Senate passes LGBT Anti-Discrimination Bill

Today the United States Senate passed a bill prohibiting work place discrimination of gays, lesbians and transgender persons.  While I am glad that the Senate took up this piece of legislation, I think it is a sad statement on our society.  The Federal government currently has protections in place to protect people from discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability and genetic information.  If this Bill were to pass by the House of Representatives, which is unlikely, the protected groups or classes would grow to include sexual orientation.

It is amazing to think that this list will keep growing over time.  While I understand that at one point, we as a society needed to make dramatic changes to address the past by passing the Civil Rights Act and other pieces of legislation to protect women and the disabled, it seems to me that we all should recognize each other as different and value that.  To recognize that businesses need a variety of talent and perspectives to grow and be successful.

Due to the number of protected groups, everyone, at one point in their life, will be a protected class.  That being the case, do we even need this law or would it be better to just say, no discrimination, period.  Treat people based upon performance, treat people based on their contribution and more importantly treat them as you would want to be treated.

Another law, more government, more lawsuits, more money for lawyers and wasted time.  These are the things that will result in this Bill passing and any future laws being made to address the fact that people continue to discriminate against others.

I truly hope that one day the United States will evolve to the point that we won’t need laws to protect people from being treated unfairly based upon who they are, their beliefs, or what they look like.

Leaving the Workforce

There was some big news today on August unemployment.  Approximately 169,000 jobs were created during the month and the unemployment rate dropped.  On the surface, the jobs number was lower than forecasted, but the decline could be seen as a good indicator.  Taken alone, the lower rate could also have been seen as a good sign.

However, when you look below the top line numbers you see some very bad trends.  The labor force participation rate — the percentage of people over 16 who either have a job or are actively searching for one — fell to 63.2% in August. The last time it was that low was in August of 1978.  What this means is only 63% of people of working age… were actually working (or looking).  During the month of August, over 300,000 people decided to leave the ‘official’ workforce.

The percentage of people in the work force, in the latter half of the 20th century, had been rising.  The rate rose steadily for decades as more women were entering the workforce, eventually peaking at 67.3% in 2000.  But the number has been on the decline ever since — a trend that was accelerated by the Great Recession.  There are now 90.5 million Americas who don’t work and are not counted as part of the ‘official’ labor force.  This excludes kids under the age of 16 and non civilians such as those in the military or in prison, but includes just about everyone else.

Many of them are either retired or are high school or college students, according to the Labor Department. But the other 40 million or so aren’t trying to find work for a variety of reasons — they might be rich, they might stay home with kids or relatives, they might be disabled, or they might simply have given up looking for a job.

What this means that a smaller chunk of the population is paying for promised entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare.  It also means fewer people are paying taxes and contributing to economic growth.

While I don’t have numbers to substantiate it, I believe a large number of these people have only left the ‘official’ workforce, which means they are not paying social security or medicare taxes, they are not paying state or Federal income taxes and they are are still working!  They have just decided to work as part of the underground economy.  In doing so, they put more money in their own pockets today and ignore the impact on the future and the economy as a whole.

We as Americans like to stay busy and work.  I truly believe that a majority of those 40 million people are ’employed’ somewhere, they are getting paid ‘cash’ and avoiding the ‘taxes’ and fees that everyone that is part of the official economy are paying.  People are working as babysitters, doing yard work, collecting deposits on thrown aways bottles and cans, they are fixing cars out of their garage, doing manual labor after being pickup outside Lowes or Home Depot.  They are cleaning pools, painting houses, selling things on Ebay, they are playing poker online and so many other things to make money.  They are supporting themselves and putting more money in their pockets.  People like to stay busy and they need money to support themselves and their family.  Most of those 40 million people are working.

I am not sure the solution to this problem, other than millions of high paying jobs.  In order to make more of these jobs part of the ‘official’ workforce, we would need to significantly cut taxes and create incentives for people to want to be a part of the official economy.  This is very difficult.  We could also significantly increase enforcement… so that there are very very painful penalties if you are caught working in the underground economy.  More enforcement is expensive and will make people angry.

There will always be people working in the underground economy, however, the government must do everything possible to create good jobs and incentives so that people want to work in the official economy, so that they want to pay taxes and contribute to Social Security.  We need more working people participating in the official economy.

Pace of Technology Change

It is really amazing the fast pace of technology change, especially in the area of wireless communications and interactions.  I started my business career working for a company called PrimeCo Personal Communications, which eventually became a part of Verizon.  At that time, texting was new and was called “SMS” or short messaging service.  Coverage was spotty, service was expensive and you used your wireless device primarily for ‘talking’ (and you had very short conversations due to the expense).

There were limited choices on phones, Nokia and Motorola were the top brands and if you changed phone companies, you lost your number.  You only accessed your email from a computer, either from home or work and a majority of people still had a home phone.

You actually talked to people when you were out in public, rather than text someone, read the internet or send an email.  You worked when you were at work… you didn’t answer your emails at all hours of the night and day from your phone.  If you needed directions for a cross county trip you contacted triple A for a “trip-tic”,  you had to balance your checkbook, rather than your bank sending you a text for every transaction on your account, along with your balance.  There are thousands of examples of how “Apps” or programs that run on our phones have changed the way we live and work, communicate and conduct business.

Earlier today, Samsung announced the availability of a “watch” that communicates with your phone.  You can take pictures, videos, see who is calling, send text, use your ‘apps’ and so much more.  The watch also looks great and tells you the time!  Apple, Microsoft, Google, Sony, Pebble and others are either close or ready to launch watches of their own.  I am fairly confident that this is just the beginning of ‘wearable’ technology, especially when you consider that Google is testing glasses that are connected to the internet.

In a few years, it will be interesting to look back to today and see where we are as a society and with wireless technology.  And of course some of us will be able to look even further back to the day we used pay phones, when you heard people say “its long distance” and people answered your phone and took messages on paper.  We have come a long way….

Paying for College

There have been a number of articles written lately about the high cost of a college education, student loans and how for many Americans a college education is out of their reach.  These articles allude to the fact that it is becoming more and more difficult for people to obtain a college education and that as a result the United States is becoming less competitive.

I always find it difficult hearing people complain about how they can’t afford college or how they have to delay their education, to “save”.  While I understand the cost has risen since I was in college, I think there are many more college options available today; online programs, community colleges, states schools and private universities.  If someone wants an education, it is in their reach.  It is about priorities and sacrifice.  Sometimes the things are are worth the most are the hardest to achieve.

In its most recent survey of college pricing, the College Board reports that a “moderate” college budget for an in-state public college for the 2012–2013 academic year averaged $22,261.  A moderate budget at a private college averaged $43,289.  While the cumulative total ranges from $90,000 to 175,000 for those finishing in 4 years.  There are many options for students to pay for this savings, student loans, grants, scholarships, and working.

In my situation, I went to a 4 year private school and paid for it with little to no help from my family.  I used grants, student loans, and work to pay for my education.  I was determined to get an education and better myself.  I worked full time and went to school full time.  I worked two jobs during the summer and I made sacrifices to obtain a higher education with the goal of having a ‘better’ life than I would have without an education.  I didn’t feel I had a choice and did what was necessary.

When I graduated, in 4 years, I had an enormous amount of student loan debt.  My sacrifice continued even after college to pay off my student loans.  I made weekly payments to minimize interest, I used any extra money to pay off my student loans.  I did what I needed to in order to pay back my loans.  I didn’t default on my loans like I hear many people doing today, because it became easier than continuing to pay back.  While paying back my loans, one of my motivations was this little voice in my head that said to me… “you paying these loans back will enable others to get an education.”   I worked hard, and paid it all off well before the end of the repayment period.

According to the US Census Bureau, persons with doctorates in the United States had an average income of roughly $81,400.  The average income for an advanced degree was $72,824, with men averaging $90,761 and women averaging $50,756 annually.  Year-round full-time workers with a professional degree had an average income of $109,600 while those with a Master’s degree had an average income of $62,300.  Overall, “…average earnings ranged from $18,900 for high school dropouts to $25,900 for high school graduates, $45,400 for college graduates and $99,300 for workers with professional degrees.

I point out the earnings differential between those with a degree and those without to point out the economic value and pay back period.  A person with a 4 year degree will earn over $20k more per year compared to someone without a college degree.  Assuming that a 4-year degree cost, $90k, that is a 4.5 year pay back.  Considering that most people today have a 35-40 year career, from an economic stand point, a 4-year degree is well worth the investment.  If someone is able to do an online program or part of a 4-year degree at a lower cost community college, the economics become even more positive.

Anyone desiring an education, can obtain one.  There are many types of programs and options for paying.  It may require creativity, sacrifice and hard work but, in the end, it will be well worth the effort.

Diana Nyad: 5 Lessons from Cuba to Florida Swim

This past weekend Diana Nyad, at age 64, became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage or swim fins, swimming from Havana to Key West.  This is really an amazing accomplishment and testament of what one can accomplish if they truly desire it.

It took Nyad 5 attempts to accomplish her goal and she did it at a stage of life when most people would never dream of taking on such an endeavor.  She swam continuously for over 50 hours and traveled a distance of over 110 miles.  She battled jellyfish, sharks, the sun and currents to accomplish this amazing feat.

This amazing accomplishment has a number of lessons for us all.

1.  Don’t give up your dream.  Even if  you fail to accomplished what you set out to achieve the first time, try again.  It may even takes several times, but don’t give up.

2.  Learn from failures.  Even if you don’t achieve your objective, you can learn and use that knowledge to your advantage on your next try.

3.  Age is a number.  You can accomplish your goals at any age, you are never too old or too young to accomplish something if you work hard and want it bad enough

4.  It takes a team.  It is ok to ask for help in achieving your goals and objectives.  People love helping other people achieve their dreams and feel good about lending a hand.

5.  Be yourself.  There is no need to pretend to be someone you are not.  Live your life, work hard and treat people as you would like to be treated and you can not only achieve your goals but also live a fulfilled life.

Diana Nyad is truly a remarkable woman.  She is a role model for all of us hoping to achieve a dream.

 

Bullying

There was an article in the New York Times today that really hit home with me for a number of reasons.  It was about a 15 year old child, a sophomore in high school, who killed himself after the first day of school.  From what I read, he seemed like a good kid, active in scouting, clean cut, smart and in decent shape.  However, he was bullied at school.  Kids at his school were mean to him and gave him a hard time.

His killing himself didn’t happen immediately, he was tormented and bullied over a period of time.  His parents tried to help by talking to the school.  The school tried to help, but it wasn’t enough.  He even called out for help on social media.  Even with this, he must have felt a sense of hopelessness and nowhere to turn.

I have been bullied at different times of my life.  In middle school, in high school, and at various jobs, one in which I just left.  I know how it feels to be picked-on, to be called names, threatened, intimidated, and physically and/or mentally abused.

When I was young and living with my parents, I was told to ignore the bully, that he would stop if he didn’t get the reaction he wanted.  I was told that I should stay away from that person and they wouldn’t bother me anymore.  That didn’t work.  I am confident that many parents and educators give that same advice.  Ignore the bully, stay away from the bully, that will solve the problem.  I will say right here, right now… that is NOT the solution.

I know how the 15 year old in Connecticut felt.  I have felt hopeless, alone and that I had little or no options.  I can understand why he felt that way.  He asked for help, but not enough was done.  The situation wasn’t taken seriously enough.  In this child’s case, the school followed-up to see how things were going, and the child said everything was better.  The school didn’t understand, by doing that, they potentially made the situation even worse.  Of course the child is going to lie after initial attempts at getting help, went nowhere.  I am confident, the bullies felt empowered even more and ramped their abuse when they got a ‘talking’ to and nothing else happened.

In my recent job, I was mistreated, talked down to, and was criticized to other employees.  I was made to feel insignificant, unimportant and powerless.  I felt humiliated, degraded and worthless.  At my lowest moments, I did think about suicide as a means of ending the situation and abuse.  I felt hopeless.  I was dependent on my job for my livelihood  and didn’t have any other means of support.

I was lucky.  One day I stood up for myself and told the CEO that threatening me was not acceptable, that cutting my pay was not acceptable.  I felt empowered and energized that I could stand up for myself.  I was told to keep quiet and not complain and if I did again, I would be fired.  I didn’t keep quiet and I was fired.  Not everyone can learn how to stand up for themselves, I have.  It took two years of abuse from the CEO of my company before I said enough was enough. 

Not only are there bullies in school and in the workplace, but in governments and in positions of authority.  President Assad of Syria is a bully.  He used chemical weapons on his own people to send a message that they need to stay in line.  He wanted to bully his people into submission to stay in power and to put down his opposition.

So how do you deal with a bully?  You come down HARD.  You don’t ignore the problem.  You don’t try to appease the bully.  No child, no employee or citizen of any nation should feel helpless, to feel like they have no choice but to accept the treatment they are receiving.  In many cases, the person or persons being bullied are afraid and unable to help themselves.  It is up to us to step in and help, however possible, by any means possible.  To come down hard, the first time, so doesn’t happen again.

When there is a 15 year old child who needs help or a nation of woman and children who need help.  We all need to lend a hand.  We need to do whatever is necessary.  We need to step in.  We need to come down HARD on the bully so that they will NEVER treat someone in this manner again.  Bullying is serious.  Bullying happens in schools, companies and in nations.  We can not allow 15 year old children to feel so hopeless that they kill themselves.  We can not allow women and children to be killed with chemical weapons.  We can not allow CEOs to mistreat, threaten and abuse their employees.

Income Taxes

According to a recent article in CNNMoney, ‘a little more than 43% of U.S. households — or 70 Million homes will end up owing no federal income taxes for 2013.”  Of these households, 67% have incomes of below $30,000.  23 millions households pay nothing to the Federal government, when you consider payroll taxes to support Medicare and Social Security.

These statistics highlight a couple of problems that needs to be addressed.  First, approximately 33% of households with incomes over $30,000 pay NO Federal taxes.  This is due to, too many exemptions, exclusions, credits and deductions.  The Federal debt and deficit are too large and the need in America is too urgent for this to continue.  I am not advocating higher rates, just that everyone should pay something, every year, regardless of who they are of what they have.

Our Legislative brand looks at each “special” tax break in a silo, in many cases ignoring the compounding of these breaks.  Households can and do take multiple breaks to minimize their tax liability.  The Legislative branch needs to consider the bigger picture and how these combined breaks impact households.  The Legislative branch needs to take support the view that ‘everyone’ pays someone (with perhaps the exception of the elderly and disabled).

Additionally, there needs to be either a “cap or ceiling” on deductions taken each year.  This cap should be a percentage, thereby making sure that everyone pays something.  So that taxpayers do not feel like they are being shortchanged, I would allow the “excess” tax break to be rolled forward for 3-5 years.  Thereby, bringing in more tax revenue while at the same time, not ‘taking’ away anything from taxpayers.

Another option is to create a minimum tax that everyone pays, a floor.  It can be something modest, to pay for the military, national parks, food inspectors, and etc.  For example, every household in the U.S. must  pay a minimum of $500 in taxes.  You might exempt the elderly and those with a disability.  The idea being that everyone pays something.

There will be those who say that the poor would be paying a higher percentage of their income than those at the higher income brackets.  In an ideal world, you would incorporate both the ideas.  Put a cap on tax breaks, combined with a minimum tax that everyone pays.  This will bring in more revenue and be must fairer to everyone.

The second issue that these statistics highlight is there are far far too many households in the U.S. making below $30000 a year.  Too many families are having to support themselves on an income with no room for savings, emergencies or the extras that make for a good life.  Higher quality, higher paying jobs is the solution for this.  Some might believe that businesses should be ‘forced’ to pay more, I don’t think that is the solution.  A thriving economy and manufacturing jobs would help.  If this were to be improved, the Federal government would also bring in more revenue.

The U.S. can’t ignore these statistics any longer, something needs to be done.  The Congress and the President needs to take action.

 

 

Fast Food Restaurant Protests

One of the big stories over the past few weeks is protests going on around the county by fast food workers demanding higher pay.  In some cases, these people are walking off the job in protest.  Fast food workers are protesting at McDonalds, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC and others.  Many of these workers are upset because they believe they should be paid more, in some cases more than double what they are being paid today.

I think the workers have every right to protest, find other jobs or quit.  The business model at these restaurants will not adequately support higher pay.  The jobs are lower wage because they are repetitive in nature, requiring only basic skills.  The jobs were designed for employees with limited training and that can be done will little supervision.  Further, the customers of these fast food restaurants want low cost food.  They want the restaurants to continue promotions, to continue their $1 menus and continue their discounted ‘combo’ offerings.

The real problem with this scenario is the people who are now working these low skilled, entry level fast food jobs.  Traditionally, most of the fast food jobs were taken by high school and college aged students who might be living at home and in a position to make minimum wage.  They were gaining good experience while at the same time wanting a flexible schedule where they might be only working 20-30 hours per week.

If you go into most fast food restaurants today, the employees are people in there 20s or 30s, sometimes older, who have children and families to support.  No longer are these employees wanting to work part time with flexible schedules.  They want to work 40 hours a week, have benefits and be paid a wage that will allow them to support not only themselves, but their family.

The real problem is the people who are in these jobs are low skilled workers who are unable to find other employment.  Companies don’t want to invest in training.  They want to hire people ready to work and contribute day one.  Further, there are a limited number of higher paid jobs, there are not enough manufacturing jobs in American that pay higher wages.

The real long term solution is to create an environment where companies can afford to manufacture goods in the US again.  This will create higher demand for skilled works and will result in employers willing to hire and train the people they need.

There are many things that the President and Congress can do to improve the economic conditions and jobs in the United States.  I hope that rather than make it more difficult for businesses to operate, with programs like Obamacare, they should be making a concerted effort to make it easier and less expensive.  This will result in more higher paying jobs, this is the real solution that these fast food workers want and need.

 

 

 

 

Genetically Modified Organisms and Food

“A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.  Organisms that have been genetically modified include micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeast, insects, plants, fish, and mammals. GMOs are the source of genetically modified foods, and are also widely used in scientific research and to produce goods other than food.  The term GMO is very close to the technical legal term, ‘living modified organism’ defined in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which regulates international trade in living GMOs (specifically, “any living organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology”).”

There was an incident recently in the Philippines that caught my attention.  Farm workers destroyed a test rice field that was growing yellow rice.  The rice was yellow because it was modified with genetic material from corn, so that the rice would have additional nutrients.  One of the key nutrients was vitamin A.

Many people around the work are deficient in vitamin A and as a consequent suffer from preventable blindness and other vision problems.  The hope was that the yellow rice would be able to be grown successfully and could then be put into the food supply around the world.

The thing that troubled me the most is farmers have been cross breeding plants for thousands of years.  Farmers have breed many new fruits and vegetables which are in our food supply today.  Further, nature itself has developed new species over time as a result of cross pollination, this is without any human intervention.

Often times people are afraid of the consequences of change.  The farm workers may have been fearful that the new rice would put them out of work, or that it would result in food that no one wanted to eat.  Regardless of the fear they had, they should not have destroyed the test field.

I am not 100% sure where I stand on other genetically modified organisms, but for plants and more specifically fruits and vegetables, I am ok with it and would gladly eat it.  Using advances in technology to move faster than simply cross breeding plants, I think is a good thing for the world.

Syria

The use of chemical weapons in Syria must be verified and proven, beyond a doubt, before deadly force is used against government forces.  We need to learn from our experience during the George Bush administration, when the United States went into Iraq over the “belief” they had weapons of mass destruction.  President Obama and United Nations must verify before any action is taken.

The United States, France and Arab League are talking the lead in denouncing the potential use of chemical weapons on civilians.  I am glad to see that it isn’t just the US and that other nations and organizations are being vocal on what is going on.  While this ‘civil war’ has been going on for months, it wasn’t until recently that high level attention has been redirected to the situation.

I find it interesting that it is all coming to a head only after a short time that Angelina Jolie visited a refugee camp and publicly came out with a statement that something needed to be done to end the suffering.  It shouldn’t take a celebrity to call attention to a major world problem before something is done.  It shouldn’t take the use of chemical weapons before something is done.

I hope that chemical weapons were not use in Syria, but if they were the world needs to step in and force a change in the leadership of that country.  No one should be allowed to stay in power who may have committed mass murder of innocent, helpless people.  The world must not look the other way and allow this to continue.