are often shunned and even ridiculed by modern physicists.  Ever since Einstein published his General Theory other physicists have tried to find an error in its predictions, but to no avail.  Most recently NASA launched a satellite to test a very small, second order effect, that is predicted by the equations of General Relativity. The effect is called frame dragging. Essentially, Einstein’s equations predict that space and time will be affected by the rotation of the Earth in a way similar to how a spoon dipped in molasses will create swirls in the molasses if the spoon is twirled.  The NASA experiment corroborated this very tiny, second order effect of Einstein’s theory. This effect was not something that Einstein was keen on predicting, instead it was the result of the equations he had created in order to predict the major interactions of gravity, space, and time, effects such as the precession of the perihelion of Mercury or the bending of starlight as it passes near the sun.

So what does this have to do with CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research? It is all about what causes gravity.  Newton just didn’t have an explanation for how gravity actually worked.  Einstein was able to show that gravity can be interpreted as the geometrical distortion of spacetime.  However, his equations do not specify an agent of the gravitational force between too adjacent objects. This is where the particle physicists come in. They have a theory that a particle called a Higgs boson must exist and it is this particle that confers mass to a body – and it is mass that interacts with or creates gravity.

Einstein spent the latter years of his life in the search for a Grand Unified Theory that would combine gravity, electricity, and magnetism in to a single set of equations. However, he died before he was able to determine what this set of equations must be.  The particle physicists, the quantum theorists, have taken a different approach altogether from Einstein.  While Einstein envisioned fields and warps in space and time as the explanation for gravity and electricity and magnetism, modern quantum theorists prefer particles and the mathematics of randomness and probability, because, for them, the universe at its heart can never be known precisely, as stated in Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. This was the source of great debate between quantum physicists and Einstein, and in the end Einstein was marginalized.

CERN is now on the verge of a major test to determine whether the hypothesized Higgs boson, the agent of gravitational mass, exists. The Large Hadron Collider is about to be fired up, generating collisions between high energy particles that, it is hoped, will momentarily create a Higgs boson.  Interestingly, it is also predicted that it might temporarily create a microscopic black hole – and this has some people very concerned. What if it did create a black hole in Switzerland? Would it swallow up the Earth in a split second?  The people at CERN have bent over backwards trying to show that such a black hole would not last long enough to do any damage.  They even point out that Einstein’s theory says that they could not even be produced at the Large Hadron Collider.  It’s sort of interesting that the quantum theorists are quoting Einstein at this time in order to assure the public that the experiment is safe.

At any rate we’ll soon know. The LHC could be fired up as early as this weekend for preliminary testing. It’ll be a while before they get to the real super particle collisions.  I suppose then we might actually have the answers to some questions that have been around for a long time. Will it disprove General Relativity? No.  Will it show that Einstein’s determinism is wrong and the world is really based upon random probability? No. If it shows the existence of a Higgs boson, it is more than likely that it will open up a whole new set of questions, because that has been the history of quantum physics. It is like peeling the layers of an onion. A good example is the search for the Omega Minus particle back in the 1960’s.

Of course, if the calculations of the theoretical physicists at CERN are completely wrong, and if they accidently create a massive black hole that swallows us up in a nanosecond…well, we’ll never know, will we?

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