Thursday, January 24, 2013

The 'dependency' Problem

Recently I was notified by Florida Power and Light that my electric meter has been replaced with a 'Smart Meter.'  This type of meter has many advantages including the ability to be read  remotely.  Thus FPL has eliminated the occupation of meter reader.
Technology continues to remove working men and women from the rolls of the employed.  Bank tellers, ticket agents and checkout cashiers are finding their jobs in jeopardy.  The Labor Department reports that more than 1.1 million secretaries lost jobs between 2000 and 2010 due to software that allows bosses to take their own calls, arrange their own trips and conferences.  The Department also reports that the number of telephone operators fell 64 percent, word processors and typists by 46 percent.  These are a few of many examples.
It occurs to me that technology may be the force or element that is creating a 'society of dependency.'  Governor Romney placed the blame on government and its social welfare programs.  But these programs are a response to the problem, not a cause of it.
I fear a day is coming when millions of people will be unemployed or underemployed because technology has replaced them.  This would not happen at such a rapid rate if we applied moral and philosophical thinking to the impact of new Technologies.  There are gains and there are losses.  We should ponder the long term effects of each.
I know we are supposed to believe that 'job training' will solve the problem.  It won't. 
Nothing will change until Technology finds a way to replace Congress.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Friday, January 11, 2013

Gentrification of thrift stores

I have been a fan and customer of thrift stores for a long long time.  Probably this is due to my  interest in things that have been discarded or abandoned.  When I was a boy the collection of garbage was common only in metropolitan areas.  Rural communities had no such program.  The outcome was the appearance of dumps on remote  fields or wood lots.    My brother and I learned that these dumps held treasure for our use in games and play.  It was as much fun to look through the jumble of things no longer regarded as useful  as it was to sort through the boxes and crowded shelves of the first generation of thrift stores.
I don't recall where or when I entered my first thrift store but I saw quickly that it was a good place to buy books.  They were cheaper than second-hand bookstores and contained a variety of titles to compete with them.  Without a doubt, I have purchased more than one thousand books from thrifts over the years. 
As time passed I saw thrift stores begin to improve their appearance and expand their inventory of things for sale.  Kitchenware, electronics, vinyl records, clothing, tools, etc, etc.  And I began to purchase these items as well.  Not only because I saved money.  I like things that have been well-made and well-used and to give them a second life is to fully appreciate the purposes of design and craft.
The first big change occurred in the seventies (if my memory is working) when the craze for collectibles began.  There was a sudden interest in nostalgia and many things once considered cheaply bought and personally useless became valuable things to own and to resell.
Charities began to rent store fronts and to plead for donations for resale.  The monthly take in some stores exceeded six months sales in the original part-time thrift shops.
Regular customers began to notice that upscale automobiles were appearing in the parking lot.  People who owned Cadillacs and Lincolns and Mercedes were shopping in thrift stores.  To meet the needs of this new customer, thrifts gave a section of the store over to something called a Boutique.  Here there were chairs to sit in.  There was more room between the displays and racks.  The clothing had been culled and the best articles were sold in the Boutique.  At higher prices, of course.
Hardcover books that once sold for 50 cents began to follow the new trend and were one dollar each.  Today they are either two dollars or three dollars  And they aren't old anymore.
Now  twelve thrift stores, in three neighboring towns in two of the richest counties in America, have created an association.  They are uniting to find new ways to 'improve' their stores and increase their profits.  One way now being used is the issuance of coupons offering 15% or 10% off purchases.  Just like real stores!
The Association is sponsoring an event. A trolley will spend an 8 hour day tour of these local thrifts.  There are 30 seats available at a cost of $30 per person.  The price includes a box lunch.
For me, this development marks the end of the thrift shop as a source for low income people.  It is an example, admittedly small, of how the piece of the economic pie that belonged to the poor continues to shrink.  Wealth continues to move away from the poor toward the well-off.

Remembering Ol' One-Shot

The brouhaha over that awful expression 'gun control', the ranting, the raving, the mad-dog personalities pro and con send me away to find a quieter place and time.  Thus I found this passage from Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird."  The passage occurs just after Atticus Finch has killed a dangerous mad dog with one shot, leaving his children surprised by this unknown talent in their father.

"Forgot to tell you the other day that besides playing the Jew's Harp,  Atticus Finch was the deadest shot in Maycomb County in his time."
"Dead shot..." echoed Jem.
"That's what I said, Jem Finch.  Guess you'll change your tune now.  The very idea, didn't you know his nickname was Ol' One-Shot when he was a boy?  Why, down at the Landing when he was coming up, if he shot fifteen times and hit fourteen doves he'd complain about wasting ammunition."
"He never said anything about that," Jem muttered.
"Never said anything about it, did he?"
"No, ma'am."
"Wonder why he never goes huntin' now," I said.
"Maybe I can tell you," said Miss Maudie.  "If your father's anything, he's civilized in his heart.  Marksmanship's a gift of God, a talent - oh, you have to practice to make it perfect, but shootin's different from playing the piano or the like.  I think maybe he put his gun down when he realized that God had given him an unfair advantage over most living things.  I guess he decided he wouldn't shoot till he had to, and he had to today."
"Looks like he'd be proud of it," I said.
"People in their right minds never take pride in their talents," said Miss Maudie.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Truth Be Told

Many politicians (mostly Republican) call Social Security an "entitlement."  Whether they use this term from ignorance or from a malicious desire to make the system seem undeserved I don't know.  It's not accurate but the term has stuck and is repeated in debate after debate.  No wonder nothing gets done in Washington.  They are trying to fix  something that doesn't need repair.
Social Security is an investment.  Money is taken from payrolls to fund it.  Money is taken from payrolls for other investments, i.e., pension plans, health insurance, 401k's.  The difference is that investing in Social Security is required.  However the money taken from one's salary is returned later in life, and, according to the critics, more is returned than was invested.  Which sounds like a wise investment.
Social Security is often tied to the debate about national debt as if it were a major cause of that problem.  It isn't.  In fact, the Social Security Trust Fund has been used by various Presidents (beginning, I believe, with LBJ) to hide budgetary failures and weaknesses.  In 1983 President Reagan and Congress reworked the System in order to assure the Trust would be funded for the Baby Boom generation.  They did this by raising taxes on the middle class and the working class.  Successive Presidents used these taxes like income taxes and funded the General Budget with them to conceal the real size of the deficit.
 There is enough money in the Fund today to keep Social Security going till 2038,  another 25 years, if nothing more were done.  There could be much more if the IOU's were to be prepaid.

In 2010 and 2011, there were no increases in Social Security checks.  One would think that there would be a visible reduction in government debt after two years of no change in payments  IF Social Security was a factor in the problem of debt.

Now there is talk about re-working the formula for cost of living increases for Social Security investors in order 'to save the System.' .  President Obama has suggested this also.  Currently the rate used for this year's increase is 1.7 percent.  This is too high?  After two years of no increase at all?  Give me a break.

This year my increase is $18 per month.  My monthly premium for Part B Medicare is up $5 to $104.90.  The part B deductible has been raised $7 to $147.  The Part A deductible (hospitalization) has increased by $28.  Let's do the math.  My Monthly premium increase ($5 x 12 = $60) plus the two deductibles ($7 + $28= $35) = $95 which is the first five months of my Social Security increase before I leave the house to check the REAL inflation rate at the gas station and supermarket.
In 2012 my wife and I spent $1918 our of our pockets for copayments to Medicare.  $18 x 12 = $216.

Don't mis-understand.  I am not complaining selfishly.  We're not poor.  We will make it.   There are many more people far worse off than we are.  Many of them will make it too.  I only wish we could make it without being attended by the lying, the stupidity, and the mendacity of  our political leaders.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

When our Collective Imagination fails, we get reductionism in Science, fundamentalism in Religion, fascism in Politics.

Are we there yet?