#Democracy v. #oligarchy. My voting booth time is over.

Like church, my time in voting booths is over. It’s been a good thirty-two year run.

November 2012 was my last general election as a voter. The November 2013 city elections were my last as a participant in local elections. I’ll pass on the state elections this year as well.

If you want to effectuate operational change in the political eco-system, you will not do it in a voting booth. I’ve been pondering this decision for the last 12 months and I’ve made up my mind that my thirty-year continuous run as a voter is over. If I continue voting, I will continue to perpetrate the lie that we live in an effective democracy. We don’t. We live in an oligarchy and the people you vote for are merely representatives of the privileged few. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure that one out, but unfortunately I have come across too many believers in the lie where I’ve concluded that people either enjoy delusions, are desperate and hopeless, or failed high school civics.

You may argue that you have to vote to make changes that we can believe in. No. You’re wrong. You may argue that you can’t be part of the conversation if you don’t vote. Again, you’d be wrong because I’ve lived government every day on and off professionally for 30 years and I can assure you that pushing a button every two years in a voting booth does not make you a part of any political conversation unless you are talking to some news producer conducting an exit poll.

I’ve had enough.

For a nerdier rationale behind my decision to no longer participate in the madness, please read this article. It pretty much says what you already know …

 

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Stop Lying to Your Kids About #College

What keeps colleges in business is a prospective employer’s desire to adhere to a narrative that proof of knowledge is best evidenced by some certification in the form of a transcript or a diploma. That model is slowly being eroded and needs to be blown up. What we need is a model that requires a student present a portfolio demonstrating what they can actually do. This is being done on a small scale by employers looking for talent in the arts. This model needs to be extended to all academic disciplines because it will impart onto the student the importance of production versus a good verbal sales pitch during a job interview.

The requirements of the knowledge economy and the increasing importance of the Internet and broadband access make the death of the certification and “hire me because I smile and look good” model. For what is college anyway? We tell our children and grandchildren, especially minorities, that a college education is a necessary path to work and wealth.

Bullshit.

When a student enters college, they are entering a continuous four, six, or eight year knowledge and information market. In short, they are paying experts, the guys and gals standing at a lectern or whiteboard, for their time and knowledge. The student is primarily learning how to gather information; analyze information, package their analysis, and communicate the analysis. 

At its most base level that is what today’s college education is about. The student who can maintain a sustainable career during their tenure on Planet Earth is one who realizes this when they walk through the ivy covered halls of whatever college they attend.

Some universities, such as Harvard and MIT, are realizing that one need not necessarily come to a brick and mortar establishment to learn this, hence their offerings of free online classes.

What parents should be doing is making sure that their children are focusing while in primary and secondary school on how to use a library, read substantial media, and practice written and verbal communications skills so that a framework for acquiring, analyzing, packaging, and communicating information is formed before setting foot on a $25,000, $50,000, or $100,000 journey in hopes that the time being an eight-sport athlete will somehow maintain them for four years. That nonsense looks good on a college application, but unless you plan on being chattel for the NFL or NBA, that won’t get you past the first semester of college.

What will get you into the employer’s door is showing her what you can do. The Internet has the potential of providing an alternative for learning how to gather information. Expert guidance will still be needed to show students how to analyze and communicate information. As we enter into an economy that places more emphasis on know-how and doing, that glowing transcript or expensive sheepskin won’t cut it.

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Do politicians have the “ear to the ground, I can hear the train coming” skills to spot trends?

Job opportunities over the next two decades are projected to require highly specialized skills including, as I mentioned in a post yesterday, quantitative skills, a lack of which may have some people holding permanent pink slips. Some 3.5 million jobs today are going unfilled.

This move toward a ‪#‎knowledgeeconomy‬ has been occurring for at least two decades yet rhetoric from our national and state capitals would lead us to believe that the advent of the knowledge economy and its skill requirements is an event that just occurred last week.

Is this failure to identify the trend due to parents not having an appreciation for technology and the economy? Could it be a result of school systems not being equipped or not having an interest in identifying these trends? Are our politicians equipped with the “ear to the ground, I can hear the train coming” skills necessary to get in front of these issues and lead?

…. thoughts?

Posted in commerce, e-commerce, Economy, education, government, knowledge economy, Political Economy | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

To promote #broadband adoption let @NTIAgov maintain oversight of @ICANN

If the Obama administration is serious about its goal to connect every American household to the information superhighway via broadbans, it will have to address America’s perception that, to paraphrase Leonard “Bones” McCoy, “cyberspace is filled with disease and death.”  Cyberspace may be perceived as a whole lot colder if the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is allowed to transfer its oversight of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions to a multi-state stakeholder body.

According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, approximately 15% of Americans do not use the Internet. Thirty-four percent of these holdouts do not find the Internet relevant to them. Thirty-two percent of non-users believe the Internet is not easy to use citing reasons that include physical inability, spam, spyware, and hackers.

Pew also determined that 44% of non-users are 65 years of age or older and this age group makes up 49% of all Internet non-users.

News over the last 24 hours has only made the fear of hacking more pronounced as the “Heartbleed” virus, allegedly lurking in cyberspace pursuant to Dr. McCoy’s fears, became known to the world.  With calls for everyone in the known universe to drop what they are doing and change passwords (more work for me to do in addition to a fast approaching tax day deadline), the fifteen percent are probably patting themselves on the back for resisting the pleas to interconnect with the rest of the American Borg collective.

With Heartbleed giving some broadband users a small stroke if not an all out heart attack, at least there is the analgesia that flows from knowing that the U.S. government has our backs in case of any malevolent events.  Well, that was the thought last month until the NTIA announced a proposal to transfer its administrative and clerical oversight functions of IANA to a global, multi-state stakeholder body, a plan that has been in the works for years.  Pursuant to its contract with the NTIA, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers coordinates the IANA functions.  The functions include (1) the coordination of the assignment of technical protocol parameters including the management of the address and routing parameter area (ARPA) top-level domain; (2) the administration of certain responsibilities associated with Internet DNS root zone management such as generic (gTLD) and country code (ccTLD) Top-Level Domains; (3) the allocation of Internet numbering resources; and (4) other services. 

Granted, NTIA and ICANN do not regulate content on the Internet nor the app developers and other entities that play on the Internet’s open architecture. The governance model employed by the IANA functions includes participation by hundreds of stakeholders from around the world including Internet service providers, app developers, registrars, commercial and business interests, and representatives from over a hundred governments.

So why bother breaking it?  So far my takeaway from the arguments for this transfer of oversight is that NTIA just doesn’t want to be bothered.  Although NTIA and ICANN describe their functions as more akin to a reference librarian making sure an updated copy of the phone book is kept behind the desk and that it contains accurate listings for Cairo, Georgia as opposed to Cairo, Egypt, the perception that the U.S. government has some oversight over an American creation can go a long way in creating a good perception.

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Economic policy that puts labor on the back burner

Glenn Hubbard wrote a piece yesterday for The Wall Street Journal asking where the workers were, addressing how effective monetary and fiscal policy are in increasing labor force participation while reducing the level of unemployment. According to Mr. Hubbard, while the number of the nation’s employed is at the employment level just prior to the 2007 recession, the percentage of the workers age 16 to 64 that are working or not working but looking for work has been declining steadily since mid 2000.  Currently the rate is approximately 63.2% down from a peak in excess of 67% in 1999.

Mr. Hubbard writes that the stimulus promoted by Democrats in 2009 did not properly address downturn in output (gross domestic product) or high levels of unemployment.

After the Great Recession’s sharp decline in investment and employment, U.S. business probably needed a more curative jolt to restore confidence. A sustained infrastructure program, rather than a temporary one for “shovel-ready” projects, would have provided more reassurance of longer-term demand. And far-reaching tax reform could have provided both a near-term fillip from front-loaded business tax cuts and a credible prospect for future growth.

Mr. Hubbard goes on to address how effective monetary policy was in addressing unemployment and output.  Effectiveness would depend, according to Mr. Hubbard, on whether unemployment was the result of cyclical versus structural causes:

The Federal Reserve also has used monetary policy, through aggressive “quantitative easing,” to combat the shock from the financial crisis. In assessing this move’s effect on the labor force, a key question again is whether the problem is best seen as cyclical or structural. If labor-force participation is down because of cyclical factors, keeping interest rates low has been a smart policy, even as unemployment falls—in fact, even if it continues to fall to very low levels to draw nonparticipants back into the labor force.

Research by economists at the Federal Reserve Board published in 2013 suggests that bringing Americans back to work in this way might succeed without sparking inflation—if low labor-force participation is largely a result of a conventional downturn in business activity. If the real problem lies in the rules of the game—that is, structural factors accounting for labor force participation—such a highly expansionary monetary policy ultimately runs the risk of igniting inflation.

Structural unemployment is defined as unemployment caused by a mismatch between the skills (or location) of job seekers and the requirements (or location) of available jobs.  Cyclical unemployment refers to unemployment attributable to a lack of job vacancies, that is, to an inadequate level of aggregate demand.

Mr. Hubbard sees the unemployment problem as a structural one and that government policy can play a role in alleviating unemployment.  The policy agenda, says Mr. Hubbard, has to be more ambitious than raising the minimum wage or extending unemployment insurance.  Low wage workers need an incentive to return to the labor force for one.  Expanding the earned income tax credit or creating some other income subsidy would be helpful, Mr. Hubbard argues.

Mr. Hubbard also suggests modifying the disability insurance program currently attached to the social security program (it discourages people from re-entering the labor force).

I agree with Mr. Hubbard that unemployment may be structural.  Thirty-six percent of the unemployed have been jobless in excess of 27 weeks.  This number fell by 837,000 over the past 12 months, but we don’t know how many in this number simply gave up on looking for work versus finding employment.  Also our progression from a manufacturing-based to retail services-based to a new knowledge economy calls for technical skills employees may not have.

But what is the tie between interest rates and a potential employer’s desire to hire?  A businessman is not going to borrow to hire more employees or expanded productive capacity unless she sees a reason to.  Monetary policy is basically selling the supply side narrative to business owners; borrow the money and you will build capacity and consumers will come along and justify the leverage you’ve taken on by buying your goods and services.  That policy approach brushes under the rug the notion that businesses abhor uncertainty.

For consumers low interest rates only encourage borrowing and it was borrowing that got many homeowners into trouble during the last housing bubble.

Consumers should not have to go back to the days of leveraging frivolous consumption via equity loans and credit cards.  In the short term, expanding the earned income credit to include not only the working poor but middle income families may help spur additional consumption.  Longer term solutions should include a streamlined jobs training/jobs placement program that trains labor for knowledge-based occupations.  Under this approach you address both short term and long term consumption which encourages aggregate demand for national and global goods and services.  Minimum wage increases will not boost the necessary aggregate demand for growth.

It’s also time for monetary policy that favors capital accumulation and not the trade of paper on the floor.  Savers are going to deposit funds with financial intermediaries when they see increases in rates of return.  Traders are able to sell bundled securities with low interest rates thanks to the Federal Reserve.  Purchasers are under the impression that the paper they hold has little risk because a of low rates advocated by and for the Federal Reserve.

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Just a thought, observation on a new, probably cynical definition of nations and government

This is all subject to check and the thought can probably change within minutes, hours, days, but a thought nonetheless.  Anyway, here goes.

What do mean by “nation?”  People hear the word and the first thought is about soft stuff like culture, music, values, creed, etc.  In America the conversation includes family, hard work, freedom.  We talk about free markets, buying homes, and other stuff.  The American Dream.  We talk about the melting pot, people of various races, nationalities, ethnic backgrounds with an interest in all the characteristics I mentioned above; the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.

At least that’s what we see on a television commercial or a “Cosby Show” rerun.  We may like to think that is what we see at work or on a football or baseball field, or in our military as we see people from all walks of life come together under an umbrella of work or play.

Yes, I hear that, but I don’t see that, no matter how many times a local, state, or federal elected official says it on the hope of selling me on the idea.  I don’t see it at all.  That static view fails to take into account the history of how the inhabitants of the nation came to be here and how it impacts our now.

I won’t get into specific histories here, not now anyway.  Eventually I will.  I don’t believe we should harp on the past too long anyway because the past is someone else’s story.  Heck, I’m not Solomon Northrup.  I didn’t live “12 Years a Slave.”  (Okay movie, but “Gravity” should have won best picture).

A nation is defined as a stable community of people with a territory, culture, and language held in common.  Is that all though?  I mean how much do Americans really have in common except baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet?

On the other hand, is that definition too large or even correct?  Is it really something more basic?  Is a nation merely a group of people held together by laws, rules, and mores imposed upon us by an administrative state and religious bodies working in concert under the name, government? And the government is captured by a minority that either controls the factors of the nation’s economy and its capital or are agents of those who do? If we strip away all the fluff about mom, apple pie, and lethargic recitations of “We Shall Overcome”, isn’t that what we are left with?

I started thinking about this model during Russia’s takeover of Crimea.  The business channels, like the other news broadcasts were all abuzz with the audacity of Putin’s move into Ukraine, but the business news seemed to provide the real substance of the story. While the politicians gave us the usual fluff, i.e., “We must defend Ukraine’s right to exist.”  “Vladimir Putin is a thug.” “Blah, blah, blah”, etc., equity analysts, portfolio managers, and other people well versed or rehearsed in finance provided more concrete connections between Putin’s actions and how they could impact the global economy, the rich guy’s portfolio, and what little I had in my wallet.

Is that all we are as a nation?  Just a place for an investor to send capital and the majority of the inhabitants only purpose to buy Chevrolets and apple pies?

Posted in democracy, Economy, government | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The long term #unemployed. #economy #capital

Binyamin Appelbaum recently posted a piece in The New York Times’ Economix blog regarding the job prospects for the long-term unemployed.  A significant number of the long term unemployed are not white, a little older, and a little more educated.  Employers, right or wrong, may view the long time out of work as a strike against the long term unemployed when reviewing applications for work.  The piece asks what types of monetary or fiscal policies may help to alleviate the pain of the long term unemployed?  Below is the comment I left on the post.

“I don’t see how further tax cuts would help. Given that businesses are getting more out of the permanent labor on their payrolls, tax cuts will simply go to their bottom lines. There is nothing wrong with that from an earnings stand point, but as a public policy approach to solving unemployment, it will have the most minimal impact.

Higher interest rates attract investor capital. The Federal Reserve may have to consider speeding up their tapering and start selling off more of its portfolio of treasury and asset backed bonds, taking money out of the system and driving up rates. As more capital flows back to the U.S., increases in employment has a higher probability of increasing.”

What do you think the appropriate policy prescription should be, if any, for addressing long term unemployment?  Should more weight be placed on social and community agents, i.e., family, friends, civic and community organizations, etc., to help resolve the problem?

Posted in capital, Economy, employment, free markets, government, labor markets, Political Economy, poverty, unemployment | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

March to academic madness

I can’t speak for instructors in other disciplines, but having degreed in and taught law, government, and economics, I can say with some authority that the biggest mistake professors of law, government, and economics make is failing to tell their students that what they are about to learn about American law, government, and economics is 89.287% rubbish, and the rest questionable bullshit.

You are not required to believe it whole hog much less leave the classroom feeling equipped to advocate for the aforementioned academic disciplines. You are supposed to leave the classroom with the tools to question the disciplines you’ve studied and when appropriate exercise the intestinal fortitude to abandon and replace the theories with new ones.

Unfortunately, too many of the instructors teaching the narratives are too overly invested in their JDs, JSDs, and PhDs and publications in retched journals that gather dust to express this to their students …

For those of us who were programmed by academia having failed to take the blue pill, it’s too late. You can of course save your children from going down that yellow brick road to la la land being ever mindful of the wizard’s narrative being spilled on them from the lectern….

…. that is all …

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Hillary Clinton’s female backers never learned their Jim Crow history. #JimCrow #HillaryClinton #votingrights

This morning on CSPAN’s Washington Journal, Mark Halperin, editor-at-large for Time magazine and political analyst for MSNBC, was asked to discuss his take on whether former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be running for president in 2016.  Mr. Halperin fielded a call from a viewer who believed that were it not for black men having received the right to vote before all women, a white women would have been elected president before a black man.

I’ve never given the “it’s our turn now” narrative much attention and did not realize until hearing the caller make her assertion that black men had an advantage over women because of the 15th amendment to the United States Constitution.  The problem with the caller’s assertion is that she and her fellow Clintonites have overlooked the Jim Crow period.  The Ferris State University’s Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia offers this definition of Jim Crow:

“Jim Crow was the name of the racial caste system which operated primarily, but not exclusively in southern and border states, between 1877 and the mid-1960s. Jim Crow was more than a series of rigid anti-black laws. It was a way of life. Under Jim Crow, African Americans were relegated to the status of second class citizens. Jim Crow represented the legitimization of anti-black racism. Many Christian ministers and theologians taught that whites were the Chosen people, blacks were cursed to be servants, and God supported racial segregation. Craniologists, eugenicists, phrenologists, and Social Darwinists, at every educational level, buttressed the belief that blacks were innately intellectually and culturally inferior to whites. Pro-segregation politicians gave eloquent speeches on the great danger of integration: the mongrelization of the white race. Newspaper and magazine writers routinely referred to blacks as niggers, coons, and darkies; and worse, their articles reinforced anti-black stereotypes.”

The museum goes on to provide a short description of systemic denial of black voting rights in the Southern states:

“Blacks were denied the right to vote by grandfather clauses (laws that restricted the right to vote to people whose ancestors had voted before the Civil War), poll taxes (fees charged to poor blacks), white primaries (only Democrats could vote, only whites could be Democrats), and literacy tests (“Name all the Vice Presidents and Supreme Court Justices throughout America’s history”). Plessy sent this message to southern and border states: Discrimination against blacks is acceptable.”

The 15th Amendment was ratified by the U.S. Congress on 30 March 1870.  Any advantages that black male voters had between ratification and the implementation of systemic and systematic oppression of Jim Crow was too short-lived to give black males any advantages.  I would argue that America should have seen a white woman elected president before a black American because of a fifty to one hundred year advantage resulting from Jim Crow.

Time for Hillary Clinton’s female supporters to let the hate go and get their history right.

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Get rid of drama. Get new friends

In a line in Kroger, a cashier, a woman in her late fifties or early sixties, and another associate, a teenager, are talking. I start putting my groceries on the belt when the associate attempts to include me in their conversation. He asks matter-of-factly, “Do you have friends who are not there for you?”

I hesitated for two seconds; the first second so I could gather my thoughts; the other second for pure dramatic effect.

“No”, I said bluntly while not breaking the pace at which I was putting the groceries on the belt. “Why would I have friends like that?”

He appeared taken aback by the speed and bluntness by which I answered. “A person like that isn’t your friend. Dismiss them and keep moving.”

It must be a generational thing. Kids today are bombarded with what I refer to as “hyped drama.” It has become such a national pass time that drama has become a part of our cultural diet. Drama queen used to be that little girl (and sometimes little boy) that threw a hissy in school at the drop of the hat.

Now the drama queens rule the media and we are bombarded by their pronouncements from various mediums, whether it be reality TV (Real Housewives of New York or Atlanta); soap operas (Erica Kane, Nikki Neuman, Kristin Thorne); or music ( Beyoncé, singing about this thing called life as if it were a recent discovery).

Drama was damned near unheard of in our day or our parents had the good courtesy to keep those discussions among adults knowing that the negativity would do their kids no good.

Personally, I’ve never had the friend drama. I learned from the Original Alton Drew how to choose my friends and for the most part I’ve followed his example. His friends were few, but reliable. They were his fellow “down islanders” who worked their way up during the late 1950s and early 1960s in the Virgin Islands’ hotel and restaurant industry. They had families, busted their asses taking care of them, and were the best in their profession. If there was a single thread that ran through all of them, it was that they had no tolerance for fools and put a high premium on loyalty.

With characteristics like that, there was no room for drama.

My last word to the young man was just as blunt: “Get new friends.” I should have added, “And dump the drama.”

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