Bad Capitalism

First of all, let me start by saying that I believe there really is good capitalism. I’ve never seen it, but I think it is possible. Good capitalism encourages innovation, promotes the well being of society across all classes, and has built in safe-guards to prevent worker exploitation, obscene hoarding of resources, and most importantly … Continue reading “Bad Capitalism”

First of all, let me start by saying that I believe there really is good capitalism. I’ve never seen it, but I think it is possible. Good capitalism encourages innovation, promotes the well being of society across all classes, and has built in safe-guards to prevent worker exploitation, obscene hoarding of resources, and most importantly – works hard to blur economic stratification.

The disgusting system we have in the USA isn’t anything like what I”ve described above. Quite the oppossite. Our system creates artificial barriers to entry, uses crony-legislation to discourage innovation or change, tends to encourage scheming and lying to the public and the so-called watchdogs of society, and allows those with a head start to create rules which let them take more of the public domain – and increasingly is privatising (selling off) assets and institutions set aside for the public. This is not capitalism – pure and simple – it is Exploitism and we are deeply in it. It’s fucking disgusting.

People are blind to it and worse- they encourage it. Last night, my family and I went to a school fund raising function. It was a dinner and show and tickets were $30 each. The price was a little steep for the demographics of the school – so most families didn’t go – which was what I had expected to see. Since we are only three – it wasn’t terrible for us. Dinner was about what you would expect and the show was nice and overall it was pretty satisfying but I was bothered by something else so much that I won’t go to another function put on by this particular organization.

When we bought the tickets (about 2 weeks in advance) there were two options – individual tickets at $30 each or you could purchase an entire table for $300 which included tickets for ten – so the cost was the same but you had a table set aside. Well, some genius who was obviously indoctrinated in bad capitalism decided that since these were reserved tables, that they were VIP tables – as oppossed to the rest of us who were obvioulsy not very important people.

So they covered the reserved tables with gold paper (the rest of us had white) and they moved them to the front of the room in a big line (a solid line which blocked everyone elses view of the show) and they made all of the rest of us wait to get in line to eat until after the VIP tables had all gotten their food, and they gave them individual shout outs of thanks.

Now, keep in mind – we all paid the same price per head – these were simply bigger family groups. So, in that sense it was bad capitalism in that the person who set it all up was offering more for the same price. Since the event was under-attended – the 10-top tables were the only full tables – in fact we had a table to ourselves – just the three of us – which was nice. And as I mentioned, the food was so-so and the entertainment was good.

It was that bad economic thinking that bothered me – and that they had gone to such a huge trouble to stratify us. I didn’t like the lessons they were teaching the kids and I didn’t like the idea that the people who set this thing up were responsible for my daughter’s education. First of all – it was a school event – there shouldn’t be VIP tables unless they are for dignitaries or special guests of some kind. Second – the VIPS were singled out without actually having done anything beyond what the non-VIPS had done (paid $30 each to come support their kid’s school). Third – the fucking idiots set up the tables so that everyone who wasn’t at a ‘gold’ table had an obstructed view because they had set the tables up in a solid line in front of the stage (and half the stage was at the same level).

If anyone reading this should ever happen to set up an event like that here are a few suggestons:
Offer a private table if ten or more buy tickets together (not a VIP table, for crying out loud – which btw wasn’t what was offered anyway)
Create a game where each table has a chance of going first – i.e. Give the tables numbers and then draw them from a hat or have a trivia challenge.
Set up the tables like clamshells with staggered spaces.
If you actually have to have VIP tickets – make them more expensive i.e. $500 for the coveted gold tablecloth and first in line priveliges – not just a matter of scale.

I’m just thankful my daughter didn’t ask me why we couldn’t sit at the VIP tables – what answer could I give? Those are for bigger families? Those people are more important than us? Those people paid more money in total? Or maybe it would have been a good time to explain about the arbitrary exploitation of certain classes and the subtleteies of discrimination and privelige…because that’s something every six-year-old should probably hear about earlier rather than later.

The Death of Affordability in Hawaii

Coming back to Hawaii – there are lots of obvious changes – there are now lots of really expensive trendy shops. Whole Foods is here and you can spend a fortune on groceries if you choose to, Bed Bath and Beyond, Gucci, Saks Fifth Avenue, etc – the list goes on and on. There is no shortage of expensive shops here – and seeing all of that, it’s easy to forget what used to be in those spaces. Same goes for restaurants – every famous chef you can think of has a great little corner location and all the little great cheap places that used to be here – they’ve all grown into bigger, multi-location restaurants – so you can find the same great food on all the different corners of the island. Here’s the thing though – the quality in those little hole in the wall places that have grown so big has gone down and the prices have gone up. And guess what all those fancy retailers have replaced? Affordable stores. And guess what’s happened to the rents in those little places where you could buy everyday things for living cheaply? They’ve gone up – so no more cheap sponges and coffee in Chinatown – no more cheap produce from Farmer’s Markets – no more dollar stores, no more Grocery Outlets, no more big affordable Daiea markets or semi-affordable Don Quixote – instead those stores are closed and moved off island and Don Quixote is no longer a bargain. Those who have stayed here through the last 10 years may not have noticed – like looking in the mirror each day and missing the ten years of wrinkles – but all the little shops that used to make it affordable to get by each day – those shops are gone. I notice it because I went looking for them – and instead found Chuck E Cheese and an upscale boutique or found higher prices than I get on Amazon. Safeway doesnt do $5 Friday on Oahu. This island has seen real estate prices skyrocket since the recession and at the same time these systemic changes – where affordable shampoo, rice, or toilet scrubbers are no longer available – they are stealing the pennies and dimes. Parking downtown costs $30/hr and an expired meter will cost you $35-$50 depending on where it happens. I’ve always said that Hawai’i was worth what it takes to live here – but I’m not sure about that any longer. It seems that the truth may well be that it has reached the point where paradise is only available to those who already have enough money to not worry about paying $15 for a jar of peanut butter.

Fundamental Systemic Problems – #1 – Wealth

There are fundamental systemic problems that are literally killing us – both individually and as a species. Unless we can get a handle on these issues – we are almost certainly doomed. The first problem is wealth. Not wealth inequality, not wealth distribution, not how wealth is earned or spent – but simply wealth. Wealth is a fundamental systemic problem.

Wealth allows for exploitation, individual versus collective good, and a disporoprtionate allowance of power in terms of access, accumulations, and use of abilities. Wealth is very good for the individual who has it – but, as history has shown us, very bad for everyone as a whole – including the person who has it. This is a matter of long term versus short term good. The individual profits while the species, the biosphere, and the planet as a whole is degraded.

The problems of wealth are not a new revelation, though for most people, wealth appears to not be a problem at all. The main issue is that wealth has so firmly entrenched itself into our system and into our worldview that the idea of ending the concept is not only unfathomable but completely abhorrent to nearly everyone – including this writer who feels that he completely understands the problem of wealth intellectually but still has an inherent desire to strive for wealth personally because of the short term net positives wealth could bring to my individual life, the life of my offspring, and potentailly, the good which could be done if wealth of any size were accumulated and controlled.

One hopes that there is a way to end wealth once and for all – because it is the fundamental drain on our existance – however, given the above – it is unlikely that such an end would be pursued, allowed, or embraced by anyone. While there are religious and philosophical systems which have eschewed wealth, there has yet to be a political or economic system where wealth of one kind or another has not found a way to flourish.

Wealth is a fundamental systemic problem which appears to have no solution. As such, it may be best to move on to further systemic problems. Your thoughts are appreciated here as more than one brain is definitely better than just one.

Hawai’i Problems and My Not So Simple Solutions

There are some big issues in Hawai’i. They were issues when I left in 2008 and they have gotten worse. In some cases much worse. Don’t get me wrong – I am plenty happy to have the bathwater with the baby – but as a logical person, I can’t help looking beyond band-aids and seeing some not very simple solutions.

1) Hawai’i has a car problem. There are so many cars on Oahu that the other day when I had my trailer in my assigned parking space it took me an hour and a half to find a parking space within a half mile of my apartment. This problem comes from many different sectors – and nearly every problem I will mention below has contributed and is connected to it. Housing is not affordable so you have three and four generations stacked in a single family home plus an ohana shack in the back yard – every adult has a car and the garage has been converted into an apartment so you have 3-10 cars on a property that was designed for one in the garage and one in the driveway. Add to that problem #2 – Hawai’i has a homeless problem – the worst in the nation and many of the homeless live in their cars – or try to. Then you have apartment buildings like ours – a l4 story builing where each apartment has 1-2 spaces and many of those have been sold or rented to earn the money necessary to live on. Then you have the military – problem #3. Every soldier, sailor, Marine, or airman has a car that they’ve had shipped over by the military – and their spouses have cars. Then you have tourism – car rental is a big business and tourists like to drive – huge lots of cars sitting and waiting to be rented and then looking for parking. As I remember, public transportation was pretty good in Hawai’i – but I can’t say for sure now because my job REQUIRED me to have a car – it was a condition of employment. The city and county are building a light rail system – which actually should help when it is someday completed- but they are going to have to take more drastic measures because car addiction is not easily solved. I don’t like these solutions any better than anyone would – but they have worked in other places. Creating car-free areas in urban congested zones to encourage commuting and using public transportation. Waikiki – car free. Downtown Honolulu – car free. University of Hawai’i – car free. Next are the less popular ideas – somehow banning the military import of personal vehicles and raising the price of car rentals – even less popular is the idea of raising the registration fee and taxes on vehicles – and offering buybacks on older and larger models. Nobody wants to have these things done – but the problem is far worse than it was and from what I can tell – this is the only way to make it better.

2) Hawai’i has a homeless problem. On this one, there is really only one solution – the humanistic solution. Every person should have the right to a safe, secure place to call home. Our greedy capitalist focused society has somehow made it ‘okay’ for there to be huge camps of people who have been left behind socially and economically. We pay huge amounts of money to house prisoners, we allow the ultra rich to buy huge properties and leave them vacant (in some cases entire apartment buildings). All of that needs to be said but ultimately – the homeless problem here and elsewhere is systemic and needs to be addressed at the root – housing is unaffordable here. Desirable real estate has gone so high that undesirable real estate has gone sky high and the rates that hotels and vacation rentals can bring have driven rents even higher. We have allowed the formation of a complex caste system to take place in our society where the higher castes can own unlimited amounts while the lower castes starve – this is considered ‘okay’. It’s not. Land that could be used for housing is gated and closed by the military, by golf courses, by country clubs, and by the ultra-wealthy.

3) Hawai’i has a military problem. There are nearly 100K military personnel here – and their dependents – wives, children, dogs, vehicles. The military long ago took all of the best lands on Oahu for itself. Pearl Harbor, Hickam Air Force Base, Bellows Field, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, and more. These lands and beaches should be given back. Pearl Harbor and Hickam are a city that could house a huge population. I am not saying that the military should leave Hawai’i completely – but the amount of land and number of troops should be reduced greatly. This would reduce traffic, homelessness, rent and property values, and other problems.

4) Hawai’i has a golfing problem. I’m not a golfer. I admit it. Golf courses shut down huge areas of land to any other use thus cutting the non-wealthy off from using that land, the amount of water they use is obscene, and, frankly, they are elitist symbols of our caste system. Seriously, there are dozens of courses on Oahu. A large number of them are on military bases. Ban golf on Oahu or limit the number of courses to five and make them all public – or, if you are crying in your elitist cup of cat poop coffee right now – allow one private course but make them pay full retail for the water.

5) Hawai’i has a tourism problem. Tourism here is a mess. It’s expensive to come here and the lines are out of control. I know a lot of mainland people have never come here because (and I’m quoting) when they price compare, they get a better deal, less crowds, and cheaper flights when they go to Mexico. Air BnB and uber and Lyft are giving people a chance to earn with their cars and properties but driving the cost of housing up and the profits of tourism down. None of that is what I am referring to though. The tourism problem is that huge amounts of money get spent here and are promptly deposited in mainland and international banks by companies and corporations that are not based here. That is the tourism problem I am referring to.

So, in a nutshell – here is what I propose (if anyone that could make it happen is reading this):
1) Reduce non-essential troop levels and base sizes, require the military to provide transportation for troops stationed here, no personally owned vehicles (POVs)
2) Eliminate most golf courses and require full payment for water and land from those that stay, no sweet elitist deals
3) Ban POVs from congested urban areas and raise taxes and registration fees on urban POVs
4) Create a vacancy tax to drive hotel/housing rates lower – owners must pay a tax on unoccupied property or rooms – if they are using AirBnB or similar or are a hotel resort, the tax is nightly – for residential it would be monthly
5) House the homeless in vacant military housing, provide low skill employment to those capable of working
6) Require resorts and tourist business to be based in Hawai’i and to bank in Hawai’i.

Would these solve the problems? Of course not. Would new challenges arise? Of course. Would these be a good start? Absolutely.

Homeownerlessness

Thus far, in my life, I have never owned my own home except when I’ve lived in VW vans. It’s my own fault – mortgages were easy to come by several times in my life and I chose not to invest. This will sound funny, but the prices always seemed too high. In the early-1990s – a Staff Seargent in my Marine Corps unit suggested that a bunch of enlisted guys pool our money and start buying real estate. It was a good suggestion and none of us took it. In the mid to late 1990s, I was struggling to find my calling – if, while I had worked in radio, I had applied for a mortgage using my VA Loan – I could have bought a modest house in what is now the booming real estate market of Bellingham, Washington. In the early 2000s – I had the opportunity to purchase a small studio apartment in Honolulu for $100,000 – the price seemed pretty extreme to me and I passed. And then, the housing boom came and I was sure that the economy was heading over a cliff but mortgages were incredibly easy to come by – I chose not to seek a home loan. That was it for me – those were my opportunities. We all know what happened in 2007 with the economy and housing – as a result of that – the requirements for getting a home loan became much more stringent – in fact – in 2016 when I talked to several banks about getting a loan – they told me that my VA Guarantee was no longer worth much and that as a self-employed business owner that my reported income was too low to qualify for a home loan – both bankers suggested that I ‘find a way’ to report a higher income. Yes, I could have lied on my taxes this year. I could have taken less deductions. I could have paid more tax…but the truth is that this year with the long grey winter and the bizarre politics of 2016 – my business wasn’t sufficient to do that. We needed those deductions.

Now, the housing market is again red hot. Things like AirBnB have made housing prices soar in desirable locations. I am in the midst of closing or with any luck selling my business (I do not own the building that houses it). For the present time, my VA Home Loan Guarantee sits in a folder – worthless and unusable. I console myself by imagining that the housing market will again have a massive crash and perhaps I will be able to buy something afterwards – but I don’t really believe it. I tell myself that the banks own most of the houses that people live in – and the mortgages are simply another form of rent and home ownership is by and large an illusion anyway. We have been served an eviction notice in the house we’ve rented for the past four years because the owner wants to sell it. I am thankful that we had already been making plans to move before we got the notice, but can’t help asking myself “What if we had not?”

We currently exist in a 60 day limbo in which lies a form of homelessness that terrifies me. The landlord was apologetic and felt bad about serving the eviction because we have been great tenants – but right now is the time to sell. I don’t blame her a bit. I would have done the same thing in her position. We are 60 days away from involuntary family homelessness.

Yes, we have been making plans. Yes, I am sure we will find something. I’d be foolish, however, not to be concerned. AirBnB and the red hot housing market have driven rents sky high.

I am a person – actually, we are a family, that if you want to send a birthday card to my 5-year-old daughter, a letter to my wife, or even a bill to me – more than 60 days from now to us – we have no forwarding address.

So, once again, here I am. This time, I was ready to seize opportunity – and this time it was denied me. I am rooting for the collapse of the economy. I am rooting for the collapse of the housing bubble. I am rooting for the collapse of AirBnB and more. I would rather be cheering for the economy and housing – but this Gen-x USMC veteran has been left behind by it. I have been left out of it. I accept my responsibility in this process – but no matter how hard I try – it just doesn’t make sense that this is all my fault. And so – here we are. Here I am. Here we go.

Ramadan Mubarak & Ramadan Kareem & Random Musings

The world is filled with kind, peaceful, struggling-with-life-just-like-everyone Muslim people. From the bottom of my heart, I wish them Ramadan Mubarak and Ramadan Kareem. The month of Ramadan is much better understood in my country, the United States of America, than it has ever been before but still – the mistrust, misunderstanding, fear, and hatred towards everyday Muslims and Islam continues. The currently appointed Secretary of State has broken with tradition and turned down an offer to host a Eid-al-Fatr breaking of the fast in late June. Here in the state we currently live in – a white supremacist spewed a hate-filled rant at two teenage girls because one of them was wearing a hijab on a Portland Train – and when several bystanders attempted to get him to simmer down and defended the young women – he killed two of them with a knife – this was on Friday, the first day of the Islamic Holy month of Ramadan…an awful thing at any time – and yet, a hopeful thing as strangers stood up to defend the rights of strangers. One can hope that their deaths do not push others to remain quiet while such things happen in the future – which they surely will.

Ramadan – for those who are not certain – is a lunar month in which all adult, healthy Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. No food, no water, no sex, no smoking and during this time the faithful contemplate God, life, the world, and use the hunger and thirst to overcome their baser selves. This is a form of what is known as Greater Jihad. Jihad is holy war – everyone knows that now it seems – but this is Greater Jihad – the war against our own desires and corruptions – the war to make ourselves better than we currently are – to strive for the perfection we were created to attain. The Lessor Jihad – that is the war against the external elements which seek to deceive us and force us away from God. The Greater Jihad is the important battle – the Lessor Jihad would be unimportant if we were focused on the Greater Jihad. This is what the idiot militants do not understand – change comes from within. They are like people who choose to eradicate food in the world so that they can successfully fast…the true challenge is to eliminate the desire for the food – or better yet- to overcome the food. Change comes from within.

I read the news often – I probably shouldn’t, but I do. Certain things jump out at me – things like a part of the President’s budget calls for the largest increase in jails and detention centers in the history of the United States – this is couched in terms that make it look like an immigration issue – and maybe it is – but it is troubling in any way you look at it. Seeing the ongoing silent war between the son-in-law and the neo-nazi news editor is also troubling – because it seems to me the narrative went like this – moderate-Jewish-son-in-law gains influence and neo-nazi-editor fades into the background – which seemed hopeful but now the Jewish son-in-law is at the center of a growing scandal and the neo-nazi-editor is reshaping the inner circle of the president and not being talked about while he does it – he is bringing the hardest right advisers and pushing out the ones who hold the most moderate views. I believe this is reason to be alarmed – but no one is talking about it. The media has been reined in and the libel laws are changed just by the act of talking about changing them. If you doubt this – look at the stabbing murders I mentioned above. These happened Friday and most of the media did not cover the events until late on Saturday – these hate crimes should have been front page within minutes but they were not – it is not subtle if you are paying attention.

I still believe that this country is in very deep trouble. We have become used to it. The constant jokes have made us less alarmed at what is happening but it is still happening. Wealth is shifting at the fastest rate in human history and it is shifting from the bottom to the top – the bottom never disappears, it simply grows to include more. Not long ago the poor earned $20,000 or less – now it is just as difficult to survive if you make $60,000. Inflation is being vastly under-reported. The devaluation of currency while banks produce thousands of trillions of dollars in digital currency is not imaginary. Control mechanisms are being perfected. This is an alarming time-period which seems to largely be invisible.

Change comes from within. Perhaps it is time to have a societal Ramadan fast. A Greater Jihad within the limits of the cancerous capitalist system which is eating us. I have no idea how such a thing would begin – but perhaps it is much more simple than I am thinking about – maybe all it really takes is mastering the self and refusing to participate, refusing to allow food or drink to pass our lips from sunrise to sunset for a month. Ramadan kareem. Ramadan Mubarak.