Third-party candidates

I wasn’t able to work on this yesterday (I stayed home) because ever since I upgraded my machine to Ubuntu 12 I have had random freezes when I surf the web (not always associated with web surfing, once it hung at the log-in screen). Anyway, today I aim to look at the third-party candidates (I am using as my jumping-off point the Wiki page on 2012 third-party candidates (for better or worse)) and will provide a link to where I got my information and then my comments regarding what I found. BTW, for your reference, I outlined my views the other day so you can see from which angle I am evaluating the candidates. Also for background might be my idea for the greatest good for the greatest number.

These two candidates have ballot access to enough states that they could, in principle, win the required 270 electoral votes. BTW, the silly Americans Elect party didn’t even select a candidate.

Libertarian Party, Gary Johnson

Overall, I am not unhappy with his stated positions. I am most concerned about his interest in austerity as a way of resolving our debt situation (which is a very big deal, and one that needs addressing, but I think _after_ our recover has solidified), I think that approach is likely to further stall our economic recovery. Still, given that he would have to work extensively with Congress which has demonstrated it isn’t pro austerity (all GOP blather to the contrary, though they seem to want austerity for the poor, handouts for the rich), he doesn’t seem like a poor choice overall.

Green Party, Jill Stein

Stein’s positions overall appear to be rather unrealistic given that, if elected, she would have to work with a Congress that is vastly more mainstream and conservative than the Green Party. It is almost as if they have usurped the most progressive of progressive positions and added the rather unrealistic goal of making alternative energy our nation’s mainstay. Indeed, it might be more fair to characterize her platform as ‘socialist’ rather than ‘progressive’. On the whole I like the drift of the platform, but I find it exceedingly unrealistic and not just for sociopolitical reasons. While I discuss elements of her platform, overall I would say that I would expect her to be unable to reach accommodations with Congress and likely would get nothing of consequence done (Obama got _exactly_ what he wanted done, all blather to the contrary).

These candidates lack direct ballot access to at least 270 electoral votes, but have write-in potential so could make a meaningful showing but reasonably there is no chance, even theoretically, for these people to get elected.

Constitution Party, Virgil Goode

Virgil Goode’s positions are, for the most part, the exact same talking points as the GOP, so one has to wonder what, exactly, he feels he is offering the voter that Romney isn’t. There are some tiny differences, in my view, but for the most part he is against anything the Green Party (Jill Stein) is for. Pro life, anti-gay marriage, anti-immigration, pro military, against ‘Obamacare’, etc. The only thing really novel is his insistence on term limits and his claim that, if elected, he will be a one-term President. He also clearly doesn’t understand the economics of fossil fuels (much like the Greens) and thinks that somehow the US can eliminate its dependence on foreign sources without also driving our economy into the toilet. Of course, in my mind, he has so little other reasons for my support that this is just nit picking, this guy has almost no differences from the standard GOP positions. Why vote for him and take away a vote for Romney if you support the same positions that he does? Sure, Romney might not follow through with his conservative promises (since he promises to be all things to all people someone is going to get lied to!), but that doesn’t seem to be a reason to cast a vote for this third-party candidate.

Party for Socialism and Liberation, Peta Lindsay

Peta isn’t even old enough to hold the office of President, so I won’t consider her further.

American Independent Party, Tom Hoefling

This guy seems really anti-government (one has to wonder why anyone so rabidly anti-government is so intent on becoming head of it, but such was Reagan, given his rhetoric) and is totally a bible thumping God fearing GOP standard bearer of the exact same stripe that Goode above is. I only browsed over his ‘platform’ as it is the hugely wordy style that I tend to bloviate (yes, I understand it is a challenge to read, but bullet points are boring) and it isn’t organized in a way that makes it feasible to browse anyway. He is rabidly (yes, I repeated myself, but I believe it is an important adjective for this guy) anti-abortion/pro-life. This guy might attract a few fringe voters not happy with the ‘wishy washy’ GOP platform (which is about as pro-life as you can get), but I won’t spend any more time on him because I feel quite sure that there is no way a vote for him is a vote for change in our status quo.

Peace and Freedom Party, Roseanne Barr

I got some prejudices to overcome here as I reflexively think that actors make bad politicians. Still, when Roseanne failed to get the Green nomination she turned to the Peace and Freedom Party, which makes her even more suspect to me. Her platform, though, is notable in that she is the first one that I noticed that has support for the Palestinians and wasn’t just the same old support for Israel. Not shockingly, her platform is quite similar to the Green platform, though theirs is better developed. Though her chance for success is vanishingly small, I do see a vote for her as a vote for a better tomorrow, presuming one accepts my adopted thesis that support for third-party candidates is not throwing your vote away.

Socialist Workers Party, James Harris

I didn’t see a link to Harris’ web site, so don’t have anything to comment on.

Socialist Party USA, Stewart Alexander

So, Alexander failed to make it with the Greens, then failed at the Peace and Freedom Party, so I guess wound up with the Socialist Party by default. His platform is certainly socialist, even more so than the Green platform, and it is mercifully brief. Given my ‘socialist’ leanings (certainly socialist given how far to the extreme right our country has gone), I am quite sympathetic with his platform, though, much like Stein, I doubt he could get any cooperation from Congress if he tried to enact his platform. Still, as a vote for change goes, I think it would be worthy to cast one for him.

There are quite a few other candidates but they get even more fringe (yes, I know that is saying a lot). I am sure that there are a few that would be worth ‘change’ votes but for my own situation I am not very interested in voting for someone who I feel convinced won’t get enough attention to impact the system.

Conclusion

As far as ‘viable’ third-party candidates, there really are only the two, Libertarian Johnson and Green Stein. Johnson is the more conservative and Stein is the more liberal/progressive. I think that Johnson is a more realistic candidate, as I think that Stein’s platform is too pie in the sky, but of course neither has a chance of actually being elected. However, if there is a strong enough showing in total votes for third-party candidates then it is plausible (in my mind) that would start to generate more serious candidates for third parties going forward. Perhaps it will help to elect more Representatives, and possible Senators, breaking up the monolithic hold that the GOP and Dems have on our system now. More important would be the third-party candidates in local politics and as I rather embarrassingly admitted to a friend this morning, I have no idea who are the local and state candidates or what the issues are. Perhaps my change in attitude at the national level will enable me to get more interested in local politics since, as pointed out in a CNN opinion post, much of what actually impacts us on a daily basis is controlled at the local level, not the national level.

If you don’t support either mainstream candidates, consider investing in the future by casting a vote for some third-party candidate instead. Doing this across the board (meaning down-ticket to state and local candidates) would have a much bigger impact as third-parties almost certainly have to bubble up from the bottom rather than being imposed from above (think Nader and Perot).

Green Party, Jill Stein

This is one post in a series looking at the various third-party candidates. For a summary, please see here

Jill Stein’s positions overall appear to be rather unrealistic given that, if elected, she would have to work with a Congress that is vastly more mainstream and conservative than the Green Party. It is almost as if they have usurped the most progressive of progressive positions and added the rather unrealistic goal of making alternative energy our nation’s mainstay. Indeed, it might be more fair to characterize her platform as ‘socialist’ rather than ‘progressive’. On the whole I like the drift of the platform, but I find it exceedingly unrealistic and not just for sociopolitical reasons. While I will discuss elements of her platform below, overall I would say that I would expect her to be unable to reach accommodations with Congress and likely would get nothing of consequence done (Obama got _exactly_ what he wanted done, all blather to the contrary).

I like the positions on the environment: she wants to bolster the EPA, promote conservation and recycling and minimize our current energy use. I agree that lots of jobs are there to be had by working to make our energy/environment infrastructure a lot more sustainable and long-term. I also believe that many of these approaches will pay for society’s investment many times over. However, the idea of eliminating coal and nuclear power plants while “Build[ing] a nationwide smart electricity grid that can pool and store power from a diversity of renewable sources, giving the nation clean, democratically-controlled, terrorist-proof energy.” tells me that she (presuming she fully supports the party platform, something I am assuming to be the case) is totally unrealistic about what is possible or likely even feasible given the constraints of physics (see Do The Math for details if you are curious).

The idea of cutting the military by 50% (really, I think we could go to 90% cuts and lose none of our defensive ability (and realistically, very little of our offensive ability either)) makes a lot of sense, as does getting out of Iran and Afghanistan, but then the platform calls for “Create a nuclear free zone in the Middle East region and require all nations in area to join.” How the hell can we do that if we have no military presence? So progressive in all other military/foreign policy issues, but then wants to go around forcing sovereign governments to give up the only tool to help balance the US’s massive military advantage (not to mention a counterweight to Israel’s well known, but denied nuclear weapon program).

I used to consider the idea of abolishing the electoral college system, but haven’t for a long time. To me the idea of going with a popular vote system is not only totally unrealistic (it would take a Constitutional Amendment, what chance of getting the small states to say yes?), but is counter productive with the intent of making votes count. To me this sort of pie in the sky idea speaks volumes toward how realistically Ms. Stein would govern, and not in a good way. Granted party platforms are more about wishful thinking than anything else, but still, the platform seems likely to trigger so much resistance that even proposals that ought to engender backing would still be met with resistance.

There are other issues I could detail, but felt that cherry picking a few would give my impression and I have provided a link to where I got my information you can peruse if you would like more details.

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson

This is one post in a series looking at the various third-party candidates. For a summary, please see here

Gary Johnson started out as a GOP candidate but when he failed to get any traction in the primaries he decided to strike out as a third-party candidate. Over the years I have turned away from the Libertarian concept of “the government which governs best, governs least”, so am not totally sure that I would want to support the Libertarian party on principle, but am evaluating the candidate independent of the party since it is clear the party lacks enough fire power to implement its platform. Johnson seems intent on balancing the budget (clearly he is not a fan of counter cyclic programming) and seems more intent on cutting outlays rather than increasing revenues. To me that is a substantial strike against him. He also appears to favor our current market-based approach to health care which, in my mind, has clearly failed our society (we spend more per capita than any other nation, yet do not have the best health, why is that?) and is against the idea of universal health care. He supports privatizing social security, something I think is a dangerous gimme to Wall Street (which is already rolling in the bucks that the 401K has provided, something that also should be criminal). He also has the rather quaint idea that, like the 401K, people should be able to manage their SS contributions. Clearly doesn’t understand psychology of investors and how massive the yawning ignorance is on the part of the average populous. Probably wants us all to pay a Wall Street guy to manage our money for us.

On the plus side (for me) is his stated desire to cut military funding by 43% (where does such a number come from?) and focus on defense rather than offense. He favors dialog with Iran and while he is opposed to the Citizens United ruling, he is OK with the amount of money in elections, just wants 100% transparency (which is surely an excellent start). While he supports a woman’s right to choose, he thinks it should be up to each state to decide rather than the federal government. In my view that is not support for abortion, but is a back-door way of eroding women’s rights. He supports the end of the war on drugs and wants to shift resources to focus on ‘crimes “committed online,” including “fraud and child pornography,” “should be investigated and treated identically as crimes committed offline.”‘.

He wants to ‘increase choice’ in schools, something I consider quite problematic since based on my reading the ‘problem’ with our education system is actually a problem with poverty. His views on immigration are reasonable to me, given the current social-political environment, he suggests giving current ‘illegals’ work visas and allowing the normal immigration process to provide them a path to citizenship. He favors civil unions to give same-sex couples the same legal rights as marriage does, but wants to leave ‘marriage’ to religions. I have no objections to that, what is in a name?

Overall, I am not unhappy with his stated positions. I am most concerned about his interest in austerity as a way of resolving our debt situation (which is a very big deal, I am sure, and one that needs addressing), I think that approach is likely to further stall our economic recovery. Still, given that he would have to work extensively with Congress which has demonstrated it isn’t pro austerity (all GOP blather to the contrary, though they seem to want austerity for the poor, handouts for the rich), he doesn’t seem like a poor choice overall.

My views

Prior to my looking at the third-party candidates and reviewing them I am going to quickly describe my views so my reader(s) know from what direction I cast my gaze. I doubt this will be all encompassing (and I am sure it will be too long, certainly for my wife), but should serve to give a bit of a flavor. I haven’t been shy about my political leanings, so regular reader(s) probably won’t find much surprising. My goal with each section is to state my ‘were I in charge’ desires, then the sorts of things I would like to see in a candidate’s speech/writing that would engender my support. (I am too lazy to search through my archives (wow! 670 posts up to this point!) and try to find previous posts to link. Besides here I also have some maunderings at the Book of Keith.)

Taxes

I firmly believe that corporate taxes are a burden to society. Corporations simply pass the cost of taxes onto their customers, so really all corporate taxes do is hide the true cost of taxes to the consumer. Worse, in my mind as an entrepreneur, large companies game the system and reduce their taxes thus creating an unfair, un-level playing field where they have excess profits (or lower margins) that keep smaller competitors from being a threat. I believe that taxes should be highly visible, but accept the reality that people should not have the true rate waved in their faces. Thus, I would go with a much higher sales tax, but require that to be built into the advertised price so that no one would get an unexpected surprise when they bought something. Much like how gasoline prices are advertised at their final (tax included) price.

Regarding income tax, a sales tax is regressive in that people who make a lot of money and don’t spend it, don’t pay any taxes. Because I firmly believe that the wealthy have a disproportionate obligation to support their society, I believe in a progressive income tax system (that _must_ be indexed for inflation so that middle class do not wind up as ‘rich’ like the stupid AMT). In my consideration I believe a 40% tax at the highest levels is a reasonable exchange for a highly functional society with a vast robust economy. I believe that the poor should not have income taxes because they already pay a disproportionate amount of their income as sales and payroll taxes. Also, _all_ income should be taxed at the exact same rate and I also like the idea that deductions (because I feel there are some legitimate reasons to incentivize people with lower taxes for certain behavioral changes) be capped at an inflation adjusted figure (perhaps customized to the local economy, so someone in New York City would have higher deductions than someone with the same income in, say, Kansas).

Clearly there won’t be such radical changes like this anytime soon, but at a minimum would like to see a candidate support _increased_ taxes on those who can afford to pay them, not decreased taxes. I have a very strong moral objection to anyone with higher income paying a lower rate of taxes than I do and I do not feel overtaxed (though, like everyone else, I complain about the taxes I pay). Capping deductions is also something I would like to see as well as a permanent removal of the idiotic AMT. We need to eliminate as much as possible the loopholes and special deductions that apply only to the wealthy (individuals and corporations) and ensure a level playing field.

Civil Liberties

I believe there should be a nation-wide picture identification requirement. I tend to get a bit creepy to the average person in what I consider OK for our government to know. The idea that people should be able to live in our society without any identification is something I just don’t understand. I have no problem with there being an official, nation-wide fingerprint, iris, DNA, etc., registry database. I think the idea that people should be free to commit crimes until caught is rather idiotic. If you commit a crime the investigators should be able to compare their evidence with every person living and dead in our country in seconds (right out in the field). That this is somehow an invasion of privacy is something I don’t quite understand.

My focus would instead be on working toward a more fair (or less unfair) justice system. I strongly object to the ‘war on drugs’ and consider it a huge waste of resources. I have written earlier about some middle ground between our current idiocy and full legalization and favor that approach. Decriminalize things that don’t have any real impact on society (like prostitution) and wham, bam, thank you mam, we wind up with a whole lot fewer criminals, our courts get cleared up and our police and prosecutors can focus on crimes that actually have a negative impact on society (like driving under the influence, why do those people continually get passes?).

I don’t expect a nation-wide ID system soon, but I do think that a combined driver’s license system makes a lot of sense. By eliminating people’s ability to get a license in multiple states (what conceivable legal reason is there for that?) and standardizing ID, there is a pathway forward toward. I would like to see a candidate come out against the war on drugs and the decriminalization of things like prostitution, but given the prison-industrial complex winding down the prison system has to happen gradually to keep from crashing the economy.

Abortion/Contraception

I am a misanthropist so see absolutely no reason to bring unwanted babies into this world. I think that our (eroding by the minute) nation-wide legal right for abortion is the right way forward and do not think that support for making this a state-by-state approach is wise. The women who need this service the most are those who are most likely to be trapped in a state that decided to make it illegal. I support the idea that contraception should be readily available (for boys and girls!) and that sex education should educate about sex, not abstinence. I believe that an informed population makes better decisions so girls and boys who know exactly how sex happens and how to protect against diseases and pregnancy will be more likely to take the appropriate steps to avoid those consequences.

At a minimum I would want to see a candidate support for leaving Roe v Wade alone and reversing the erosion that has been happening the last couple of decades.

Immigration

I believe there should be no limitations on immigration. I strongly believe that any foreign student who gets a graduate degree should be greeted as they come down the aisle with citizenship papers and tickets to fly their family members here. Creating barriers to immigration is no different from the war on drugs, it creates criminals out of people who are not doing anything to harm society. Indeed, those who choose to immigrate, in my opinion, tend to be the best, brightest and most entrepreneurial of the population in their home country and thus bring up our nation with their arrival.

I don’t expect the barriers to come down immediately, but I would expect any candidate to support those ideals and not (as Obama has done more than Bush did) specifically target the current illegals.

Energy

I think that current petro fuels should be used as long as they are cheaper than alternatives, but I also believe that there should be a tax on them that is used to fund efforts to reduce use. I believe that the best ‘bang for the buck’ is to make our consumption a lot lower (our current _rate_ of consumption is totally unsustainable in any sort of physical sense, so at some point we need to cut back; we can do it in a controlled method or via chaos when the fossil fuels run out) which is going to help when we do get viable alternatives (which I firmly believe are possible and practical, but not until the economic cost of petro versions reach around $10/gallon of gasoline equivalent). The government should not be investing in specific companies (i.e., “picking winners”), it should be providing demand for industries by subsidizing purchases of the product. By providing demand the government allows the marketplace to decide the most efficient method of achieving a given end and helps to reduce the incentive for corruption. At a minimum I would want a candidate to talk about reducing the incentives to petro-fuel companies and to use those incentives to reduce demand instead.

Environment

Our society must assign the costs of all consequences to the source of those consequences. Meaning that waste produced cannot be put into the environment for free, it must have costs associated with it. When a company dumps waste into the environment it is society that suffers, so this is not a situation like the war on drugs. Society must shoulder the burden of enforcing environmental laws and that cost must also be added onto the direct environmental costs of the waste. I believe, with this as incentive, that most ‘waste’ would be seen as a valuable raw material to someone, somewhere, and recycling would increase. I believe this extends to the use of landfills, we should not be creating problems for our heirs to deal with and should resolve all waste issues directly. At a minimum I would want to see a candidate support the EPA and its regulations. Science must drive regulation, not lobbying.

Military/Foreign Interests

Our military is unnecessarily large and a huge drain on our economy and society. We could cut it by 90% and _still_ have the strongest defense in the world (and still be several times stronger than any other country!). The US needs to stop meddling in the affairs of other countries, after all, it is that meddling that lead to 9/11. I would like to see any candidate propose to immediately eliminate our involvement in our countries (I particularly abhor our drone program), but winding back the military industrial complex has to happen gradually since it is such a pivotal part of our economy.

FED/Finance

I believe ‘too big to fail’ means unequivocally that entity needs to be broken up. I believe if your organization was kept solvent by taxpayer dollars that executive compensation should be more in line with executive compensation of government employees. No executive should get bonuses based on tax payer dollars, thus, since all money is fungible, that means that no executives get bonuses before the taxpayer monies are repaid and for some time period afterwards. If this causes a massive loss of senior executives at these companies, I would consider that an excellent side effect. I think that the FED (Federal Reserve Bank) should be ‘nationalized’ (I didn’t realize it _wasn’t_ part of the government until a few months ago, did you?) and should be operated by government executives and not by for-profit financial entities. A Constitutional amendment to ensure that the control of the nation’s economy stay in the hands of government executives is clearly necessary.

At a minimum I would want to see a strong focus on eliminating the sources of the problems that lead to the collapse (they are manifold and primarily due to deregulation). There will be huge resistance from the finance leaders and any efforts of a President would be massively diluted by Congress and lobbyists, but I would want to see an espoused commitment to seeing this sort of direction taken.

Education/Student Loans

I believe a new financial crises is in the offing due to the massive amount of securitized student loans that are outstanding and are never going to be paid. I believe this is a huge and unsustainable burden on our society and believe that the companies that made these loans should be forced to absorb them. Student loans should be bankrupt-able/re-organizable like any other debt. I believe that state colleges and universities should be almost fully funded by the state and federal government, the primary cost of education should be room, board and lost wages. While the latter part (‘free’ education) is not something I expect any time soon, I would like to see a candidate support a path to reverse the student loan bankrupt-ability. If students can renege on those obligations through bankruptcy, lenders will be a lot more likely to evaluate their ability to pay.

Healthcare

I strongly favor the idea of universal health care. I doubt there is any political will in the US to pursue it, but I would like to see a candidate support the idea.

Jobs/Infrastructure Bank

I would like to see the government offer long-term and stable funding for infrastructure maintenance and improvements. I see the best way to do this is to offer government-backed infrastructure bonds that, much like Freddie and Fannie guarantee mortgage loans (though without the astronomical executive compensation and profit motive!), the government could access the several trillion dollars a year that are necessary to rehabilitate our infrastructure. Given today’s interest rates, I fully believe that just the bare stimulus of flooding the market with money will repay interest and principle on the debt and the massive shot in the arm to society by having modern infrastructure will just be a huge bonus. Based on my research there is little keeping the President from making something like this happen, so it is something I would want a candidate to fully support.

Something good from global warming

Ozone hole at smallest size in decades
Warm Antarctic temperatures help preserve UV-protecting layer
http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/346068/title/Ozone_hole_at_smallest_size_in_decades

Just like the thawing of the ice at the North Pole opens up huge lucrative shipping opportunities, the warming has resulted in a shrinking ozone hole over the South Pole. People insist on insisting that there are nothing but bad consequences for a warming planet, I would suggest (if I wanted to be vilified) that on balance the globe will actually be a better place for humans with the warming we are expecting to see even with the hysterical worst-case scenarios projected. Of course, some places like Miami will have to learn from places like Amsterdam and build huge sea walls to keep out the hurricane storm surge, but hey, think of all the stimulus dollars!

Third party case

The progressive case against Obama
Bottom line: The president is complicit in creating an increasingly unequal — and unjust — society
http://www.salon.com/2012/10/27/the_progressive_case_against_obama/

I am not totally sold on the author’s case for the third party. There is the plausible case (as DaWei has argued) that we know unequivocally that Obama is evil and since there is the greater than zero case that Romney might not be evil (because he lies constantly no one knows what the hell he thinks (and I believe it is quite plausible that he doesn’t actually think anything, so any policies will be by his advisers (of course, he won’t tell us who those might be either, but how much worse can it get than what Obama has?))), so we are better off not voting for Obama. However, since Romney appears highly likely to continue the Bush/Obama path of strengthening the oligarchy at the continued expense of the middle class, rather than staying home or voting for the lesser evil (as I have made the case regarding Obama), the author argues that by voting for a third party candidate you are creating power for the future. At present, since we are left with a binary choice of death by hanging vs death by firing squad, most intelligent people will choose not to choose, thus abandoning the process all together. By casting a vote for a third party (why are they _all_ third parties?) you are lending credence to the alternative and creating/amplifying a political voice. It might mean diddly squat in the near term (almost certainly, anyway), but in the longer term, when we have the inevitable next crisis, a vote cast for a third party helps to create legitimacy for any actions championed by third party actors.

Writing this has shifted my attitude (reading the article did, but to a much lesser extent; I guess writing forces me to focus on arguments and reading doesn’t), I think I will start to promote third parties to my reader(s). If you believe, as I do, that there really isn’t any significant daylight between the two parties (I am convinced they are entirely beholden to the oligarchy and am repeatedly confounded when wealthy people (and relatives) label Obama as a socialist), then it is very easy to elect not to elect and just stay home (something I was intending to do prior to reading this article). However, the idea of lending support to the concept of third parties (though with the attitude that it will be a long-term effort to build support and knowing that that support probably won’t be ready for the next crises (or several)) helps to elevate the idea from pointlessly/uselessly casting a vote to helping to build a consensus that could lay the groundwork for some way of swinging the pendulum away from the feudal lock in by the oligarchy.

Of course, it might still be a waste of time, but if you cynically view the situation as a lost cause already, as I do, then it really costs nothing to cast your vote to a third party and since it has a non-zero chance of helping, then your vote is not 100% wasted. Of course, first you have to do the research to find out who the heck is on the ballot, expect to see some of that here in the future…

Bacteriotherapy

‘Faecal transplant’ clue to treating gut bug
The gut infection Clostridium difficile can be defeated by a cocktail of rival good bacteria, experiments in mice show.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-20081895

I talked a bit earlier about problems with antibiotics and their interference with your gut ‘microbiome’, the article above has some very strong experimental evidence that this is indeed the case. The idea of carefully blending a collection of bacteria grown on petri dishes rather than collected from someone’s poo certainly goes a very long way toward producing something that could get FDA approval!

Wage theft

Walmart supply chain: warehouse staff agencies accused of wage theft
‘They prey on people living on the edge,’ claim workers, who are already among the most vulnerable and lowest-paid in America
http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/oct/18/walmart-supply-chain-agencies-accused-wage-theft

I can state with authority that this isn’t limited to little people living on the edge of poverty. Some large government contractors (who will remain nameless since I don’t care for a lawsuit) will often require employees to work well north of 40 hours per week, charge their customers for every hour worked, yet only pay their employees for 40 hours. Since, as contractors, the company is basically paid 2-3 times what the employee gets for regular hours worked, that profit margin leaps up when the ‘overtime’ is added in. Of course, we pampered class making high salaries aren’t likely to get much sympathy from people struggling to survive on less than minimum wage, but my point is to highlight that this phenomenon is far from unique to the bottom rung of society.

I am also quite certain that Walmart is far from the only one who is (at least passively) guilty of this practice. It is certainly no cheaper for a company to directly hire and manage people according to the local laws and regulations so the very fact that the company is going with contractors is proof, in my mind, that they are expecting (deniable) shenanigans to happen which will result in less cost to them. Any alternative is simply an accounting trick to reduce the labor force (something our government has done a number of times; pay a contractor 2-3 times what an employee costs just to get that employee off the direct payroll) and comes at the expense of the stockholder. Corporations are generally incentivized by our collective short-term decision making to inflate the appearance of current profits at the expense of future profits and the long-term health of an organization and ‘outsourcing’ labor through contractors who are then incentivized to short-change their employees to make a buck is one way to get those year-end bonuses.

Endangered species!

Is the middle class an endangered species?
After losing ground for four decades, middle America increasingly looks doomed. Here’s how it happened
http://www.salon.com/2012/10/24/is_the_middle_class_an_endangered_species/

This is likely to be a rambling post, brace yourself… I have felt in my gut for a long time that the middle class was endangered and on the wane and had read most of the stats the article refers to in bits and pieces over the years. However, having it presented in such a monolithic, organized block really drives home the current situation. I can no longer claim to be a member of the middle class, though. While I grew up in a middle to upper middle class environment, once I had recovered from my bout with homeless destitution (I was _really_ stubborn about giving up more than a decade of education and experience to switch to a career in IT) it only took a couple of years to elevate into the upper middle class and today we are certainly in the top 5%, likely even in the top 2.5% depending on how one measures things. Still, intellectually I think middle class and financially, because of our very substantial investment in our second home construction efforts (shameless promotion) we largely live paycheck to paycheck (the decisions that lead to this state have been a subject of review a number of times, believe me!). As a consequence, I still think a lot like someone in the middle class. Even my education (BS in Biochem, MBA) doesn’t make me feel that much better off since it is largely irrelevant to my current career (though I am sure having a graduate degree helps to check some boxes that enable my resume to get reviewed by hiring managers, so it is not _totally_ useless). I have often had an acute feeling that I am really not that much better off than my parents were 40 years ago. While my parents were always cagy about their income (something I don’t really understand, but emulate to a certain degree because it seems to a social requirement) I figure that back in the late ’70s they were probably right at the median ($50K based on the article). Interesting (horrifying) to me is that today’s median income is, wait for it, right at $50K. According to the article inflation has averaged 2.5% each year since then which according to a spreadsheet I quickly assembled means that the median income should be over $100K today (about $115K if my spreadsheet is to be believed). That would just be to keep pace with inflation, yet I am quite certain that as a percentage of income houses, cars and education have increased much faster than inflation in that same period.

If real wages have actually shrunk by over half in the last generation, yet our economy has grown, where is all that money? The article also shows it, and I am sure to none of my reader(s) surprise, it has gone almost exclusively to the top 10% with the bulk of the gain going to a fraction of the top 1%. I believe I am a bit better off than my parents were when I was a kid, not a lot, but a bit. I have more education (that I am _still_ paying for (with about a decade more to go!)), more cars (that are all _at least_ 10 years old and all with over 100K (a couple over 200K) miles) and more houses (though my parents did own lots of property over the years, they only built once and we rented while that was under construction (note that my wife and I built our own second house almost exclusively ourselves, by our own hands, while my parents paid someone else)). My income is higher than I estimate theirs was, inflation adjusted for today, but that doesn’t account for my very strong impression that costs for big ticket items has gone up faster than inflation (the a fore mentioned education, cars and houses), so really I feel largely in the same gross financial/economic/societal role that my parents held when I was a kid (30-40 years ago). However, now I estimate that rather than being at the median I am certainly in the top 5% likely top 2.5%. That is a huge demographic shift where median ‘real’ income/purchasing has shifted all the way to the top! That, to me, is unequivocal endangerment of the middle class species!

I agree strongly with the sentiment expressed by the author that our country need not have traveled down this path to have achieved the same ends (meaning the globalization of our economy). I believe it is largely (perhaps nearly exclusively) attributable to the short-term thinking of executive decision makers (corporate as well as political) that has lead to our current situation. As Henry Ford is said to have said: “I want to pay my workers enough that they can buy one of my cars”, a strong middle class leads to a strong consumer class (day job vs night ‘job’, insofar as our economy is concerned) which leads to a strong economy which leads to higher achievement all around (meaning the rich get richer also). However, as I have babbled before, once someone has achieved a certain level of wealth they no longer really care about society’s ability to do well, indeed they are actually incentivized to do harm to the economy. The short-term thinking (aimed at maximizing quarterly stock prices) that has engulfed our decision makers means that a thousand bucks a year from now is worth less than ten bucks today. That attitude is largely due to the decision makers who elect/appoint decision makers (i.e., corporate boards and political voters) thinking incredibly short-term as well and failing to reward anyone for successful long-term decision making. A bonus in the hand is worth more than 10x (or 100x) a bonus promised next year! Particularly when you won’t be here next year and your rival will instead.

Is there any remedy? Well, within our current political system I would have to say no. Unless the sheeple suddenly start voting for people who have their best interests at heart and I just don’t see that happening. Perhaps the oligarchy will realize that they need to throw a few bones to the ‘middle class’ and will (re)create the illusion that the government actually looks out for the little guy, thus staving off the inevitable for a while, but I don’t see much need for that either. The sheeple have been so proven to be trivially lead-able that it would be a mark of insanity for anyone in power to even think that they could fight against the tide, even from within the oligarchy. I have babbled about the looming ‘apocalypse‘ a number of times (two good examples here and here) and while my definition of the apocalypse (see the second post) is really not that apocalyptic, it sure means that life sucks for the non-oligarchy. I personally might be a bit lucky in that by maintaining the ’70s middle class standard (thus having moved up the food chain to arguably the top 2.5%) I can be one of the few who attach themselves to the oligarchy as the rest of the nation wallows in deprivation and depression, but that isn’t a source of happiness to me as I would rather be in a society where everyone benefited from the economy, not just the very top.

Of course, if I am really lucky, I will look back on these posts in a decade or so and wonder how I could have been so wrong at predicting bad times. I would really _really_ like to be wrong! Happily wrong! Willing to lose an expensive bet wrong (which won’t cost me much because the economy will be cooking along (indeed, I probably won’t be able to collect if I win, so rather pointless to bet)). I can’t bring myself to be enthusiastic about the prospects of being wrong though. The frog has sat so long in the heating water that it is now frog soup!

Our police state is complete

It seems that there is no longer any point in droning on and on about the ‘impending’ police state, it is now fully embedded in concrete:

Obama moves to make the War on Terror permanent
Complete with a newly coined, creepy Orwellian euphemism – “disposition matrix” – the administration institutionalizes the most extremist powers a government can claim
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/24/obama-terrorism-kill-list

How long did this take? Less than a generation, it seems. Thinking back, pre 9/11, it seems that there were limits to what our government would do, at least openly (I have no doubt that the US equivalents of 007 ran around whacking people, but it was deniable and not widespread or institutionalized). When Bush Jr. started to grab at executive power the Dems put up a vociferous show at being objectionable, but when Obama went even further (way further!) the come up with idiotic rationalizations that all is well. Constitution? We got no stinkin Constitution!

What happened to Ron Paul? Is there any chance to write him in and get him elected?