Friday, June 28, 2013

Tale of the Magic Dragon


I had to write a novel before the time came for me to buy a one-way ticket to a nursing home.  This is it:  Tale of the Magic Dragon.



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Officially, the patrol never happened and there was no accounting for the men left behind.  But former Green Beret Frank McTigue, a struggling private investigator, learns the truth when he agrees to protect pretty Lia, who had witnessed the murder of his former commanding officer.  Betrayals from the past force Frank to confront unfinished business from his tour of duty in Southeast Asia.  Outnumber and outgunned, he teams up with his Special Forces comrade at arms Odell Franklin.  They push forward into a desperate fight where secrets are dear and lives are cheap--and find a glimmer of hope for redemption.

 Rated 5-Stars on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Available at 




Smashwords (easiest if you want to download onto a PC): http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/324189.



Blio.com: https://www.blio.com/blio/screens/homepage.jsp.  Please use the search feature to find the book.  The Blio website seems finicky about direct links to the book from other websites.

Also available for Apple iPads, iPhones and certain iPods through the free iBook app.  You cannot yet buy Apple e-books using a Mac, PC or laptop. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Why Did Obama Fire Bernanke?

Okay, President Obama didn't actually fire Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.  But it felt like that when the President strongly hinted a couple of days ago that he wouldn't nominate Bernanke for re-appointment.  The stock market followed up with a two-day belly flop of almost 560 points.  Much of that drop was because the Fed announced that it would indeed, contrary to infantile market expectations, eventually take away the quantitative easing punchbowl.  But the backdrop to this announcement was Ben Bernanke's short remaining term as bartender-in-chief.  That creates enormous uncertainty.  The financial markets love Bernanke, even though not all market players will admit it publicly because he was a policy pragmatist (read heretic in the eyes of many purists).  He gave the markets lots of sweets and never let them pout or fuss for long.  He never met an asset class he didn't like and tried to puff them all up.  (That's why virtually all asset classes are dropping now--Sugar Daddy is leaving town.)  With Ben's helicopter thumping away toward the horizon, it gets a lot harder to predict what investments might have actual economic value, so investors renew their love affair with cash.

But why did Obama choose this moment to put Bernanke on the stagecoach going out of town?  Obama is no economist, so it couldn't have been for an economic reason.  The President is a consummate politician, though, so one has to entertain the sneaking suspicion that he did it for political reasons.  A not uncommon reason for pulling the rug out from underneath an incumbent is because you foresee the need to blame him or her for something.  Maybe the President was concerned that the eventual end of QE would cause the markets to fall, and he wanted to be able to blame Bernanke and say he didn't re-appoint him.  But the very act of leaving Bernanke behind in the dust aggravated into prophecy fulfillment the markets' inclination to swan dive.  So, if this was the President's thinking, he may have contributed to the problem he foresaw and could end up taking some of the blame for the market's hissy fit.

The President is having second-term hiccups in a variety of ways--the IRS, NSA, State Dept., and DOJ come to mind.  Is he losing his grip?  Bernanke was the last man standing when it came to federal officials doing something to boost the economic recovery.  Why ax the most highly regarded civil servant in the country?

The financial markets hate uncertainty.  And they've gotten a belly full of it recently.  That's why the last two days have been bad for 401(k) accounts from sea to shining sea.  And the picture probably won't get brighter for months.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

How to Improve NSA Surveillance

Despite the uproar, there's little chance of changing the scope and extent of NSA surveillance of Americans.  No politician wants to be blamed if there's another Boston Marathon-type bombing.  So they'll hide behind the usual gridlock and do nothing. 

That being the case, we might as well make the most of NSA's surveillance.  After all, it's being done on the taxpayer's dime, and taxpayers ought to get their money's worth.  Here are some ways NSA can make 'round the clock surveillance a better experience for all of us.

Package Delivery.  Since NSA knows where you are at all times, it could run a great delivery service.  Let's say you're on the road and forgot to bring your cellphone recharger.  An NSA courier could be dispatched with a new recharger in a flash.  And they'd want to make this delivery.  After all, it's harder to keep track of you if your cell phone battery is dead. 

And if you're traveling with a small child and need is a package of disposable diapers and some wipes, NSA could deliver them for a modest fee, even to the highway rest stop where you discovered what you forgot to pack.  This would not only please many a distressed parental taxpayer, it would also give NSA a stream of fee revenue that could supplement its multi-billion dollar budget. 

Chatline.  There are many lonely people, and NSA may be among the few that care to listen in on their phone calls.  Perhaps NSA could operate chatlines, to help the lonely find companionship.  Maybe NSA will get lucky and a frustrated terrorist will unburden himself on a chatline, confessing to having fantasies about pressure cookers. 

Dating Service.  If you're single, NSA already knows how bad your personal life is.  They know everything about you--and everyone else.  Since they know so much, they might as well operate a dating service.  With all that they know, they should be able to find the perfect match for you in only three nanoseconds of processing time on their massive supercomputers.

Grocery Shopping.  NSA could doing your grocery shopping and bill your bank account, all without you having to do more than tell them your grocery list.  You can pick up the phone and say what you need.  No need to dial because NSA's monitors will pick up your request anyway, and they can send one of their personnel to the supermarket.  Billing your bank account will be a breeze, since they already know the number and track everything that goes on in it.  Indeed, there's no reason for NSA to stop with groceries.  It could keep you well-stocked with beer and wine, pick up and return your dry cleaning, and arrange for pizza to be delivered in time for dinner.  You'd have to pay fees for these services, but think of the convenience.

Concierge Services.  There's more.  NSA could offer the full range of concierge services.  They could get you movie tickets, make dinner reservations, call cabs, send personnel out to be your personal shopper, and so on.  They already monitor your credit card and banking activity, so they know what movies you see, where you have dinner, and what your personal shopping consists of.  Might as well make the situation a win-win by offering citizens some conveniences now available mostly to the 1%.

Rebranding NSA.  NSA has an image problem.  It's portrayed by its detractors as an intrusive ogre that laughs derisively while steam rolling over civil liberties.  A common strategy in the business world for such a problem is to rebrand oneself.  NSA could leverage its massive knowledge of every intimate detail of your life by offering services like those described above, and change its name to, say, NSA Deluxe Lifestyle Services.  After all, nothing pleases citizens more than seeing government work for them.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Good Deficit

You already know we're in Oz.  The government manages the federal deficit by making across the board cuts everyone thought would be so extreme that both Democrats and Republicans would work together to find a more rational solution.  Ha ha ha.  The joke's on us.  The government manages the debt ceiling by kicking the can down the road every few months.  The can is getting awfully dented.  And most tellingly, a surprisingly large number of the members of Congress bear a distinct resemblance to the flying monkeys in the movie.

But even as there were bad witches in the movie, there were also good witches.  There are good deficits as well.  Government spending for things that government is particularly good at is generally desirable, even if it requires deficit spending.  For example, government is good at national defense, education, law enforcement, and building or subsidizing transportation systems.  Government is also very good at funding basic research.  Deficit spending to pursue these goals is money well spent because it fills gaps that the private sector leaves open.  These kinds of spending protect and enhance the national wealth and welfare.

There's another problem that should be tackled, even if it requires deficit spending.  The unemployment rate for Gen Y (a/k/a the Millenials) is much too high.  It's generally about twice the level for Baby Boomers, and the less educated Millenials have even higher rates of unemployment.  Those that are African-American and lack college degrees need not apply, especially if they are male.  Large numbers of the better educated Millenials are burdened with heavy educational debts.  The ones with debts of $100,000 or more could face decades of 21st Century-style indentured servitude to their creditors, whose claims they cannot oust in bankruptcy proceedings except in extremely distressed circumstances. 

Millenials who are unemployed and underemployed represent wasted human capital. Modern economies are knowledge based, and human capital is the most important form of national wealth.  A vivid example of the overarching importance of human capital can be found in the aftermath of World War II.  Germany and Japan, the devastated losers (who deserved to lose), had only limited industrial capacity and not enough food to feed their populations.  But they also retained the advanced industrial knowledge they had acquired in building and supporting their massive and highly capable war machines.  Required by Allied occupation authorities to turn that knowledge to peaceful purposes, the two losing nations rebuilt their economies rapidly, and within three decades became industrial powerhouses.  Because they still had their human capital after the war, they could rebuild their tangible assets and prosper.

As a nation, we can't afford to let the human capital of Gen Y atrophy.  They are starting their working lives now, a crucial time for developing the skills of a self-supporting adult.  It's in your twenties and thirties that you learn how to apply all your book learning to the practical needs and purposes of the working world.  Learn those lessons well, and you'll be productive for 40 or more years.  Failing to learn them can result in permanent stunting of one's career.

Add a heavy load of school debt to the mix, and we can see how unemployed and underemployed Millenials could become a permanent economic underclass, unable to escape a shadow world of part-time jobs and episodic contract work, trailed by the baying of creditors hounding them at every turn. 

It's time to revive the Civilian Conservation Corps, 21st Century style.  The CCC of the 1930s employed some 3 million young Americans over the course of its decade of existence.  They were paid very modest wages, most of which were given to their parents (although the employees also received food and housing in addition to their pay).  They did mostly physical labor, as such work was integral to America's 1930s industrial economy.  The program was very popular with the American public, as it gave young people a chance to develop work skills and get a start in adult life.

A comparable program today could include jobs requiring manual labor.  America's highways, bridges and other infrastructure need a lot of maintenance.  America's cities need to be cleaned up, and abandoned buildings torn down, so that redevelopment can begin.  But there are many white collar jobs that need to be done as well.  Rural areas and inner cities lack physicians and other health care providers.  Many school districts are strapped for funding and need more teachers and staff for everything ranging from special education to music and drama.  Many jurisdictions have gravely inadequate funding for public defenders.  Criminal defendants, whom the law in its majesty presumes innocent until proven guilty, have little means to defend themselves and give their presumption of innocence tangible effect.  The poor need legal services for civil matters as well, such as battling indifferent landlords.  The list could go on.

CCC-21st Century jobs should be real jobs, not make work.  We can't ask taxpayers to pay people to dig holes and fill them up.  The pay should be low, because these aren't meant to be career jobs.  They are a way to give young people a start.  Part of the compensation should include generous provisions for government assistance in repaying school debt.  In effect, the government would help young people offload their school debt so they can get a fresh start in life.  Yes, yes, yes, there are countervailing considerations about holding people responsible for their debts and not bailing people out, etc., etc.  But we let egregious spendthrifts stiff their creditors for non-education debt as a matter of course in bankruptcy.  And we bail out really large financial institutions run by millionaire executives.  The burden of educational debt is getting to be too much.  As some guy put it about 400 years ago, the quality of mercy is not strained.  Let's be realistic instead of Puritanically moralistic.

Those CCC-21st Century employees who haven't gone to college could be compensated with the right to educational subsidies, akin to the GI Bill.  These young people could then go to college with less need for debt.  Their human capital would be enriched.

This isn't a perfect solution, and won't solve all the problems of Gen Y.  But it would give many of them a start.  And that's what they need.  Deficit spending for another CCC would be money well-spent.  The private sector isn't helping these people.  Government action is the only alternative.  We don't need more stimulus in the form of Federal Reserve money printing.  We could benefit greatly from stimulus in the form of deficit spending invested in our young adults.