Tech giants like Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo! have launched a campaign to address the uncontrolled spying activities of agencies like the NSA with an open letter
to President Obama and US Congressmen. In doing so, they took political action in favor of democracy and US citizens as well as foreign citizens around the entire world. (This is done at some risk as these companies operate in non-democratic countries like China. Clearly, politicizing a firm operating in places where political activity is suppressed can lead to backlash.)
Frankly, the activities and technologies of these firms, which afford the NSA the opportunity to gather massive amounts of data, share more responsibility than they would like to accept at this point. That said, they are leading the charge in order to serve their broadest interest of confidence building. People need to trust the internet and the services of these companies or they will slowly move toward emerging alternatives.
Furthermore, more needs to be done. There is no balance on the internet when it comes to regulation and freedom, which means the internet is unpoliced and lacks a “constitutional” structure. Any country (community) lacking a strong “constitutional” structure, where freedoms and rights are broadly defined alongside limits for authorities and the structure of governance (law), has been corrupted, has lead to the abuse of residents (users), and ultimately failed, whether that nation was an authoritarian regime or democracy. This is an important history lesson as proper structure is needed to promote stability and growth; the internet lacks structure where it needs it.
Not only must governments be restricted from what they can do to the internet and user data, it must also be given a well defined structure for addressing national interests when it comes to information technology. Just as tech firms must resist the intrusion of government, government must regulate the activities of tech firms. Because the internet is the world web wide, the International Community as a whole has a major role in determining how the internet is governed. Because the internet is largely a power void, which means governments and other power seeking entities are moving to fill that void, the tech world can best serve its interests, including the need to restrain the NSA and address criminal activities, by working to empower organizations like the United Nations in addition to powerful governments like the US.
Recently, growing momentum from protestors seeking living wages has pushed our political system to act on the need for improved economic equality. Unfortunately, Washington is once again seeking the most obvious, and least effective, solutions. Even a number of Republicans now support Democratic calls to raise the minimum wage as others support the Federal minimum wage to be set at a living wage of fifteen dollars per hour. Unfortunately, the inability of individuals to move beyond minimum wage work is only one symptom of our diseased economy. Clearly, the economy is not providing for the needs of the American People when one in six rely on food stamps, among other social programs, even as corporations see record profits, work force participation is already below 65 percent and falling, productivity has continued to increase, and the wealthiest of Americans continually see significant growth in their incomes as the rest experience stagnation. Quite frankly, the economy is not distributing our national resources in the most efficient or effective manner, thus public policy must recalibrate the workings of our economic machine. That said, fifteen dollars per hour is the starting salary of many entry-level master’s degree positions in certain areas of the countries, which is problematic as that education has many costs. Increasing the minimum wage will, therefore, squeeze the Middle Class and accelerate the creation of a two-tiered economy where there is the working class and the rich with large segments of our population desperately hoping government assistance will not give out. Minimum wage was designed to prevent employer abuse, not ensure income equality or drive economic expansion. Consequently, the real issue is not the minimum wage, but rather, the lack of upward mobility for those who are stuck in the minimum wage, or near-minimum wage, trap. Many opponents of increasing minimum wage argue an increased minimum wage will destroy many fast food jobs by increasing payroll costs to prohibitive levels, making automation relatively cheaper, and depriving franchise owners of any profit. Side stepping the question of whether or not this would be a bad thing, fifteen dollars per hour would probably make the economic model of fast food and other businesses nonviable. Assembly-line industries like fast food are designed to embrace automation and decrease human error by “dumbing down” the production process instead of promoting the retention of workers, broadly utilizing employee potential, and, more importantly, developing employee skills (human resources). This means these jobs are designed to maintain stagnant wages, as they are not skill building jobs. Unfortunately, there are too many of these jobs while many others simply do not offer much wage growth potential. If people are not developing marketable skills through their jobs, i.e. mentoring/on the job training, they must seek out schooling to learn those skills. Unfortunately, constant reschooling comes at great cost for the individual and society due to the cost of schooling and the cost of time spent on studying instead of working while there is no guarantee educated individuals can find employers to hire them for their skills, training, degree/certification, or experience once they leave school as there are not enough living wage jobs for everyone who needs one while financing and developing a business out of school is not usually possible. Furthermore, the constant increase in the cost of living as our economy exerts increasing downward pressure on incomes is even more problematic. As such, the problem with our economy is that it fails to distribute wealth like we need. Driving this undermining dynamic is a myriad of bad government policies, not too low of a minimum wage. Starting with globalization, the national economy should be built on servicing the needs of its People with excess production exported to other nations. Through the embrace of free trade policies where the taxation of local production increases the competitive edge of imported goods and creates a lower bidder economy where demand for increased wages can be avoided to the point necessities can no longer be locally produced, the world economy has become over-reliant on exports. Because everyone relies on the same goods, they rely on the same set of raw goods/commodities instead of locally plentiful goods, thus limited global supplies are sure to translate into increased prices at some point as we see with goods such as oil. Aside from driving production out of the US by making foreign goods cheaper through a lack of taxation, encouraging the overreliance of a narrow set of limited commodities like oil, and catering to global economic concerns, bad internal policies and practices also hurt workers. In America, the capital gains tax favors financial capital over labor and intellectual capital. There has also been a tendency to undermine representative groups like unions to the point workers no longer have the leverage they need to balance worker interests with employer interests. In addition, regulations and government expenditures are too often geared toward special interests, thus they are inefficient and ripe with corruption. Unfortunately, all of these and other issues must be addressed before our economy will start distributing wealth in an efficient manner as it must. Instead, politicians take the easy way out and push for an artificial increase in minimum wage. At this point, an increased minimum only makes the American economy an unattractive environment for businesses without addressing the root causes of increasing economic disparity. Instead of embracing the haphazard socialist approach to achieving living wages, populous capitalism geared toward balancing the interests of all Americans must be embraced. The minimum wage is not the problem; it is the inability of the majority of people to work their way up to a living wage in a reasonable timeframe while having the opportunity through stable, viable finances to grow beyond that.
December 5, 2013 was marked by the death of Nelson Mandela. The name of the South African activist and first black President is known around the world, probably better than the abdominal legacy of apartheid that he sought to undo. He is so important to Twentieth Century history his death dominated the news of the day, for good reason.
An era of South African history defined by the brutal oppression and torture of blacks, apartheid ended with individuals like Nelson Mandela turning away from the impulse to seek revenge and dominance over whites. Instead, they recognized there was no punishment, no form of restitution, and no means of prosecuting the myriads of individuals responsible for what had been done to black South Africans and sought reconciliation.
Instead of tearing their nation apart along racial lines, leaders of South Africa formed Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to afford victims a channel to peacefully express their grievances, face their victimizers, and learn what had happened to their loved ones who disappeared. In doing so, Mandela and others started a healing process that today has helped South Africa thrive. This approach to resolving conflicts is unique and rarely pursued on a national scale, yet the lesson to be learned is an essential one.
When wrongdoings cannot be sufficiently undone or addressed through restitution, grievances can be addressed and conflicts resolved through the expression and public recognition of those grievances. Given the revolutionary forces driving change and unrest in the Middle East, as well as other regions of the world, there are several populations that will soon face the need to resolve past grievances and ongoing conflicts with rulers who did wrong. Although how those grievances and conflicts are addressed depends on what will satisfy the interests of the parties involved, the history of South Africa and work of Nelson Mandela should be remembered when doing so.
Unfortunately, President Obama has decided to continue his campaign style push for the Affordable Care Act. The truth is that such a campaign will do nothing for Obamacare, except give everyone something to joke about. At this point in the healthcare reform process, the legislation has been passed, i.e. the reason for a campaign, and we are waiting for the results. People experience, or will soon experience, the benefits. Where there are faults in Obamacare, such as the those faults in the Health Insurance Marketplace website, we need to see continual improvement. We do not need to hear why the Republicans are to blame for any failures in the effort; we need to see cooperative legislative efforts that can bring about additional reforms.
In fact, the President is strong when he deals with foreign policy issues in a firm manner. At the moment, the Chinese-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands is garnering his attention and the attention of the Press. He should focus his PR efforts on emphasizing his efforts to revolve a brewing international conflict instead of reminding people of the controversial healthcare law. In many respects, international conflicts of this nature are easier to solve, because both parties have interests in resolving the conflicts, i.e. war would seriously damage the world's second and third largest economies, while the conflict is not a major issue for America. Other people's problems can be easier to solve as the outsider can avoid being bogged down by emotionally charged and psychologically cutting details that often derail the resolution process. As such, the Obama Administration would better served by focusing on issues it can solve and by calling attention to those issues.
Furthermore, focusing so heavily on Obamacare demonstrates a lack of priorities on the President’s behalf, as well as our Legislators. Unfortunately, the divisive issue is certain to further polarize Democrats and Republicans, thereby undermining other legislative efforts. We live in an environment where our leaders do not put aside their differences for the greater good of the Country. We live in an environment where politicians take a hardliner, all-or-nothing approach. Consequently, over focusing on the politics of Obamacare decreases the likelihood we will avoid a government shutdown and Debt Default in early 2014.
Tensions are rising between China and Japan over the contested Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands with United States standing in the middle. Threatening to enforce its Air Defense Identification Zone restrictions, China claims ownership of the Islands; whereas, Japan has been recognized as the rightful owner of the islands since the late Nineteenth Century with a brief interlude following WWII when the US took control of the territory. The US is directly involved due to our Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security with Japan, but America is also seeking to avoid a military conflict between China and the militarily weak Japan.
Fortunately, we live in a civilized world where economic and diplomatic stability drive national interests; henceforth, America’s willingness to shield the Japanese through our military activities over the islands forces China to deal with the conflict in through non-military means. If China tries to engage in military action against the US, or Japan, it would have terrible ripple effects that would certainly undermine the entire Chinese economy and its diplomatic endeavors. Furthermore, America has many unspoken grievances against China while conflicts have a tendency of drudging up all sorts of issues, thus this conflict could help the US and China recognize our many grievances and recalibrate our relationship.
It should not be lost on the American People that those making around minimum wage were required to work on Thanksgiving Day at stores that opened early to expand their Black Friday shopping. Protests on Thanksgiving focused on raising minimum wage; however, raising minimum wage does not solve the underlying problems, i.e. the economy is not responding to the financial needs of the majority of the American People. The rules of our economy, i.e. set by government policies, favor the wealthy at the expense of the poor, thus too many people are relying on food stamps, government sponsored medical insurance, energy assistance, and other socialist subsidies as their jobs do not pay enough to cover their living expenses while they will likely never see a job that does.
Meanwhile, protests in Thailand have also flared up. Being poor in a place like Thailand is inconceivably worse that being poor in the United States, but America is headed toward that extreme. Children of the poor in Thailand face a lifetime of hopeless struggle to simply feed themselves and threats like childhood prostitution. If it were not for socialist programs in the US, we would be well on our way to an economy of desperation. Clearly, the system is not working well enough in America, but Thailand has an even worse situation. We should be thankful for that, but the status quo must be overcome.
Enjoy the very American holiday of Thanksgiving. You too world. Remember, it was the generosity and kindness of the original Americans toward foreigners, which set in motion a series of events that changed the world forever. For all the bad that came after the Pilgrims' first winter, there has so much more good in this world thanks to the rise of American Democracy while we must strive to learn from our misdeeds and build an even better future. In closing, feast well my friends.
For around 7 billion dollars in sanctions relief, the International Community gets Iran to agree for the next 6 months to no net increases in its stockpile of enriched uranium, no new production of uranium enriched beyond 5 percent, the destruction, or dilution, of all uranium enriched to near 20 percent, which is one technical step away from weapons grade uranium, no new centrifuges, more than half of Iran’s already existing centrifuges idled, all next-generation centrifuges idled, and all construction on its hard-water reactor near Arak, which could be used to make plutonium, stopped while Iran would have to allow more invasive monitoring, including daily visits by IAEA, inspectors to nuclear sites.
Although this deal may only delay the ability of Iran to produce nuclear material from two week to only two months according to IAEA deputy director Ollie Heinonen, it does break the forward momentum. Before we can reverse the nuclearization process, the social inertia that has been provoking our adversarial relationship with Iran for decades must be overcome. This intermediate deal ensures the US and the rest of the world can continue to engage in negotiations over the nuclear issue and other grievances we have with Iran without giving up too much. Six months is a long time, if used properly. Consequently, the deal affords the US, the International Community, and Iran the space to develop a more mature plan without easing the lion’s share of our sanctions. In addition, the seven billion dollars gives Iran assurances that the world is serious.
That said, I wouldn’t bet on normalized relationships, especially if I were an investor, because things could go south very quickly if Iran cannot start build trustworthy relationships with its neighbors, which it will take more than six month to overcome several decades of bad conduct. The world wants to be certain Iran will not get a nuclear bomb, because Iran has demonstrated a willingness to support terrorist activities while a nuclear arms race is the last thing the Middle East needs. As such, Iran must engage in confidence building on all fronts. This, of course, includes internal reforms as well as an end to its involvement in the Syrian Civil War and other conflicts.
Paying for insurance is like buying a really expensive ticket for a lottery you would rather not win. From car insurance to trip insurance
, people need coverage for unexpected expenses they know they cannot afford. From basic healthcare to travel medical
insurance, individuals want to know their financial and medical needs will be met when they get sick. The Affordable Care Act created high standards to guarantee health insurance would work for policyholders, but it has yet to ease concerns over the affordability of coverage. An ongoing lack of certainty and answers, coupled with reports of widespread premium increases, scare people, especially considering the individual mandate requires them to purchase insurance or pay a fine.
In late September, as healthcare.gov
was about to be launched, some pundits were comparing the average monthly payment for a mid-tier health insurance plan to that of the average monthly payment for a new car. In many respects, this emphasizes the reason so many Americans are fearful of the individual mandate and Obamacare as a whole. It also demonstrates the financial divide between the wealthy political elite, who likely have health insurance as a guarantee, and the majority of Americans, who sometimes see it as an unnecessary necessity.
A great number of people cannot afford an additional car payment. In fact, many people cannot afford a new car, period. Although the median household income for all Americans may be around $50,000 per year, the median household income for the bottom 90 percent of Americans is around $30,000 per year. For most people, this means buying even a used car can be a struggle, whether or not it is an absolute necessity. Accordingly, it is not an issue of wanting health insurance for most of the uninsured.
The Marketplace healthcare insurance premiums may be a good deal and everyone may need health insurance to live well, yet healthcare becomes a luxury when the ever-increasing costs of modern day living quickly eat away at the stagnate wages of the majority. Most people want to be healthy and want medical care; however, this means nothing when tough choices must be made. Considering how unresponsive our government has become and the way politicians toss relatively large quotes about as though they are trivial amounts, many Americans fear they will be stuck with a bill they cannot afford.
What people need is assurances that their government will help them financially, not crush them with taxes and mandates. Unfortunately, it seems the only news coming from our political leaders involves the broken Marketplace website and how Washington is trying to coerce insurance providers into renewing obsolete health insurance plans for a minority as a way for President Obama to honor an over simplified promise.
Furthermore, opponents of Obamacare are not helping the situation with their constant efforts to undermine reforms. They are simply latching onto the fears of the American People and using them for political gain instead of acting as leaders and solving problems with solutions that address the needs of most Americans. Unfortunately, their concerns are largely focused on business interests and an irrational drive to avoid increased costs for themselves, not the wellbeing of the financially vulnerable; henceforth, the options they push are terribly destructive to the majority of Americans.
Consequently, both Democrats and Republicans need to do a better job of addressing the concerns of those most affected by policy deficits like those found in the Affordable Care Act. Our leadership needs to reassure people by making government more responsive, so the American People can trust government to make constructive policy changes.