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The New Normal

A few weeks ago 60 Minutes aired an interesting and insightful segment on the rise and role of robots, and their impact on the job market. Despite the steady rebound of the U.S. economy, soaring corporate profits, and a strong stock market the nation’s unemployment numbers remain steadily high in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Initially this ‘new normal’ in the job market was seen as sign that companies have learned to operate and succeed in uncertain and tumultuous economic times by downsizing their workforces and thinning their labor expenses. Though the economy has rebounded, jobs have not, and this segment illustrates one of the unknown and growing factors which has attributed to the continued problem of joblessness in the country. Robots are cheap, efficient, and practical solutions for expanding economic growth in the U.S., especially manufacturing, while at the same time keeping costs to a minimum.

Opponents may decry this as yet another way for corporations to squeeze out more profits and deny workers fair pay. However, though the short term effects of such a transition to robotics may continue to hurt the job market, this should be a welcoming sign to the U.S. economy for a number of reasons. First, it has been a major catalyst and boost to the U.S. manufacturing industry which until recently has been steadily declining over the decades. Second, these new robots- though they may replace a worker- are eliminating the need for low-wage and low-skill jobs, thereby creating a need for more high-skill and technical jobs. Though these jobs may be less in number, they are more productive and pay better. This is the kind of job market we should we working towards, and not against. The simple and low paying manufacturing jobs of the past are gone, and will not come back. This is a practical fact that no company or political will say, but all know is true. Instead of burying our heads in the sand and hoping for companies to one day wake up and rehire the unemployed- which they will not- we must recognize the practical reality. We are going through the growing pains of a shifting economy. The quicker we understand this, adapt to it, and train our workers for it then we will be better off, perhaps not in the present but we will be poised for a better future.

This is a benefit and success for U.S. innovation, which has always been the main driver of our economic growth and success, both domestically and internationally. Though many may lament this new innovation, they should not  fear it but embrace it. It is not a threat to us or our workforce, these are not jobs we want, nor need. The real losers of this innovation are the low paid workers of the developing world, primarily India and China, and can bring about a turn of the tide in reducing out-sourcing and foreign manufacturing. By lowering the cost of production U.S. companies can reinvest in the U.S., hire skilled workers which will be trained here, and contribute to our economy. This new economy will require more investment in education and a better economic strategic plan, however it is a signal in the right direction and a positive new normal that we should embrace.


Competing Worldviews


The debate between science and spirituality (or religion) has been waged for centuries, and is now more relevant than ever. In their book War of the Worldviews : Science vs. SpiritualityDeepak Chopra and Leonard Mlodinow each seek to make the case for their respective areas of expertise. This debate, or battle, is a fundamental issue in our world and helps shape the views of both individuals and societies. Some argue that each are mutually exclusive- that religion is the be all and end all, while others contend that science is the only true universal fact governing our reality. For all those interested in this subject, or who simply seek to understand the arguments of the opposing side, this book is a necessary read.

 

War of the Worldviews

The book is comprised of four major sections: Cosmos, Life, Mind and Brain, and God. Each section has a chapter by each author and alternates between an argument for a position, and a rebuttal by the other. Chopra and Mlodinow seek to address, and in some cases answer, such fundamental questions as: How did the universe begin? Where did life come from? Is there design in nature? Each author makes a specific argument in each section,

Without defending organized religion, Chopra asserts that there is design in the universe and a deep intelligence behind the rise of life. Mlodinow, CalTech physicist and the writing collaborator of Stephen Hawking, argues for the viewpoint of science, specifically of modern quantum physics.

What was extremely evident after reading this book is that both sides have compelling and substantive arguments.  Science can, and does, answer a lot of the questions of life, however where it falls short Chopra masterfully contends that a higher being fills in the void. Rather than finishing the book in favor of one side against the other, I instead had a deeper and more respectful view of both arguments.  There are many uncertainties still in life, however, what this book illustrated is that our worldview does not not need to be black or white, and that these two opposing world views can complement each other and give us better insight into a world that both sides argue for. To listen to more of the debate between the authors, go here.

 

 


#Sharing #Memories

Last week Erin Burnett ran a short segment on her show Outfront regarding the social media explosion during President Obama’s inauguration. In this clip she made a compelling argument stating that people often get overwhelmed with taking pictures, tweeting, and sharing photos rather than enjoying the moment for themselves.

I can appreciate people wanting to share their memories, show others what they are doing, and broadcasting their lives. However, some things simply need to be enjoyed and remembered without the necessity to share, or at least not marginalized by such a necessity. Memories, especially significant ones such as a presidential inauguration, are momentous and historic events which ought to be cherished and remembered. Often times we forget this simple, yet profound, part of our lives. The act of recording and sharing an event has eclipsed the ability for an individual to enjoy the moment, appreciate it for what it is, and simply live in the moment and cherish it. In doing so people have become spectators of their own lives, an outside observer of the moment just as their friends and social media connections are. Watching an event, whatever it may be through the screen of your smartphone or camera, is not the same as seeing it with your own eyes, taking in the sounds, and enjoying the feel of the moment. Take a step back sometimes, or just keep your phones in your pocket, and enjoy life and memories for what they are.

 

 

 


Obama 2.0

First and formost, congratulations to the president on his second inauguration and the start of his second term. The past four years have been tumultuous and were filled with numerous political battles, unexpected disasters, international crisis’ and incidents, and the slow reemergence of the nation’s economy following the financial crisis of 2008. With that in mind President Obama’s first term must be graded as incomplete due to the fact that it will take several years to see what the tangible impact his policies and efforts will eventually lead to. Many of his policies, primarily Obamacare, will begin to take effect in the upcoming years as well as the change in our global engagement. The ending of our two wars, the Middle East in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and our shifting focus to the Pacific all make the next four years on the world stage very interesting.

In his speech, Obama sought to tie liberalism to a long American tradition.

In his speech, Obama sought to tie liberalism to a long American tradition. Photo from Reuters

Domestically the president dealt with a politically divided nation and an obstructionist and far-right leaning Republican Party, primarily due to the efforts of the Tea Party. Many questioned the president’s leadership style, his true political philosophy, and his ability to negotiate and compromise to reach deals to help further the nation. Whatever skepticism or questions that may have existed were clearly answered, and put to rest, during the president’s inaugural speech this past Monday. I, as many, had hoped for  a more vintage and hopeful Obama who would speak above the petty political fights that have consumed the day to day battles engulfing Washington. What could have been a grand call to unity on the largest public stage and the loudest bully pulpit– targeting and rallying Americans, and bypassing the sclerotic Congress–turned into a direct rallying cry to the president’s base. The Obama who showed up was a new politician who was unshackled by the constraint of reelection which has bogged him, and his policy goals, down for the past four years. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the agenda that the president outlined, what is evident is that the next four years seem to be set up as a battle between the administrations newfound confident liberalism and the politically divided Congress. Read more…


General Solutions

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Former General, and Secretary of State, Colin Powell joined David Gregory on Meet the Press this past Sunday to discuss a wide array of pressing issues facing the country.

Powell, a lifelong Republican himself, gave his take on the current state of the Republican Party and criticized its trajectory as well as its stance on a wide array of current issues. He gave a strong and logical defense of Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be the next Secretary of Defense and spoke about the role of the U.S. military and the mission in Afghanistan. He also spoke about gun control and other pressing issues.

This is a great video to watch and some real logical perspective from a life long public servant, whether it be during his time in the military, in government, or now through his philanthropic activities, General Powell is a tue American Statesmen and represents the best in leadership that this nation has to offer.


Start Thinking America

It is a new year, and with the exit of the 112th Congress (one of the worst in our history) and the political haggling of the first of many ‘fiscal cliffs’ now over, America seems to be facing a new and potential hazardous future if it chooses to stay on the same destructive course. With the upcoming inauguration of Barack Obama for his second term, the newly sworn in 113th Congress, and three new fiscal nightmare scenarios looming, we once again stand at the precipice of doing what is necessary, versus what will suffice the status quo and political power grabs.We often get caught up in media cycles and do not look at the big picture.  Sometimes what is necessary is for a look in from the outside, such a view sometimes puts things into perspective.

 

Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent

 

With that in mind everyone interested in the future of the U.S. should read Edward Luce’s Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of DescentLuce, who is the Washington Bureau Chief for the Financial Times and a former speechwriter for former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, outlines the problems facing the U.S. as the rest of the world continues to grow and our economic, and political, strength continue to diminish. He outlines the social, economic, and cultural decline that the nation faces– mourning the decline of American pragmatism which has seen the nation push through past crisises and threats of decline.

This time around he, as well as a litany of other experts he cites, are not so hopeful. In the New York Times review of the book, Jonathan Rauch summarized some of the main points outlined in the book. Summarizing Luce’s arguments, he states

where does that leave the country? Not in a great place, if Luce is right. Jobs are disappearing, median household income is declining, skills are in short supply, health costs hobble competitiveness, outsourcing and offshoring and automation marginalize working-class men, and through it all political leaders either sit by helplessly or actively oppose remedies. And that’s just in Chapter 1. Later sections bring us dysfunctional schools, demoralized government, burdensome debt and deficits, failing innovation, hidebound regulation, crumbling infrastructure, a paralyzed Congress, a broken campaign-finance system and more, much more.

Though the book does a great job listing all the doom and gloom scenarios facing the U.S., its best asset is that it illustrates that our decline is relative. It is relative to the rest of the world which is still struggling to find its bearing and inherit its newfound political and economic power. We have time to adjust, to make the necessary changes, and to adapt the U.S. for a new decade and century before it is too late. The book highlights some of our largest threats and challenges of the past century– the Cold War, the emergence of Japan in the 1990’s, and now a globalized world and the emergence of China.

The U.S. has weathered the same alarmist voices which speak of America’s decline for decades. What the book does is raise the alarm against absolute decline. Winston Churchill once said that America always does what is necessary when it has exhausted all other options, yet again our backs are against the wall and our leaders must act to reemerge from a financial crisis and political paralysis.Before the fall of the Soviet Union, Georgi Arbatov, Gorbachev’s close aide told the U.S. “We [the USSR] will do a terrible thing to you; we will deprive you of an enemy.” This time around America faces the worse enemy in its history– itself. Over a century ago Abraham Lincoln envisioned this decline from within when he stated  “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

Luce makes a number of good points, raises a number of valid questions, and offers some pragmatic solutions for the future of the U.S. Let’s hope someone is listening. Reading this book would help.


Herding Elephants

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The past two articles dealt with my views of the Republican Party, their problems, and some potential solutions. Today’s Morning Joe panel had a great discussion about the divergent trends  happening within the GOP and how they can counter the Democrats. In the discussion, they cite a great article by liberal columnist for the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof. In the article Kristof challenges liberals for inadvertently promoting a culture of dependency reliant on government programs. Though these programs  seek to assist those in need they sometimes have a reverse and adverse affect. He states

This is painful for a liberal to admit, but conservatives have a point when they suggest that America’s safety net can sometimes entangle people in a soul-crushing dependency. Our poverty programs do rescue many people, but other times they backfire.

I highly recommend that article because it highlights the deficiencies of both parties, and ideologies, in tackling our daily problems with pragmatic and positive solutions. Both parties intend to do well, but unfortunately sometimes their solutions do not work in the real world where ideology is tested and sometimes fails. Read more…


The Elephant in the Room (Part 2: Prescriptions for an Ailing Elephant)

(This article is part 2/2 of The Elephant in the Room which was posted yesterday. Please read that before continuing onto this article.)

Time to get it together, and fast. The GOP has lost five of the last six presidential popular votes. Bill Clinton won  in 1992 and 1996, Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 (though Bush won the electoral college and the presidency); the only popular election win was George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign, and Barack Obama handily won in 2008, and now again in 2012. This is a party whose message is falling on deaf ears, perhaps because most of those ears have passed away, and the GOP is being left with an aging, white, religious and fringe base. Demographics matter, and the Republicans simply do not have the numbers to win nationally, or to an extent at the state level, in presidential elections anymore.

So, what to do? Simple, actually. Lead. Read more…


The Elephant in the Room

( This is part 1 of 2 of this article. To read the second part “Prescriptions for an Ailing Elephant” go here)

There is an elephant in the room. Look in the mirror, Republicans: It’s you. There is no one to blame but yourselves, and it’s time to get your act together. This past election made it clear: President Obama and the Democrats did not defeat you, you have been defeating yourselves for the past twenty years. This past election was a culmination of a ruinous policy, and trajectory, that is of your own making. The primary purpose of a political party, or any organization, is to achieve their policy, and in order to do so you must win. The goals of the Tea Party and the religious super-right are sacrificing electoral success for ideological purity. That is the surest formula for self-defeat and the GOP has mastered that formula. Dogma does not win elections, and as long as you choose to be a political party rather than an ideological movement, your goal is to win elections. Having a candidate who shares most but not all of your ideals is better than not having a candidate win at all. Somehow, somewhere, the party has forgotten this fundamental principle.

 

Lets highlight the losses that Republicans have inflicted upon themselves, both in the 2010 mid-term election, and in this year’s election. Read more…


A Righteous Read


As some of you may have noticed I have a ‘What I’m Reading’ section on my sidebar. These books are on my bookshelf and I am currently educating, or entertaining, myself with. Currently, I just finished is The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. Haidt is a social psychologist at the NYU-Stern School of Business and in this stellar book he confronts human morality, where it comes from, and why people differ on an array or issues especially politics and religion.

For anyone interested in morality and why we act in certain ways, and think about things the way we do, this is your book. Reviewing the book for the New York Times, William Saletan sums up major themes of the book. Read more…