Saturday, November 17, 2007

I'll take all four railroads and Park Place, please

I try to restrain my snark, but there are times when I feel the need to reach out and touch someone.

In a show of my appreciation for ex-Attorney General Gonzales service, I will be sending him a sympathetic letter and a thousand or so in monopoly money. I figure it's funnier than a picture of me laughing and my middle finger.

Possibly also classier. Maybe. I plan to be wearing a top hat when I mail it out. And I might throw in a get-out-of-jail-free card, too.

Friday, November 16, 2007

there's a difference between strategic and lazy

And it's mostly in whether the advantage is seized or if the party in question sits on their collective asses waiting to see what will happen next, Mulaskey being the case in point. Is it really a good idea to trade something your opponent wants for something your opponent wants, sacrificing your own goals in the process?

A year and some change ago, after the 2006 elections, I sat down to have a drink with one of my best friends. Her boyfriend, a campaign manager for the local Democratic party, happened to be with us, and I ended up asking him, swept away by what felt like the first real breath of fresh air in a long time, what he thought the party would be up to now that they had the House and Senate. I wanted the troops back, I was flirting with impeachment and waiting for funding to be restored to social aid programs and the gulf area, where my grandmother's house was flooded and trashed.

Sound familiar to anyone? All those hopes, the feeling, at least for a few months, that things would be okay and that people had finally got into key positions that could be trusted. God, I miss those feelings.

He told me that the party would have to be conservative, to closely shepherd their new political clout. I reluctantly bought it, predicated on what I thought were the extreme partisan difference between the parties' goals. I bought that it would be an uphill battle on Washington avenue between sides of the aisle and in public opinion with all the war supporters.

I had no idea.

So here's the deal. I think a lot of us would like to buy that there is a careful, painstaking effort to bring the troops back, to fix the disintegration of the Constitution and economy.

But I sure as shit ain't seeing it.

To capitalize on a strategic advantage requires waiting for a weakness or a position of advantage. Exactly how much more advantageous does it need to get, Pelosi? The prez's approval rating is at everything from the mid-twenties to the mid-thirties, depending on whose poll you're looking at. The economy is taking a shit; the dollar is worth equal value to a Canadian dollar and half of a British pound with no end in sight. Countries are getting rid of their assets in US dollars. We have no clue when the war will end and that is bothering people. I mean, everything's there but an engraved invitation to the party.

If it helps, I will pay to go get some printed.

What's currently happening, to my reading, is that either the Dems think it's too much trouble to bother, which I interpret as lazy, or they think that they can't do it, which is also lazy. Both are also contemptuous. Both take the voting public as a dumb block, too misinformed or perhaps easily distracted to notice the past or plan for the future. I'll remove my finger from my nose and wave the short bus away before I say any more.

Just in case anyone's thinking of it, the record low savings in this country are not a predictor of carelessness. They're a sign of increased POVERTY. Let me say it again: we're not dumb, WE'RE POOR. Despite the prevailing 'American Dream' rhetoric, poor does not mean stupid, god-forsaken or short-sighted. We may not be able to contribute as much as a company in one chunk, but we voters (the majority of us that are neither rich nor particularly personally influential) can contribute and should have more of a say. After all, despite the fact that the Constitution's 'We the people' meant we the property owning white men, it now means we the everything from grunts to millionaires.

And as a grunt, albeit a voting one, I'm pissed.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

corporate myopia, the labor edition (light)

Myopia (from Greek: μυωπία myopia "near-sightedness"[1]), also called near- or short-sightedness, is a refractive defect of the eye in which collimated light produces image focus in front of the retina when accommodation is relaxed.

Those with myopia see nearby objects clearly but distant objects appear blurred. With myopia, the eyeball is too long, or the cornea is too steep, so images are focused in the vitreous inside the eye rather than on the retina at the back of the eye. The opposite defect of myopia is hyperopia or "farsightedness" or "long-sightedness" — this is where the cornea is too flat or the eye is too short.

Wikipedia, November 12, 2007

Why myopia? Easy enough to answer. Myopia is the inability to focus on anything further than a given distance from the eye. Corporate myopia is the inability to focus planning on goals further than a year or so away. What happens when business planning is focused on short term goals (like quarter profits or expansion, for its own sake)?

Look at the dollar.

I won't, in this post, go into what I think will happen with the dollar and what I think the smart thing to do for the poor and middle class is, especially if the tanking of the US dollar continues.

The strength of the US dollar is, well, kinda important. Take the average worker, who, by statistics, makes $739 per week, including non-cash settlements and properties. This is based on unemployment benefits, and, as an aside, I've worked full time the majority of my adult life and never made that much. Since the great proportion of the goods available to buy are imports, subject to lesser cost, not to mention the questions of safety that have recently arisen in terms of inspections preformed on imported goods and the department that does the import inspections. The greater cost is reserved for locally made goods, in the attempt to encourage trade. The reduction of tariffs, is not, in and of itself, a problem. Given, of course, that
the tariffs are not so far reduced that buying local goods is prohibitively expensive and that an economy becomes dependent on imports for basic commodities-- like food-- and exporting for the salvation of their economy. If you click on the word 'imports' above, it takes you to an article tracing the volume of imports to exports in the US economy. The import category is 61.5 billion dollars more than the export.

Basic math will tell you that if you are spending more than you are earning, you go into debt, which, for reference, is not a good bargaining stance. Moreover, if the plan is to 'globalize' economies, the macro-focus there has already created problems; the WTO has been repeatedly criticized by its less developed member nations and labor and environmental organizations for ignoring small trade, the health of developing nations, the well-being of workers and the balance of the environment.

For that average US worker, this means that the goods she can purchase are suspect, and as the dollar tanks, less available. Since imports now comprise everything from cars (and oil is a whole 'nother article) to clothes and food, the real life consequences are that food, especially in variety, is less available, and that which is available is more expensive, reflecting the graded costs which have been removed, a la the severe reduction in tariffs, from imports and reflected onto local goods. And clothing is far more expensive, unless you are comfortable buying imports.

As an aside, the clothing I have bought from WalMart, uniformly made in China once I began looking at the labels, develops a rip in normal usage about a third of the time within a week or two. But then, if goods are not being inspected, I have no guarantee that I will be paying $20 for a pair of pants that will last longer than a week, hence my shift to buying from thrift stores. If it's going to tear almost immediately, I'd prefer it to have been about five dollars or less.

Money's gotta come from somewhere; usually a reduction on tax or tariff in one place is directly correlated with a raise in cost in another (usually related) field. (The article clearly traces the reduction in jobs, but I'm interested in the sustainability of the jobs we still got.) In this case, in terms of labor. The cost of tariff reduction is not in program reduction (do not get me started on the war) but rather in increased cost of living, reflected on the species of goods that are not preferable to be consumed. Our hypothetical worker makes $35,472 gross, and at the single rate, is taxed at $4,220 plus 25 percent of everything over $30,650, which adds up to $5,425.50, or six and a half percent. She's left with 30,046.50, then, if she lived in my state, she'd owe another 6.8 percent on the gross, which is 2,412.10, leaving her with 27,634.40, or roughly $2,303 a month. Not bad until you start looking at rent (again, another hot issue), any medical debt, groceries, gas and any credit card debt. Let's say she has a small, two bedroom house, which around here can vary from $800 to $2100 a month, depending on the neighborhood and amenities. The average is roughly $1200, so now she has $1,103 a month. If she's fairly conservative in her grocery shopping and entertainment budget, she might spend about 300 dollars there. Might. So now she's at $900. If she owns a car (Albuquerque is a spread out city with sporadically running public transit, where it has public transit at all), that'll knock another at least $100 off in insurance, more if she has total coverage. Now she's at $800. How about insurance? Another $300 per person, and, thank god for her, she's single. So we're at $500. Add a full tank of gas a week, at a fifteen gallon tank and about $3 per gallon, and we have $180 on gas. So we're at $320. And then there's the utilities, which are about to go up, thanks to the price of gas. My utility bill, if I can afford to run the heater, is about $180 in the winter. She's down to $140. And let's hope to god she has no credit card debt or car payment (which is highly unlikely. The average house with a credit card in the US owes at least several thousand, and that's the conservative estimate.) Remember, this is a single worker, no dependents. Moreover, this does not take the history of inflation into account. And that some of the benefits taken into tabulation are not in the form of cash, and moreover that averages are comprised of the magical middle between the very wealthy and people like me, at roughly $10,000 a year with two dependents while I finish my Master's.

I broke all this down with the average worker for a reason; corporations are staffed, in the vast majority, with workers who earn an income around or lower than the average, which, at those numbers, is $18.48/hour. (Ha, not in this state. Our mean hourly is $16.34; the median is much less.) These are the bulk of consumers and the captive audience of US business. It is to the benefit of business to have a class of consumers who can afford the wares they hawk and are healthy enough to attend work. Short term business planning on profits generated from this captive audience has very obviously not taken these two simple maxims into account.

This means that profit cannot be the only model, the only goal which business can aspire to. The reduction of business analysis to that which either grows the company without paying attention to the ability of the resources to be tapped without depleting them (both of the planet and in terms of people; I'm looking at you, supply-side economics) or only to improve profits from the last quarter (expanding to what, exactly?) creates a business model that is, frankly, designed to fail spectacularly. It is impossible to create a model with infinite supply and demand, and the assertion, (again, looking at you, supply-side) that the demand will be somehow regulated by the supply alone and vice versa (you too, demand-side economics) is absurd. It takes neither greed nor myopia into account, which means that the current 'hot' business model relies on everybody being careful with their resources and means of production but does not achieve it and has not insured it. The market is not being regulated by 'natural forces.' The dollar is being broken not as a 'natural rhythm' in the stock market, it's being broken by a combination of spiraling debt and speculation. (As an aside, the thing about buying houses on the cheap to 'flip' them is that it relies on the housing bubble to be a temporary state of affairs. You'd best hope for a quick rebound, because for most small buyers, purchasing and trying to maintain or improve multiple properties is beyond their budgets, especially as their wages continue to be worth less.)

The average worker, who entered into a loan to buy a property and live the American Dream (an acronym that should be BS, not AD), has been squeezed out of their wage and their property, or is working so much that their health plans are about to get hit for claims. Health cannot compensate for inflation.