Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Minimum Wage vs. Living Wage

With the economic progress of this country, there are more and more jobs that require more and more education that are more and more specialized. All of this is a necessity of progress that I think everyone understands is happening in all developing nations. The problem comes when we look at the bottom of our economic class system. There are many jobs that can and are being replaced by automation. But there will always be some jobs required by humans that do not pay high wages. The jobs we have illegal aliens mostly covering and other, very desperate members of society. The problem is that our living wage is around $14.50. Or at least it was when Barbara earmarking published Nickel and dimed in which she worked three minimum wage jobs to show that it was impossibly or nearly so to get by. And this problem, though not very noticeable now by the rest of society, will become very apparent as the minimum wage (and lots of under-the-table wages which are much, much lower) spreads apart from a living wage. As the price of living increases with the advancement of our economy, our minimum wage will remain relatively lower and lower in comparison creating an unsustainable economic bottom base that will eat at our welfare and require more and more resources from the rest of us simply to live, let alone provide for anyone else or advance. Increasing the minimum wage is necessary and will happen but what will happen when (assuming for inflation) we reach a point of $7/hour minimum wages (above what they are now) and a $50/hour living wage?

Monday, September 26, 2005

This President is disgusting (originally posted Septemeber 10, 2005)

We've all been living through this horrific event in piecemeal, finding incompetence after incompetence. And all of it up to now has been about our leaders, local and federal, being lazy, ignorant, and/or complaisant.
But now President Bush is actively tearing down, even further, what little is left of The Gulf Coast. He has just suspended the law that requires employers to pay the local minimum wage for every job ($14/hour for electrician working on a levee, $9 for a trucker) and replace it with the federal minimum wage.
All this does is keep the locals (you better believe every gulf coast native will try to get a construction job as close as they can to where they want to come back to) even more stuck in their poverty. It keeps money out of the region we're all trying to send money to. It will slow economic growth in the region and make it harder for our refugees to get off government subsidies. But I don't even know why I'm writing what the consequences of this are. We all no how horrible this act is in the name of saving the taxpayers money by "lowering bureaucratic expenses." I know we can save a lot of money by not paying "Brownie" and Michale Chertoff who sure as hell didn't earn their paychecks this month. Bureaucracies are middle men not the ones actually rebuilding the levees. How many letters will I (and hopefully you) be writing to ALL of our government officials to actively stop the madness!?

Now we'll all know how to sing the blues. (originally published Septemeber 8, 2005)

I've just finished reading my 746th article/blog on Katrina and we've all gone from shock to sadness to outrage to throwing every idea out there to try and fix this place. And pretty much all of them are good hearted, well thought out and can help make New New Orleans better than ever. But in the meantime we're left without a Big Easy. We don't have a place to go to listen to Jazz that's been uninterrupted since it was invented, to visit people who still believe and practice voodoo, and to celebrate Mardi Gras.
So I propose keeping New Orleans culture alive in every other major city in America till we can set it back where it belongs. I don't know if this means making French Quarters, like Little Italy or China town, but let's invite people to settle in and bring their slower than city life attitude with them. We can have New Orleans nights at bars where displaced musicians can perform. Restaurants can hire the displaced chefs and give buffalo wings a run for their money with some étouffée.
There's a lot of culture to be lost if we don't organize this diaspora. It truly does take a village.
I don't know how to pull this off so I want all of your ideas and then pass them along. We've got about 5 months until the next mardi gras so let's organize one in every city. Let's get displaced people to lead us in this. And most importantly let's make this Mardi Gras the one that will keep the next one alive, let's make them fundraisers with the money all going to Habitat for Humanity. Recovery will be over by then, but the rebuilding will just be underway.
I don't know if it's a silver lining to say that with this embracing of the south into all of our homes we can learn to truly sing the blues but there's something magical that can still be saved. That kind of magic Times Square lost when Disney moved in. That kind of magic Haight Ashbury lost when Gap moved in. That kind of magic that New Orleans lost to mother nature but has still not been lost to man.

Financing this war (originally published August 30, 2005)

In September, Congress is going to vote to permanently remove the estate tax, also known as the death tax. This is a tax that only effects those who have millions of dollars to pass down. it brings in to the government about $1.5 billion every week which is, coincidentally, what we are spending in Iraq. So if this tax is revoked it's another roughly $80 billion a year added to our debt. Another $80 billion plus interest the Chinese will own of America.
The Koreans own two thirds of our mortgages and the Saudis have hundreds of billions of dollars invested in American companies. Dependency in a global economy is a good thing. It's incentive not to go to war and for free trade but it must be a two way street. All this does is make us dependent on loan sharks who could call back their loans any time they please which will be whenever they think we won't be able to pay all of it back anymore. Which, at this rate of cutting taxes and spending beyond our government's means, will be pretty soon.
What happens when the world economy has to metaphorically break our knees? I don't know about you, but I'm writing my Senators and Representative to vote no.

Financing this war (originally published August 30, 2005)

In September, Congress is going to vote to permanently remove the estate tax, also known as the death tax. This is a tax that only effects those who have millions of dollars to pass down. it brings in to the government about $1.5 billion every week which is, coincidentally, what we are spending in Iraq. So if this tax is revoked it's another roughly $80 billion a year added to our debt. Another $80 billion plus interest the Chinese will own of America.
The Koreans own two thirds of our mortgages and the Saudis have hundreds of billions of dollars invested in American companies. Dependency in a global economy is a good thing. It's incentive not to go to war and for free trade but it must be a two way street. All this does is make us dependent on loan sharks who could call back their loans any time they please which will be whenever they think we won't be able to pay all of it back anymore. Which, at this rate of cutting taxes and spending beyond our government's means, will be pretty soon.
What happens when the world economy has to metaphorically break our knees? I don't know about you, but I'm writing my Senators and Representative to vote no.

...still apparently an idiot on hold. (originally published August 24, 2005)

When we last left our fallen hero he had no phone service. But today, today is a different day. Today there is phone service once again. I spent the entire morning on the phone with Verizon again trying to get the phone turned on after waking up to a dead phone line, not even a dial tone like I had the day before. But I'll tell you what doesn't work, persistance. Persistance does not work. After 2 hours of wrangling and disclosing torid secrets, Kathy (the Verizon rep.) and I found that when Cablevision cancelled my service it was not translated over to Verizon who still had the cancellation of our sevice with them still pending. And to port a number back from Cablevision would take 10 business days. 10 days with out a phone line. But that, that along with the fact that they could get us a dial tone all be it with a different number, was the best case scenario. The worst case scenario was that the number was thrown into the pile because Verizon didn't grab the number back in time. FYI, when a number is thrown back into "the pile" it must remain there in limbo for 90 days, circling around a maze of god knows what till it pops out the other end where any phone company can buy the number and hopefully Verizon would be able to grab it. Then Kathy wanted to try calling my number to see what the status of the line was, but instead of putting me on hold, she disconnected me. I yelled very loudly, took a shower, calmed down, and called Verizon back to ask to be reconnected with Kathy. I got Else (pronounced L-See) who asked if she could be of some help because Kathy was on the other line with a customer (instead of calling me back.) I told Else the situation and she typed for a few minutes and said, "Ok Mr. Schwarz we'll have your line ported back to us in a few hours. If it doesn't work by then call us back." What!? What! So all I had to do was talk to the right person and they could just do it? OK! Okalie dokalie dooo! Kathy called a few minutes later and I told her what had happened. She was puzzled as well and I just said goodbye. And by the end of the day the phone was back on. So you see boys and girls, when someone doesn't give you the right answer, hang up on them, hang up on them early. Then call back and see if that person can help you. And just rinse and repeat till that works. Now all I have to do is get the two broken phone jacks on the other line fixed...

I'm sorry sir, our records indicate that you are an idiot. (originially published August 22, 2005)

Like all of you, I have had my "fair" share of time spent in purgatory trying to get customer service to understand ANYTHING! Here is the latest tale of woe (be prepared, this is a short novel):
In May, I decided to switch our internet and phone service from Verizon DSL and phone to Cablevision so we'd have every input and output in our house on one bill and it was supposed to save hundreds of bucks a year... great! So we ordered the IO Triple Play, all 3 services for $30 each/month. Turns out that's only for people who don't have any of the services, and since we had cable, I had to sign up for the double play. We wouldn't save as much money, but it would still be considerable, and we'd also have nationwide long distance free and a faster internet. We were assigned to have someone come out 3 weeks after the order (first time available.) Unfortunately I had just gotten back from San Francisco and didn't make it back in time from the city to greet my technician between the hours of 11 am and 2 pm.
So I rescheduled. Next available time: 1 month later. Between the hours of 2pm and 6pm someone was supposed to come make the information age even better. Alas, no one came. I called, complained, got a new appointment and a $20 service credit, should service ever start. Next appointment, a month later. I complained. Next appointment turned out to be that coming Saturday between the hours of 8am and 6pm. But due to enough complaining I got someone to call back and have someone come Friday between 2pm and 4pm. He showed up at noon. Younger than I am, and less than enthused. He set to work. Had trouble configuring the computer. Got on his cell phone, asked questions, and after an hour and half got the cable modem up and working long enough to configure the internet phone (VOIP). Unfortunately, that wasn't working properly. So he went to disconnect our Verizon phone chords. Unfortunately he also disconnected our other phone line as well and still couldn't get the phone to work. We could dial out but couldn't receive calls. "Your signal needs to be boosted." So he waited in our driveway from 2:30 to 4:30 for someone to come take his place who could "boost the signal." No one came. He left saying someone said they would be here in an hour. No one showed. I called Cablevision again and was then assigned someone to come Saturday between the hours of 8am and 6pm. Meanwhile, we had no phone service.
The Cablevision guy arrived in the morning and worked on the modem for an hour before replacing it, and then replacing it again, just to make sure it wasn't a hardware problem. But of course the service was down at Cablevision headquarters so now, no phone AND no internet. So he fixed the phone chords and said that when the one Verizon line was shut down they were both shut down. "My advice would be to switch back to Verizon and when we offer two line service in a five or six months try us again." Then he showed us how our outside cables were extremely corroded from water damage and that he'd come out on his own time this Friday to replace the cables. When I told my Dad this, he said that he was still getting paid to do it. And I said that he was coming on a day when he wasn't supposed to be working. And since it's outside the house we don't get charged for this. It's funny that a guy would volunteer to do this like it's an emergency since everything works fine in the house anyway and it's really just an infrastructure upgrade.
I called Verizon. No one works during weekends in the billing department so I called for the repair service to get a dial tone on the phone that wasn't canceled from verizon to at least get someone out here. He would come out Sunday between the hours of 8am and 6pm. But voila, he showed up in our driveway an hour later working on the line. After fixing our phone line with them he tried to switch our original line back to Verizon but apparently Cablevision had "ported" the line at the end of our road already even though they weren't supposed to do that until end of business day on Monday. That meant we had to call Verizon on Monday when they were open and have them buy back the number from Cablevision or else risk losing the number we've had since 1976 back to "the pile."
And on top of that our other phone line only works on one jack but because we don't have the coverage plan for that line it would cost $91 for the first half hour and $46 for each additional half hour to have the two other jacks in the house fixed. So on Sunday I signed up for the coverage plan which doesn't go into effect until Thursday. So then when that works, I'll order a repair so we can have our fax machine working again.
Then my parents and I went to see The 40 Year Old Virgin. *Warning: Not recommended to see with parents.*
This morning I called Verizon at 9am. They said the switch was still pending so as long as I called Cablevision and canceled the order before the end of the day, Verizon would still own the number and the phone would be turned back on. So I called Cablevision, they said they already "ported" the number and that they had it so if I canceled with them, my number would go in "the pile." She said to have Verizon call her at a certain number, ask for Allison, and ask for the number back. I called Verizon and got Ms. B. A very nice woman by the way. She put us on conference with Cablevision to grab the number back together. Ms. B explained to Allison that the change was still pending so they just had to cancel the service. Allison explained that it HAD already happened so if I canceled with Cablevision I'd lose my number to "the pile." So the three of us argued about this till 11 am. But in the middle of this Ms. B. and I got disconnected. We sat their like idiots thinking we were on hold for 5 minutes until I asked Ms. B. to call them back and ask for Allison again. We got another guy who said that Allison was with another call, we explained to him that it was probably us that she was with and didn't realize we had been disconnected either. Turned out it wasn't. Instead of calling us back after being disconnected she just took another call from another customer. We got her back on the line and she said she had to help this other customer, "I have people on cue here." And of course Ms. B said, "I have people on cue too honey." But by that time Allison had already put us back on hold. Then Allison got a representative from Optimum Voice (a division of Cablevision) who finally admitted that they weren't going to change the service to them until between 2pm and 4 pm that day. (Even in their own company, they do things between certain hours!) Finally, after two and a half hours of wrangling through all of this, Cablevision canceled the service.
Ms. B. got off the line and I continued talking with Cablevision, which is weired because I was one the phone with them through a conference call with Verizon who hung up their end of the phone so how did that conversation continue without me being disconnected when Ms. B. hung up? Cablevision then warned me that since I was now only officially ordering the cable modem I would be charged $15 more per month. (It would have been $20 more if I didn't have them for cable TV.) So I had to explain how, since I never even had their phone service working and switched back to Verizon before even officially having their phone service, all I ordered was the modem I should get the deal where it's $23.90 for the first six months if I order the modem. They said since I didn't install it myself I wasn't eligible for that or the free wireless router. And I said I would have installed it myself had I only ordered the modem but because I got Optimum Voice, I wasn't allowed to install it myself. She told me what she thought a supervisor would say to that, and I said, "I don't want to hear what a supervisor WOULD say I want to hear a SUPERVISOR!" So I got put on hold and she came back and gave me the internet service for $30/month for the first year, ironically what I would have been charged had I gotten the Triple Play service I wanted in the first place. And then before I could say anything, she said she'd try to see if I could get the router as well. On hold I waited till I got someone else. I tried to explain I was waiting for this woman to tell me about a router. She told me she was a supervisor liaison. Apparently this position is someone who isn't a supervisor but is the step below that in case you want to talk to a supervisor. Just ANOTHER way to make sure I can't talk to someone who knows what they're doing! She said she couldn't get me the router because I officially ordered the double play service which isn't eligible for the router. So I asked for some voucher for my troubles, I got the first month's service free.
Now I'm waiting for my phone service to turn on again, which I was assured would be by tomorrow morning if not by tonight. And I'm typing this all on a computer that has Cablevision internet which is a lot faster than the Verizon DSL, and I don't have to be signed on to AOL to use it either.
So keep this in mind next time you want to sign up for a service: talking to someone over the phone who has the power to put you on hold and make you listen to muzak and/or Faith Hill, will torture you not because they can but because it's corporate policy. And you'll put up with it because you know the more you wait, the more you'll have to complain about when you ask for that first free month of service.

Two Endorsements (originally published August 17, 2005)

Two endorsements for your own judgement:
Joe Biden for President
and Honey Teddy Grahms for the new national snack. Hazzaahh!

Whoops on Venezuela (originally published August 17, 2005)

Ok, so what I said before about viable options for oil outside of the middle east... well Seymore Hirsch says that Iran is in talks with Venezuella about oil. So maybe there goes that source too, uh oh.
PS on Seymore Hirsch; for anyone who didn't read his article a month or so ago in The New Yorker about the first Iraq elections, he found out how our government sent money and political "helpers" to aid the people we wanted to get elected. And for some reason Achmed Chalabi, the guy this administration wanted to run Iraq in the first place, even though he had all these money laundering crimes in his past and had lied to us before and was a major source of faulty info about WMD's in Saddam's Iraq, is now in charge of the oil ministry. He decides where, when, how and even why money from Iraqi oil goes. Hmmmm, how did he get elected to that position after getting voted out of any major office? We don't want to steal the oil, we just want access to buying it, but jeeez what a way to go about it!

No more oil for you! (originally published August 11, 2005)

With the successful buy out of Unocol to Chevron instead of China's Cnooc, the congress has effectively further sent us in the direction of a Shakespearean play. We are becoming so scared of the threat China could pose as a super power that our reactions might just make our worst fears a reality. We are pushing China away and turning them into an opposing force instead of an ally with each side relying on the other. China will continue to look for oil and they are going to get it. They've already secured huge amounts of natural gas in a 20 year deal with Australia and their investments in African oil are growing and
Then comes the big problem. Oil, all over the world, exists in a free market economy. It goes to the highest bidder. And that is how it should be. But that could not be the case for long. Imagine a day when the majority of oil, owned by Islamic countries, is sold almost exclusivly to countries other than America. A reverse-embargo where Iraq (if it ever becomes a controlled state), Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc... all just turn down American offers and sell to China who could, within a matter of a decade, buy all the oil the middle East has to sell. There are other sources, Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. the new arctic passage looks promising, Russia, but the main problem is not where we'll get our oil from, it's a middle east no longer reliant on a country that prefers, and has come to insist on, democracies. And more importantly no longer reliant on us, period. Free to declare publicly what the people have been saying for decades, "death to America."
We're losing our grip on the world because a super power is only as strong as the next strongest country is weak. A strong America, a new super power in the east, and perhaps an EU that acts as one nation. Will we all go our separate ways as protectionists? What will happen to the third world now? And what would a middle east, free to determine it's own destiny, no longer relyant on a demanding nation builder, do? More dicatorships? More Ayatollas? One Islamic Nation? A huge Sunni/Shiite civil war? 5 Kurdistans? Can we all truly co-exist with so much power in so many hands? The boarders on my board Risk board game version World War III are beginning to take shape.

We're doin' ok (originally published August 7, 2005)

I just got back from watching The March of the Penguins with my parents. It was a noon show so there were a lot of parents with their little kids. We watched the movie to the sounds of kids yelling and kicking and asking what kind of chickens those were.
And as we watched we say babies dying left and right, adults starving to death and being eaten by Sea Lions. And my dad leaned over to me during one of the winter storm scenes as a kid was kicking his seat and he said, "You see how tough we have it." And honestly, I don't know if he was referring to parents troubles regardless of the species or human parents and these anoying scenes in movie theatres where they just won't stop.
So I looked back at the screen and then I felt my own chair being kicked and I thought, hmm, you know what, life as a human ain't so bad.

We can't have it both ways (originally published August 3, 2005)

This country was founded by a bunch of rebels. People who decided that they didn't like the way things were and were going to do something about it. They took power into their own hands, lead their people against an oppressor and voila, the United States of America was born. Since then we have lived in a culture of taking charge. This is all well and good but it has just occured to me, as I watched the preview for "V is for Vendetta," (starring my future bride Natlie Portman) that we want to have our cake and eat it too.
The main character, V, uses his masked identity to run fear through his totalitarian government of the future. He says, "You may destroy me but I am an idea and ideas cannot be broken." And this is something we believe in because we believe in freedom. We believe in freedom and the idea of it, it's our "inalienable right." But look at Al Qaeda. It has become an idea. It is no longer about one man, it is about an idea. We can destroy the men who follow this idea of Islamic Radicalism. But what could kill the idea behind them? If we are to answer that question we must ask it of ourselves. What could kill our ideas? What is it that holds us together, that makes us, as a whole, stronger than the sum of our parts? Because we would fight, or at least still say we would, for something worth dying for, as these suicide bombers do every day now in Iraq. I cannot believe that were it not reversed and there were a few "freedom warriors" out there in a world filled of Islamic fundamentalists that we would resort to no less than what this V character does in the movie, really what these terrorists to every day. Why? Because the playing fields are not level. Does it make their tactics unjust? I don't think it is a matter of just or unjust, it is a matter of the tools at hand. The only level playing field, the only fair fight is in the minds of both of our peoples. Our ideas vs. their ideas. What would stop us? What would convince us to change our minds? When we are able to not necessarily answer that question, but at least ask it, then we can ask it of these radicals and start our way to winning the real war, the war of ideas.

Blog attempt number 2

Ok all, I had my blog on friendster but it got really annoying. Those of you linked to my friendster site know what I'm talking about. I'll leave it at that.
I'm going to repost the few blogs I've done so far on the friendster page on here and then it'll be all new content from then on.
So here's where I'll be posting thoughts, enjoying your responses, and hoping something comes out of this.
Thanks for reading!