Who owns the water?

Who owns the water?

Ted Folkert

July 25, 2015

Who does own the water? Doesn’t it fall from the sky as rain or snow? Doesn’t it create rivers, lakes, streams, aquifers and such? Just because it falls out of the sky on your property, does it mean that you own it? Maybe the rain was formed by evaporation from water on your property and fell on someone elses. Maybe it was formed by evaporation from the ocean. Who owns that water? As we can see, these are tough questions. Not tough many years ago, but becoming tougher now that we are in short supply. And now that this short supply has become exacerbated by lack of adequate rainfall and snowmelt, it is becoming the battle of the day and legal warfare.

It was more than a few years ago, on a plane returning to California, when the awareness of this question came to mind. I was sitting next to a man by the name of Oppenheimer, son of General Oppenheimer, the founder of the Kansas City firm, Oppenheimer Industries. They own ranchland in the Southwest, which, I assume, makes water rights important to them.

He made me aware of the water rights situation in this country, explaining that water rights, although not a new legal issue, was becoming rapidly more important, particularly in the western part of the country.

Now I better understand his concern. We have a problem of providing enough water to fill the needs of our growing population and those who own the rights to the water may be in the driver’s seat. This, of course, is becoming a huge issue now that Mother Nature has made us aware that she is actually in control of this commodity of short supply.

We discussed recently on this site the serious depletion of the huge underground water source that is utilized by numerous states in the Midwest, the Ogallala Aquifer. Now the discussion is about the huge water source for numerous states in the West, the Colorado River.

The Colorado River is fed by the snowmelt of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and meanders 1,450 miles through Utah, Nevada, California, and Arizona and terminates in Mexico into the Gulf of California. The Colorado River Basin includes parts of these states as well as parts of New Mexico and Wyoming. This is the river that is dammed up for hydroelectric power at the famous Hoover Dam in Nevada.

William Yardley, in his Los Angeles Times article, “Running Dry”, tells us that 40 million people depend upon this river and this number could double in 50 years. The saddest part of the story is that we are in the 16th year of a drought and the river cannot continue to meet the needs of the urban, agricultural, hydroelectric and recreation demands that it now serves.

Some fields that now produce crops may have to remain fallow. Some communities may have to recycle waste water and restrict urban growth. Las Vegas gets their water from the Hoover Dam project. The farms in California, Arizona and New Mexico rely on this water to grow the crops that feed a large portion of the nation.

The water from this river is now legally apportioned as follows: 4.4 million acre feet to California, 3.9 to Colorado, 2.85 to Arizona, 1.7 to Utah, 1.0 to Wyoming, .85 to New Mexico, .3 to Nevada.

As we can imagine, there will be a battle brewing for reapportionment which should keep the legal profession in those parts busy for years, but the outcome, no matter the apportionment, will be the same – there won’t be enough to go around.

We obviously have to take water more seriously.

Think about it!



Ted Folkert

July 16, 2015

Deception – sometimes it seems to be the driving force of the human race. It certainly plays a big role in our economy, our government, our entertainment, our styles and habits, our careers, our conversation, and our education. Without deception the retailers couldn’t entice us into the stores as frequently, the Wall Street tricksters wouldn’t be able to do what they do best, hook us and reel us in after we take their bait and swallow the hook. We might not have as many novels to read or movies to watch. And, of course crime would only be used by criminals that we can actually incarcerate.

Life might be boring without deception. Careers might be quite different. We wouldn’t have need for so many courtrooms, judges, juries, lawyers, bankers, accountants, prisons, government employees. Without deception everything would be settled based on truth and consequences, out-of-court, between honest, truthful, considerate, compassionate citizens of the community – obeying and adhering to the laws of society.

No one would get ridiculously rich like the masters of deceit do. We wouldn’t have the upper class or the lower class. The only class we would have would be the school class. We wouldn’t need mansions or palaces – we wouldn’t feel compelled to have a bigger house or a fancier car, so we can look as successful as the deception experts appear as they prance before us and flaunt the rewards of their deceit.

If you majored in deception in school and excelled at it, you would be in great demand and could just about name your price. The cleverest advertising people are the ones who understand deception the best and know how to make it work to sell people things that they don’t need and that aren’t nearly as good as they make them sound. “More doctors smoke Camels that any other cigarette”. You have to be my age to remember that one. That is what they told us as we were inhaling the carcinogens they packed into every pack. “If you have an erection for more than four hours, call your doctor”. A very clever deceptive enticement to desire the regaining of sexual prowess. That is one of the best advertising lines I have ever heard. I’ll bet that deceiver that created that line is well paid. He would make P.T. Barnum look like a beginner. And P.T. Barnum was truthful when he said “there is sucker born every minute” (or something like that). He would run Elmer Gantry out of town with his blustering and pompous style of loud-mouthed persuasion, while this prince of deception dazzles us with his charade of using a CYA (cover your _?_), medical disclosure, to actually help sell the product.

The interesting thing about deception is that some deceivers actually come to be believers of their own pitch. I remember the story about the kid who told his dad that he couldn’t sell his car because it had more than 100,000 miles on it. So, his dad says “well, you could always have the speedometer spun back like the used car dealers do.” So, he saw his son a few days later and asked him if he had sold his car and his son said “why should I sell it now, it only has 20,000 miles on it?”

Deception drives Wall Street. The fastest talker and most convincing deceiver makes the most money. Just ask J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, David Rockefeller – or more recently some of their successors, Robert Rubin, Sandy Weill, Lloyd Blankfein or Jamie Dimon – and a few thousand other financial deceivers. There was recently revealed an email comment from one financial tycoon to another “if you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying”. They were discussing the illegal manipulating of the basis for establishing and adjusting interest rates for many types of lending – the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR), a rating process that is supposed to be untouched by human hands – the holy grail of banking – the one market rate we can all trust to be honestly established and sustained, you know – not manipulated. Well, surprise, surprise, It was being manipulated to the tune of billions of dollars for some unscrupulous bankers – or should we say – “masters of deception”. (To date there have been no disclosed incarcerations, only fines unrepresentative of the magnitude of the crimes or the rewards enjoyed by the manipulators.) We all know that the bankers must remain whole and not lose money, even if they are stupid gamblers of our money with the intent to defraud. That was proven beyond any doubt by Clinton, Bush, Obama and our congressional deceivers.

I suppose deception’s role in society does help us eliminate some troublesome terms that we don’t often cherish these days, terms such as honesty, integrity, compassion, or empathy. These traits don’t drive the human race – deception does.

If Mom hadn’t dragged me to Sunday School every Sunday morning and Dad hadn’t accompanied me to the Boy Scout meetings every week, I wouldn’t be so confused with all of these useless traits that they talked about – traits that interfere with obtaining wealth and fame – the terms just above mentioned – honesty, integrity, compassion, and empathy.

I have a small collection of hand carved, mostly African, masks which I find quite intriguing. Looking at them, you tend to wonder what deception the craft-person had in mind. After all, we all wear a mask of some kind, even if it is not meant to terrify, somewhat deceptive, but not the kind meant to harm others or transfer their money to your pocket. It is human nature meant to display the character and personality we wish to project to others.

The path to success seems to have been driven by deception for all of modern day civilization – the best deceiver gets the most toys and bragging rights, the biggest house, the fanciest car, the private jet, the best colleges for their kids, and wealth to survive them with the family superiority.

I guess the only reward to the non-participators in the deception game is the happiness and satisfaction with life determined by the way you feel about yourself in dealing with others, as opposed to feeling good about being a master of deceit, which may require special traits to which some of our parents failed to introduce us.

Think about it!

Singing in the Rain

Singing in the Rain

Ted Folkert

July 9, 2015

Where is Gene Kelly when we need him? He could cheer us up with his song and dance routine of “Singing in the Rain”.

Some of us may remember the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” with the sailor’s phrase: “Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” Well, Kansas City residents certainly understand the first part, since it seems to have been raining nonstop for the last few months. The Missouri River and the Lake of the Ozarks must both be out of their banks by now.

Those of us who spend our time in California are singing a different tune. We have had drought conditions for three years running and no hope in sight until MAYBE next winter when Mother Nature may bless us once again. The folks in Beverly Hills, Malibu and Brentwood are squirming in anguish as they are frowned upon for watering their beautiful lawns … and … Tom Selleck is accused of stealing thousands of gallons of water from a fire hydrant for years to water his 60-acre California ranch. And all of this while the city folks are asked to stop flushing the toilet so often and the real farmers are forced to limit their withdrawal from the underground water supply, water which they must have in order to grow their crops, sustain their livelihood and feed half the nation.

This water debacle brings to mind a serious problem for a large section of the country where the farmers obtain water for their crops from the Ogallala Aquifer. This has been of special note for me for the last 25 years as I have flown across Kansas hundreds of times. As you look out the window on a clear day you can’t help but notice the large circular patterns in the wheat fields as you pass over. Those patterns are created by the circular watering systems as they distribute water on the fields from the water wells that reach down into the Ogallala Aquifer. This huge underground lake is about twice the size geographically of the Great Lakes and lays beneath parts of South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.

There have been stories in the past about the sucking down of the water table of this huge aquifer but the situation is now becoming more imminent. The experts now estimate that about 30% of the original water table has been pumped out and that an additional 40% is expected to be gone in the next 50 years. It apparently would take thousands of years to replenish it to its former level if they quit pumping. The effects of the depletion of our fresh water supplies is obvious for the food supply and the livability of the nation.

We have ignored the value of fresh water forever. It seems like there was plenty of that life-giving fluid around when there were only a billion of us on the planet but now that we have 7 billion and counting it is a whole new ball game.

We waste this precious resource enormously and we contaminate it at will. The hydrocarbon extractors, in order to keep an estimated one billion cars on the planet running and our homes and water heated with oil, gas and coal, contaminate our streams, lakes, rivers and oceans with their waste products and sometimes with their finished products. We shake our finger at them, fine them, and then let them get right back at it. If you rob a bank you have to stop that and be locked up for decades. If you contaminate water supplies and injure or murder people, you get a fine and a hand slap. Go figure.

One solution for providing water, water, with a drop to drink is being set in place in San Diego County. There is a desalination plant under construction that will be providing 50 million gallons of water per day to as many as 300,000 people. The cost is $1 billion. Now we have more than 35 million people in California. If this process were necessary for our entire water supply, it would require at least 150 of these plants to serve the residents of the state at a cost of $150 billion – and they would probably be lined up side-by-side all along the coast of the state.

And then, if the underground water and other fresh water sources become depleted in the states without a coastline, where will they get water to desalinate? Even if it were possible, it would cost gazillions of dollars to build enough capacity to serve the nation. Not billions, not trillions, but gazillions (or whatever is the next mathematical number).

As we can see, we need to take water more seriously. It has been taken for granted forever in our civilization. But now that we are over-consuming, wasting and contaminating our fresh water at will, we may be making human life that much more unlikely down the road.

Let’s be sure we can once again be “Singing in the Rain”.

Think about it!


War Crime

War Crime

Ted Folkert

June 24, 2015

People keep asking me questions about war. I haven’t even been in one, so questions such as these are hard to answer.

What is this term “war crime”? Is this an entendre? An oxymoron? Or a double negative? – Would it be the opposite of a war legality, a peace crime, a peace offering?

Would it be on the order of an “illegal robbery” or a “dishonest scam” or an “intentional murder” or an “accidental fumble” or a “painful ache”?

Would it be like a “rule of war” being similar to a “legality of murder” or a “right of assassination”.

What are the rules of war? Do you have to get the war approved by the War Mongers Association? Or can you just contact Dark Chimney or Gorge W. Shrub and request the right terminology to make it sound like you are just going to spank an errant child?

What are the penalties if you violate a rule of war? Do you get a fifteen yard penalty for being off-sides? Suspended for one battle because you killed the enemy before the starting gunshot? Evicted from the war for unsportsmanlike conduct? Give up free-throws of grenades for fouling the enemy?

How about participants? Can you choose them from a pool of would-be warriors, like the football draft? Can you trade warriors with other participants? Is the pay universal, or can you offer a wicked warrior more money to fight for your team?

What would constitute a war crime? Killing the enemy too harshly? Taking captives who have already surrendered? Sneaking up on the enemy without warning? Intercepting enemy communication? Spying on the enemy? Taking too much territory is any given battle? Dropping too much napalm, too many bombs, destroying water supplies, destroying cities, homes, roads, railroads, communication? How about unnecessary killing of women and children? How about beheading a captive troop or hostage? Would dropping 10,000 bombs from 1000 bombers on civilians be a war crime? Would it be covered by a rule of war?

How do you go about proving a war crime? Where are the rules of war written down? Are they written down somewhere and sworn to by all participants who agree to abide by the rules of the war or just understood amongst warring countries such as ours, which has had lots of war experience? If you commit too many war crimes can your enemy be declared the winner by the War Mongers Association?

Can you change a rule of war? Who decides? Do you get together with the enemy and negotiate the rules before the war or stop and negotiate changes to the rules during the war? Surely you wouldn’t just want to walk away and refuse to fight because you disagreed with a rule violation.

Taking it a step further, how do you decide who wins? Does someone have to throw in the towel? Can the referee call the fight and declare a victory if he or she decides one side is beaten badly and cannot survive? Or do you have to kill all of the enemy participants and destroy their habitat such that it would be unlivable?

Do they have officials who count the killings and injuries and, according to their severity, award points to the opponents and keep it posted on the score board? They must, otherwise you wouldn’t know if you were winning or losing. And then you might not know when the war was over.

In so far as being a legal participant in wars, do you have to qualify by being in previous wars? Do you have to have a favorable win/loss record in order to keep getting matched up with an enemy? Can you pick your own enemies, or are they assigned by the war officials? Are the various battles seeded like a tennis match according to your record in previous wars?

After fully considering all these unanswered questions, reading the Bible and the world history books and considering the record of human behavior over the last 3,000 years, and all of the war mongers’ imperatives to do God’s work with a sword, and all of the self-imposed leaders’ imperatives to take over more territory, more resources and more riches, it would seem like there were rules to go by somewhere along the line, otherwise everyone would just keep killing each other and if they lose just declare rule-of-war violations, and then just have to start the war all over again.

Boy am I glad we got all of this settled many years ago and now we all just get along. The world is pretty much at peace now, with the possible exception of a few dozen countries that may still have some unresolved disputes and are murdering each other. Fortunately, we are only involved in a couple of dozen of them, so – “peace be with you.”

Now that things have settled down, I guess I don’t have to try to answer all of these questions. It seems unlikely that we will have any more wars anyway.


Walk away and think it over

Walk away and think it over

Ted Folkert

June 19, 2015

Stacey, one of my favorite daughters, sent me the article about the State of Kansas passing the law to allow concealed-carry of firearms without even a permit. This, of course, comes at the same time that the nation is grieving over the heinous crime committed in South Carolina, wherein nine people were sadly and needlessly murdered while worshiping in their church, by a racist, angry, mentally-disturbed young man with a concealed firearm that he recently acquired. This would not have happened if he hadn’t had the firearm.

This Kansas legislation is just another perfect example of pathetic governance by self-interested and politically-owned leaders who cater to their donors and ignore the best interest of the common good – you know, me and you. I suppose these misguided legislators were elected because Kansans either were influenced by adverse advertising financed by political contributions from the likes of the Kook Brothers or they ignored their civic responsibility to be aware of the character, intelligence, and intentions of those they elect to run their state.

It is hard to imagine who can be helped by a law that permits anyone to carry a concealed firearm. They should at least have to expose them on their gun belts like Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp did. Then they could turn around, take ten paces, and draw – like the OK Corral. Where is Doc Holiday when we need him?

Those who are inclined to carry guns are usually cowards, bullies or criminals. So where is the benefit for the average law-abiding adult citizen or for the children who we would not want carrying a loaded weapon? Just another example of laws passed for the benefit of the wrong people or the manufacturers of these weapons – weapons that we don’t need on the street. (Or the hunters who kill helpless animals for pleasure – humans are the only animals that kill for pleasure, you know)

Now, back to the murderer in South Carolina. This young man is obviously mentally deranged. He says he wanted to start a race war. He has confessed and is unrepentant. It is easy to say that he should be killed, but one could also have sorrow for him along with sorrow for the loved ones of those he murdered. He, like all of us inhabitants of this planet, is a victim of a character with mental demons which probably were formed by circumstances and influences that were beyond his control. Perhaps bullying, perhaps brainwashing by misinformed racists, perhaps by listening to the wrong blabbermouth on the radio. He, of course, must be removed from our free society so he can’t do it again.

But this is only one incident of many, this is only one incident among millions of inexplicable examples of sick and sad human behavior yesterday and today and tomorrow, around the world. There are actual wars going on in dozens of countries as we speak, with millions of people being injured, murdered, or displaced from their homes and countries, entire communities destroyed, infrastructure destroyed. There are thousands of examples of unjust actions by abusive rulers, political tyrants, human vultures, power mongers, all of them criminals, going on as we speak.

So, we can’t solve this by distributing more weapons to everyone? More killing hasn’t seemed to work – just read the Bible or any other book with historical information – or read any newspaper in the world – more weapons creates more killing, not less.

Neither more weapons nor more liberal use of weapons is going to solve this problem, a problem which becomes more prevalent as our population grows and our leaders continue to be unable to achieve a more equal distribution of education, opportunity, resources and living standards.

We don’t need to build and distribute more weapons, we need to build and distribute more education -from the young to the old. Education is the only thing that has made life better thus far and it is the only thing that can enable us to sustain a livable planet in the future. We need more education about racism, bullying, empathy, sympathy, helping those in need, dispute resolution – or in Biblical terms, loving thy neighbor.

We need more of what most of our leaders profess and less of what some of them try to enforce upon each other – with weapons, explosives, starvation, impoverishment and exploitation. We need more of what those of us who practice passion for good government and compassion for treating each other with respect and less of what the cowards, bullies, and mentally disturbed now have access to – weapons and explosives.

Our brave and diligent police officers have a tough job of protecting us from harm. They do a great job of it. With more weapons on the streets it only makes their jobs that much tougher. We have had several incidents recently where officers killed or injured those they were apprehending. Maybe some of them made a mistake, we don’t know for sure. But think about doing their job. They want to go home to their families every night just like you and I do. Think how much tougher their decision-making is as the number of weapons on the street continues to increase. Think about how much tougher their job will become with everyone carrying a concealed weapon. Talk about trigger-happy. They would have to be trigger-happy.

It is so easy to pull out a weapon and use it in a rage – and so easy to walk away and think it over – if there is no weapon.

Think about it!



Racism, mental illness and guns = murder

June 18, 2015

Ted Folkert

Murdered while expressing their religious beliefs in their place of worship.

Another example of gun violence which will be ignored.

Racism, mental illness, and guns – a deadly mixture. We have heard all of the arguments from the gun lovers, gun manufacturers, and the National Rifle Association, but the fact remains – this never happens in countries who have gun ownership laws. It has happened here two dozen times in the last few years and quickly forgotten each time.

This tragic occurrence would not have happened without a gun. This young man was given a gun a few months ago for his 21st birthday. Now nine live are destroyed and hundreds of people are affected by their loss, senselessly, needlessly, sadly.

Guns give courage to cowards, cause violence which would not occur otherwise, and empower the mentally ill.

While we are amending the constitution to get the money out of politics, we should eliminate private ownership of guns.

Guns kill innocent people and helpless animals. Both of which we could live better without.

The Invisible Price of War

The Invisible Price of War

Ted Folkert

June 13, 2015

We just had another Veteran’s Day, the day each year that we honor those who served us to keep our country free and to fight the wars and other military conflicts declared necessary by our fearless leaders, most of whom never served in the military or never faced the enemy. It seems that in the last century or two our wars have been encouraged and started by the rich and powerful and fought primarily by the poor, and that the huge benefits have been enjoyed by the defense contractors who provide the weapons and other supplies and service that military action necessitates. I suppose wars were always started by the rich, fought by the poor, and enjoyed by the manufacturers who prosper from them.

We talk about the price of war as the troops, the training, the facilities, the equipment, the munitions, the damage and destruction, the injuries, the deaths. The U.S. defense budget is $1 trillion – wars or no wars. Our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq has cost more than $2 trillion and we don’t know what was accomplished. The cost of WWII is probably incalculable. David Nasaw, in his article in The Nation, “The Fruits of War”, tells us World War II resulted in 10 million prisoners of war in Germany alone, 40 million Europeans perished, 20 million Germans left homeless, 70,000 villages destroyed, 32,000 factories and 40,000 miles of track destroyed, 25 million deaths and 25 million left homeless in the Soviet Union, 6 million Jews killed, 420,000 American military deaths. The total cost in dollars is probably incalculable with the total devastation of Europe, Japan, and other Pacific countries.

The saddest part of the costs of war that are seldom talked about are the human costs that continue for decades thereafter – the costs that seem to fade from memory and reality. The costs that seem to become invisible just like the victims, those who served in the military, who carry the physical and mental scars from witnessing and participating in the killing and destruction, the thought of being killed or maimed, being severely injured, watching one’s comrades killed or injured, watching innocent people, civilians, killed or injured, personally killing or injuring civilians who got in the way. These are the demons our veterans of wars carry with them forever. These are their obstacles to living a normal, productive life in our world, the world where we remained safe from all the grief, where we can’t understand their sacrifice and the price they have to pay, their reliance of alcohol or drugs to carry on and which renders them unemployable and reliant upon veteran benefits or often upon a life of crime.

Although we don’t see these “wounded warriors”, they are quite visible if you look around. They are walking the streets of all the major cities, they can be seen in all of the skid row areas around the country. You can see them at the entrance to freeways, in every downtown area, hanging around popular attractions like Venice Beach, Santa Monica Pier, Long Beach, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach – in most any busy area you want to look. If you drive around early in the morning you will see them sleeping on the sidewalks, in doorways, behind anything they can find, seeking shelter or protection of some sort.

It doesn’t seem like a way to thank them for the sacrifice they made – a life of helplessness, hopelessness, and despair. Let’s look at the statistics – they tell us that the suicide rate of veterans is about one per hour. That is correct, one commits suicide every hour of every day. It is believed that the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder is the culprit – the demons in the brain that they can’t get over. It prevents them from operating successfully in society and leads to hopelessness and despair and ultimately, too often, to suicide. I suppose some of them wish they hadn’t made it back, like some of their comrades in battle. They can’t deal with the invisible battle scars.

The Department of Veterans Affairs works at it diligently but they are always in need of more funds. The suicide rates are less for those working within the VA system, so their efforts are somewhat successful. But, how can they provide housing for these victims of society without the funds to build housing, provide counseling, retrain for employment – hold their hand and help them get on their feet and function in society, all of which seems so easy for those of us who never had to pay the price.

In Los Angeles the VA is building housing units for veterans on the grounds owned by the VA hospital. This was the culmination of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of homeless veterans. They had to sue the VA for not doing their job, probably because our fearless leaders wouldn’t give them the money. They plan to transform this campus area into a vibrant community of permanent housing and to end veteran’s homelessness by the end of the year. They just last week opened a structure of supportive housing with medical and mental assistance for some homeless vets. Keith Hudson, a previously homeless vet, is pictured in the Los Angeles Times in his new apartment with shiny counters and bedroom, living room, dining room areas, with a TV on the wall and wifi in the unit. He now has a home, a job and a future. He said “when I walked in it was like one of those movies when you walk through a cloud.” It is hard to look at his picture in the paper without a lump in your throat. Of course, the saddest part is that we can see him now but we couldn’t see him before. He was invisible you know!

They tell us that we have 4,300 homeless veterans sleeping on the streets every night in Los Angeles County and they will end that soon. Those of us who have watched this for so long have a hard time believing their schedule, but we all agree that it obviously won’t come too soon!

What are they doing in New York, Chicago, Boston, Kansas City, Denver, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Portland, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Miami, Dallas, Little Rock, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Atlanta, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh? How about Washington D.C.?

And the trillion dollar question – What the heck took us so long?

 Think about it!


Robots building robots to build robots

Robots building robots to build robots

Ted Folkert

June 3, 2015

My friend Burt Steiger told me that he went to Bank of America the other day and was shocked when he saw that all of the tellers except one had been replaced with automatic teller machines. ATMs have been available outside many banks and in many other locations for years, but this is the first I had heard of them replacing tellers in the bank lobby where we all feel like we can get personal service. But, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, it seems to be commonplace everywhere else we go for routine services. The savings by eliminating employees is too good for business owners to pass up as long as the business can prosper without them. And many of them are incurred in order to make the business prosper better. And, as some of us entrepreneurs understand, if you don’t compete, you don’t survive in business. If your industry pays the minimum wage, you either follow suit or you lose out to your competitors.

Some of us are old enough to remember when automatic car washes replaced many hand car washes and when self-service gas stations replaced gas service stations which actually pumped your gas, cleaned your windshield, checked your oil level and your tire pressure – all for a couple of dollars purchase of gasoline. Now the food markets, pharmaceutical stores, home repair stores and many others are converting some of their checkout lanes to self-service.

These changes didn’t just happen. I remember in the 1980s having automatic, numerically-controlled machines in the metal fabrication business that replaced fulltime machine operators. They not only replaced them, they were more reliable, more efficient, and produced precision parts of a higher quality. This doesn’t mean the employees were not good, they just couldn’t provide the precision repetitive function that a machine could accomplish.

Credit cards now open doors, close sales, eliminate the need for cash, and expand credit enormously. The real question is, where does this end? I read a book recently by Jaron Lanier, “Who Owns the Future”. Lanier is a bright computer scientist who does special projects for the likes of Microsoft. He created the term “virtual reality”. In his book he talks about a future of home robots that will soon make home robots that make dresses from patterns online. I suppose after that we will have robots that make robots that make robots. So, will the only jobs left be for software engineers who design programs for machines to make things that people used to make? Will we eventually be down to one person or one software program that directs the activities of computers that plan and control everything?

Jaren Lanier also mentioned Kodak, the company that employed 140,000 people and was worth $28 billion, and now they are bankrupt. The new face in digital photography is Instagram, who sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012 and had 13 employees. The rise in digital networking is enriching a relative few while enjoying the value from millions of users who contribute enormously to the value without being paid for it.

I just read an article about a company that operates 500 truck stops nationwide. They had 80 people working a total of 3,200 hours per week paying bills for the goods they buy regularly. They now have it done automatically online with 10 people working a total of 400 hours weekly. Robots have taken over many financial functions for corporate offices. Since 2004 these jobs have been reduced by 40%. That is correct – 40%. For every 100 people who used to do that kind of work, 60 of them no longer are employed in those jobs.

Dean Baker, Center for Economic and Policy Research, doesn’t think that robots are taking our jobs. He says, if they were we should have many more applications for hi-tech jobs than unskilled positions, which is not the case, and that if technology were rapidly displacing workers then productivity growth should be very high, however, for the last decade it has been limping along at 1% or so. He also believes that if technology were causing inequality, that there should be more demand for high-skilled jobs than less-skilled, which is not the case.

So, I guess the story doesn’t end there. We don’t know what the future may bring in the job market, we just know it is not going to be the same. Change is inevitable.

So, Burt, be nice to the robot that greets you in the bank lobby. That may be as close as we get to personal service in the near future.

Think about!

Bill Moyers on the challenge of Journalism

May 29, 2015

Excerpts from the great journalist, and best friend of the common good, Bill Moyers, from his speech before the Helen Bernstein Book Awards for Excellence in Journalism. The speech was titled: The Challenge of Journalism Is to Survive in the Pressure Cooker of Plutocracy


“How can strong independent journalism thrive when independent outlets can’t afford to pay reporters, writers or producers a living wage; or when websites ask them to post four or five items a day; or when they leave journalism school and take jobs logging algorithms at Facebook (what does that even mean?). What happens to a society fed a diet of rushed, re-purposed, thinly reported “content?” Or “branded content” that is really merchandising — propaganda — posing as journalism?

So who will be left to report on what is happening in the statehouse or at the town hall? In the backrooms of Congress, the board rooms of banks and corporations, or even the open and shameless bazaar of K Street where the mercenaries of crony capitalism uncork bottles of champagne paid for by “dark money” from oligarchs and PACs? What happens when our elections are insider-driven charades conducted for profit by professional operatives whose spending on advertising mainly enriches themselves and the cable and television stations in cahoots with them? We know the answer, we know that a shortage of substantial reporting means corruption remains hidden, candidates we know little about and even less about who is funding them and what policy outcomes they are buying.

A free press, you see, doesn’t operate for free at all. Fearless journalism requires a steady stream of independent income. Allow me to speak from personal experience. After I left government in 1967 — including a stint as White House press secretary — it took me a while to get my footing back in journalism. I can assure you: I found the job of trying to tell the truth about people whose job it is to hide the truth almost as complicated and difficult as trying to hide it in the first place. Unless you’re willing to fight and re-fight the same battles until you go blue in the face, drive the people you work for nuts going over every last detail again and again to make certain you’ve got it right, and then take hit after hit accusing you of “bias,” there’s no use even trying. You have to love it, and I have. And still do.

Once upon a time the networks supported muscular investigative reporting into betrayals of the public trust. But democratic values lost out to corporate values when media giants merged news and entertainment and opened the throttle on what Edward R. Murrow called their “money-making machine.” Mind you, there was no “golden age” of broadcasting at any network, but there were enough breakthrough moments that we could imagine a future in which subjects treated in the books being honored here this evening — subjects that extend the moral reach of journalism — might be staples in the schedule.

It wasn’t to be. And the challenge of journalism today is to survive in the pressure cooker of plutocracy. Where, in this mighty conglomeration of wealth and power, when for all practical purposes government and rich interests are two sides of the corporate state — where is the moral center of the commonwealth? How does journalism serve the endangered ideals of democracy? Can we find the audience that will dive deep — the audience that rebels against being treated as a branded market identified by the price tag on it? How do we report on the creeping dystopia of a cynically frivolous society with a political class that has made an ideology of ignorance, demoralizes workers and disdains the future? Can journalists be both patriotic and subversive — will we cover those who seek to disrupt the workings of a dominant and ruthless over-class with the attention and enthusiasm we accord the powers that be — by whom so many journalists appear mesmerized?

In an oligarchic era, you can be quickly marginalized by a corporate media and political class so comfortable in the extravagantly blended world of money, politics and celebrity that they don’t bark at the burglars of democracy, much less bite the hand that feeds them.

But we need more than money to sustain independent journalism. We need laws to ensure that reporters can protect their sources. We need to hound government at every level to respond to public records requests. We need stronger reporting requirements for corporations so that they can be held accountable.”

Read the article: http://billmoyers.com/2015/05/27/bill-moyers-speech-challenge-journalism-survive-plutocracy/

No place to hide

No place to hide

Ted Folkert

May 22, 2015

All of the sabre-rattling lately from some of the disgruntled leaders around the world brings to mind the question of the likelihood of us blowing each other out of existence. North Korea, with their “loose-cannon” of a leader, threatens to attack everyone in sight. Of course, we see that as like the smallest kid in the class taunting the big bully, who isn’t going to ruin his reputation on some little twerp. And, Vladimir Putin keeps reminding his adversaries that Russia is a nuclear country. And are they ever. They have more nuclear warheads than any other country.

The latest count seems to be as follows: Russia – 8,500, U.S. – 7,500, France – 300, China – 250, UK – 225, Israel – 200. Other countries for which we have no count are: North Korea, Pakistan, India, and Germany. Iran is continuously accused of trying to enrich uranium in order to make nuclear warheads but is believed to not have them as yet.

So with 17,000 counted and another unknown of a few thousand, we could probably safely estimate a total in excess of 20,000. The two bombs we dropped on Japan caused more than 100,000 deaths. It is believed that the warheads now available are more powerful than the earlier creations. So, if they are twice as powerful and we now have 20,000, which could each cause 100,000 deaths, we could possibly eliminate 2 billion people once a nuclear war got underway. That should pretty much take care of all of the major cities around the globe. Of course, this doesn’t take into consideration the other damage done in the process, which would be devastating throughout the world in terms of food supply and transportation.

Considering all of the conflicts that are underway presently and the unlikelihood of any resolution in the near future, what is the likelihood of a nuclear warhead becoming involved. Once that happens, all hell could break loose. So, who goes first, who responds, who calls for a truce? We don’t know. The way ISIS, or ISIL, or whatever, is marauding around the Middle East, how soon will they get their hands on a nuclear weapon? We don’t know, but the danger exists. How long can we keep Israel at bay against Iran? It seems that they would like to invade them at any time. Actually, Israel, on a square footage and population basis, may be the best armed country on the planet. If war breaks out, will a nuclear weapon by involved? We don’t know.

What we do know is that we need to reexamine the need for an effective united police force to adjudicate and resolve conflicts before they become a threat to our very existence. If a nuclear war among the various nuclear countries ever becomes a reality, we will surely have no place to hide and we could ultimately end civilization as we know it and render this planet unable to support human life or any life whatsoever.

Think about it!

We have no place to hide!

We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both. Louis Brandeis