Financial Cliff – notes

Now the fear mongering turns to money? I guess, when you can’t convince middle class America to vote for you on the platform that tax cuts for the wealthy are in their best interest, scare them into believing it is best policy. This new coined “financial cliff” is complexly described as a sudden leap into unknown ramifications of tax revenue and expenditure. Let me reassure you that the expiration of Bush’s tax cuts will absolutely spur growth. We need more revenue. In this country anyone making over 250 thousand dollars represents only 3% of the population. The idea that the 3% are the job creators, making it all happen for the 97% is reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz. The truth is that working people are the wealth creators; they just don’t get to fairly benefit. (Don’t look behind the curtain.) This country stops thriving when workers are undervalued. Stagnant wages are criminal. One anecdote of the American dream is the premise that hard work makes for financial success. Please look behind the curtain… there are lots of hard working people who don’t achieve success, let alone find success enough to afford them health insurance; as 52 million uninsured can attest. These are the people who aren’t poor enough to be in Social Programs. (Don’t look behind the curtain.) A pension was once the reward for working hard but is now, shamefully gone from the private sector. And being threatened by some leaders in government. The corporate “job creator” structure has eliminated pension expenses in exchange for putting their executives into the 3% income bracket. It is not to say the 3% don’t also work hard in their work, but their success is too often built on cost savings from denying fair compensation or polluting or fill in the blank or all of the above. Taxing the 3% to help make survival more affordable for the 97% is reasonable. It is sound business and governance. Why do corporations come out against universal health care? Universal Care costs less because the risk/income pool is bigger, better priced prescription contracts would benefit many. If their current insurance premium went to the existing government health system, what do they care? And if they did, I’m sure in the usual democratic fashion, private insurance would be available. Universal Care will also create the less tangible yet valuable reward of equality in human medical status. When told you only have enough money to sew back one of the three fingers that were accidently cut off, there is no equality of human medical status. When the poor don’t have enough money to see a doctor, they don’t see a doctor. They don’t all go running into the emergency room despite what you’ve been told. The poor are billed, most pay on those debts, some will die with debt. This is a basic, human, societal need like water or food, whose affordability adversely effects our health. Our governement needs revenue, we’ve got bills to pay!
And then there is the magically synergistic warning cry of budget cutting, which as most American households can tell you, they do every day and survive to tell the tale. Priorities in a household budget are not much different than the government’s budgets, perhaps governement leaders should sit down with some home economics teachers. Is it scary to have cuts in the Defense department? It spends about a third of all tax income and represents two thirds of budget loss, in a given recent year. We absolutely have to cut defense spending. The cold war is gone and technology of war changed. We can’t ignore that. Why not start with selling or transferring our foreign military bases to the sovereign allied country at that address? Why don’t we trust our allies to aid us, as we would them, in times of crisis? We need to drop the expensive alpha habit of being the world’s hall monitor. Bring our soldiers home to raise their families, become workers and American consumers. The amount of infrastructure this old country needs could use some of the few and the proud. Cuts to social programs will likely not happen as they are so popular. As a contributor to these social programs, I am entitled to see a return when the day comes. Republicans have done this democracy a disservice by twisting the word entitlement to imply Americans have no skin in the game. Just as you are entitled to fish when you get a fishing license, in this case the American people are very much and rightfully entitled. We are not a democracy when using your rights is so shamed. So what should we cut? Well, everything frivolous. Cut the really expensive, far out things we give away to for-profit business. If we subsidize a company that makes a profit many more times the subsidy, what the fuck are we doing? Maybe we also try charging interest on the loans we have given. I can only hope the Congress and Senate will be a proper and honorable fiduciary of the people’s money regardless of party, whose goals are to get a good return, spend wisely and create a secure foundation for the survival of this country, this family, like it or not, you and me. It’s home economics 101, seriously. It’s not political and it’s just not that complicated. And the moment you get wound up and think it is, step back and think again. Change is scary, but this is the good kind. Don’t let the media’s whirlwind to get your attention cause a fearful reaction or a foolish one.

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CrackBerry

January 3 2010

So I’m four months in… already I have completely changed my working life. I no longer dread checking emails, as they come in real-time, I am quick and responsive to customers, vendors whomever. Facebook and Twitter being what they are, I am now tweeting with my customers and facebooking my friends.  All with the help of my awesomely useful gadget, a blackberry. My dad is proud to inform any and all that it’s a Canadian invention, doncha know! It rocks. I do like it, I feel executive and empowered. By the same turn it has made me an A.D.D. mess. Beeping and buzzing every few minutes, interrupting face-time with friends and family, I have yet to master the zen art of berry management (though I know I’m not alone.) My husband calls it my second husband. My daughter yells mom mom mom mom until I finally tune in and hear her to respond. All of this I can manage, knowing it’s a problem is half the battle right?

But my sticking point is how I’m actually dealing with people face to face, now used to quick wit and 140 character communications, real talk has left me feeling dorky. Not that I was the most socially eloquent before, but now if I can’t think of something amusingly interesting to say, I say nothing at all. Can you say awkward silence?

My friend visited for the holidays and I found us both on the couch face to face… texting each other. Or mid conversation, one of us (if not both at times) interrupting our finally flowing conversation to deal with our phones. It feels rude though I know it’s unintended… like waiting in line at a retail register only to be put off longer while the clerk converses with someone who (instead of marching themselves physically into the shop) decides to call and have the clerk look around for them. Customer service? Well you can’t have it both ways! The customer on the phone or the one in your face? Ummm… please hold!

In short, I am in the midst of a love hate relationship with my BlackBerry. I suppose in time I will be more adept and less “deer-in-headlights” about it. I’ll get back to you….

June 14 2010

So it’s been a while and I’ve gotten more adept at disconnecting and checking back, getting more face-time with friends and family, feeling a bit more eloquent and charming. I suppose you could say that the novelty has worn off, but it’s still as empowering as advertised. My effectiveness quotient is up and my ADD symptoms are easing. Everything can wait a few minutes.

July 27 2012

Well, the unthinkable has happened. My BB lost half it’s screen (again) and when told to “just go find a cellphone repair person” for the first time ever by my wireless carrier, I gave in to the upgrade and got an android. AnNoid, more like it. Two days into the touch screen and I’m begging for buttons. I find myself looking for some way to “right click” widgets and apps to control some functions no other visible symbols give away. There appears to be no consistent way of shutting down programs, which leaves me wondering if that is why my battery only last 5 hours. I obviously need a solar hair clip that I can plug my phone into, to charge it as I go about my day.

There is a learning curve they say, and I’m sure I’ll spend the next few weeks looking up how to do the things I want to do to my phone, thanks to the mostly useless instruction book that came in the box. I’m turning 40 soon, so feeling old and disoriented by technology is probably only going to get worse as my life passes beyond middle age.

the Science of Sustainability

6/22/2010  

I am at war. I struggle with science, scale, societal governance and popular emotion. I know the planet is self-sustaining. Earth is far bigger and powerful than we generally give it credit for. The Earth might shake us off like fleas, but our planet will “go on” cause it works in repetitive cycles with slow, effective processes at work. Science tells us matter cannot be created or destroyed, only altered. You can’t really “waste” water, you just make it undrinkable for humans. Truthfully and scientifically, the idea of  “Save the Human” really is more the point of sustainability than actually saving the Earth.   

Human history has taken severe and aggressive leaps into the future over the last 100 years, especially when compared to science and technology from the 100 years prior to that, ad infinitum. But in todays social and political climate, sustainability and going green is wholly linked with reducing our individual impact. Get off the grid, paperless billing, recycle, compost, use rain barrels, organic food, caveman diet, just turn on the tv for another example. But how is all of this really reducing human environmental impact… exactly? In real terms of impactful scale to actually effect climate change. My ultimate concern is big business continues to  shirk the full brunt of the environmental monster they created by pitting us against ourselves, like a well planned guilt trip.  And perversely, individuals are spending a lot of consumerist energy trying to reduce their marginal impact. Have you seen the commercial where they suggest you throw away your old vacuum and replace it with this environmentally friendly one made from recycled plastic! Uh wait, what? Actually… the best thing to do is keep one vacuum for the rest of your life, fix it when it’s broken and recycle it if it dies. But who fixes appliances anymore? Repair is usually more expensive than to buy new.  If you are claiming environmental sustainability while you are selling something, I’m suspicious. The jury of scientists is still out, but marketers are running hot and heavy with it anyway.   

Everything, every material and every resource on this planet is natural, but not every natural thing is good for humans. It is not just the scientific altering of matter that creates all the problems. In every generation the experts or “smartest” most influential people, don’t always fully understand what they know or what they are doing, exactly. Not so long ago in our history, a nifty machine in the big shoe stores let you slip your foot into a box and look down on your foot to see if your shoes fit. (Sold  to retailers with the idea parents may better fit children’s feet) This box was a live x-ray machine… irradiating people to sell them shoes! Who approved this for commercial purposes? I’d guess the experts in science and technology of the time. It leads me further to assume that the science and technology of our time is no different in base dynamic.  I immediately think of trans fats and wonder what where the blinding motives of the science at the time or perhaps more insanely, did it have a big business agenda?  Also consider a simple alloy of lead , copper and tin called pewter which for many hundreds of years, people fashioned into plates and cups! While no lead is allowed in pewter today, it took many generations of scientists to discover the facts behind why lead is so dangerous. It is clear, historically, that the world of science will repeat this pattern no matter the advancement of their collective knowledge.  A part can never know the whole but gosh they sure will make assumptions along the way. The cutting edge of science always cuts both ways and so long as we forget to temper scientific academia with the potential dangers of the unknown we will always be their guinea pigs.  The modern use of the words Natural and Organic in the food marketplace is disturbing to me for this exact reason.  All carbon based living things are organic, if it decomposes, it’s organic. The word’s definition has instead been hijacked to imply pesticide or hormone free. Now consider Rotenone, a natural pesticide made from jicima used by organic farmers.  (I’d bet you didn’t know organic farmers used chemical pesticides!) This naturally derived chemical, banned from use in 2005, has since been re-approved for organic farmers. Uh, wait what? Clearly they are still experimenting!  

"The Earth Laughs in Flowers" is one of my favorite books of poetry

  

Remember all those gullible people who were willing to sign a petition to ban Dihydrogen Monoxide (aka water)?  This study mistakenly assumed people’s scientific ignorance as the  reason for agreement. I would argue that our aversion to complex scientific names is intrinsically linked to a general understanding that the world of science is experimenting on us, whether through carelessness or intent.  

8/23/2010  

Farming ain’t Easy  

 So I happened on this article about farmers who are rogue planting GMO crops in Italy and getting shut down by their government. (Feel free to take a minute and read it. http://nyti.ms/d5mPro ) So… I think it quite a mistake to assume that because no ill effects can be proven today of GMO crops that there is no cause to be cautious, and how weird is it that any country must submit to planting seeds it doesn’t want to. That would be like my neighbor insisting that I plant blueberries in my yard because he’s planted some in his!  

 The argument that never happened in the US over GMO has produced fields of very little but those. The argument supporting GMO, is the alternative heavy use of pesticides. The only reason we cannot currently see side effects from GMO is because not enough time or study has been done with this singularly invisible factor truly isolated.  Perhaps a more thorough timeline of GMO can be studied to potentially connect some dots to obesity or diabetes or cancer or longer life, who really knows?! But we got in the game too late and more than 75 percent of corn and soybeans in this country are today, right now GMO. If you watched the movie FOOD Inc. then you see Monsanto for what it is, a shifty pedler of its branded seed. We cannot allow any company to establish a monopoly on plant life. The very idea that anyone altering mother nature can fully “own” the rights to it, is perverse and wrong. We all “own” the plants, the water, the air, they are a divine gift. Can you imagine the day when households are required to pay the city monthly for rain barrels because we are collecting their water? Well… if water companies can ever claim to “own” water with full rights, then one day they just might.

Government Responsibility…and automobiles

These days you hear a lot about “the Big 3″. They want money to support their business, because the American public has stopped buying their cars. There are lots of industries that influence our economy and many who have seen a shrinking of their profits. Small business makes up 2/3 of our economy. Big business only 1/3. Where is the small business stimulus? Thankfully our Senate has had enough backbone to refuse the auto deal. But when will the political pressure overwhelm common sense? The old adage money talks and bullshit walks means if as a company you are not generating enough business you must adapt to the market and fill people’s needs to bring in the money. It’s that simple and it that hard. If the government is asked to prop up a company that the public no longer supports with its wallet, a few basic questions must be asked and answered before a government pay day is even considered.
Why are these Big 3 companies not doing well?
Everywhere you go you see a car. Some old some new. What’s the problem? It’s not like we all junked our cars and started riding the bus or a bike. Perhaps their business model has been in trouble for a while. Personally I own a rice burner, not because I don’t love the USA or dislike American cars. Mostly because it was cheap, got decent gas mileage and cost little in maintenance and repairs. Most average people look for these ideals in a vehicle. American cars are big and bulky and suck up gas like no other. Why do I keep hearing that Americans won’t buy smaller more efficient cars, but at the same time the automakers can’t keep enough in stock? My ten year old car gets 30 mpg, I am not very excited when I see a current ad for a car that touts its environmentalism and gets the same mileage as my TEN YEAR OLD car. Really, in ten years that the standards haven’t been raised, is that the best they could do? Our choices swing from one end of the spectrum to another, from the smart car that hardly holds two people to giant suburban’s that hold 9 people but rarely land in the middle. Where is the midsized miracle that gets great gas mileage and holds enough people to satisfy the average American family’s needs? People are not going to continue to invest in the same old dirty technology when we see our green future staring us in the face…and it doesn’t look like your average American car, it looks more like your average foreign car. What have US auto makers done to fill the real needs of their customers?
How are they running their businesses?
Every business must balance the costs of their activities, advertising, payroll, and materials with cash flow and profits. These costs of doing business are reported internally at least quarterly, if not monthly, weekly or daily. Executive compensation, costs for lobbyists, advertising and other frivolous costs are sore spots in the budget as executives apportioned considerable sums of money to inefficient and self-serving spending. Who are the Boards financial advisors? The Board of Directors is put in place to manage the business; it would seem they were asleep at the wheel or perhaps unmotivated to be efficient. Maybe if they were more interested in reducing their costs while contributing to our global environment they would have long figured out how to partner creatively with junk yards to reclaim steel, plastics and other valuable materials. Perhaps if they spent some time in R&D to actually improve the efficiency of their cars and trucks they might have more funds on their bottom line. Perhaps if they had been leaders in their industry instead of laggards of technology, they would not be in the position they are in today. It cannot be overlooked that while company financials have signaled serious problems for years, frivolous and irresponsible spending continued.
What are their plans for the future?
Even before the thought of Government money crossed their minds they should have had some plans for the future. The auto industry is estimated to employ 3 million people, a point that many auto bailout supporters cling to. Currently more than 10 million people are collecting unemployment, what is so especially about these particular 3 million. If the Big 3 have no corporate plan for the future, they should go back to business school, where they teach you to always have a business plan with clear goals and strategy. If the Big 3 have failed to plan, they are planning to fail. The US government should not stand in their way.
So where does Government responsibility land in all this private industry mess? The US government should only take a stance in the auto wars in terms of the tax payer’s big picture. Environmental emissions, toxic waste, physical safety and other consumer protections are the beginning and the end of what the government should regulate. If thirty years ago, we passed regulatory laws that required min. 40 mpg Americans and automakers might be in a better position than we are now. But when you look back thirty years ago, the Big 3 were the first to implore to lawmakers that higher mpg was everything from impractical to impossible, not to mention too expensive to implement. The Big 3 are victims of their own success. The annals of history will show that the American people have already paid dearly for the auto industry and its wasteful practices, let’s hope our Government doesn’t increase the burden.
Bankruptcy is not the death of a company. It is a marked change from its past, something of which US automakers are desperately in need. Our government has no right to enter this debate; it is a war being waged on the streets of every town USA. The American people speak quietly but effectively with their wallets. The US government should follow our lead.