Sunday, December 1, 2013

NY Times Editorial Board Offers Their Very Serious People Bonafides

I took a bit of a roundabout path to reading this Op-Ed from the New York Times Editorial Board. I am still seething after having first read it a couple of hours ago. It seems whichever member of the Editorial Board that authored this, thinks the military members are not "sacrificing" enough so pay and benefits need to be "on the table." As I looked through the short bios of the various members of the Editorial Board, it is fairly obvious that few if any of them have actually had much experience of military life beyond the obligatory "I support the Troops" or "Thank you for your service" they may have uttered in an airport somewhere.

From the editorial:

Big-ticket weapons like aircraft carriers and the F-35 fighter jet have to be part of any conversation about cutting Pentagon spending to satisfy the mandatory budget reductions known as the sequester. But compensation for military personnel has to be on the table, too — even though no other defense issue is more politically volatile or emotionally fraught.

After a decade of war, the very idea of cutting benefits to soldiers, sailors and Marines who put their lives on the line seems ungrateful. But America’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan is over or winding down, and the Pentagon is obliged to find nearly $1 trillion in savings over 10 years. Tough choices will be required in all parts of the budget. Compensation includes pay, retirement benefits, health care and housing allowances. It consumes about half the military budget, and it is increasing.
Pete Peterson would be so proud and I'm sure the Beltway Village Idiots Politicians, Pundits, and Courtiers in Washington are chagrined that they couldn't get Very Serious People credit for proposing this first.

Proposals like this are in my mind, another facet of the austerity movement seeking to cut back the social safety net for Veterans and the working poor. The people making these proposals see statistics, they do not see human beings. Please let me assure you, all those military members are first and foremost humans. They are sons and brothers, daughters and mothers. As I wrote on Veterans Day 2012, there are almost as many reasons for people serving as there are people serving.

If they really do see a need for cuts to the Pentagon bloat, there are a whole host of areas that should be "on the table" before member pay and benefits is on the horizon. The F35 Joint Strike Force fighter is a good start with its cost per plane doubling from $81M to $162M. There are currently ten Nimitz class nuclear powered aircraft carriers with an operational life of 50 years. The first (USS Nimitz) went online in 1975 so is still within its original operational window for a dozen more years. The tenth (USS George H.W. Bush) was commissioned in 2009. Planned de-commissioning costs for the Nimitz-class carriers is $750M - $900M (versus roughly $53M to de-commission a conventional non-nuclear carrier.

Then we have the next generation of super-carriers, the Ford class with three scheduled for construction and commissioning in 2016, 2020, and 2025. The current projected cost is $9B for construction of the first of these (USS Gerald R. Ford) on top of $5B for original R&D and Engineering.

I don't know but I just have to think we really do not need a new floating nuclear powered city rolling off the construction gangways every five years from now until 2060.

Since the Op-Ed specified concerns about the costs of health care for military, I googled "military health care costs on the rise." I admit I am skeptical when the first item shown is from "Third-Way," our old "friends" pushing the Grand Bargain to cut Social Security. But let's give them a mild benefit of the doubt. Wouldn't it be an across the board savings and cost benefit to institute a Medicare for All/Single Payer health care system? After all, a major component of the costs of Health Care is actually the cost of Health Insurance, not treatment costs in and of themselves.

I will make one proposal that will definitely save a fair amount of money in salary and benefits across the board. As I wrote here back in 2010, it would be beneficial on a myriad of levels to cut back on the numbers of Flag Officers and associated staff. That is the ultimate definition of a "win-win" for all concerned.

And because I can:

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Season of Shopping

Well, here we are, the Saturday after Thanksgiving and the shopping season is upon us. Of course, some stores have had Christmas decorations up since before Halloween. Remember when the shopping and calendar years had distinct seasons? I do understand the desire of retail stores to push the envelope since for oh so many retail stores, the Christmas sales are the difference between an annual profit and loss for the year. While the term "Black Friday" did not originally have this definition, the idea that the Friday after Thanksgiving is the day where a business passes from the red (loss) into the black (profit) has gained some credence.

I started working in a men's clothing store (M. Goldberg, Inc) as a sales clerk/stock clerk/janitor when I was thirteen years old until I was twenty. During most of the year, we opened at 8AM Monday through Saturday, closing at 5:30 M - F and at 6PM on Saturday. After Thanksgiving though, we were open until 8PM, all six nights a week until Christmas Eve when we would close at 5PM. Even as I attended military high school and college, any weekends or holidays I was home and most summers, I would be put to work. We didn't have or need special sales to get people to come into the store. The big sale was always post-Christmas with the "January Clearance." We also had a "July Clearance," conveniently enough after Father's Day. Most years, the day or two before Father's Day in June, we would have daily revenues comparable to the days in the week before Christmas.

During the years I worked at the store, my small hometown of about 5500 people (with surrounding county total population of about 15,000 or 16,000 people) could and did support two fine men's stores (Gordon and Smith was the other men's store), four or so fine ladies shoppes, two or three jewelry stores, two locally owned hardware stores, two "five and ten cent stores," a Dollar store, a sporting goods store, a couple of department stores, a couple of furniture stores, and a Sears & Roebuck catalog store. In multiple cases these competitors would be side-by-side, directly across the street from each other or on opposite street corners. Although Cincinnati was 60 miles north and Lexington was 35 miles south, few people would drive to those cities as it was seemingly a l-o-n-g trek to do so. They pretty much shopped locally or not at all. The reality is, most people could park their car somewhere downtown and do a days shopping and not walk as much as they do today when they go to a mall.

I've always felt that those days could have served as a Master's class in micro-economics. Each of these businesses had been in town for decades. Each of them carried good, name brands. The men's store I worked for started from a bit of a disadvantage as we did not carry boy's clothing at all (which kind of made it difficult for me when I started working there as I was not quite large enough to fit small men's sizes so my options in purchasing good clothing were initially limited.) In those days, there was parking on both sides of most streets plus the traffic flowed in both directions and the downtown area was vibrant with cars and people on the street. I do not know how the other businesses operated but we had a section in one back corner of the store where all the lay-aways were kept for the people who wanted to hold something and pay for it as they went along. We also had two thick "credit books" (A - L, M - Z) with each book being 3 to 4 inches thick. I was "trustworthy" so would charge most of my clothing and that's where most of my earnings went - to pay the clothing bill.

The day after Christmas (and the Monday after Father's Day) usually had quite a bit of traffic in and out of the store but maybe not so much in the way of sales as those were big exchange days. Wrong size, wrong color, damaged, etc. When we were doing exchanges, we always tried to find the identical item in the correct size as that made it so much easier all the way around. Then we would close the store for a couple of days to get ready for the big sale, with all the mark downs on that season's men's fashion (even though most of the styles did not change in men's clothing that much).

As a kid, we always were looking forward to receiving that year's Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog (also known as the "wish book.") I remember looking through that catalog every year. First time through it was always, "I want that and I want that and I want that..." on and on with all the toys I wanted. Sometimes it might even be a toy that had been "as seen on TV!" A couple of years, I even received some of the things I had wanted from the catalog!

Now of course, it seems that every child's television show has the marketing tie-ins for just about any product you can imagine. So Toys R Us opens on Thanksgiving with special deals already gone hours after the stores open.

I'm thinking progress has been a bit like a regression in some ways.

And because I can:

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

A couple of years ago, I wrote this post covering just a few of the things for which we should not be thankful for on Thanksgiving. Here we are two years on, and there are still a large number of things not to be thankful for and the list does seem to get a bit larger all the time. Retail stores are opening earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving Day, no longer content with opening in the early AM hours of the day after Thanksgiving. My guess is we might see a move to ban Thanksgiving retail store openings in the next few years, following Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Of course, we all know that such a move will be opposed by the Chamber of Commerce and other representatives of the retail industry.

Time Magazine has this story about Thanksgiving shopping:

This year, stores including Best Buy, J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Macy’s and Toys “R” Us, will open their doors just after the sun goes down on Thanksgiving, betting that consumers will be done with dinner and ready to cross some gifts off their shopping lists. Meanwhile, Nordstrom, Costco, BJ’s Wholesale Club and others have put out statements saying they will remain closed, as they always have, out of respect for the holiday and for employees who want to spend it with their families.

But is either camp really coming out ahead? It’s a wash, Wharton experts say, while predicting that as an increasing number of retailers decides to add Thanksgiving hours, it is only a matter of time before almost everyone joins in. “[Opening earlier and earlier] is not going to lead to more retail sales, and there is not much of a competitive advantage,” notes Wharton marketing professor Stephen Hoch. “At the same time, there is no benefit to not opening on Thursday; the higher moral ground really doesn’t matter.”
So even though opening on Thanksgiving Day seems to be a zero sum game, it will continue and grow because everyone is doing it.

Now one of the realities of life is, there have always been groups of people who have to work on any holiday. There are restaurants that advertise their Thanksgiving Day specials. Servers, cooks, clean up staff all working to serve those who for whatever reason are not cooking for themselves or their families. I know I have eaten out on Thanksgiving and Christmas a couple of times over the years so I can't claim any moral superiority in this. Of course, emergency service personnel, hospitals, police, and firefighters all work. Many newspapers around the country will not have a Thanksgiving edition on Thursday morning but the reporters and editors will be on the job Thursday evening so that the paper will be available first thing Friday morning as usual.

Folks who have read my posts over the year know that my life has not always traveled an easy path yet I do have quite a bit to be thankful for, even with all the bad. Just this past July, I wrote that I was Homeless and within a day, I had an offer of a room for Dan'l and myself. I also received an offer from a couple of friends and former co-workers if I could reach them in upstate NY. I have family and friends who are almost always willing to offer various levels of support to help bridge the bad times.

I see reports in the news about how people see a story on the news or hear about someone whose live has been devastated through illness, loss of jobs, accidents, fire or whatever then people take a collection or crowd fund some support and wind up raising thousands of dollars to help. Seeing those stories and knowing how I have been helped will always move me. Even as we read about how a WalMart store in Cleveland has set up an internal food drive for employees to help other employees, it brings mixed emotions. I am sure the WalMart employees will contribute to help their fellow workers so in that sense, the food drive will succeed. Yet I have to question how things reach this case where working people do not make enough to support themselves in the holidays. I wind up with a sense of mixed emotions similar to how I feel watching a TV show like Undercover Boss - bravo I guess for doing something but where's the responsibility that leads to this having to be done in the first place?

As we sit down to our various Thanksgiving Day feasts across the country, please do give thanks for the plenty that we experience. But please also keep in mind the folks around the country and around the globe, struggling for food, for shelter, for clean water and clean air. We only have the one earth available to us and there is no Plan B available.

And because I can:

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fifty Years On

In some ways it does not seem like it has been fifty years. In other ways, it seems like it has been even longer.

This Friday, November 22, 2013, it will be fifty years since the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. That day fifty years ago was also a Friday. I remember it was a sunny afternoon and I was sitting in Mrs. Prahl's 6th grade class. If I remember correctly, we were studying math at the time. Sometime about 2:15 - 2:30 that afternoon, Mr. Gilbert, the principal came to the door, leaned against it and asked for attention. I seem to recall his eyes being red as he announced that President Kennedy had been shot and killed within the hour. I don't remember much more from the rest of the school day but I don't think we got much more studying done.

My next memories of that day are from about 6PM. It was a Friday evening and we were going to a basketball game at Pendleton Co, the next county north of my hometown, where my mother was the librarian and ticket taker for ball games. She had stayed at the school that afternoon but my sister, who was attending Pendleton Co that year had come home then was going to ride back with my father and me. We watched the network news that evening showing the arrival of the coffin back in Washington, DC and I saw my father crying for one of the few times in my life. I don't remember much else from that day.

My family was full of staunch supporters of President Kennedy. During the 1960 elections, I wore a plastic "straw boater" Kennedy for President hat. We had to line it with kleenex and toilet paper taped to the inside in order for me to actually wear it. My mother stood on a fence line at Bluegrass Field in Lexington, KY for hours one afternoon just for a chance to shake Kennedy's hand as he stopped for a campaign visit then didn't wash her hand for a week, greeting people with "would you like to shake the hand that shook the hand of JFK?"

We all went to church that Sunday so we missed the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby, although I know we watched the scene of that shooting replay multiple times over the next few days on the TV news.

I know we did not have school on that Monday as I remember we watched the funeral, seeing "John-John" saluting, seeing the caisson and the riderless horse with the boots backwards in the stirrups:

Today "the boots facing backward symbolize [that] the fallen won't ride again and [the rider is] looking back on his family one last time," he said.
The next few years after President Kennedy's death saw a roller coaster of action. The passing of the Civil Rights Act, one of President Kennedy's signature legislative pieces even as it did not pass until the next year. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. The landing of men on the moon in 1969, fulfilling President Kennedy's vow to place a man on the moon within 10 years of his inauguration. Riots in the ghettos of cities throughout the US. The build up of troops in Vietnam, the scenes of death brought into our homes each night, and the upheavals on college campuses nationwide in protest.

My experiences and memories of this weekend are not appreciably different than those of millions of others. It is just one of the collective touch points of life in the US in the 1960s.

I'm not going to address the Warren Commission Report or any of the conspiracies from over the years and request you do not do so either. Let's just reflect on a life ended too soon and the subsequent end of a part of the national innocence.

And because I can:

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veteran's Day 2013

Today is November 11, 2013. Veteran's Day. Ninety-four years ago was the first observance known initially as "Armistice Day":

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” - officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…"
Ah yes. The "war to end all wars." Well, so much for that.

This is from the Census Department with a number of facts about Veterans. While it estimates that there are 21.7M Veterans at this time, this little note a the end kind of puts the lie to that figure:
Note: These estimates include the civilian noninstitutionalized population of veterans 18 years and over living in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. They exclude active-duty military personnel and the population living in correctional facilities and nursing homes.
This from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans has some statistics about the incarcerated veterans.

This links to the overall report on Homeless Veterans of which the Incarcerated Veterans is part.

Many folks are unaware of the problems facing women veterans, including homelessness. I became aware of Final Salute, Inc through a cousin who has provided support. Final Salute is trying to help these women veterans and combat the homelessness. The founder of Final Salute, Jas Boothe, was named a "CNN Hero" earlier.

Huffington Post had this from February 2013 on the daily suicide rate for Veterans. Twenty-two per day is not a figure we should be proud of.

The recent cutback in Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits affected an estimated 900,000 veterans. This works out to roughly 4% of all veterans. According to Wiki, the overall SNAP benefits are received by over 15% of the overall US population.

As I wrote last year:
So what is my point with all of this? It is to remind folks that the veteran is the man or woman you grew up with, attended high school or college with. We're the person who grew up down the street from you or that you saw everyday at the drug store or fast food joint. Most of us had a variety of reasons to sign our names and take the oath of enlistment. We weren't and aren't making a big production of our service. We mostly served and came home, no matter the time.

And because I can:

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Life in the Safety Net

If you have been reading my posts, you know I am among the long term un/underemployed. I was laid off from my then employer in April 2004. I know most economists place the official start of the Great Recession in December 2007 but given their continual "surprise" at how the economy does not conform to their expectations, the reality is a bit different. When I was laid off, I had spent the past seven to eight years working within IT on various State and Local Government social service projects. Unfortunately for me, many states had started cutting back in this area starting around 2001. Declining tax revenues led to cut-backs to contracts led to further declining revenues, etc.

Over the past nine years, I spent my unemployment benefits (I only received 6 months of unemployment benefits since my layoff preceded the official recession and advent of extended benefits.) I spent my savings. I cashed in my 401K and SEP/IRA (the best benefit there was even with paying the early cash-in penalties, I still got to spend more of the funds on myself instead of seeing the balances swirl down the toilet when the market crashed.) In 2007, I landed a part-time, online job that has been a god send.

I finally swallowed my pride in January of 2012 and applied for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (formerly known as Food Stamps). I was approved for benefits of $200 per month from Florida from February 2012 through June 2012 when I would have to be re-certified. I did not re-certify at that time as I was dealing with my late sister's estate by June and was able to pay myself a nominal salary. Since then, I have moved from Florida back to my home state of Kentucky. After I wrote this post in early July, documenting my soon to be homelessness, a friend from my hometown of Cynthiana, KY offered me a room in her home for Dan'l (my cat) and me. I am paying a nominal rent, my share of the utilities plus helping around the house. I have since applied for SNAP benefits here in Kentucky. I was initially denied due to lack of information, then approved for $159 per month then after a review after the state had received the remainder of my supporting information, the benefit amount was upgraded to $189 per month starting November 1. I do not know if the cuts to the over all SNAP program will affect my benefits but if there is a cut, so be it. I am fortunate enough to know how to cook and purchase food for myself so I can generally live within the benefit. I most likely would have to cut out the occasional treat of cookies or soda.

At this point, I am just trying to hang on until I reach age 62 next June and can apply for early Social Security. According to the SSA, my benefit for Social Security at age 62 is $1,371, a little above the current average overall benefit of $1,271 (as of September 2013.)

I do not have a car any longer. Maybe next year when I start the social security, between that and my small salary from my online job, I might be able to buy something (and pay the taxes and title and upkeep and maintenance and gas and insurance.) Once I am collecting social security, I will most likely no longer qualify for SNAP benefits and that's OK as I will have been able to use them to stay alive until I reached the "retirement" point.

Through all of this, I know I am still luckier than most. I have received help from family and friends that has kept a roof over my head. I am relatively healthy having had only a bad case of the flu back in early 2005 that I saw a doctor for, a cut on my hand in December 2005 that required an emergency room visit for four stitches (costing roughly $2,000 out-of-pocket as I am uninsured), and an infected tooth pulled at the dentist's in January 2013 for $175. The dentist gave me a 'scrip for free antibiotics to clear the infection before he pulled the tooth.

While I have been fortunate in many ways, I also know I am not alone. There are 900K veterans and 5K active military receiving SNAP benefits alone who will be impacted by the upcoming cut to the benefit level.

We hear all the stories about "fraud" in the SNAP program (and yes there is such a thing) but let me show a quick example. Let's pretend that one person has been receiving SNAP/Food Stamp benefits since age 18 at $150 per month and is now 70. Let's pretend this person has been committing fraud all along. If this person has received $150 a month for 12 months a year for 52 years, the total amount of fraud is $1,800 a year and $93.6K total. Compare that amount to the amount of farm subsidies that some members of Congress have been receiving. Which group is costing the tax payer more, my hypothetical SNAP fraudster or the recipients of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in subsidies?

We have workers at McDonalds being directed on how to apply for SNAP benefits and Medicaid through the company's own Hot line. WalMart is the largest employer in the country yet is subsidized by the taxpayer nationwide paying for various welfare programs for the WalMart Working Poor.

It is not going to get any better anytime soon. The US economy needs roughly 90K each month just to keep pace with population growth. The ADP Jobs Report for October 2013 estimated a whopping 130K jobs for October while revising their September figures downward from 166K jobs to 145K. Add in the effects of the Government Shutdown and Sequester, I am willing to go out on a short limb and predict the official numbers from the BLS tomorrow (Friday, November 1) may well be down around 50K jobs for the month.

Some of the Beltway Village Idiots Politicians, Pundits, and Courtiers like to talk about how the numbers of people on Food Stamps and Medicaid are so high under President Obama while they avoid talking about people like Lloyd Blankfein quoted a couple of months ago at the Clinton Global Initiative:

In another remark likely to generate controversy, Blankfein praised the U.S. for having "accepted a higher unemployment rate" over the past few years, even as it bailed out the banks. Labor market flexibility—reflected in the ability of U.S. companies to fire workers—is one of the reasons the U.S. is doing so well despite many headwinds in the economy, he said.
Yep, there surely is no cause and effect between the rise in the folks using the Social Safety Net and the desire of people like Blankfein to keep unemployment higher so that wages and benefits can be kept lower.

And because I can:

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Always Enough Time to Do It Over

If you have been reading my posts over these last few years, you are most likely aware that my chosen career field is Software Quality Assurance and Testing so needless to say, I have found the contretemps about the Affordable Care Act web site to be quite interesting. A friend from my small hometown in Kentucky last Wednesday (October 23) posted a link to a New York Times opinion piece by Dr Ezekiel Emanuel about the problems:

First, the Obama administration acted too slowly. It waited too long to release specific regulations and guidance on how the exchange would work. It also waited too long to begin building the physical Web site. These delays were largely because the administration wanted to avoid election-year controversy. This may have been a smart political move in the short term, but it left the administration scrambling to get the IT infrastructure together in time, robbing it of an opportunity to adequately consult with independent experts, test the site and fix any problems before it opened to the public.

Second, the ostensible quarterback of the federal health care exchanges, with responsibility for integrating all the various components, is the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. While the agency has expertise in issuing reimbursement rules and overseeing large-scale claims-processing operations, it has little expertise in creating a complex e-commerce Web site. More important, there was no single senior person in the agency tasked with running the exchange rollout.

Finally, this was not the first health insurance exchange ever created. Massachusetts has had years of experience with its exchange, and there are private exchanges, like eHealth, where individuals can shop for insurance. In addition, many states, like California, Connecticut and Kentucky, had already spent around two years building their exchanges, gaining experience and proving it was possible to create a good customer shopping experience. It does not appear that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services or its contractors spent much time reviewing these models and adopting best practices.
My friend had posted a comment with the link about how he was curious about the technical design, project plan, QA processes and other software development metrics and planning used. I added my 2¢ worth in the following comment:
I will go out on a limb here and with no evidence (other than experience in large complex applications) state that the QA process was probably cut short due to other "unexpected problems"
Now just imagine my (lack of) surprise when I saw news reports on Thursday about there being extremely limited testing of the site. From McClatchy:
WASHINGTON — Private contractors working on the troubled federal health insurance marketplace told a congressional committee Thursday that they needed several months, but only had two weeks, before the launch date to fully test what could be the most complex government IT system in U.S. history.
I have worked on large, complex client-server applications for child welfare databases for various states. I have tested various applications or overseen testing as an IV&V contractor in multiple states. I was not at all surprised to hear that testing had been given short shrift because testing is pretty much always given short shrift. Invariably, the project schedule and "go-live" dates are seemingly graven in stone so when problems crop up, time has to be taken from other areas in order to meet the required date. So time is taken from testing most frequently. Hyperbole requires me to say at this point that "I can't imagine the pressure the testers were under to meet the schedule" but in fact, I can very well imagine the pressure they were under. It is a cliche but many software development professionals can attest, there is never enough time to do things right the first time but there is always enough time to do things over.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will now state that the overall contractor for the effort, CGI Federal, is part of what was a former employer of mine, American Management Systems although I was part of the State and Local Government Group rather than the Federal (non-DoD) Group.

While I am among the uninsured, I have not gone to the web site for a couple of reasons. First, I am a veteran so will be checking in a couple of weeks to see what coverage I am eligible for through the Veterans Administration. I have not checked with the VA yet because I did not want to be bothering them while they were dealing with the recent shutdown. Secondly, I am residing in Kentucky which has its own newly launched insurance exchange (as noted by Dr Emanuel above) so if I am not covered through the VA, then I will enroll through KYnect along with a few thousand other fellow Kentuckians.

For what it's worth, CNBC had this article on Tuesday (October 22) with some quotes from a former president of Oracle:
The federal Obamacare insurance marketplace's many tech problems were inevitable given the brief time contractors had to build it—but they can be fixed fairly soon at a fraction of the troubled website's cost, the ex-president of software giant Oracle told
Indeed, most anyone who has spent significant time working in the tech field has experienced similar situations. There is no application that has ever been built that has worked first time every time. No matter how much time is spent on design, development, and testing, there are problems that will not show up until an application goes live. It is also true that most of the problems are fixable and not a justification for doing away with the entire Affordable Care Act.

Also for the record, I was and am still a proponent of a "single-payer system" and of getting the for-profit insurance companies out of the picture completely.

And because I can:

Friday, October 18, 2013

It's Time to Stop Digging

Well, the Republican Congressional Arson Committee was out-voted Wednesday and the government shutdown has ended and the debt ceiling has been raised. At least for a few months. Now come the analyses striving to set the Conventional Wisdom.

First up we had this from McClatchy on Tuesday, before the shutdown had been ended:

WASHINGTON — It may be one of the most serious missteps of the federal government shutdown.

After weeks of planning, the nation’s spy chief sent home nearly three-quarters of the workers at the government’s intelligence agencies when faced with the partial shutdown. The move, James Clapper later admitted himself, put the United States at greater risk of terrorist attacks. He then reversed course and brought thousands of employees back to work.
Of course, as I noted in this post the other day, when there is a shutdown, the managers are almost required to make things as painful as possible for the maximum numbers of people to show the people pushing for the shutdown what happens. For myself, I would have preferred more oversight people kept working than those within the NSA and other members of the so-called "Intelligence Community" being allowed to spy on average citizens within the US, but that's just me.

Tiger Beat On the Potomac (h/t Mr Pierce) offers up an "Anatomy of a Shutdown."

Bloomberg reports on the "Republican Civil War":
A battle for control of the Republican Party has erupted as an emboldened Tea Party moved to oust senators who voted to reopen the government while business groups mobilized to defeat allies of the small-government movement.

CNN's article on the ending of the shutdown was a bit pessimistic:
The debt cushion now extends through February 7, with current spending levels being authorized through January 15.

That means a few months of breathing room, but little more. After all, the bill doesn't address many of the contentious and complicated issues -- from changes to entitlement programs to tax reform -- that continue to divide Democrats and Republicans.
Ah yes, our old friend "entitlement reform." What a hoary old chestnut that is turning out to be. Why just yesterday the folks at "Fix the Debt" (Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles's attempt to stay relevant and invited on talking head shows) held a "Twitter chat." As Business Insider noted, it did not go well:
"Fix the Debt" just felt Twitter's sweet, trollish wrath.

Championed by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, Fix the Debt — which The Nation magazine called a "fearmongering campaign to convince Americans that the deficits the United States has run throughout its history have suddenly metastasized" — held a Twitter live chat this afternoon to discuss next steps in America's ongoing fiscal squabble.

And it didn't go so well, with the #fixthedebtqa soon teeming with jokesters and those very much against Fix the Debt's message.
My phrase of choice for people such as Simpson and Bowles and the rest of the austerity freaks is "willfully obtuse." Between the shutdown, sequester, and overall fear-mongering of the last few weeks, the general economic consensus is the US economy took a $24B hit. Now, anyone who has read my posts these past few years is aware that I am not a big fan of most CW spouting economists but given how often they are surprised at the end results of things, my WAG is the $24B figure is probably conservative.

A note for the Fix the Debt folks (and Paul Ryan who used a Wall St Journal opinion piece to push for "entitlement reform",) Harry Reid is quoted as saying, it ain't happening. Now, Reid has backed off some of these type statements in the past, so we just have to make sure to hold him to his words.

I continue to be dumbfounded at the words and actions of people who think nothing of cutting funds for the elderly and the poor in order to throw more money at the DoD or Banksters or BigAg or Big Pharma or Big Insurance. As I noted here a few months ago, most people receiving Social Security are getting what amounts to less than a minimum wage. For many that is the only income they have. And as Forbes notes yesterday, minimum wage workers are not getting rich (though businesses that rely on them are and sticking the taxpayers with the bill.)

So all of you Beltway Village Idiots Pundits, Politicians, and Courtiers, why don't we do something unique from these last half dozen year. Let's create some decent paying jobs, build the economy in the US, send a few economic criminals to jail rather than giving them multi-million dollar bonuses, and see what the result is for the economy and those "entitlement" programs. You might be surprised that jobs would mean people paying in would extend the life of these programs with no action required to fiddle and fuck with them.

Besides, if the Russian astronomers are correct, we might be hit with an asteroid in August of 2032, making things moot.

And because I can:

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

No one could have anticipated, Government Shutdown Edition

I have been marveling these last few days at the whining coming from various news outlets and elected officials, especially those that tend to be a tad more right wing. It seems they believe that President Obama and the Executive Branch are making some decisions of what gets shutdown a little painful. This from Investors Business Daily probably captures the feeling reasonably well:

President Obama has made the public at large feel as much pain as possible from a government shutdown he's betting will ultimately be blamed on Republicans; meanwhile, he and other politicians shield themselves from the pain.
My response to this is "WHAT the FUCK else do they expect? When the government shuts down, that means there are no support people available at national parks and memorials. Funding for contracts is stopped. While there may be funds available for some aspects (Social Security for instance), there are not funds to pay the workers. Different pots of money are involved.

A friend sent me a link to this tweet from the last week of September that details the 17 government shut downs that have occurred since 1976. For six of those, I was on active duty in the USAF, working in the Accounting office. As a GI, I went to work regardless. I knew i would be paid, although maybe not on time if the shutdown lasted for too long. Fortunately for me (and my creditors and landlords), my pay wound up not being interrupted. For another three of the shut downs, I was a direct federal employee and for yet three more, I was a federal contractor. Each time, I was involved in some way or another in planning the response to the shutdown. As a GI or Federal employee, my involvement was generally just to be told yes or no if I was to come into work. As a GI, it was yes. As a civilian employee it was no.

However, as a contractor, I was more deeply involved in the planning of what to do for a shutdown. And we would do the "what-if" planning just about every year as we waited to receive our budget for the year, whether there was a shut down or not. A major part of the "what-if" would be structuring the support levels to provide the minimum required support to our client but do so in the way that could cause the most pain to show how indispensable we were.

As I see the various news reports about things such as the response of various Members of Congress to the shutdown of the World War II Memorial or the stopping of death benefits, part of me sees a bunch of Captain Renault moments (I'm shocked, SHOCKED...) but then I realize that many of these same "SHOCKED" Members of Congress are truly clueless as to how the Federal government is involved in day-to-day life in the US. They are truly clueless as to ALL the ways money is spent. If they actually were capable of thinking through the ramifications of their actions, they would have realized from the beginning how bad the optics are that they would receive their salaries during the shutdown while 800K federal employees go without. They can act like only Congress has to pay for a 'nice house' or are the only ones "who need the pay check."

I am still trying to figure out why the House gym is considered "essential." But they are making one sacrifice - they are re-using their dirty towels!

I guess it is possible to be both clueless AND disingenuous.

And because I can:

Sunday, October 6, 2013

October: Domestic Violence and Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is a busy month. Schools have settled into the day-to-day routines. The sports world is busy with the MLB Play-offs; NFL, college, and high school football seasons are in the mix; the NHL has started its season; and NBA basketball training camps have started. College basketball has started having "midnight madness." The news and weather shows are providing fall foliage reports.

October is also the "awareness" month for two causes that I support very strongly - Breast Cancer Awareness and Domestic Violence Awareness. In 2009 and again last year (2012), I wrote diaries concentrating on Domestic Violence Awareness. In 2010, I wrote a diary about both issues together.

As I have mentioned, I know why Breast Cancer Awareness is an issue I care deeply about. My sister survived nine years after her initial diagnosis with breast cancer back in 2003. As well, many folks who hang out at Firedoglake know that Jane Hamsher, Marcy Wheeler, and now Christy Hardin Smith have all had their battles with Breast Cancer. Here are a few statistics on Breast Cancer from the American Cancer Society:

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, except for skin cancers. About 1 in 8 (12%) women in the US will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime.

The American Cancer Society's estimates for breast cancer in the United States for 2013 are:

  1. About 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
  2. About 64,640 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).
  3. About 39,620 women will die from breast cancer

I have had a number of friends over the years tell me about their experiences as victims of Domestic Violence. I would wager most all of us know multiple individuals who have been victims of Domestic Violence though we probably do not know exactly which of our friends and acquaintances these are. Here are some Domestic Violence statistics from and

Very sobering numbers for both of these issues.

This is the opening to an article one of my sister's very best friends wrote for the book A Cup of Comfort for Breast Cancer Survivors:
The first thing my best friend did after her diagnosis was throw herself a party.

Roughly 30 women were there – cops’ wives who’d befriended her during the 10 years she was police reporter for the local daily newspaper, journalist friends, neighbors, her physical therapist, the county attorney, daughters of friends, camping buddies. Some were breast cancer survivors; the rest of us, friends who were now more sharply aware than ever that any day we could join that unwelcome sorority whose numbers now include one of every eight American women.

My friend, Cissy Taylor, had had just one request in advance: bring a scarf or a hat for me. Already anticipating her chemo-induced baldness, she’d asked the women closest to her to join her in preparation. So we did – offering regal turbans, exotically patterned scarves, cozy knit caps, broad-brimmed and flowered hats, each of which she tried on and considered with an expression of combined merriment and gratitude.

And because I can:

Friday, October 4, 2013

Now isn't that con-vee-nient?


So much for the monthly Jobs Report. One of the effects of the government shutdown (no Fox News, it is NOT a "slimdown") is no monthly Jobs Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS web site has a "Special Notice":

This website is currently not being updated due to the suspension of Federal government services. The last update to the site was Monday, September 30. During the shutdown period BLS will not collect data, issue reports, or respond to public inquiries. Updates to the site will start again when the Federal government resumes operations. Revised schedules will be issued as they become available.
Quite convenient for those members of Congress who deem most of us as not worthy of worrying about, yet manage to whine about how they need their pay check to get by - as if the 800K federal employees don't need theirs!

ADP did release their monthly report on private sector jobs on Wednesday, showing an increase of 166K in the private sector (and of course economists surprised as the number was lower than "expected"). The Wall St Journal looked at the numbers in a bit of detail (you can reach behind the WSJ Paywall by Googling the article title "U.S. Businesses Add 166,000 Jobs, ADP Report Shows"). The numbers that jumped out at me are:
Service-sector jobs increased by 147,000 last month, while the factory sector added a slim 1,000 new positions. Financial services cut 4,000 jobs.

Despite September's gain, job growth is weakening. Over the three months through September, the economy added an average of 162,000 private jobs per month, down from 220,000 at the start of the year, according to ADP.
Service sector jobs increase by 147K and manufacturing increases by 1K. It's a McJobs economy!

Business Insider offers us a listing of "what we know" even without the BLS figures. Of course, they base this to a large extent on "market economists' expectations" (see above link to previous blog post about "Economists surprised").

Bloomberg tells us that economists will just talk about football:
The absence of jobs data leaves economists and their investor clients without the month’s most important numbers on which to place bets, ranging from friendly office pools to million-dollar wagers on the health of the world’s largest economy.
Meanwhile, Reuters tells us Workers and employers face off at U.S. Supreme Court:
(Reuters) - Workplace disputes pepper the docket of cases the U.S. Supreme Court will take up during a nine-month term starting on Monday, with the justices having delivered a string of victories to businesses and employers in their last term.

Organized labor will feature in two of the cases. In one, an employee seeks to limit the power of public-sector unions to collect dues. In the other, an employee aims to limit the ability of private-sector unions to sign up members.

It would constitute a significant blow to the labor movement were the court, split 5-4 between Republican and Democratic presidential appointees, to rule against the unions in both cases, legal experts say.
Since the composition of the SCOTUS has not changed in the past few months, I am not going to hold my breath on workers getting any breaks from this court. In June, Businessweek declared the current court as Corporate America's Employees of the Month. It is not a stretch, it is not a difficult prediction to say more 5 - 4 decisions, more rulings in favor of our corporate overlords are coming in the next few months.

I bet Lloyd Blankfein will go to sleep at night dreaming of the wage slaves he can continue to abuse.

And because I can:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

It's "Talk like a Pirate Day" - but which set of Pirates?

Today (Thursday, September 19) is International Talk Like A Pirate Day so here is my obligatory "Yaaarrrr." Or maybe it should be an "Arrrggghhh!"

Yeah, I think I will go with the "Arrrggghhh!" After all, that is my normal response when I read the daily idiocies in the TradMed like the articles on Sunday that inspired this post. I could probably link to most of the posts I have written these last few years as most of them are in response to some level of stoopid provided by the TradMed.

But the days of pirates sailing the Spanish Main are long in the past. No more sacking of Cartagena. No, today's "pirates" wear business suits and do their sailing on Wall St. Just today, we have reports that JP Morgan Chase is paying a $920M fine for the "London Whale Fail" trading losses. Amazingly enough, JP Morgan is even admitting "fault":

WASHINGTON JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) is paying $920 million in penalties and admitting wrongdoing over a $6 billion trading loss last year that tarnished the bank's reputation.

Regulators said Thursday that the largest U.S. bank failed to properly supervise traders in its London operation, allowing them to assign inflated values to trades and cover up losses as they ballooned. Two of the traders are facing criminal charges of falsifying records to hide the losses.
Of course, JP Morgan had reported profits for their second quarter of the year as $6.5B so a $920M fine is still just a cost of doing business tax and nothing more.

Reuters is reporting that Wells Fargo is cutting 1,800 jobs in their mortgage business:
(Reuters) - Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N), the largest U.S. mortgage lender, said on Thursday that it will cut 1,800 jobs in its home loan business due to lower demand for refinancing amid higher interest rates.

The fourth-largest U.S. bank provided a 60-day notice on Wednesday to employees whose jobs were to be eliminated, the bank said in a statement.

Chief Financial Officer Tim Sloan told investors at a conference on September 9 that the San Francisco bank had laid off 3,000 employees in its mortgage business so far in the third quarter. Sloan also said Wells Fargo expected to make $80 billion in home loans in the third quarter, nearly 30 percent below its second-quarter figure.
I wonder how this will impact the on-going problems Wells Fargo and other banks have in mortgage servicing. My WAG is it will not be pretty but I would also take a WAG that paying fines and "admitting no wrongdoing" is still cheaper than actually making things operate correctly.

It is not just the banksters that make me say "Arrrggghhh" though. The AP is reporting that a federal judge in New Orleans has accepted a guilty plea for destroying evidence after the BP oil spill in 2010. Of course, the corporate person known as Halliburton really won't feel much pain from this plea - a $200K fine and a $55M donation to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (the donation is not a condition of the guilty plea.) Halliburton profits for the quarter that ended 30 June were $679M so $55.2M in fines and donations equals a cost of doing business and nothing more.

Today's pirates don't have to snarl and say "Arrrggghhh" or "Avast ye Mateys." They do not need to carry cutlasses and sail the Spanish Main. They (mostly) walk amongst us wearing business suits. They sit in their board rooms, plot the ways to increase their profits, often on the edge of legality (well, they are pirates after all so those legal niceties are mostly a formality anyway), and leave the rest of us to clean up their messes while they sail their yachts away to the Caribbean.

Arrrggghhh! That is so not snark, believe me.

And because I can:

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Oh the Oppression! Oh the Tyranny! Oh the doG-awful Whining With No Reason!

I was looking through various "news" web sites this morning when I came across this article from Tiger Beat On the Potomac (h/t Mr Pierce). The headline alone made me shake my head, "Wall Street gets misty as Bloomberg departs" then it just got worse as I read the "article":

Michael Bloomberg isn’t leaving office until January but Wall Street is already beginning to miss the New York City mayor — and bracing for a possible backlash from his replacement.

In his 12 years leading the city, Bloomberg has been a vocal champion of New York’s business and banking communities. When the knives have come out, he has time and again come to the defense of the financial services industry without batting an eye at the political reality that advocating for Wall Street is a highly unpopular move for public officials.
Awwww. Da poor widdle babies have their fee-fees hurt by those big bad people, led by a politician who thinks they might do a bit more to pay for services:
Many in New York’s business and financial elite, stung by the abrupt ascent of Bill de Blasio, an unapologetic tax-the-rich liberal, are fixated on a single question: What are we going to do?
The idea that someone like DiBlasio might replace Bloomberg as NYC Mayor seems to set alarums blaring among the power elite and rich in New York.

Give. Me. A. Fucking. Break.

A couple of years or so ago, I wrote a diary after reading some whines from JP Morgan/Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. Now we have more of the rich 1% from Wall St whining about how their taxes might go up and how dare he! From Raw Story:
New York City, like much of the nation, is living with a vast divide between rich and poor. In appearances leading up to Tuesday’s primary election, Brooklyn-based Democrat di Blasio decried these inequalities, saying, “We are not, by our nature, an elitist city. We are not a city for the chosen few,” statements that have set off alarm bells among the city’s top tier of business leaders and the well-to-do.
Oh those oppressed Titans of Wall St and Masters of the Universe! They are so oppressed, just like the Fundamentalist Christians and straight white men, they never get things their way. Why, they just might have to go on Food Stamps after they pay their taxes in a DiBlasio administration:
When it comes to average per capita wealth, New York City has been eclipsed by a handful of other locales, but the city that never sleeps still holds sway in the public imagination as the capital of capital, the center of the financial industry, and a place where a $235,000 salary still only counts as middle class. But, as a couple of recent articles show, New York isn't just a center of American wealth: it's also a center of American wealth inequality, a place where the divide between the very rich and the very poor is sometimes only a matter of a few hundred feet ... as the crow flies.
I'm sure you'll pardon me if I shed no tears for these members of the Clueless Class.

And because I can:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A 9/11 Takeaway: Media Consolidation in Action

A couple of years ago, just before the 10 year mark after the 9/11 attack, I wrote this blog post, A Personal Reflection on September 11, 2001. If you haven't read it, please go and do so and I'll wait for you. It won't take too long.

You're back? Cool. But just in case you didn't want to take the time to read, I want to quote my final paragraph:

The other thing that has stood out in my mind since September 11, 2001, besides wondering about the folks I passed each day going to and from work, was seeing the affects of media consolidation. Like many people, my attention span is not always able to stay with one thing for all that long sometimes. I recall channel surfing that morning and afternoon. I think except for Turner Classic Movies and maybe the Weather Channel, most every other cable and broadcast network available was broadcasting their parent's top news anchors. TNT and TBS were with CNN. ESPN, ESPN2, Disney Channel all had ABC News. CBS News was on MTV, VHI, BET and the other Viacom networks. Fox News was on FX, Fox Sports, National Geographic, and some others. NBC News was on USA, Bravo, MSNBC, CNBC, and others. I had sixty some channels available to me on the Springfield cable system yet there were only five news sources showing.
This has been the biggest takeaway for me from that day - the media consolidation where the local cable system had over sixty available channels yet only five available news options. We see it in some respects each and every Sunday with the Sunday Talking Heads but those shows are generally speaking to the inside the Beltway Village Idiots Pundits, Politicians, and Courtiers. For most of us, it takes a day of tragedy such as September 11, 2001 to really see media consolidation in action.

While there has been some movement of individual cable networks between and among these five major media companies, and even sales from one owner to another (such as GE selling NBC/Universal to Comcast), the following links will give you a good idea of who owns what in the media these days. I am using the wiki for most of these links out of standard laziness.

Time Warner Assets (parent of CNN)

Viacom Assets (CBS)

Disney Assets (ABC)

News Corp Assets (Fox)

Comcast Assets (NBCUniversal)

Columbia Journalism Review has this list of the above companies as well as many other media companies that extends beyond just the cable networks I have been talking about here.

I do not have a solution. I wish sometimes that the various news divisions within these organizations still reflected the pioneers of broadcast journalism. Even as he sometimes did commercial shows, Edward R Murrow brought in depth reporting. Walter Cronkite did a few appearances in network shows and movies but maintained his credibility. NBC gave us Chet Huntley and David Brinkley then John Chancellor. I would hesitate to designate any current news anchors from these big 5 broadcast media groups as an heir to these men. Instead of a Huntley or Brinkley, we get Disco Dave Gregory and his dance party. Instead of a Howard K. Smith or Harry Reasoner we get The Clinton Guy Shocked by Blow Jobs (h/t Mr Pierce).

Infotainment at best. Pablum for the masses for the most part.

And because I can:

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Just Say No

I have been struggling these last few days and weeks to come up with something to say about the possible US engagement/bombing of Syria. Usually when I write a blog post, it comes together quickly and the words just flow but this is different. Part of it is knowing that some people I respect seem to think bombing Syria is a good idea for some reason. Another part is a lot of people I do not respect are now sounding like the dirtiest of ef'fin' anti-war hippies that ever came down the protest road.

I am a veteran even though I am and have been staunchly anti-war since my college days in the early '70s. There is a small amount of irony in this as I attended a military high school in the late '60s and at one point thought I wanted to be a career infantry officer. My draft lottery number was six and if I had not had an ROTC deferment, I would have been in the US Army during Vietnam. As it was, I avoided Vietnam but wound up enlisting in the Air Force and serving from 10 December 1976 to 9 September 1982.

We have the most technologically powerful military in the world. I almost said "the most powerful" military in general but a lot of the military has been broken through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet we have people in Washington today calling for the US to intervene militarily in Syria in a civil war.

The DeeCee "conventional wisdom" seems to be that the Syrian government gassed their own people so we have to bomb them. Yet, there are credible allegations that any gassing may have been done accidentally by the rebels using chemicals provided by the Saudis and mishandled by the rebels. Secretary of State John Kerry says there is evidence to support attacking the Syrian government but that it is secret. I would like to believe him, I really would. But the US government, headed by presidents from both major political parties has long forfeited its right to be believed and trusted. There has been way too much adventurism based on incomplete or cherry-picked evidence for the US Executive or Legislative branches to be trusted.

This lack of trust in the government goes much further back than just the ten years ago run up to invading Iraq based on lies and half truths. It goes back beyond the Gulf of Tonkin "incident." It goes back beyond the recent admission by the CIA that they helped over throw an elected Iranian government in 1952, installing the Shah; eventually leading to his overthrow, the attack on the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the stand-off between the US and Iran that exists today. I am not a tin-foil wearing conspiracy theorist but these items I have mentioned are not conspiracies, they are facts, albeit often not admitted for decades.

I don't know for sure which side is which in Syria. I have a strong sense of "a plague on all of your houses" may be the best response. I keep hearing that we will only support the "moderate" rebels, as if there can ever be such a beast. The saber-rattlers in Washington seem to think we need to drop bombs, even if some of them admit that it won't do much good and won't end well.

I seem to recollect learning in school that if you were a larger person, more powerful, you had an obligation to walk away when provoked. The theory being that because of the power, the individual had a responsibility to do all in their power to avoid conflict, not seek it out. It was only the bullies who sought out and provoked conflict. Nowadays, it seems the prevailing thoughts are that we must bomb other countries to "save face." I seem to recall another set of lessons from my school days where the idea of having to "save face" confused many of us as it seemed to lead to such awful outcomes such as many of the wars we studied.

I would like to close with a question that has been floating in my mind these last few days. Do the dead really care how they were killed, by chemical weapons or by bombs? Or do they just recognize that either way, they are dead? It is too bad we can't ask them, isn't it?

Friday, September 6, 2013

August 2013 Jobs Report: "Good" News That Isn't

Well the August Jobs Reports are in, and, as usual, the numbers were not as expected. From Reuters:

U.S. employers hired fewer workers than expected in August and the jobless rate hit a 4-1/2 year low as Americans gave up the search for work, complicating the Federal Reserve's decision on whether to scale back its massive monetary stimulus this month.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 169,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said on Friday, falling short of the 180,000 Wall Street had expected and adding to signs that economic growth may have slowed a bit in the third quarter.
CNN points out that the growth for June and July was revised downwards by 74K jobs but they also highlighted:
Meanwhile, the unemployment rate fell to 7.3%, but the decline came for the wrong reasons, as 312,000 people dropped out of the labor force. Only 63.2% of Americans now participate in the labor force -- meaning they have a job or are looking for one. That's the lowest rate since August 1978.
My bold

Reuters also notes the drop in participation in the workforce in a sidebar article here:
The share of Americans aged 25 to 54 who had jobs or were looking for work dipped to 81 percent in August, the lowest level since 1984, a time when fewer women were in the workforce. In another worrisome sign, the share of these prime-age workers who actually had jobs has stagnated at around 76 percent since early last year, well below its 2003-2007 average of around 79 percent.
Most of the reports in TradMed outlets have also commented on the impact of the (lack of) jobs reports on the Federal Reserve "stimulus" (from McClatchy):
The Fed has been purchasing, at a pace of $85 billion a month, government and mortgage bonds in a bid to drive down lending rates in the economy and force risk taking by investors. They must seek better returns than they have been getting on bonds, thus juicing the stock market and commodities such as crude oil and a range of farm products. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who is concluding his term, wants to begin weaning the economy off of this support before his successor takes over.
Of course, this "stimulus" has not really helped the millions of long term un and underemployed, even though a large part of the Federal Reserve "mission" is maximizing employment.

The stock market continues to show its disconnect with most of the economy as it has gone up in response to the jobs report number (via Bloomberg):
U.S. stocks rose to a two-week high as slower-than-forecast jobs growth eased concern about reductions in Federal Reserve stimulus, overshadowing an escalation in tension between America and Russia over Syria.
So, because the Fed may not be able to stop its "stimulus" (read: easy money for the banksters and Wall St), stocks are going up in celebration. Yeah, that makes sense. After all, the casinos always like to show their appreciation for the marks customers.

Bloomberg has an opinion piece up by a Justin Wolfers, who says to concentrate on the revisions. Of course, he also seems to think public sector jobs are not "real" jobs when it comes to the economy:
There is one further detail worth emphasizing. While there were 74,000 jobs revised away this month, more than half were in the public sector, suggesting that we shouldn't be too hasty in marking down expectations of ongoing private-sector employment growth.

Now, I am one of those who refuses to give up my search for full time employment, preferably in my chosen field of Software Quality Assurance. I am a stubborn SoB and even when I keep receiving discouraging results, I will not fold. I'm sure many people would claim that I am being unrealistic in my desires to find work in my field. But am I any more unrealistic than the CEO of Morgan Stanley who declares:
...there’s almost no chance of another financial crisis like the one that endangered his firm five years ago.
Am I any more unrealistic than Cass Sunstein who sings the praises of a recently deceased economist who:
... has also helped reorient thinking about regulation in general, in part by emphasizing the importance of private flexibility, cost-benefit balancing, and careful, dogma-free empirical analysis (for which Coase made many pleas).
Ah, good ol' "cost-benefit balancing." Make the earth uninhabitable, pay a "cost-of-doing-budiness" slap on the wrist fine and everybody's happy, right?

I have a headache from the stupid we ALL display. It's just that some folks' stupid has a wider audience than others and their wrongness impacts millions whereas my stupid affects me and my cat.

And because I can:

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Thoughts on Labor Day 2013

Well, well, well. As I look back the last couple of years, it seems I have established a small tradition of writing something about Labor Day. This is the post I wrote in 2011 and this is last year's post. As I read my words from the last two years, I recognize that very little has changed in some ways yet in others, we have seen some massive changes.

Labor Day 2011 was just before the start of Occupy Wall St. Today, two years later, we are seeing fast food and retail workers staging strikes for higher wages. While many people are able to ignore the demands of these workers, there is coverage in the TradMed, albeit at the local level. This is a positive thing, even as so much of the news cycles are taken up by the rush to war with Syria (and it is a rush to war, no matter how the words and proposed actions may be caveated as "limited."

Yesterday (Saturday, August 31) the Firedoglake Book Salon was Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty, the plight of young adults from working class families. NBC News has been doing a series titled In Plain Sight: Poverty In America which has been covering all aspects of living poor in today's United States. Yet with all the discussion in some parts of the TradMed on working poor (and as I first wrote a couple of years ago, trying to live on minimum wage is at best an exercise in treading water), we are more likely to find articles like this one from ABC News yesterday with the title Top Labor Day 2013 'Made in America' Sales or this one from International Business Times titled Labor Day Sales 2013: 27 Stores To Score The Best Deals And Discounts This Weekend. The Denver Post today (Sunday, September 1) had this article titled New culture of work, both virtual and traditional, on Labor Day 2013 while the Washington Post had this blog post on the failure of schools to teach anything about the labor movement:

Major textbooks, among other things, often represent labor organizing as inherently violence, and virtually ignore the role organized labor played in winning broad social protections such as child labor laws, Social Security and Medicare.

Scholars say this [is] a result of the unfavorable view the business community and some politicians hold towards unions, an attitude that appears in textbooks that are approved by states in processes that are very political.
So as you sit down to your barbecue or grilled whatever this Labor Day; as you seek out the best deals at the store for whatever Labor Day sales this weekend; remember that the working poor, the laborers if you will, are probably not getting a paid day off. Or maybe they are among the long term un and underemployed who probably are not sitting down to a nice cook out meal to celebrate the "end of summer."

When the politicians make their Labor Day statements, remember their actions towards labor rather than their words.

And because I can:

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"I have a Dream..."

Fifty years ago today, August 28, 1963, I was an eleven year old boy. I do not recall if we had started back to school on this date but may well have. As it was, I was no more than a week or so maximum away from being a sixth grader.

I do not have any memories of Dr King's speech (pdf) or the March on Washington. I was vaguely aware of the actions of Bull Connor in Birmingham, AL but the church bombing in Birmingham that killed the four little girls was still a couple of weeks away and we were still a year away from Freedom Summer. Little of this would have penetrated or did penetrate my consciousness in small town Kentucky.

And then.

And then.

Fast forward to the fall of 1970 and my freshman year at Western Kentucky University. At the time, Western had a required, one credit hour course, "Freshman Orientation," that met for one hour a week for the entire first semester of the freshman year. I do not remember the name of the professor who taught my class of about forty freshmen. I could probably find his name on my transcripts if I knew where they were but it is not important. What is important is that one day, a month or so into the semester, he walked into the classroom, turned on the tape recorder sitting on the desk in the front and walked out. It was a tape of Dr. King's speech and played entirely. Afterwards, the professor returned to the room and we spent the rest of the hour discussing the speech from the distance of seven tumultuous years.

Has Dr. King's dream been fulfilled, fifty years later? Not hardly. And it is not just his desire for racial justice that is still lacking (as Mr Pierce points out, this has not been achieved no matter the ravings of people such as those at The National Review.) And contrary to the desires of one Jonah Goldberg, Dr King's message was very much about economic justice as well as racial justice and equality. Dr. King was assassinated as he was in Memphis to support the striking Memphis Sanitation workers. Dr. King, along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was the organizer of the Poor People's Campaign. From the Poor People's Campaign history:

The Poor People's Campaign did not focus on just poor black people but addressed all poor people. Martin Luther King jr. labeled the Poor People's Campaign the "second phase," of the civil rights struggle - setting goals such as gathering activists to lobby Congress for an "Economic Bill of Rights," Dr. King also saw a crying need to confront a Congress that had demonstrated its "hostility to the poor " - appropriating "military funds with alacrity and generosity," but providing "poverty funds with miserliness."

Under the "economic bill of rights" the Poor People's Campaign asked for the federal government to prioritize helping the poor with an antipoverty package that included housing and a guaranteed annual income for all Americans.
My bold

Yesterday's New York Times had an opinion piece from Joseph Stiglitz where Stiglitz describes how Dr King's speech has impacted his life in economics:
But Dr. King realized that the struggle for social justice had to be conceived broadly: it was a battle not just against racial segregation and discrimination, but for greater economic equality and justice for all Americans. It was not for nothing that the march’s organizers, Bayard Rustin and A. Philip Randolph, had called it the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

In so many respects, progress in race relations has been eroded, and even reversed, by the growing economic divides afflicting the entire country.
This is a time where the long term un and underemployed can't find jobs because they are among the long term un and underemployed. It is also a time where nearly 40% of the highest paid CEOs from the last 20 years have been Bailed Out, Booted, and Busted.

No, Dr. King's "Dream" is still just that - a dream. Racial equality, while improved, still has miles to go to be fully achieved. Economic justice is only a myth these days where the bulk of new jobs being created are low wage and companies rely on employees receiving food stamps and Medicaid rather than pay decent wages with benefits.

No, Dr King's dream is still but a dream of what can be, not even close to what is.

And because I can:

Sunday, August 18, 2013

So what about the rest of your workforce?

These last few years, I have occasionally found myself watching the TV show Undercover Boss. From the wiki:

Undercover Boss is an Emmy Award-winning television franchise series created by Stephen Lambert and produced in many countries. It originated in 2009 on the British Channel 4.[1] The show’s format features the experiences of senior executives working undercover in their own companies to investigate how their firms really work and to identify how they can be improved, as well as to reward hard-working employees.

Each episode features a high-ranking executive or the owner of a corporation going undercover as an entry-level employee in his or her own company. The executives alter their appearance and assume an alias and fictional back-story. The fictitious explanation given for the accompanying camera crew is that the executives are being filmed as part of a documentary about entry-level workers in a particular industry, or a competition with another individual with the winner getting a job with the company. They spend approximately one to two weeks undercover (one week being the norm in some editions, such as the U.S. version, and two weeks in some other versions, such as the Australian edition), working in various areas of their company's operations, with a different job and in most cases a different location each day. They are exposed to a series of predicaments with amusing results, and invariably spend time getting to know the people who work in the company, learning about their professional and personal challenges.
My bold

Now, I have laughed at some of the "...series of predicaments with amusing results..." It can be very amusing to see someone who spends the bulk of their time behind a desk trying to wrestle a pallet loader or make a bed or wait on a customer. But there was always something that bothered me about the show and I eventually figured it out. It goes to the pieces of the wiki that I have bolded - "...rewarding hard-working employees" and "...learning about their professional and personal challenges." The wiki for the US version of the show has a bit that covers much of what bothers me about it, from a review in the Washington Post:
The Washington Post, in a negative review, said that Undercover Boss "is a hollow catharsis for a nation already strung out on the futility of resenting those who occupy CEO suites."
Further from the Washington Post review:
And in trickle-down style comes a show in which ordinary people get paid exactly nothing to experience the strangest sort of practical joke in their workplace, as if they're being "Punk'd" by a Successories poster: The head of the company wants to work alongside them, but -- get this -- they won't know it's him. And the sad part is, rather than tell a story about middle-class anger, "Undercover Boss" is drizzled with the feel-good syrup of corporate bunk.
Most of the shows I've seen have the "undercover" person meeting front line workers and being shown how the person does the job. As the worker and undercover boss do the task(s), they talk together and we hear the stories of the workers. It may be how the worker is a single mother worrying about how she will pay for her children's education. It may be the story of how the worker volunteers at a homeless shelter. Whatever the story the worker has to tell, it is usually some variation on heart warming to heart wrenching. At the end of the episode, the workers the "undercover boss" has met are brought to the headquarters where they then meet the boss in his/her real life. Sometimes they recognize the person they knew as a worker, sometimes they don't but they always seem to be shocked at the news they have been working with a big cheese. Almost invariably, the boss will reward the worker(s) - sometimes it might be a new car to replace the junker the worker has been using to transport food for the food pantry. It might be a scholarship fund or it might be a no interest loan for home repairs. Sometimes the boss creates a new position within the organization for the worker but no matter what special reward is provided, it is always a feel good moment.

But for all the feel good moments within the shows, what about all the other "Hard-working employees" who do not appear on camera dealing with the "undercover boss?" What will the organization do about the "professional and personal challenges" of the hundreds and thousands of other employees who are not privileged? Would it be possible for the businesses, producers, CBS, and other networks showing this TV series to maybe start doing little things like paying living wages, funding defined benefit retirement plans, providing full health care coverage to all employees? Maybe they could work to assure their companies aren't polluting the environment, maybe fewer feel good moments at the end of a television episode and more moments of businesses recognizing the values of all workers, not just the ones the show's producers decide can increase a couple of ratings points.

No, I am not going to hold my breath.

And because I can: