Sunday, November 28, 2010

The TSA doesn’t give a hoot about security

Jobs I am Glad I Don't Have

So, it appears that the TSA has a choice. Be vigorous in its inspection and be blasted for invasion of privacy, or use less rigorous methods, and face the consequences of missing dangerous materials.

I think you raise the wrong question. I think your question is similar to a CEO saying to Taiichi Ohno:

I care most about quality - providing excellent products to the customer. Either add more inspectors or tell me we have enough inspectors and tell me who we need to replace. The answer Taiichi Ohno would give is to change the way we work to be better, not just add more resources to try and cope with a bad system. More of my thoughts on the topic the TSA doesn't give a hoot about security.

There is another choice - find effective methods to improve quality (better security), reduce waste ($ spent by TSA, people wasting time in line...), respect people. There are many bad things about the current situation at airports they include:

  • poor security measures (not well designed to reduce risks), and

  • far too intrusive

Both should be fixed. As well as reducing waste. And the way to do so is to change the system - not either add to or take away from what is done now.

The front line TSA people are in a horrible situation. This is the classic situation where Dr. Deming would empathize with the employees and blast the senior leadership who have failed their customers and their employees.

Related: Bikinis For Liberty - Freedom Increasingly at Risk - Exposing Bad Behavior

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bikinis For Liberty

The United States Transportation Agency is choosing to take extremely controversial tactics. See the video for details. I am amazed that this hasn't been shut down extremely quickly. Normally such lunacy is not allowed to continue, no matter what fear tactics people try to use to justify their extremely disturbing actions. Such failures to watch the watchmen are often taken when it just seems easier to ignore that bad action because we can hope it won't happen again. This is just a nightmare it seems to me for all those who currently have already failed to stop this behavior. I will be amazed if senior officials are not gone within 1 month for allowing this to last more than 1 day. But I have been amazed before, so...

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Tip/Wag - TSA, Bert & Dogs<a>
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionMarch to Keep Fear Alive

Reddit, an online community, has a significant number of people that have been galvanized by this attack on liberty and want to take action to bring about change in how our government acts. And the first step is to look at bringing attention to the misdeeds.

A response to this attack on liberty requires a campaign. I ran across an wonderful idea as a comment on We Won't Fly. I wouldn't see this idea as the lead but as supporting campaign. There seem to be some powerfully good ideas that could form the foundation for a campaign, already. The idea is that you have a way to opt out of those 2 degradations (the "naked" scan or being groped) - go to the airport in a spedo or bikini. It seems to me creative ad people could make something good with that.

The idea isn't mine, I saw a comment from Clark:

I wonder, if some brave souls go to the airport in bikini or speedos would they be exempt from both types of searches?

I think it actually is a good option for people to chose. It is sad the government is forcing people to make such a choice, but given the governments options of degradation, this option, it seems to me may well be less degrading for most. And I can't image how they could try and require you to subject yourself to one of those degradations if you did make nearly everything visible.

It also has the advantage of providing some good news footage making visible the lengths people have to go to to avoid the governments heavy handed actions. It would seem to me a whole mass of people could go to the airport dressed like that for flights and it would make a pretty good photo op. Also it is the least confrontational of any of those such ideas (at least that I have seen).

I really am sick of how our country has allowed itself to degrade liberty to such an extent

"First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak out for me."
Martin Niemoeller

I understand there are risks the government is trying to mitigate. The actions they are taking now are not acceptable. They need to think and find much better solutions. And if they can't come up with them they need to resign and then be replaced with some people that can.

Related: Tired of Incompetent Government Harassment - Librarians Standing Up to the Madness - Failure to Address Systemic SWAT Raid Failures - Preaching False Ideas to Men Known to be Idiots - Shining the light on the actions of those in power

Pointless security - Unions tell pilots to avoid body scanners at airports - Growing anxiety over airport pat-downs and scanners

Monday, November 08, 2010

Curious, Joyful, Happy Kids Grow Up: Unfortunately

I must admit I find the wonder kids have amazingly refreshing. When I was a kid I just took it for granted. Now, unfortunately surrounded by way too many incurious, blasé, dreary adults I realize the kids really have a much better idea how to live than we adults do.

Have some fun. Have some fun with a cardboard box and a stick. Or a plastic dinosaur and a small firetruck. Or just reading a book, for the 56th time this year, about how some cat goes to the store.

photo of 2 smiling children

Meanwhile I think an alien could appear on the subway and most of my fellow passengers would only be concerned if it was taking up too much space or blocked their exit, and if not, maybe not even notice it.

Hey, maybe this is why my parents always asked me "what did you do today?"
Me: [Jeez stop hounding me, Dad] "Nothing"
Actually what I did: played in a puddle; landed on the moon with Rachel and Dan and brought some moon rocks back to play with; learned that we named the people in North America, Indians, when Christopher Columbus came because we were completely wrong about who they actually were and somehow never got around to fixing that error (another strike against you crazy adults); and decided that really chocolate ice cream is better than spinach and adults don't have any idea what they are talking about.]

Me: [Why the heck do I want to talk about that stuff, you are an adult you must have done much cooler stuff. You get to do whatever you want, you are not trapped all day being ordered around by big adults who can make you do whatever they want :-(]. "Yuck, spinach" :-( [I can't wait until I get to just eat chocolate ice cream and no spinach]

Well maybe I now finally figured out why adults want to know what kids did every day - they might get some vicarious joy (having nearly forgotten how to find a falling leaf, or cool green shoe joyful). Now why people want to know what their spouse did, I still don't understand that :-)

Just watching the faces of adults and kids is amazing. Adults, by and large show no joy. A kid's face will show more joy when they see their Mom for the 8th time today than an adult will in the entire month. I just have to believe that is not a good sign.

As a kid I didn't think adults had much of a clue or very good reasons for why things had to be certain ways. Of course, as a kid, I was "unreasonable" and had to "wait to grow up" and then I would understand. I have to say I think my kid self had most of it right.

I didn't get how trapped we become as adults into day to day lives that we don't mean to chose - I did get that wrong. But I am not sure I was wrong that we shouldn't do that. But it is harder than I thought to avoid it (especially since I didn't think it was even a risk that an adult would be stuck doing stuff about as fun as being stuck in a chair and being lectured to with a bunch of other people all day long about stuff you often couldn't care about at all).

What is exciting to me now? Refinancing my mortgage at 3.75%. Now that is great. But, I think most 7 year olds have much better things they are excited about.

Photo of my nephews by my brother.

Related: The freedom to act before you have been trained to follow convention, at all costs - Sarah, aged 3, Learns About Soap - Letting Children Learn – Hole in the Wall Computers - Amy's Halloween Costume

photo of a child as a blur - sliding down a pole

Photo of my nephew at the Staten Island Children's Museum. We need to get back to that time when we spend through life in a blur of wonder and excitement.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Oregon, TCU, Boise State, Auburn...

Oregon, TCU and Boise State are all great college football teams. If Auburn wins their next 2 games they will be up there with those 3.

I hope we get TCU or Boise State in the championship game and the other versus Auburn, Oregon, LSU, Stanford or Alabama. Boise State v Oregon and TCU v. Auburn would be great. I think Boise State and TCU would beat most other teams badly - and probably would beat some of those teams above badly. On a good day one of the Big Ten schools might be able to be competitive but I think they would most likely be destroyed. I think even with a loss either TCU or Boise State are no worse than 5th. I am a long time Badger fan, we good this year but good about 15th, not good 7th...

Even though I think TCU and Boise State could be the best 2 teams I hope we don't get that as the title game. I really would rather see those 2 teams play and beat the best of the rest of the teams. Or fail to do so. Oregon might have a chance to beat them. Though I would favor TCU and Boise State against whatever team they play.

My ranking
1 - Oregon, TCU, Boise State
4 - Auburn
5 - LSU
6 - Stanford
7 - Wisconsin
8 - Michigan State
9 - Nebraska
10 - Iowa
11 - Arkansas
12 - Alabama
13 - Ohio State

I feel the teams from about 7 - 18 are very closely matched. The SEC is packed with very good teams. Unlike past years where schools that weren't that good were threatening to sneak by without deserving it. I think Boise State and TCU are clearly among the best few teams in the country.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bad Government, Closed Access

Charging money for laws that people must follow. Great talk. We really do need to stop allowing special interests to so completely take from the public for very bad reasons. We need to replace dinosaurs that don't understand that closed, proprietary systems are dangerous and should be avoided when possible (and tolerated while continuing to look for better solutions).

Pulic.Resource.Org. Public.Resource.Org is a receipient of the Project 10100 Award from Google.

Related: Publishers Fight Progress Again - Against Amazon Kindle - What is Wrong with Copyright Taking Public Good for Private Special Interests - The Differences Between Culture and Code

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Economic Freedom

The "Economic Freedom Index" Isn't

For example, by any valid measure of economic freedom, the passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act would have been considered an upward surge in statism and protectionism unequaled since (at least) the Smoot-Hawley Tariff. But Heritage, a co-creator of the Index, is one of the most strident advocates, inside the pseudo-libertarian beltway establishment, of global “intellectual property” enforcement expansion.

The Economic Freedom Index fails to distinguish between the primary, structural forms of state intervention that prop up corporate power, and the secondary, ameliorative forms of intervention that attempt to moderate its side effects. The state enforces a whole host of artificial property rights and artificial scarcities which serve as sources of economic rent to privileged firms, and maintains all sorts of regulatory cartels.
If I didn't know better, if I didn't know that real free markets were the enemies of corporate power, I’d hate them myself.

Very well said. I completely agree with your statement that "real free markets were the enemies of corporate power." I find myself frustrated at those that argue capitalism is bad because... and then they talk about corporate welfare policies, policies aimed at paying off those that pay politicians etc.. That are not capitalism. And the others that claim they like capitalism and basically they just want the government to support big business interests and their policies. Real capitalism does a great job of providing economic wealth to the population. And it must be regulated sensible (that is part of capitalism not some add on). You need to regulate negative externalities (pollution etc.). You need to enforce the rule of law. It makes sense to have patents and copyright (but they need to balance the interests of the parties involved to promote societal benefit and individual reward, to encourage people to invest their time and resources).

Related: Copywrong - Have We Lost Our Capitalist Heritage? - China and the Sugar Industry Tax Consumers

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Suicides: Foxconn, Cornell and the Golden Gate Bridge

Wrong on So Many Levels

Foxconn Installs Antijumping Nets at Hebei Plants. Anti-jumping nets?

Having built safety nets along its employee dormitories after a series of jumping suicides at its Shenzhen production plant, Taiwanese electronics manufacturing giant Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., which uses the trade name Foxconn, is now installing the same sort of nets at some of its inland factories

If things are so bad that people would rather hurl themselves off of tall buildings than work in a Foxconn factory (or even just go find a factory job down the street) it seems like Foxconn should put the nets on the doors of their factories to catch people from going in.
The 42,000 employees in the Shenzhen plant assemble nearly 70% of the iPhones and iPads for Apple. There have been 10 factory workers who jumped to their deaths in the first 5 months of 2010 at the Shenzhen plant

It is wrong on many levels. I do think Apple has some responsibility. I do think human psychology around suicide is complex and confusing and cause and affect can be confused by correlation not cause.

Putting the nets there sure looks lame, and like non-root cause problems solving. But if they actually save lives then what? There are nets below the Golden Gate bridge (also to reduce suicide deaths) after quite a bit of debate. It sure takes a long time for them to act. 2 years later and still barely moving forward.

Cornell University has a long term problem with suicide jumpers, 6 this year - and they have installed suicide prevention fences:

Several suicides clustered in a close proximity of time and location, such as what Cornell experienced in late winter, are known to cause an "imitation" effect on vulnerable members of the community, elevating their risk of suicide. No one knows for sure how long the elevated risk can last, but the mental health professionals Cornell consulted said that it is very likely to continue for the foreseeable future and strongly recommended that temporary barriers remain in place while permanent means restriction measures are explored and designed.

I am not at all sure the suicide prevention nets at Foxconn are a bad idea. They certainly "look" (visually, and the image they convey is not being very root cause problem solving like) bad.

If we examine Cornell and Foxconn together what answers might we find? I think there are things to fix at Foxconn, but it is very easy for those of us the USA to just paint management as villainous. I don't think we will paint Cornell professors as villainous. Foxconn absolutely needs to do much more than put up nets. But whether putting up nets is good short term fix (like Cornell's) I think is at least debatable.

Problem solving can be quite complex. Especially with something like suicide where the causes are very likely to be varied and systemic. I doubt you will find one root cause. You may find at Foxcon: low wages (and the pressures that brings on as one factor - Foxconn doubled wages recently), lack of joy in work (to an extreme level - truly feeling like a cog in a machine with no hope), "imitation effect", homesickness (moving to the factor hundreds or miles from home and living in a dorm), youngness (hormones, lack of life experience, exaggerated importance... - similar at Cornell and Foxconn), perhaps abusive practices in the factory, perhaps other psychology in the factory (low light, long hours, painful work...), perhaps bullying of peers...

I think a good systemic solution will look at what I think all management should look at: practicing respect for people and creating joy in work. But that isn't an overnight solution, even if they wanted to pursue that strategy (which I don't see any evidence that they do). It will take time to change the system. It is something that I think can address the systemic root causes.

Related: Auto Manufacturing in 2009: USA 5.7 million, Japan 7.9 million, China 13.8 million - Motivate or Eliminate De-Motivation - USA, China and Japan Lead Manufacturing Output in 2008 - China’s Manufacturing Economy

Saturday, July 10, 2010

They Will Know We are Christians By Our Love

Peter Scholtes was a friend. He wrote a great song: They Will Know We are Christians By Our Love (we are One in the Spirit). Here are several versions of the song:

Lyrics to They Will Know We are Christians by our Love:

We are one in the spirit we are one in the Lord
We are one in the spirit we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity will one day be restored

And they'll Know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes they'll know we are Christians by our love.

We will walk with each other we will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other we will walk hand in hand
And together we'll spread the news that God is in our land.

We will work with each other we will work side by side
We will work with each other we will work side by side
And we'll guard each man's dignity and save each man's pride

All praise to the father from whom all things come
And all praise to Christ Jesus his only son
And all praise to the spirit who makes us one.

Related: Books and articles by Peter Scholtes - Company Culture - Amazing Grace - John Dower

Sunday, July 04, 2010

War is Horrible

War is horrible. It may well be necessary at times, unfortunately. But it is horrible and pretending otherwise is a mistake.

Unfortunately governments have taken advantage of several factors to hide the costs of war. We are by and large sheep that take whatever news the government gives (on military and security matters). The government decided to eliminate (or drastically reduce) images that would make us question war and paint anyone that finds this bad as potentially in league with the enemies. That we have taken such treatment is sad. We do have some journalist that write actual news but that seems to be something most news media types object to.

The Hidden Cost of War by Ron Paul

War is dirty and horrible and even in a good war (if such a thing exists, but lets just say it does) there will be tons of stuff that is very disturbing to see. I don't think the solution to that is to stop seeing the disturbing images, data... I believe we should do things that are sensible which can be seen as very bad and openly accept the criticism and explain why it is necessary.

But the government knows this is a bad strategy if your goal is to make people like you. Explaining why horrible things are necessary doesn't get people to like you, by and large. It is much easier to just smile and speak about abstract ideas and hope no-one looks behind the curtain. Most won't. It works well.
I suppose part of the explanation for why we don't demand more is that those that like the unexamined wars are good at selling their views. All the ridicules stuff they do where they try to claim any examination is an insult to the soldiers... Equating support of whatever they believe with patriotism and anyone criticizing those views as unpatriotic... They have learned that manipulating the media to manipulate the populace is much easier than honestly delving into the options, costs, risk and trade-offs that must be considered. But I would say mostly it is because we are sheep. And we don't like to hear bad news and about suffering. So we are perfectly willing to be ignorant of the cost of war.

And above I am focusing on the human costs of war. The killing, injuries, loss of freedom, loss of fathers, mental health problems of returning soldiers... The financial costs are also huge and as a conscious strategy of those who don't want to examine the costs of war largely left out of the debate.

The War on Terror is now more expensive than Vietnam or World War I—but the dishonest way Washington is paying for it may prove costliest of all. - The $3 Trillion War

A Warning from History: Don’t expect democracy in Iraq by John W. Dower, February, 2003.

Related: Iraq: the Human Cost - Preaching False Ideas to Men Known to be Idiots - National Book Award (1999): Embracing Defeat - Freedom Increasingly at Risk - Tired of Incompetent Government Harassment - The First Amendment - Walter Reed Patients Told to Keep Quiet

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Google Voice for Everyone in the USA

I have been using Google Voice for a couple years now (from when it was Grand Central). It is great. Now it is openly available

The messages "transcribed" and sent to your email is nice (though it is still fairly lame). The ability to force unknown numbers to announce themselves before being put through to your phone is awesome. No more spam calls at all. You can also send calls to any of your phones based on show is calling. Basically it is great and it is free. There are lots of features I don't even use but the best features for me are call screening and emails with the voice messages. I don't have to worry about giving my phone number to business that will then abuse the information they were provided -
Google Voice gives me control over who can ring my phone and who must first leave a message.

Related: Droid Incredible - Kiss Your Phone Bill Good-bye - Save Money on Cell Phone Service, Price Reductions - Google Operating System (Chrome)

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Adam Smith Supported Using Markets to Serve Society Not Robber Barrons

The Beast Unchained: Privatizing Up, Down, and Inside

If we cede our minds "in here" to the beasts of private enterprise, they will hold the keys to our global mind, and it will be to them that we will have to turn when the challenges before us demand that we apply our minds "in here" most keenly.

The fanciful idea behind unfettered free markets and private enterprise — Adam Smith's "invisible hand" — is the law of the jungle, in which we imagine that we can ride on the back of perfect predators, unchained from public regulation and common purpose.

Adam Smith did have great ideas on economics. However, those quoting him now often do him grave injustice. Including those that think he argued for an unregulated market. He was first a moral philosopher who looked at emerging capitalism to document how it markets work and detail that direct intervention was often not the ideal solution. Basically taking a systemic view that markets can react better at meeting some societal needs than individuals making decision.

Adam Smith completely understood businesses would seek unfair advantage in the market. For capitalism to work the market must be regulated. In addition, the externalities (pollution, risks…) are failing in the market – and must somehow be addressed for markets to work.

Adam Smith did not believe free markets were the end (the aim). He believed the greatest good to society would come when the market was allowed to operate efficiently but that those players in the market would attempt to subvert societal good for their own good and that needed to be managed.

We should not allow those seeking to take from society what they don't deserve to claim such immoral behavior (that Adam Smith saw as wrong) to claim support from Adam Smith for their desires.

Related: Monopolies and Oligopolies do not a Free Market Make - What Capitalism Is, And Is Not - There is No Invisible Hand

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Erica's Adventures In Saudi Arabia

Erica has some great adventures in Saudi Arabia, catching Spike the uromastyx (giant lizard), catching a Bufo dhufarensis (toad), and finding Cistanche flowers. Great stuff.

Related: kid in a claw game - Sarah, aged 3, Learns About Soap - Backyard Wildlife: Great Spreadwing Damselfly

Friday, May 07, 2010

Earthlink/Covad - Failure after Failure and No Desire to Improve

Earthlink supplies my internet connection (via Covad). the connection is remarkably bad. Normally it will fail several times a month but for relatively short periods of time when I actually want to use it (under an hour). As I say very bad but given teh monopolistic behavaior of the alternatives I haven't switched. Who actually choses to subject themselves the Verizon or Comcast if they have any way of avoiding it?

For several days the connections has become 3rd world like. Down over 1/3 of the time for 3 days.

Here are some example ping results from teh last few days
8562 packets transmitted, 5621 received, 34% packet loss, time 8570442ms
135 packets transmitted, 3 received, 97% packet loss, time 134157ms
140 packets transmitted, 0 received, 100% packet loss, time 139189ms
346 packets transmitted, 0 received, 100% packet loss, time 345519ms
281 packets transmitted, 0 received, 100% packet loss, time 280259ms

Calling up for support I have learned over the years is useless. they force you through all sorts of obvious steps to waste time that I have already told them I tried and failed. Every time they go through the same steps of forcing you to remove your router, test out this and that and every time it does nothing. The connection is somehow broken, having nothing to do with my local setup but they never will explore that problem. All they will do is go through the steps and find out wow the connection doesn't work. No kidding. They now add an amazingly horrible push button hell that fails to provide sensible options - press 1 if you service works, press 2 if you want to check on your email.... repeated over and over - no actual option.

Yesterday - since the service is obviously broken I gave up and spent 2 hours trying to deal with them. the sum total of that was 2 hours wasted and the "support" person just hung up after getting tired of seeing that the options they were trying failed as I told them they would. Not surprisingly Earthlink just dropped the matter. No follow up by them on the "service" they were providing. I called back twice and asked for them to tell me what had been done, what steps they took after hanging up (or if the call really was just disconnected... in which case we all know no-one interested in service would then just abandon the service because the call was disconnected...). Nothing is the answer. And again, I asked. Again more nothing.

They have devolved to be so bad that I have to consider using 2 companies that have "service" records only rivaled by soviet era collectives. What a sad state of affairs we have created that we force people to rely on such horrible service if they want to have a connection to the internet.

What fixes the problem of the broken connection Earthlink and Covad provide me. Wait. That is it. The only thing that helps is waiting. Normally that means every month or two I just don't get to use the internet when I want. The last 3 days it has meant I don't get to use it for many hours on end (over 6 yesterday) or it is repeatedly interrupted for 2-25 minutes and then comes back then breaks then comes back. All the fiddling with settings and rebooting and... accomplishes nothing. Just behave like a soviet citizen in 1979 and be happy you have electricity occasionally is Earthlink/covads answer. Unfortunately my options are to use some other soviet style customer service company. How sad for me.

Related: Customer Service is Important - AT&T's Attempt to Take Away Consumer's Rights Denied - Is Poor Service the Industry Standard?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hulu Desktop for Ubuntu

I have been having all sorts of trouble with Hulu on my new Ubuntu desktop. When it does work it has a great fullscreen display. But the fullscreen mode would not work quite often. And when it did work it would always choose the smaller of my two monitors no matter what I did. The Popout option was nice and I could move it to the monitor I wanted but the control (pause, restart etc.) wouldn't work.

In trying to find solutions to these bugs I stumbled across Hulu desktop for Linux (including an Ubuntu 64 bit option). It works very well. The interface for Hulu desktop is flashy and nice in some ways but in some ways it is not easy to navigate. For example, it is much easier to see a list of the episodes you have subscribed to and their expiration dates.

And I get to watch programs like Caprica that I couldn't otherwise, since I don't have cable TV.

Related: Embedded YouTube Videos Won't Play - Using Multiple Firefox Profiles at the Same Time in Ubuntu

Problem: Hulu full-screen mode fails on Ubuntu in Firefox, Chrome and Opera. Hulu popout screen controls fail - Ubuntu 9.04, 64-bit. How to move a Hulu fullscreen to another monitor (using Hulu Desktop you can choose which monitor to use).

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Our fiscal practices have been irresponsible for years

Thoughts At Tax Time: Big Bill Coming Due by Emily Anstaett

We all agree on the facts: the national debt is closing in on $13 trillion and our fiscal practices have been irresponsible for years. With that starting point, we can all come to both an understanding of the gravity of the situation and the realization that difficult decisions and sacrifices will have to be made to get our economy back on track and restore the overall satisfaction of Americans to comfortable levels.

Unfortunately we don't all agree we have been "irresponsible for years." We have lots of politicians acting like the huge debt problem is some new issue. Every time times are good they want to give favors to their friends. And when times are bad they want to give favors to their friends. And we keep electing politicians that don't care about ruining the country so long as they can give their friends big amounts of cash favors. Until we grow up and realize we are selling out the future of our country by electing those they seek to put favors to the friends today above the interests of the country we will fall further and further into debt.

I am pretty cynical about the ability of us to vote for ethical, competent, intelligent leaders. Or for the type of people we elect to take sensible steps. I can be surprised though. The ability of the Clinton administration to pass a balance budget (even if you say that it wasn't really balanced given the funny accounting Washington uses it was still pretty amazingly good).

I would love to be wrong and see our politicians put the well being of the country 1st or even 3rd or 4th but I don't think that is very likely. I believe we will have to show them we expect them to put the country first and I don't think we, as voters, will. And even if we did we have to elect people that have the skills to know what is right and the leadership to put the right policies in place.


John Hunter

Related: Taxes – Slightly or Steeply Progressive? - Taxes per Person by Country - Failed Leaders Protect Trust Fund Babies Instead of the Country

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Boom in Adult Interns

The great recession and huge loss of jobs has created a growth in internships. Working for Free: The Boom in Adult Interns

When you hear the word intern, you probably don't think of people like Kristina Shands. For starters, she's 38. And she had notched 10 years of experience as a fundraiser at a nonprofit in Tennessee before she was laid off last year. But now that Shands is considering moving into sports management, she's interning with the Knoxville Ice Bears hockey team, writing game summaries and handing out stats on game day. She devotes about 10 hours a week to the Bears, and she does it for free. "I'm getting to see the inner workings of a professional hockey team, learning about the business side of sports, and I get to watch hockey," Shands says. "I'm having fun."

The increase in internships, however can go to far: The Unpaid Intern, Legal or Not

Convinced that many unpaid internships violate minimum wage laws, officials in Oregon, California and other states have begun investigations and fined employers. Last year, M. Patricia Smith, then New York's labor commissioner, ordered investigations into several firms’ internships. Now, as the federal Labor Department's top law enforcement official, she and the wage and hour division are stepping up enforcement nationwide.

Related: find internships by state - Federal requirements for internships - USA Unemployment Rate Remains at 9.7%

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Embedded YouTube Videos Won't Play

On my Ubuntu machine embedded YouTube videos won't play (in any browser (Chrome, Firefox, Opera) but videos from the YouTube site play fine.

Lazyweb: What is causing this? How can I fix it?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Health Care System Needs Much More Reform

Why is every other rich country able to provide universal health care for far less than the USA can provide partial health care? Are we just less capable than every other country? The only other area I know of we are so universally worse than every other country is in the percentage of the population that is free (not locked up in jail). All the health care system performance studies I have seen show the USA on the low end of performance and at a cost 50-100% higher than other countries. If the system we have used in the last 30 years is so great why are we do we have bad to mediocre results at a huge cost?

I don't think the current health care reform bill does anywhere close to enough to address the huge problems with our current health system. It seems that yet again (they have been doing so for decades now) those trying to restrict changes have successfully stopped much in the way of reform.

I am not sure how anyone can believe the new law changes to a new cycle of increasing health care costs. Health care costs have taken an increasing percentage of the GDP every year for decades. The worst that can possible happen is the continuous cycle of costs increases are increased.

This heath reform failed to do enough to stop the increases. But we can see how good a job of those against reform did to stop reform. Until more people refuse to accept the continued extremely poor USA health care system results those against reform are going to continue to stop attempts to fix the system that hugely damages our economy year after year, decade after decade. There is no question reform will happen it is only a matter of how long we wait.

Special interests can maintain systems that harm the society to maintain their special interests to an extent. But the health care system failures have grown so large the economy cannot sustain the special interest favors without drastically reducing economic performance for everyone else. Currently we waste easily $500 billion a year (compared to what other countries can do). It is sad we have to through so much money away year after year. Unless we are just not capable of matching even the 2nd most inefficient health care system in the world, in which case we are going to suffer a great deal. But I don't believe we are incapable of being say 30% worse than the next poorest run health system. So now we tax the rest of society some hundreds of billions each year (and increasing). So far the rest of us are willing to accept this. But at some point the increased demands of those against having the US even perform much much worse than the 2nd worse country in the world will be too much and reform will happen. And it already happens in lots of small way. Companies move jobs offshore due to the poor health care system in the USA...

My blog post on health care system economics - health care system improvement

Friday, March 26, 2010

Preaching False Ideas to Men Known to be Idiots

Re: Yes, Debt Matters

Over the last several weeks I've been contemplating how things have changed in my still relatively short lifetime... how the word "freedom" has somehow morphed to mean "I work so others get free stuff" or perhaps even better "I better stop working so I can get free stuff." Personal accountability has gone out the window, an increasing number of people pay no taxes - coming dangerously close to the 51% tipping point where tax policy will be set by those who don't pay anything, and somehow all kinds of new "rights" have magically appeared in the Constitution."

A huge amount of debt is bad, like the amount we have taken on. Those that have continued to elect politicians that pour on the debt the last 30 years should be ashamed of ourselves, but we do not seem to be. We shouldn't elect people that year after year pay out money they don't have with the (unspoken) promise of future taxes.

Saying people don't pay taxes when they often pay much higher proportional taxes than the rich is very misleading. Pretending that income taxes are the only taxes is just not true. When people try to say a small percentage of people pay taxes, usually they mean there is a significant portion that don't pay federal income taxes. Which is, of course, not the same thing as not paying taxes.

I'm not sure where your claim of 51% pay no taxes comes from but it sounds like the extremely misleading "data" presented by those that think the poor are somehow responsible or to blame and we should be doing more to support the lifestyles of the rich.

Buffett Slams Tax System Disparities

Buffett cited himself, the third-richest person in the world, as an example. Last year, Buffett said, he was taxed at 17.7 percent on his taxable income of more than $46 million. His receptionist was taxed at about 30 percent.

Interview with Warren Buffett:

Most of my income is taxed at 15 percent, and-- and doesn't pay a payroll. Mainly it's dividends and capital gains. And if you look at the For-- Forbes 400, a bunch of my fellow rich guys-- they will-- their tax rate overall to the federal government will be less than that of their receptionist.
I'll bet a million dollars against any member of the Forbes 400 who challenges-- me that the average for the Forbes 400 will be less than the average of their receptionists. So, I'll give 'em an 800 number. They can call me. And the million will go to whichever charity the winner-- designates.

Criticize the politicians that have for decades passed budgets that hike the taxes in the future to give their current voters a false sense of well being (because they know the voters won't think about the future costs the largess [big tax cuts now without spending cuts, for example, are not in fact tax cuts in any real sense, they are just shifting taxes to the future. But that is not what the marketers peddling those giveaways say, of course] today costs). Criticize the voters for mortgaging a significant amount of future economic wealth of their country to such charlatans. I concur with such criticisms.

But I get frustrated with attempts to distort people's perceptions with misleading data. The debt problems are not because the poor are paying too little in taxes.

We spent like crazy in the last 10 years. That is a huge part of the problem - almost no-one disagrees with this. We reduced taxes on the rich. That is another huge part of the problem - some disagree with this. I can understand people feeling differently, that is their choice. But I see any attempt to market giveaways to voters today, that sticks a huge bill to those in the future as poor policy. Cutting taxes is fine as long as you cut spending a the same time (and you don't rely on fake financial projections to justify your current largess, of course).

We blow hundreds of billions a year in a very poorly run health system (again a problem that has existed and grown for decades). One can argue the current attempts makes it worse. One can't argue we elected people that have done nothing significant about it for decades.

No one must buy our debt. I have, for more than a decade, thought the main reason Japan and China buy so much of our debt is not because it is wise investment but for other economic reasons (and some political reasons). They wish to keep the dollar value high and allow the USA to buy their goods. I think they would be wise to massively reduce those purchases. And I suspect they shall. But we shall see.

It isn't tricky. Those of us that have elected politicians that created huge debt loads (by increasing spending or reducing current taxes) created the need for huge taxes for the future to pay off that debt. We continue to elect them so it is just playing out the way we chose.

Unfortunately we suffer a great deal from

1) the inability to think beyond the current year with any degree of sense. We act like 8 year olds. That isn't a good thing for adults to do on matters such as long term saving and debt. We not only do it with those we elect but also in our own retirement accounts.

2) the intellectual discourse on the most important and complex decisions our country makes is about at the level of a Coke commercial. Again this is something we chose. If we didn't acknowledge/accept ill informed campaigns on matters of pubic policy then talking heads would actually be replaced with thoughtful people that detailed the cost and benefits of options and provided alternatives they support. Instead we want simple minded marketing minds to set the policy landscape so we get decisions based on fear, rhetoric, oversimplifications, marketing gimmicks, manipulation, demagoguery...

H. L. Mencken said it well, a demagogue as "one who will preach doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots." I can't tell how many of our politicians are demagogues and how many are the idiots that demagogues play for fools. But an awful lot of them are in one or the other camp. I imagine many think they are demagogues, but I bet quite a few are really fools.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Real Journalism Exposes Bail Bond Corruption

It is far to infrequently that I actually find real journalism. Here is a great example of a journalist doing their job and informing the public of how corrupt the bail bond system is in practice. It isn't surprising NPR is behind this journalism as they actually run their organization in a way that allows true journalism unlike so many other "news" organizations. Sponsor NPR.

Bail Burden Keeps U.S. Jails Stuffed With Inmates

"Follow the money," Henderson says. "Usually whenever you've got questions of money, you follow the money and they'll tell you the reasons why some things operate."

He says the bail bondsmen don't want to see his program receive anything more than limited funding. The bondsmen "make money and they contribute their influence," Henderson says. "I would do more if we had the funding to do more." It's not that Lubbock's bondsmen want Henderson's clients. They don't. Henderson's clients can't afford a bondsman's fees.

But Henderson says the bondsmen lobby to keep his program as small and unproductive as possible, so that no paying customers slip though — even if that means thousands of inmates like Raymond Howard and Leslie Chew wait in jail at taxpayer expense, because they never find the money to become paying customers.

"The bonding companies make a living," Henderson says. "That's just the nature of Texas and Lubbock."

But it's not just Texas and Lubbock. Industry experts and a review of national lobbying efforts by NPR show that pretrial release programs across the country are increasingly locked in a losing battle with bonding companies trying to either limit their programs or shut them down entirely.

As Henderson walks back downstairs, he stops and reads the sign above the door in the lobby. It says: Protecting our community by changing lives. "Jail doesn't do anybody any good," he says. "The only thing that jail is good for is to keep the dangerous people in the community away from the people who don't pose a risk."

But that is not who is in the nation's jails. According to the Justice Department, two-thirds of the people in the nation's jails are petty, nonviolent offenders who are there for only one reason: They can't afford their bail.
Bondsmen's main responsibility is to bring defendants back to court if they fail to show up. But it turns out that many bondsmen aren't doing this job.

Statistically, most bail jumpers are not caught by bondsmen or their bounty hunters. They're caught by sheriff's deputies, according to Beni Hemmeline from Lubbock's district attorney's office.

"More often than not, the defendants are rearrested on a warrant that's issued after they fail to appear," Hemmeline said.

Asked if the bondsmen are fulfilling their end of the deal, Hemmeline says, "Well, it may be that [the bondsmen] can't find them. They can't camp at the door 24 hours a day. They do the best that they can, I think."

If a defendant does run, the bondsman is also supposed to pay the county the full cost of the bond as a sort of punishment for not keeping an eye on the client.

But that doesn't happen, either, Hemmeline says.

Hemmeline says Lubbock usually settles for a far lower amount than the full bond. In fact, according to the county treasurer in Lubbock, bondsmen usually only pay 5 percent of the bond when a client runs.

Consider that math for a minute. The bondsmen charge clients at least 10 percent. But if the client runs, they only have to pay the county 5 percent. Meaning if they make no effort whatsoever, they still profit. Hemmeline says asking for more might put the bondsmen out of business.

"Bond companies serve an important purpose," she says.

NPR found bondsmen getting similar breaks in other states. In California, bondsmen owe counties $150 million that they should have had to pay when their clients failed to show up for court. In New Jersey, bondsmen owe $250,000 over the past four years. In Erie, Pa., officials stopped collecting money for a time because it was too much of a hassle to get the bonding companies to pay up.

It is possible to skip the commercial bail bonding business entirely by just paying cash. Show up for court and you get your cash back. But it turns out that this is not as easy as it sounds. It takes hours longer to post a cash bail. And many people, like Sandy Ramirez, don't even know that it's an option.

Ramirez came to Lubbock Bail Bond for her 18-year-old son, who was arrested after getting into a scuffle with his friends. They were charged with public mischief. Her son was given $750 bail.

She says neither the district attorney's office, the judge nor the court clerk told her she could leave cash with the court as a deposit and get it back when the case was over.

"I never knew that," Ramirez says. "That's awful not to know that."

Lubbock Bail Bond tacked on some additional fees for, among other things, paying on a payment plan. In the end, she owes the company $260 — more than half the cost of the bond. Two weeks after the scuffle, prosecutors dropped all the charges against the teens. But two months later, she's still paying the bail bondsman.

Related: Death of Newsprint - Police Failing to Enforce Law If Lawbreaker is a Police Officer - Watching the Watchmen - Photographers are not a Threat - Buying Favors from Politicians - Lobbyists Pay Congressmen to Keep Taxes Off Billion Dollar Private Equities Deals and on For Our Grandchildren

Friday, January 01, 2010

Life is Short. What Do You Have to Show for Yourself?

I think there are 2 good points here. One is doing work that you believe makes a difference. To me that is the more important factor. Will 5-10 years from now you be happy with what you accomplished in that time? Are you glad you spent your time that way?

The second issue of owning what you have produced is nice. But it is not easy to create very valuable content that can be converted into cash. Some can and then it is great.

I think really, more often, it can be the freedom that your own work gives you that is rewarding. Not so much the monetary value it brings. I do have quite a few web sites (Curious Cat Management Improvement Site, The Life and Legacy of William G. Hunter, Management and Leadership Quotes, Curious Cat Economics and Investing Blog...) that I really enjoy working on and I think are worthwhile. And they get lots of visitors (when I compare it to people I meet or train in seminars or the like). But they are far from properties I can sell for any significant amount of money.

Comment on: Life is Short. What Do You Have to Show for Yourself?

Think about it: a decade goes by, and I don’t have anything to show for it.

Man, that sucks.

How much of your last 10 years do you own?

2009 is different.

I own – outright – 99% of what I’ve done in 2009.