Truth, Justice, and the American way. TRUTH: Helping to correct people's misconceptions about history, science, and the state of the world. JUSTICE: Meant in the biblical sense. Fair treatment of other people, rational laws, and assisting the disadvantaged. THE AMERICAN WAY: A classless society where everybody has an opportunity to meet their potential and for economic advancement, regardless of race, ancestry, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Why Are People Acting so Crazy Lately?

The Occupy movement, Anonymous, the surprising rise of the Bernie Sanders campaign, the Black Lives Matter movement, people moving from the US to Canada, open weapon carry, and the Stand Your Ground movement. These all are the result of people being frightened by the concentration of wealth and power in this country
Symbols of the concentration of wealth are the ability of the guilty to buy their way out of trouble, and the violence caused by the corporate-backed “War on Drugs”.
Relative to inflation wages for non-management workers have declined by over 50% since the late 1970's. This drop in real income has caused widespread employee resentment. Middle-class poverty makes people attempt to do something — anything — even if it isn’t directly related to the problem. The Trump campaign twists this resentment by blaming the poor instead of those who really bear the responsibility.
History is a great teacher, and it has taught us that since the beginning of the industrial revolution, ordinary people will revolt during economic downturns when wealth is over-concentrated. Because of the 170 billion dollars the Bush administration borrowed to finance its wars, we can expect a deep recession in 2023 or 2024 (when the loans start to come due). If things do not change by then, prepare for widespread riots and secessionist movements. 
The demonstrations in the past 8 years will continue to grow in intensity, as long as corporation-centric government stays in power. In response the government will escalate its martial law tactics. The divide between the people and the police will widen and more people will die. 
The US must take control of wealth. Inter-generational gift and inheritance taxes must increase to over 50%. Requiring companies to pay living wages is no longer a luxury. Removing the Social Security Premium Cap and using the money to pay for public health care is a necessary step (it would cut the cost of US health care by 50%). Paid maternity leave, long-term unemployment benefits, fixing the Capital Gains income tax loophole, raising the federal income tax exemptions to at least the poverty level, and reevaluation of prison sentences for all non-violent offenders are all necessary steps.
The US must regulate companies to assure that they respect their employees and their communities. Company planning must be for the long-term, not the next 3 months. The Limited Liability enjoyed by corporations should be in return for civic responsibility.
All government employees must adhere to the conflict of interest regulations. When Congress passed the conflict of interest regulations, they only applied to the executive branch. Applying the same regulations to the legislative branch would help reduce the corruption and bribery of Representatives and Senators by private interests.
The US citizenry wants transparency in government. Private companies are required to allow stockholders to attend board meetings (except under very limited situations) and the financial records of every publicly held corporation are available for audit. The same should be true for every department in the government. National security will not suffer if all documents are declassified after 25 years.
Those of you who are interested in how our economy got so bad should read the most recent books by Robert Reich (ex. Presidential Public Policy Advisor).

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Gig Economy - New Contracting Companies Cheat Workers

The Gig Economy is just a modern term for farming out work to independent contractors. The Internet has made hiring and coordination of contractors easier, but many new companies do not pay the contractors the extra 30% to 200% that is due to independent contractors (the 30% barely covers costs ordinarily paid by employers, and the 200% is because the work is not full time). They often place illegal restrictions on their contractors (for example, US tax law prohibits exclusive contracts for independent contractors). Also, these companies usually ignore local taxation and regulations.

AirBnB is an excellent idea, it allows micro-hotels with wonderful sites, decor, or services, but they should be paying Hotel taxes and they do not. Since the company does not pay the taxes, the independent contractors who lease their property are responsible. They are also responsible for cleaning, repairs, breakage, and liability insurance (if they can get it). Since those leasing their property do not know about the legal requirements, they are not paying fees and taxes and rarely carry required insurance. Some cities are trying to legislate away AirBnB.

Lyft and Uber are usually much cheaper than Taxi Cabs. Not because these companies have found some more efficient way to operate, but because they don’t pay their drivers enough as independent contractors and they don’t pay taxes and fees.

Almost every Lyft or Uber driver working in an urban area is violating state and local Livery laws (Livery a generic term for Taxis or Limousines). Most cities require Livery drivers to pay special fees, and many require a “Shield” for taxis to restrict the number of taxis on the road at any one time. For example, in Manhattan, the city does not sell many new shields, but (for a fee) allows transferring shields to other vehicles or owners) – obtaining a shield can cost over $20,000.

Livery drivers are often required to have a Livery (or Limousine) driver’s license (or license endorsement). This license requires extra tests and an annual renewal fee. It usually calls for an annual health exam. These requirements are similar to those for interstate truckers.

Lyft and Uber drivers also drive their own cars and pay for their fuel, repairs, and signage. Many do not make a living wage, even if they work over 40 hours per week. Except for the reduced prices, the advantages of Lyft and Uber are being phased into legitimate Livery services.

Many firms offering services that do not require on-site employee presence outsource work to the lowest bidder (internationally) and so profit on lower wages and taxes in developing nations. For example, it is one thing for a US company to subcontract with a Canadian firm, Canadian workers are treated at least as well as US workers. It is true that subcontracting with a Canadian company takes advantage of the weakness of the Canadian dollar (years ago, retailers in Toronto called it a discount for using US dollars), but it also helps bolster the Canadian dollar and the Canadian economy.

Mexican firms usually treat employees badly. Subcontractors should pay much higher than customary local wages. Mexico has almost no environmental regulation, no universal health care, low wages, and high unemployment. Subcontracting to Mexican companies helps to boost the Mexican economy and reduce unemployment, but it is unethical to take advantage of the situation.

Contracting corporations are not new, especially for specialty services. They are a way for people with unique skills to find employment as independent contractors. The contracting firms take a percentage (25-50%) of the amount charged to the client and pay the rest to the contractor. The contractor is paid approximately twice the wage of a full-time job. Real specialists with advanced degrees can demand over $2000 per day for occasional work. The contracting firms usually offer services like health insurance and liability insurance (for additional fees).

Nurse registries and cleaning companies operate on a similar basis. An RN working for a registry can control days and hours worked, and registry nurses are paid considerably more than an RN employed by a hospital.

Some references:
Alternet: 10 Takeaways About the Gig Economy That Has Pushed Europe to Say No to These Predatory Capitalists (very liberal)
CNET Uber vs Lyft: 9 things to consider before your first ride Including the “What are the safety concerns?” section and below in the article. (Tech-enthusiasts, mildly conservative, supporters of big business)

About Me

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Canoga Park, California, United States
Software Engineer with Ph.D. in Computer Science. I have a deep background in the sciences and in computer-human interaction. I was a college professor for 11 years, followed by over a decade of work in industry.