Monthly Archives: August 2013

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.

Made in America

This past weekend I was out shopping at a large upscale mall near where I live.  The mall is called Irvine Spectrum and is always packed with shoppers.  There is a Nordstrom and Macys, along with many other upscale retailers.  I was there to shop for a new pair of running shoes and decided to do a bit more shopping.

I went into Lucky Brands, a upscale mens and womens clothing store.  They specialize in selling  high quality jeans and accessories.  While I was looking at a pair of jeans, a clerk came over and asked if I would be interested in buying a pair of pants that were “made in America”.  I was really surprised, I had never been approached by someone offering me clothing with that selling point.

I decided to take a look at the jeans, they didn’t look any different from the other jeans, other than the price, which was about 20% higher than the other jeans I was looking at.  I thought to myself, would I be willing to pay an extra $20 for a pair of jeans to support US manufacturing jobs.  Then I wondered how much of the Jeans were actually “made in America”, or were the components just put together/sewn together.  Was the cotton grown in the US, was the cotton woven into cloth in the US, was the cloth dyed in the US, was the zipper made in the US and etc.

I ended up not buying anything, but did realized that prior to this, I’ve never really thought about where the clothes I wear were made.  The important thing to me has always been about quality, style and price.

I continued my shopping and found myself at American Apparel.  A retailer who uses, Made in the USA as part of its logo.  100% of its clothing are sewn in the US and it is vertically integrated, so the many of the materials it uses are also sourced in the US.  According to their website, they operate the largest sewing facility in the US.

As I am shopping at American Apparel, I notice that the pricing is considerably higher than similar clothing at other retailers.  American Apparel, unlike Lucky Brands, isn’t considered a ‘designer’ brand that you would expect to pay more for.  Basics such as button down shirts were over $50.  After shopping for a few minutes, I leave without buying anything.

I really like the idea of buying American, supporting US based manufacturing jobs and US based workers.  However, I am not sure what it is worth to me to do that.  Am I willing to pay 20% or more for something that is made in the US.  I really don’t know the answer to that.  My initial thinking is probably not, since I tend to be very price sensitive, but if it helps the overall economy, perhaps it makes sense.

There isn’t really a clear answer for me on this.  If the prices were the same or very close, I would buy everything that was made in America, however, with the price difference, this is something that I will have to think about.

 

Beau Biden and ObamaCare

This past week, Vice President Joe Biden spent several days with his son in Houston at one of the best cancer treatment hospitals in the world.  He was there with his son who recently experienced some medical issues.  After seeing his own doctors, they decided to seek out the best care possible at the Houston facility.

Several years ago Beau Biden had a minor stroke and they clearly were all concerned about his health.  Beau Biden is a public official himself, serving as Attorney General of the State of Delaware.  I can understand and respect the fact that they wanted the best possible care.  Years ago, Vice President Biden lost his first wife and a daughter.  Beau Biden is a husband and father of two.

As Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden has unlimited access to financial resources and medical professionals.  Doctors around the world would be waiting in line for the opportunity to treat the Vice President’s son.  Treating Beau Biden would bring positive press and prestige.

The Vice President and his son have every right to use every means possible to obtain the best possible care to treat his condition.  They have every right to travel across the United States to visit the best hospital and be seen by the best medical professionals.  They have every right to chose what care they are getting.  Every American should have that same right.

Under ObamaCare, many Americas will be giving up some of that same choice the Vice President and his son have.  They will be forced to pay for a health care plan that limits their choice or they will be forced to pay a tax to the Government for not having a required health care plan.  ObamaCare is forcing employers to provide health care to its employees or face penalties.  Businesses and workers should have a choice.  If workers, want their employer to provide health care, they can get a job that provides it.  If a employer wants to provide health care for its employees they should have the choice to decide how to do that.

One of the founding principals of the United States is choice and personal freedom.  ObamaCare takes away some of these choices.  I know the Vice President and his son are happy they had the choice to get the best possible treatment without restriction.  It was a choice in their total control.  All Americans should have the same choice to get the medical care they desire.

Federal Reserve and Monetary Policy

The non-elected Federal Reserve has had far too much power over the US economy.  Governments and investors around the world watch and listen to the leaders of the Federal Reserve for any indication on what strategies they will be employing to help the US economy grow, while keeping inflation in check.  While these economist are experts in their field, they yield far too much power over the United States economy.

There was a time when Congress and the President balanced out the Federal Reserve with the fiscal policy of the United States.  The amount of Federal debt, the annual deficit, taxes and spending are in the control of elected officials.  However, they have not been doing their job so as a result, it seems as though we are almost fully dependent on the Federal Reserve to take proactive steps to improve the economy, while it should be more of a partnership or a joint effort between fiscal and monetary policy.

It has been over 15 years since the Congress has passed 13 appropriations bills to fund the Federal government.  This to me is unbelievable and unacceptable.  Who gets to keep their job for over 15 years while NOT completing a core responsibility.  These appropriation bills set the priority for the Federal government.  The bills can help business sectors grow, can fund or create whole new ones, they can leave more money in the hands of taxpayers or they can take in more to pay down the debt or fund new programs.

With about 6 weeks until the October 1st deadline, it appears that once again Congress will not be completing its job.  The consequence of this this are both direct and indirect.  The most significant being the incremental power that it gives to the Federal Reserve.  I hope that at some point a future Congress and President will see this and do their job and take back some of their power and influence on the US and World economies.

California SMOG Test

A few weeks ago I received a notice that it was time to renew my car registration and when I opened the envelop, I discovered that I needed to have a smog test done.  My general understanding of the program was that if you live In California it is required to have a smog test done on your vehicle every 2 years by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or they won’t allow you to renew your registration.

I decided to learn more about the program and discovered that in about 18 counties you are not required to have the smog test done and in six counties, you only have to do it if you live in some specific zip codes.  I was amazed at this.  To think that the government put into place a program to keep the air clean and then limit it to specific areas of the state, or zip codes, doesn’t seem to make sense to me.  I don’t believe that drivers are restricted to only driving in the county that they live in or even specific zip codes.  Further, that there are some imaginary ‘walls’ around counties to prevent the SMOG from crossing county or zip code lines.

The purpose of the smog testing program is to make sure drivers keep their cars and trucks in good working order, so that they don’t put any unnecessary pollutants into the environment.  In general, I am ok with this.  I think it is important to have clean air.  I think that too many drivers would delay or not fix their cars if they were not forced to do so.  Keeping the environment and air clean is an important role for government.

However, I do not feel that excluding 18 counties and parts of 6 others makes any absolutely no sense.  We don’t restrict where people can drive.  We don’t limit have any imaginary walls.  Like most government laws and regulations, there always seems to be exceptions for special groups.  I am fairly confident that if I were to go back to when the program was enacted, state politicians from those areas demanded that there was no smog problem in their counties, so that they shouldn’t have to be unfairly penalized.

The State of California really needs to go back and reevaluate this program to make it more fair and equitable.  If the smog test program removes pollutants from the air in some areas, it should be put into place across the state.

USPS Visit

Yesterday I had the very rare pleasure of visiting my local post office.   I am one of the people who is putting the Post Office out of business, as I pay 100% of my monthly bills either via bill pay, through my bank, or on the business website.  However, I had to mail in some material to the IRS and it forced me to visit the Post Office to have it sent out.  What a mess that experience was.

First, to set the picture, I went mid-afternoon, on a Monday.  I pulled into a packed parking lot, in doing so, almost got hit twice, by people in a rush.  Once I entered the building, i noticed a horrible smell, it smelled like urine.  I believe it was the person panhandling in the lobby, in front of the PO Boxes.

I make my way to the separate area where the Post Office clerks are and discover that there are about 18 people ahead of me (yes I counted).  I figured the place would be empty since it was in the middle of the afternoon, hours after most people take their lunch breaks.  Thankfully the line moved surprisingly fast, since it appeared that there was a clerk at every station, which is the first time in my recent memory that I’ve seen that.

The area I was in appeared to be dirty and outdated.  There were old signs on the wall that looked liked they had been there for years.  However, I was impressed to see that they had a few display units offering packaging supplies and greeting cards.  It is about time that the post office tried to increase their revenue from the people there to use their mailing services.

As I reached the front of the line, I see a basket with hundreds of forms in it, with no explanation or directions.  I thumb through the basket, as I was hoping to get some sort of delivery confirmation for my package.

I hear ‘next’ and made my way to the open clerk.  I hand her my envelop and ask to have it mailed first class with a email confirmation of delivery (I was pleasantly surprised that offered this service for only $1.25).  The clerk proceeded to tell me that I used the wrong kind of tape to make sure the overstuffed envelope was secure.   I asked her if I needed to redo it and she replied in a very curt manner that she would fix it for me.

A few moments later she tells me that it is going to cost $6.85 for the envelope, which was a bit more than I expected, but took my credit card out to pay.  I ran my credit card through the processing machine, like I have done thousands of times and was told to wait a moment.  It has always been my experience that if someone tells you the amount you owe, they are ready for you to pay.

A moment later I hear, ‘it’s ok for you to slide your card’, so I did.  Then as I’m putting away my card, she asked me to see it.  I handed her the card and noticed that she took the security code off the back and entered it into her computer.  I have used that card and other credit cards, thousands of times and have never had anyone, in a retail environment do this.  I am used to having to show identification in rare instances, but never this.

The clerk then hands me my receipt and I take a look it.  I then realize that I’m sending my envelope via priority mail.  I was shocked in that it wasn’t what I asked for.  I mention this to the clerk and she proceeds to tell me that due to the weight of the envelope, priority service is my only option.  As this point I didn’t really know what to say and just put the receipt into my wallet and walked out.

I read recently that the Post Office is looking to start delivering alcohol to increase its revenue, I think this is a good idea.  I do hope that the Post Office starts to realize that they have competition and in order to be competitive, it needs to update its locations, improve service and expand its services.