An Elder's Insights

As you well know, my intention in putting together a collection of My Stuff was to give you a sense of my past, my experience, and my acquired knowledge.

This page is different.  It's more about you than about me.  It's a look to the future... your future and the futures of all whom you love, a future well beyond mine.

Before I begin, I want you to know that...
  1. I regret that I won't be a part of your lives through the entire course of your adulthood. You have my deepest love and affection, and your future happiness is my greatest concern.
  2. I'm embarrassed for my generation and the mess we're leaving for you to manage.  I wish we had been much, much more proactive. I hope your generation figures out what we couldn't.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.[1]
I'm writing this on the morning of January 1st, 2020, the first day of a new decade.   I'm standing with my back to the past, on the shoulders of the present, and looking three decades into the future. I'm anticipating a time when you'll be at the stage of life where your parents are now, and when your children will have made many of their own life choices. 

My intention here is to point out ways you can make smart moves to avoid the pain and despair most people will be suffering between now and then. I want to ensure that you all have the foresight and opportunities to be able to live ethical, engaged, humane public lives. 

Since the only way to look to the future is to draw trend lines from the past through the present, I'll be relating some global changes I've observed over the course of my lifetime. I won't be spending any time on trivial celebrity politics or cults or fads (except maybe to point out the glaring stupidity of short-term thinking).

Join me—at your age it's not too early to do some serious SWOT[2] analysis.

A thirty year timeline—a straight line?
Before we ponder thirty years in the future let me list a few everyday conveniences that didn't exist thirty years ago, in 1990:
iPhone, Android, The Cloud, Kindle, Apple Pay
iPad, MP3 players, selfies, Xbox, HDTV, Roomba
YouTube, Skype, streaming movies, podcasts, crowdsourcing
commercial GPS, Waze, Google Maps, Gmail, Chrome, Wikipedia
Amazon Prime, app stores, iTunes
online banking, online investing, online reservations, GoFundMe
craigslist, Angie's List, Yelp,
Airbnb, Uber/Lyft, e-vehicles, drones, Grubhub
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Spotify, Snapchat, Reddit
Tesla, SpaceX, Bitcoin...

Believe me, no one in 1990 successfully predicted all the technologies that are part of everyday life today. Nor did anyone foresee us starting the longest war in American history, the 18-year (so far) war in Afghanistan, which we started with no justifiable intent... aaaand... we're doing it again.  ("Those who cannot remember the past....")

So is it even reasonable to speculate on what realities you might be living with thirty years from now?

My intention here is to anticipate deeper, more long-term, more substantial global shifts that are sure to affect your lives profoundly, and then to suggest ways you can live with them successfully, and maybe even take advantage of them.

I'll begin with some facts.

Fact #1: Greenhouse gases are continuing to warm the planet.
In our daily activities we humans cause a lot of greenhouse gases to be emitted into the atmosphere. 82% of those emissions are carbon dioxide; methane accounts for another 10%; nitrous oxide 6%.  Fluorinated gases are powerful synthetics emitted during a variety of industrial processes and have a potent effect on the atmosphere's ability to reflect microwave radiation.

That's what greenhouse gases do—they cause the atmosphere to retain infrared energy by reflecting radiation back toward the earth's surface. And they're doing a hell of a good job of it.

More heat energy in the oceans is causing long-term climate change, which in turn means stronger weather effects: more violent hurricanes along the East Coast, devastating wildfires along the West Coast, and drought in between.

The wildfires and record high temperatures on Australia's east coast should be a warning sign, but our government is ignoring it. In fact the President recently gave notice that the United States is walking away from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Regardless of the ignorance of our politicians, global warming will not go away. It will persist as the single most important public health issue, the single most important economic issue, and the single most important ecological issue of your lifetimes.

Fact #1a. The Pentagon’s Weather Nightmare[3]
The Pentagon's concern involves the Earth's great conveyor current that transports heat around the globe by means of the salt in the oceans' waters, a phenomenon known as thermohaline circulation. Easterly weather patterns over the Atlantic conveyor current bring warmth to western Europe.

The runoff from melting polar ice caps is diluting the oceans' saline density, slowing the conveyor and reducing its ability to carry heat toward Europe.

If the great conveyor current continues to weaken, the European climate could turn significantly colder. For over 15 years the Pentagon has been concerned that a cold climate in Europe could cause massive crop failures, which in turn could result in starvation and pandemics, political instability, wars and mass migration.

Fact #2: Economic inequality is increasing.
There are three dimensions to economic inequality: wealth, income and opportunity, and all three are trending to the advantage of the already wealthy and powerful.  And most of the increased power will not be earned, it will be gained through either fraud, passive income or inheritance.

A hundred years ago, William Jennings Bryan said, "No one can earn a million dollars honestly." Clearly times and the cost of living have changed, but I'll paraphrase his truism for these times: "No one can earn a billion dollars honestly." [4]

Since the Great Recession of 2008, only the Top 1% have recovered their wealth—it has almost tripled—while the poor and middle classes have experienced no gains. The top 1% now holds more wealth than the bottom 90% of the population combined. This hadn't been the case since the 1920s, just before the start of the Great Depression.   [So be prepared!]

How did this all happen? Much of it has to do with the stock markets, where nanosecond decision mechanisms favor those with access to the large computer systems that run those markets. Also, tax laws[5] favor the super-wealthy, who own most corporate stock.  Imagine that!

And then there was Citizens United v FEC in 2010, the worst Supreme Court decision for democracy since Bush v Gore. As a result of Citizens United, billions of dollars in dark money has influenced national and state elections through super PACs. Ten years of this has had a terribly corrupting influence on the free election process in our country.

This is all just to say that you, as members of the working class, will need to be wary of promises from any politician whose re-election is being funded by the super-wealthy and large corporations. An entrenched lawmaker is one who's figured out how to play the Big Money game.

Fact #2a. Oligarchs and kleptocrats are on the rise worldwide.[6]
With concentrated wealth comes concentrated power, which in turn attracts the corrupt and greedy. Several large countries are, or are becoming, oligarchies: Putin and the Russian mafia are the best known but there are others: the 103 family members descended from the "Eight Immortals" in China, the Kim dynasty in North Korea, the Royal Family in Saudi Arabia, the Islamic clerics in Iran, the Koc family in Turkey.

Given how the Trump family and their wealthy enablers—Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers, the Walton family, Tom Barrack, et al.—have usurped U.S. government agencies for their own benefit and eliminated well-established democratic precedent, it can be said that the United States is well on its way to becoming an oligarchy.

And then there's Big Tech with all its billionaires running new-tech operations way out in front of existing laws and regulations. But that's another story.

Fact #2b. Anti-government agents will push for privatization.
The term privatization can have different meanings, including moving a government function—for instance running prisons or conducting foreign policy—from the public sector to the for-profit private sector. It is also used as a synonym for deregulation of a regulated company or industry, say, poultry processing or coal mining. Often the term 'efficiency' is used in arguing for privatization.

Powerful political interests are continually pushing for privatization. Grover Norquist, anti-tax advocate and promoter of small government, famously said, "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."

The point of regulating private industry is to ensure the public benefits from clean water, clean air, healthful foods and safe working conditions.  Protecting the public from harm, both domestic and foreign, should always be the role of government. And yet the trend is toward privatization.[7]

Eric Prince's private company Blackwater conducted military operations for the US State Department in Iraq.  Now he's cooked up a scheme to work for the Chinese.  He's a poster child for privatizing black ops for the highest bidder.  Wanna trust his integrity?

Fact #2c. The US will become ‘minority white’ well within the next three decades.
There are several dimensions to the country's population trends: nativity (native- vs. foreign-born), age, race, longevity, income, location.   In the United States, because racial minorities as a group are younger than whites, the minority white tipping point will come earlier for younger age groups.  For children under 18—the post-millennial population—racial minorities will outnumber whites this year, 2020.  For those age 18-29—members of the younger labor and voting age populations; most of you are in that cohort—the tipping point will occur around 2027.

Generally speaking, in your lifetimes you'll witness a decline in the privilege whites have enjoyed in this country. In no way will that affect the collective talent or intelligence, but it will change the political and economic dynamics of the country.

It's not hard to see who's reacting already and how:
Fact #2d. Moneyed interests tend to create a tragedy of the commons.
Here's an example of how moneyed interests ruined an excellent public education resource:

We who were paying taxes in Oregon thirty years ago have a sense of what’s coming in your lifetime. (I will say, parenthetically, that I’ve always been something of a fool: I don’t mind paying taxes. I look on taxes as dues to the only ‘country club’ where I’ve ever been a member: this country.)

Until 1990, school districts in Oregon were funded by local property taxes. Public schools in relatively wealthy areas like Portland and Salem and Eugene were exceptionally well funded. As a result those cities had a reputation of having among the best public school systems in the entire country. Oregon’s public schools were often written up as examples of how to do it right.

In the 1960s and 70s, real estate in California became very expensive, and property taxes went up with assessed values. Howard Jarvis led a taxpayer revolt which culminated in the passing of Proposition 13 in 1978. Property tax rates in California were lowered and capped.

A disciple of Jarvis, Bill Sizemore, a crank Oregon politician, saw an opportunity to foment a taxpayer revolt in Oregon. It didn’t go anywhere here for ten years, but during that time Californians were selling their high value properties and moving to Oregon where they could buy several houses here for what they got for selling one house down there. (Many of the houses on our block were bought by Californians and turned into rentals, and that was happening all over the state.)

It was a win for the buyers—rentals went down in value so property taxes went down too. But good is never enough for the wealthy. Over the course of time Sizemore and his people influenced politicians and newspaper editors and voters in rural areas, resulting in Ballot Measure 5 which passed in 1990.

Besides lowering property taxes and keeping them low for all time, BM5 moved school funding from a property tax base to the general fund, where school districts have to beg for funding and compete with every other state function. No loss for the landlords who could afford to send their kids to private schools.

Bottom line: Because of the loss of funding over the years, Oregon public schools are now rated down among the worst in the country.

Moral of the story: This is a parable of the approaching perfect storm of climate change and wealth concentration. As all the destructive weather effects continue to wreak havoc to our south and east, where there’s a lot of wealth as well as wildfires and heat and drought, people of privilege will be looking to move to the more temperate climate of the Pacific Northwest.

Portland and the Valley will be prime destinations. And Californians and Arizonans and easterners will bring their wealth and privilege and political clout with them. That can’t be good for those of you born and raised here, although I wouldn’t recommend living anywhere else in this country.

Beware outsiders using politics and laws to make changes to the quality of your life in Oregon. If it’s ever about money—and it’s always about money—look for the con artists. They’re sometimes hard to spot but they’re always among us. Use your vote and your voice wisely.

Fact #3: Our war with the Russian mafia[8] will continue (and we're losing).
I'm not talking about a shooting war—that's so last century (except for the trouble we've created for ourselves in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now Iran).

In the world of nations, it's clear Russia is a major aggressor and has been attacking us for decades by means of Internet hacking, espionage, assassination, agitprop, extortion and bribery.[9] They'd be insane to provoke us into a conventional war—our military is far superior and far more modern than theirs and they are well aware of that.

But thieves that they are, they have to perpetuate their thievery and so they started a war in Afghanistan, they annexed Crimea, and they invaded Ukraine for access to oil fields and pipelines, the principal source of wealth for the oligarchs.

A solution that worked very effectively during the Obama years to stop their aggression has been economic sanctions.  The oligarchs have taken all the loot they've stolen from the Russian people—mostly from the sale of petroleum and mining products—and have laundered it all through Western banks and shell companies, and into real estate.  Sanctions are a restriction against their ever getting access to their loot in the West.  Sanctions lock them out of their own accounts.

Sanctions scare the hell out of them.

So they and their allies have chosen to defeat us on the battlefield of social media, where bots roam freely like an infestation of spiders, and everyone's getting messages from unseen gods in The Cloud. Theirs is a subversive war, a disinformation and distraction war, a fake news war, a privacy war, an identity theft war, a social media war, a rage-screaming-hate-pushing-talking-heads war.

In such a war, who's the enemy? Who's the hostile power?  In such a war, rage is a weapon, fear is its trigger and "the other" is the enemy.   In such an insane war, how do you calibrate sanity?

Who are their mercenaries among us, those traitorous fellow citizens who take their money and do their bidding?  How do we defend against their barrages of disinformation, distraction, confusion and outright treason directed at us every hour of every day?

For the foreign hordes of agents provocateur: sanction each and every damned one of them... by name!

For all those domestic Twitter, Facebook and cable terrorists: impose stricter laws and regulations[10]. Let's hope in the future we elect intelligent leadership that knows how to use the very powerful tools and weapons we have at hand to strengthen our democracy and create a better-informed electorate.

So what can you, as a young working-class citizen, do about all this?
If you've studied what I've written here, and clearly understand my underlying message, you're already light years ahead of most in your generation. Here are some arrows to keep in your quiver.

  1. Praemonitus, praemunitus. (Latin: Forewarned is forearmed.) Heads up. Stay alert to changes coming over your horizon.  For every threat there's at least one opportunity.  Find it.

  2. Doveryai, no proveryai (Russian: Trust, but verify.) Willis's Law of Politicians: Politicians in power tend to stay in power by any means. If a politician makes a statement, trust in the moment that he's telling the truth, but fact check him. If it turns out he lied, do not trust him in the future. If one politician lies to protect another, trust neither of them.

  3. Choose your sources of information carefully. Elsewhere I've posted my personal preferences, but in any event choose from a variety of sources. If you're curious about where a source lands on the left-right spectrum, a good place to look would be Media Bias/Fact Check. If a 'truth' sounds fishy, a good place to fact check is Snopes.

  4. Up periscope! It's the only way to know what's going on in the unseen world around you. I have subscriptions to the New York Times and the Washington Post. It's remarkable how, while each is reporting on the same events and their reporters are some of the best in the world, editorial perspectives differ between them, and each of their columnists have their own unique viewpoints. And I look at several websites daily and follow 43 brilliant people on Twitter.

  5. Create a personal mission statement strong enough to guide you through the toughest of times. (Pro tip: broader is better. The more of your fellow humans you fold into your mission, the more engaged you'll be in the world. And that's really what we're all here for.)[11]

  6. Do what you can to minimize your carbon footprint and conserve natural resources whenever and however you can.

If you do all these things, I think you'll discover that you're surrounded by people who need educating. They may be very smart and capable, but they carry around some strange, dysfunctional, ignorant ideas.[12] And if you're well enough informed, can develop well-reasoned argumentation and walk your talk, you can become a powerful influencer, a thought leader. Wouldn't that be cool?

Above all, PERSIST! You're on the side of the angels.

I find this poem by the late William Stafford, U.S. Poet Laureate and resident of Lake Oswego, to be most apropos.


Tomorrow will have an island. Before night
I always find it. Then on to the next island.
These places hidden in the day separate
and come forward if you beckon.
But you have to know they are there before they exist.

Some time there will be a tomorrow without any island.
So far, I haven't let that happen, but after
I'm gone others may become faithless and careless.
Before them will tumble the wide unbroken sea,
and without any hope they will stare at the horizon.

So to you, Friend, I confide my secret:
to be a discoverer you hold close whatever
you find, and after a while you decide
what it is. Then, secure in where you have been,
you turn to the open sea and let go.

I'll let the wisdom of Gandhi be my last word to you:
"You must be the change you wish to see in the world."

With love,

[1] French proverb: The more things change the more they stay the same.

[2] SWOT analysis:
  • What are your Strengths and how can you live an optimal life using all of them;
  • What are your Weaknesses and how can you eliminate or mitigate them;
  • Where do you foresee Opportunities in the chaos of the coming years;
  • What Threats to your welfare can you anticipate and avoid?

[3] This is the title of an article in the January 12, 2004 issue of Fortune Magazine.

[4] There are 2,604 billionaires in the world, according to the Wealth-X Billionaire Census 2019, and over a quarter (705) call the United States home.  In the last ten years the number of billionaires has doubled in the United States, and more than tripled worldwide. They are gods unto themselves with cold-blooded secrets.  And you can bet they each have a cadre of PR flacks hired to make them look human.

Think about it: one person with the spending power of a billion dollars.  That's a thousand times a million dollars.  Is that much concentrated wealth healthy for one person to control?  How many toys can one person accumulate?  Wouldn't the world be a better place if that wealth were distributed among the poor?  What would Jesus do?  (Pro tip: Matthew 19:21.)

[5] Among the Fortune 500 largest companies, at least 60 profitable U.S. corporations—including Amazon, FedEx, Netflix and General Motors—paid no U.S. corporate income tax in 2018. And 379 profitable Fortune 500 corporations paid just an 11.3% tax rate—that’s about half the rate established under Trump’s tax law, which slashed the previous rate by 40%. The justification for the Trump tax cut was that working families would get an additional $4,000 to $9,000 in their pockets each year, and small businesses would receive a huge tax cut. Since the law passed, benefits to working families have averaged just $514, and most small business tax cuts went to multi-million dollar commercial farms.

[6] Definitions:
Republic: a state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them.
Democracy: government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.
Anarchy: a state of society without government or law; political and social disorder due to the absence of governmental control; a power vacuum.
Authoritarianism: a governmental or political system in which individual freedom is completely subordinate to the power or authority of the state, centered either in one person or a small group that is not constitutionally accountable to the people.
Monarchy: literally, rule of one; typically hereditary rule supported by oligarchical power.
Oligarchy: a form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.
Autocracy: government in which one person has uncontrolled or unlimited authority over others; the government or power of an absolute monarch.
Kleptocracy: a government or state in which those in power exploit and steal national resources; rule by thieves.
Totalitarianism: centralized government that does not tolerate parties of differing opinion and that exercises dictatorial control over many aspects of life.
Fascism: a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.
Socialism: a social organization in which the vesting of ownership and control of the means of production and distribution—capital, land, etc.—is held by the community as a whole.
Communism: a branch of socialism in which all property is held in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the totalitarian state.

[7] I love the story of how the idea of municipal (public) fire departments began back 200 years ago. Before then, fire departments were for-profit enterprises. You wouldn't ever want to go back to that model.

[8] The Russian government is really just a crime syndicate sucking the blood out of the Russian people and robbing other countries of land and resources.  Putin, Mordashov, Lisin, Mikhelson, Potanin, Melnichenko, Alekperov, Usmanov, Mogilevich—all of them are pure evil.

[9] There is strong evidence that in the 2016 U.S. election, the Russian troll farm the Internet Research Agency (IRA) in St. Petersburg, linked to Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, was actively involved in turning social media in favor of Donald Trump and against Hillary Clinton. There is also strong evidence that they tried to hack our voting systems and are continuing to do so. Trump has strongly opposed any retaliation for these crimes against our democracy.

[10] It would be a wonderful thing to bring back the Fairness Doctrine.  It'll never happen, but it would be a wonderful thing.  Back in the day, there were restrictions on anyone saying something stupid or hurtful in the media.  Unfortunately, not anymore.

[11] Forty years ago I took a course in contract law, and as a fun exercise wrote a unilateral contract with myself. The agreement was in the form of a mission statement and included as witnesses friends of mine whose advice and experience I valued. Over the years that contract evolved to become a motto that has guided my actions ever since: "Ease their way."

[12] 25 years ago, in remarkable prescience, the astronomer Carl Sagan wrote:
Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren's time—when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few—and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.

The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less) lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudo-science and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.