More training beats minimum wage every time (but there has to be a floor)…

April 10, 2016

Making sure young people are prepared to enter the job market would do a lot more than raising the minimum wage.

While it is probably necessary to set a floor of some type on wages — I mean there are scoundrels out there who will take advantage of desperate people — artificially setting the value on labor in the long run will not solve the problem of people not making enough money to raise a family or just take care of themselves.

I don’t have statistics to back me up, but I would think that almost immediately upon the upward adjustment of the minimum wage various prices for things such as groceries and even rent will go up accordingly. The free market would be reacting to an artificial manipulation of the labor market.

And with the pressure of automation at all levels of work and in virtually all types of work (even areas which were once thought invulnerable to automation) and the pressure of competition in the market place on the local and state and national and global levels, there will no doubt be job reductions. People already in jobs will work harder (and in some cases may be paid more, or not) and management will decide that some tasks or endeavors are just not worth it. Management might also find it more economically advantageous to contract some things out rather than maintain employees on the regular payroll.

And then there will be the pressure from workers only making just above the new minimum. They will demand raises due to what I read is labeled “wage compression”. I mean people often work hard to get into a higher job classification to get more pay. But what if now that more pay does not amount to anything?

And what does arbitrarily setting a wage for work do to the idea of paying for skill? I had an uncle who grew up in the brick mason business. He was a master brick layer. Then he left the profession for an extended time. Later he came back. Being the senior man on the crew it was his job to hand out the paychecks. He was astounded to find that laborers were making as much or almost as much as he was (okay, that’s the story he told me — I’m just saying). Unions were strong where he was. But wouldn’t that tend to put a crimp on the supply of skilled workers?

Now it is true that some people will do a good job and even learn and improve no matter what their wage — they just have personal pride. I think that is both good and a godsend for selfish employers (a kind of mixed blessing there).

But seriously, I have written before that if you are depending on the minimum wage to make it in this world — good luck with that. If you are young enough and able your best bet is to improve your skills. Get into something you like and be real good at it. If your skill is in demand, you will always be employed and will have opportunities to make more (although you might have to sacrifice something in the short run, such as move to another location, or forgo some immediate gain while you are in training).

Take it from me. I figure I’ve done about 50 percent wrong in life, but maybe the other 50 percent right.

There needs to be more adult re-training available. It could or should be a cooperative effort between government and private sector. It could pay big dividends for society by lessening the needs for social welfare and improving productivity and thus the economy and living standards for all.

But these programs need to be real and have value for the students, rather than boondoggle for government contractors looking to make a buck by shoddy training. As a reporter for a newspaper I once did a story on a local re-training program. I remember one student who impressed me as a professional welfare recipient. She said she was real familiar with these re-training programs. She had been in the last one to come around. It looked to me as if neither she nor the public got much out of that. Of course demand for skills does keep changing. That’s what makes it all so tough for so many.

I think there ought to be more of an emphasis in the lower grades at public schools (and private) on future career planning. In the name of not forcing people to decide on their path in life too early society spends an awful lot on social welfare or safety net programs and at the same time goes wanting for various needed skills. It makes no sense.

And in this day and age, young people who are destined for higher education cannot afford to think too long about who they are and what they want to be. I can tell you a college diploma alone will not get you a job. Now if you can combine practical skills and experience with formal education, you have a winning ticket.

And even with automation and the advance of various technologies there is still a high demand for what used to be pejoratively called vocational training. But that training has to be updated for today’s environment. But our grade schools and high schools often fall short in that department because we went through a time when vocational training was devalued in the minds of the public. I don’t know why. We still need talented people to fix our cars, our plumbing, our house wiring and to build our buildings and roads and well all kinds of hands-on stuff. And we need engineers — not just software programmers.

You can work in some of the trades and make very little money, but if you are skilled and willing to go where the pay is, then you are much better off.

But the onus is on the individual. Waiting for a hike in the minimum wage is just not the answer.

Again, human dignity, I imagine, does demand some kind of floor in wages. There are a myriad of reasons why individuals find themselves working at the low rung on the ladder, even into middle age and older. It is not right to pay people sub standard wages and expect the governmental social welfare systems to help out while at the same time decrying government control.

Targeted news is not news at all…

March 24, 2016

When you only listen to people who say what you want to hear or when you only read stuff that you agree with you don’t learn anything and in the end may do yourself harm, and you may do the nation or the rest of the world harm too.

There can hardly be harmony is relations between peoples and nations when people remain divided by closing their minds.

And I am afraid that is what is happening in the United States today. Ratings-driven talk radio (virtually all ultra right wing) and the what I call post-objective approach to journalism that pervades much of the airwaves and internet is stifling critical thinking. A lack of objectivity, weighing both sides of an argument or various options in public policy, to me seems most acute on the political right but certainly does not stop there.

Examples I would give include Fox News on the right, which under the guise of objective reporting, “we report, you decide”, proceeds to stack the deck in favor of what is considered conservative thought. Now broadcast has always mixed commentary with so-called straight news, but I think Fox has taken it to the extreme. I don’t generally listen or watch Fox by choice, but recently I was somewhere and it was the only available source for news at the time in reporting on certain primary elections. Under the cloak of simply reporting on the news, not engaging in an analysis or comment, they were talking about supporting their side, the Republicans.

Fox News is a modern phenomenon that I think is an outgrowth of two things: one, the realization that news can actually make money when presented to a mass audience if done so as entertainment and something that appeals to prejudices and the lowest common denominator, and two, a backlash against what had been the conventional news reporting style that seemed to be a little skewed to the progressive or liberal side of politics. This is my analysis of the situation. I mean I think that when people go to college, as most journalists have done, they are subjected to a wide range of opinions (at least historically) and their eyes are opened. They are better able to see different points of view, even though as individuals we all tend to form our own personal point of view. But perhaps the masses don’t have their eyes opened and feel uncomfortable having anything they have always believed in or taken for granted called into question and resent the more open way of seeing things. Thus the backlash.

But on the political left you have, for example, the Huffington Post, with its own slant on the news. I think Arianna Huffington herself said basically sometimes you just have to drop the labored objectivity where you dutifully report what seems absolute nonsense on its face in the name of objectivity and just tell it like it is — and that is my description of what she said.

I know from my own journalistic experience that sometimes one feels compelled to supply background to make sense of something, but often some of those covered in a story will object that the background slants a story and makes the account biased when it appears to indicate some inconsistencies in what they might have said, or adds more information that allows a reader to think beyond the preferred narrative of the objector.

I’ve covered this ground before, but the way things evolved I think is that originally, back in the times of the 13 colonies and the emergence of a free press, not yet really free, people simply wrote essays, published as newspapers, and these essays were their opinions. And then during Civil War we had dispatches from the front, sometimes sent over telegraph wires. You did not know how much of what you sent would get through before the lines were cut. So you sent the most important stuff first, thus the inverted pyramid style of writing was born. Put the main points up front and the rest in descending order of importance. But this was news, more like we might see breaking news today.

And with technology through the years we developed our newspapers (remember newspapers?). But it was competitive, and sometimes, well often, things were sensationalized. The stories were not always reliable. It is said William Randolph Hearst got us into the Spanish-American War by manufacturing a story that the Spanish in Cuba blew up our battleship The Maine, when in fact it was probably an accident.

But I think we went through a period where much news reporting was responsible and objective. Newspapers made money by advertising, but for the most part, their news departments were independent of the advertising side (in small newspapers there usually is some or even a lot of influence from the advertising side).

And television came along and the news was seen as a public service and a matter of prestige between the big three networks, but not a money-maker in and of itself.

But somewhere along the line, like about the 1980s, it was discovered that if you dress things up you could actually get high ratings (with ratings comes sponsor money) with news and commentary and that is where it turned into show business.

And then with modern technology with virtually everyone hooked into the internet, it was discovered by advertisers that you could reach certain demographics — people who might be most interested in your product — if you targeted what they wanted to hear directly to them, thus people don’t need to be bothered by things they are not interested in. And that is where the closed mind begins.

But I ask this: if you wanted to buy a new car, wouldn’t you want to know everything about what is available? I mean you might have always driven a Chevy, but what if you found out that another car had more performance and got better gas mileage, and was more comfortable, and lasted longer, and was cheaper to boot? (And that was just hypothetical — nothing to do with Chevy really.)

But if you like to only read what you are interested in and comfortable with, Chevies, you would miss out. Maybe that was not a good example, but I think you can get the idea.

I got the idea for all of this listening to President Obama talking to students in Argentina. He gave long, thoughtful, analytical answers. At one point, commenting on the current U.S. election, he even admitted that since he is a Democrat, he is biased. He also commented on people only taking in the message they want to hear or read.

When did you ever hear a Republican politician admit that he or she is biased?

Yes, I think conservatives or even these right-wing populists or whatever you call them, are closed-minded, but so are people on the far left I have to admit.

My only hope is that there are enough people out there who are willing to see both sides or all sides to issues and have the ability to use critical thinking and then will vote accordingly.

But I am fearful that many of us have developed a narrow-minded approach to issues. And while for years many have lamented that not enough people take part in voting, this year we seem to be seeing increased participation in the primaries. That might seem good. But increased participation of the narrow-minded, spurred on by ignorance and fear, not so good.

Obama’s astounding speech in Cuba; Belgium terrorist attack…

March 22, 2016

Well what a day this is. I wake up to discover there has been a terrible terrorist attack in Brussels, Belgium and a short time later I am hearing President Obama making what I think is a fabulous and almost unbelievable speech to the people of Cuba in Havana. He is complimenting them and at the same time, as President of the United States, he is telling them the benefits of democracy (as opposed to Cuban communism). But he says the U.S. does not intend to force democracy on them. Astounding that the Cuban government is allowing him to speak this way on its own soil (did they get an advance copy of the speech?).

Interesting that he pointed out that he, Obama, as an African-American, as the product of a mixed-race marriage, has become President of the United States. But at the same time two Cuban-Americans are running for president (as Republicans, Obama of course being of the Democratic Party). And I think he mentioned they are against socialism, such as Cuba is run by, but there is also a socialist running for president from the opposite party.

Obama is mixing some Spanish phrases in with his speech. With my limited Spanish I detect that he is right on, but sometimes this can be dangerous. You might say something that is slightly off, such as the time people said President Kennedy wound up calling the people of Berlin jelly donuts. Actually I have read that what he said was correct, he did call them “Berliners” (which can be translated into a Berlin-style donut), it’s just an argument over a pronoun or verb or something (German can be difficult). And why did I get off track on that?

But back to the terrorist attack. I hope this is not fodder for The Donald, who calls for banning Muslims from the U.S. The attack in Belgium was presumably the work of Islamic (Muslim) terrorists, the same ones or the same group that pulled off the recent Paris attacks.

Obama did mention the latest attack but as far as I know he is heading next to Argentina. I at first thought maybe he ought to cut the trip short but maybe it is a good idea not to let the terrorists disrupt our government. With today’s technology the president is in constant touch with everyone back home.

I do think, however, the terrorist attack points out the need to step up the pace in our effort to defeat Muslim terrorism.

And I also think other Muslims, other than the terrorists, ought to speak out (more) against terrorism. It is too bad that they are put in that position, but I think they would do themselves well and even help the rest of us by showing where they stand. I am not anti-Muslim. I personally think those who engage in terrorism under the banner of Islam are not representative of that religion any more than Christians who have committed acts just as bad throughout history are representative of that religion as it stands today.

And back to Obama. He can be a good speaker. And he talks of rights for all people, both sexes, and a right to health care and education. I only wished he would have been more forceful in his presidency — and yes I realize he pushed through his own form of universal health care, which is not quite universal, perhaps. But he should have pushed harder against the malfeasance of Wall Street, which caused the Great Recession (or at least partly caused it). He also should have been more aggressive against Islamic terrorism, but that is problematic. It is our history to get bogged down in conventional-style war against guerilla fighters in the midst of civil wars. And sometimes our actions seem to produce more terrorists.

But we have to do something.

And I am afraid that these terrorists attacks supply fodder for the evils of Trumpism, something that is akin to Nazism (Hitler). We have to have a bully dictator to protect us, people might think. History says that leads to disaster. But who reads history?

A big day indeed.


And of course Donald Trump has responded to all of this, and I have lifted a sample out of the Politico website:

Trump said immigrants aren’t assimilating to other countries’ cultures and that America has to be vigilant.

“We have no idea what’s happening. Our government has absolutely no idea what’s happening, but they’re coming into our country,” predicted Trump, offering no further evidence or specificity. “They’re coming in by the thousands and just watch what happens — I’m a pretty good prognosticator — just watch what happens over the years. It won’t be pretty.”

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And back to me talking: I wish the responsible leaders in our society would wake up to this threat to both protect us from the onslaught of Islamic terrorism and just as bad, Trumpism and Nazism.


Polls make no sense, what is everyone thinking?

March 22, 2016

Polls and statistics confuse me. It seems that the two least liked presidential candidates are also the leading ones, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. How does that make any sense?

Sixty percent of the Republican Party is said to be embarrassed by Trump and 46 percent want him to be the nominee — I know the two figures add up to more than 100. I may have them wrong, but it was something like that, and besides the two measures don’t necessarily go together or they are not necessarily mutually exclusive — I mean you could be embarrassed by him but still want him to be the nominee —  I guess?

But in recent contests I keep hearing that a candidate is leading but also has high unfavorability ratings. Seems like some kind of contradiction there.

Poor Hillary is the one you hear that about a lot. I have long had a bad feeling about her but cannot exactly put my finger on it. And I just read a story where some citizen supposedly said the same thing. I guess maybe her record of stances on various issues has changed over time and it often appears she is just seeing which way the wind blows. Not making excuses, but if you want to be in the game and get things done you have to get elected and if you are not saying what seems to be popular you are not likely to get elected.

Except it seems the Trump supporters don’t really care what the man says or what his past record on issues has been. They just like his-in-your-face middle finger-to-the “establishment” stance. Like I think I said before in this space, that does not make sense to me. I mean even if it is apparent the guy is going to screw things up or that he is a lunatic, a bully with no governing experience, and so on, and in reality may do things to hurt the people he is supposedly going to bat for, he should be elected because he is going up against “the establishment”.

Gawd it is scary to think he could have his stubby fingers on the nuclear codes. I mean it is scary anyone does, but especially someone as unstable and unpredictable as him.

And let me posit this:

Some may think he will make the U.S. more successful on the military front with his bluster, but I doubt that (bluster is not all that valuable, think George W. and “bring it on”). To be successful you have to command respect (you have to convince people that there is a there there).

Also, I would not be surprised if he tried to do something stupid and dangerous and as a result we might see a military coup. The more level-headed military leaders might feel they have to step in to save the country from some type of nuclear disaster (where’s Alexander “I’m in charge” Haig when we need him? Just kidding).

But I did not mean for this piece to go off on a Trump tangent, but he seems to be the only thing going on, especially on the Republican side.

So far, the so-called establishment has been so stunned, that even though it has awoken to the real threat of Trump, much too late probably, it seems impotent.

Not that they want to know my thoughts, but here they are anyway:

I think Romney and the others ought to get behind another candidate, preferably Kasich, but even someone who has not been in the running, and ignore Trump, as if he were simply someone walking down the street talking to himself. Trump has gone way too far. He has jumped the shark. He has gone beyond being “colorful”, he is just insane. His followers, well, they can’t be deep thinkers. Yes I know they are frustrated. But get over it and get serious, before it is too late.

The news media has much culpability in all of this, and I hate to say that, as a former journalist myself. But every time Trump passes wind there they are with total coverage. The more serious candidates are passed over in favor of live shots of Trump making insane claims and changing his positions, such as they are, in mid sentence, and lying about what he said before even in the face of instant video replays.

Free enterprise does not always produce the best journalism. It certainly is capable of doing so, but often does not. NPR and PBS do a much better job most of the time, and so does the BBC.

And in my lifetime, the more serious print journalism, and even the respectful national television network journalism — Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, have gone by the wayside in favor of show business-style news reporting, where ratings are so important that Trump must be covered every time he moves at the expense of everything else. The masses (of asses) demand it!

And much of the stuff on the web lacks any pretense of objectivity and no measure of credibility. I mean, I myself am just a guy at a keyboard and can write anything I want — no one editing it, no fact checking, and then I can post it for all the world to see instantly. Now I am only presenting opinion and I do try to base it on factual evidence and real observation — I’m just saying…

But all that is left for us who want to be responsible citizens to do is keep up on current events as best as possible and try to make educated and thoughtful decisions based on facts, best as we can determine them, devoid of raw emotion and prejudice.

In my mind, Trump eliminated himself from serious consideration, not by his positions on issues (I don’t really know what they are or don’t have faith that he means anything he utters), but the manner in which he has conducted himself.

I don’t think I really know what Americans think. The polls and statistics seem to be of no help.

I say: ¡Cuba Sí! — good move President Obama!

March 21, 2016

I for one think President Obama has made a wise decision in restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba and becoming the first American president to visit that island nation in 88 years.

It seems absurd to me that the U.S. has continued the freeze on relations with that Communist island-nation all these years since the height of the Cold War.

I mean we had full relations with the old Soviet Union and we opened relations with what used to be called “Red China”, the other major communist nation of the time, way back in 1972, when President Nixon made his historic visit.

And oh my gosh! don’t let me forget, we even restored relations with Vietnam after losing the war and seeing it all go communist.

It is true that Cuba was actively trying to export its communist revolution all over Latin America and even into Africa. But communism has not been as successful as it had been hoped and that nation has had its hands full just staying alive (of course the U.S. made it tougher on Cuba with trade embargoes).

I don’t know what Fidel Castro had in mind in the beginning — whether he was a communist the whole time or just a socialist, but he was certainly pushed that direction when from the start the Eisenhower administration drew up a secret plan to get rid of him. And that plan was carried forward by President John F. Kennedy, resulting in the disastrous and unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion. Some think Castro was behind the assassination of JFK, as a retaliation for us trying to kill him (that tragedy is still a mystery and likely will be forever).

But at any rate, that is all history. Fidel is old and out of the job of actively running the country, with his brother Raul as the nation’s leader, and Raul is an old man.

Reportedly, Cuba still has hundreds or thousands of political prisoners and it is known that there is less than full freedom of expression in Cuba. It is still a police state, although Raul has granted some new freedoms and there is limited private capitalism allowed.

I have been led to believe that Cuba has a good medical system. Cuba offered medical assistance for the victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans during the George W. Bush administration — the offer was not accepted by the U.S. government (Cuba is a major provider of medical assistance to third-world nations). The irony is that our own government seemed helpless and somewhat dysfunctional during that disaster. Not long after that, I think it was, there was a terrible earthquake in China. I always remember the news videos showing the Chinese Army helping victims and on a large scale. I know our own military was deployed, to some extent, in the Katrina disaster, but not enough and not quickly enough it seems to me.

But to my way of thinking we would do best to cultivate good relations with almost all nations, especially one that is 90 miles off our own shores.

We’ll have a better chance of convincing them our ways are better through normal diplomatic relationships, friendship where possible, and trade.

Republicans should dump Trump to save the Party of Lincoln…

March 16, 2016

I’m not worried about the Republican Party but I don’t think it has to surrender to Donald Trump.

Trump is saying today that even if he does not get the required number of delegates going in since he is so far ahead of anyone else he should automatically be nominated and that if he were not to be there might be riots.

But political parties are outside the Constitution and can do what they want. And it is difficult to define exactly what a political party is these days. I mean you become a member by registering as such when you register to vote, unless you decline to state a party, and then if you do that, in most states you cannot vote in the party primaries. You don’t pay dues. And there is a party hierarchy made up of politicians and non-office-holding politicos who are actually in charge of the party and they have the power to make the rules and to change the rules and of course the voters have a right to vote how they choose.

But I think the GOP should, if it sees fit, nominate its own candidate (not Trump) and let come what may (I don’t mean riots). We have already been told, and it should be self-evident anyway, by the other candidates in the party and by the establishment leaders that Trump is unfit for the presidency by virtue of his behavior and speech and his lack of fealty to the party line. But then they have also contradicted themselves by saying they will support him if he wins the nomination (by getting the required number of delegates).

If the establishment of the GOP wants to maintain any credibility it cannot let this glaring hypocrisy stand.

Let Mr. Trump break away and run on his own ticket as an independent or in some new party. I guess the establishment could create its own party, but why should it have to abandon the Party of Lincoln.

Bringing back production to the USA the right idea

March 16, 2016

Donald Trump promises to bring capital and jobs back to the U.S., just like that. Can he do it? I don’t know how, at least not just like that. But someone needs to.

Tuesday night was another big one for Trump, among his victories was Florida, where he forced Marco Rubio out of the presidential race by denying him a victory in his home state — that has to be humiliating.

It seems pretty clear that Trump will be the Republican nominee with even the GOP establishment coming around. Trump, who has incurred the wrath of the party establishment with is crude behavior and his sometimes seemingly un-Republican line, has met with Mr. Establishment himself, GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

(You know those pesky environmental regulations. Who needs them? except maybe the people of Flint, Michigan.)

But globalization is something that is just a natural progression I think. And bigger and faster ships and containerization, as well as modernization in ground and air transport have really made it happen.

As the developing world, which the U.S. helped develop, gets developed nations produce more and then have to have markets for that production. So they export stuff to us and compete with our own home-grown industries.

Trump has called for raising tariffs on incoming goods. But that was tried back in the 1920s, here and in other parts for the world. It crushed world trade and the result was the Great Depression. So clearly simply raising tariffs does not seem to be a magic formula, not to say that in some cases there is not room for raising them to a degree.


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