Category Archives: Gay Marriage and Gender Issues

Whose World Is It Anyway?

This morning I read an interesting article on OZY titled “Don’t Let Old People Vote!” I won’t go into great detail, but it did raise an interesting question for me: Whose world is it anyway?

One of my independent opponents, Rick Tyler, longs for a return to the way the U.S. was in the 1950s and 1960s, when white Christian Conservatives were in control. Tyler is extreme, certainly, but parts of his attitude are reflected in many older Americans. Opposition to gay marriage and equality, environmental protection, improved funding for education are all much greater among older Americans than younger, while older Americans are more likely to vote than younger Americans.

This is due at least in part due to the fact that voter registration isn’t automatic. The seventy-five-year-old who has lived in the same house for forty years hasn’t had to re-register, while the twenty-five-year-old recent college graduate likely had to re-register when moving from home to college, then when switching apartments, then when moving from college to the new job–possibly six or seven moves since turning eighteen. If the twenty-five-year-old is in Tennessee, that requires mailing in a new registration form for each move at least thirty days before an election, since there is no electronic voter registration. Thus, part of the reason for lower voter turnout among young Americans is systemic, rather than simply being voter apathy.

This is problematic, because older Americans are, effectively, voting to force younger Americans to live in the world they want, rather than in the world older Americans would like to return. Unfortunately, the world they want cannot return, because America is unlikely to return to a manufacturing economy, not due to moving jobs out of the country but due to increased automation–and that automation is only going to continue to allow workers to improve productivity, which will continue to decrease the number of workers needed. We need trade laws that protect intellectual property rights (although not to the extreme duration that the Trans-Pacific Partnership mandates), because these are areas where the U.S. still excels. Protecting the environment is also less important to older Americans, because they are unlikely to suffer the consequences. Their college wasn’t free, so why should it be for younger Americans–ignoring the fact that a college student in their day could pay for school, room, and board with a part-time job plus a full-time job in the summer? And, of course, many older Americans don’t think that racism and homophobia was really that bad–because LGBT people stayed closeted and minorities “knew their place.”

As anyone who has read more than one post on this blog knows, I’m not a normal politician. I don’t look forward to tomorrow, next week, or next year: I look ten, twenty, and fifty years into the future. I think we need to be planning an online voting infrastructure now, and it should be trivial for someone to change their address in the system. I think we need to continue to improve our environmental standards–but we need to make sure that while improving standards we don’t also increase the regulatory burden on American businesses. If we add a new reporting requirement, we need to remove an existing one. Civil rights protections need to cover any group subject to discrimination on any basis besides their ability to do a job–with appropriate accommodations, where needed–or to pay for the goods and services provided. I have said before that we need to move toward a single-payer health care system, both to allow U.S. manufacturers to compete on a level playing field internationally and to make part-time employment affordable for Americans and small businesses.

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(from Pinterest. Original artist unknown.)

I have argued before that we need to consider raising the age for Social Security, but given current population trends, this may not be the best route. The world population growth rate is currently about half that of the 1960s–1.13% compared to 2.2%–and falling. Depending on the rate of improvement in automation, we may have to tweak the workforce by manipulating the retirement age upward or downward. If we find that we have too many workers, it may be useful to drop the retirement age to free up those slots. We may even get to the point where a universal basic income becomes viable and desirable, in the case of automation greatly reducing the need for labor. It isn’t something that we can afford today, and much more research needs to be done, but it is something that we should consider as an option later.

I don’t fear the future. I don’t think you should either–and you shouldn’t vote for anyone who does. We need to manage the world so that we don’t irreparably damage it while we are getting there, but the world can be an incredible place. We just need politicians who won’t sabotage us on our way there.

The election is in four days. Do your research, then get out and vote. Thanks for reading!

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Filed under Education, Environment, Gay Marriage and Gender Issues, Health Care, Listening, Racism, Social Security, Technology

Musings on a Sad Day

Zari and me at Epcot, 2010

Zari and me at Epcot, 2010

I lived in Orlando from 1995-1996 and again from 2000-2003. I still have many friends there, all of whom were, fortunately, not at Pulse last night. I have been to two other gay clubs in Orlando, Parliament House and Southern Nights. Clubs in general aren’t really my thing, but I’m not generally one to decline invitations, even if, sometimes, I felt like the only straight person in the room. I am uncomfortable in pretty much any crowded place, so I wasn’t more uncomfortable there than in any other club. The bottom line is that I have LGBT friends, so I get invited to LGBT places.

What happened last night is horrible. Early on in the news reporting, some news outlets were hesitant to call it terrorism. By my definition, someone killing unarmed civilians is terrorism. We may not know what flavor of terrorism it is, but it is terrorism.

Now we have progressed to the “We have to do something now!” stage. People are pretty much divided into two camps:

  1. Gun control
  2. Muslim control
  3. (There’s a disgusting third group who believes gays brought this upon themselves. I’m not sure we can do anything about them, so to avoid infuriating myself, I will ignore them.)

Typically it’s the Democrats/liberals pushing gun control and the Republicans/conservatives wanting to do something about Muslims. Frankly, I think they are both right…and wrong. The big picture is that neither of these addresses the root cause of tragic events like this.

Yes, with more restrictions on guns we can possibly reduce the magnitude of tragedies. We can force killers to reload more often. We can make it more difficult to get guns in general. In this case, as far as I can tell, the killer was a security guard with a concealed carry permit, meaning that, at the minimum, he passed two background checks. There are conflicting reports of whether he was on a watch list, but federal legislation to keep guns from people on the watch list was defeated (correctly, in my opinion, because we shouldn’t take away rights without due process, and there’s no due process for the watch list). If we ban guns, then terrorists will resort to suicide bombings like in much of the rest of the world. I’m not sure how that would have affected the body count in Orlando. I personally do not own a gun because I don’t think it makes me safer. If other people want them, I am fine with that, provided they know how to operate them safely and can store them securely.

Trump famously wants to keep Muslims from entering the country. In December he even suggested–then retracted–the idea of internment camps for Muslims. We already have the USA PATRIOT Act giving the government the ability to monitor communications with people outside the US. Amendment I keeps the government from favoring one religion over another, so instead, legislators are targeting countries. I try to stick to a bottom line: If someone asks me for help and I am capable of helping, I help. Yes, some of the time the person really doesn’t need the help and is taking advantage of my generosity, but I’m not willing to forsake those who really need it. Syrian and Afghan refugees need help. We are capable of giving it, so we should.

Neither of these really addresses the root causes. People are afraid. People feel abandoned. People are mistreated. Even worse, people are ignored. Most people want to be part of something larger than themselves. They want to live in a community where they feel like a valued member. They don’t want to be shunned because they are the nerd in a room full of jocks. If you’re a nerd, you’re going to gravitate toward other nerds, because they, theoretically, understand you better.

Except that they don’t.

We all live in this world. We all feel loneliness. We all crave acceptance by someone. We all want to feel wanted and needed. We want to be important to someone.

Too often, we’re rejected. We decide that we can’t befriend someone because they are too unlike ourselves. So we look elsewhere. Sometimes we find acceptance in books that relate to our experiences. Sometimes we connect with people online. Sometimes we don’t connect at all.

Between second and third grade, my family moved from Kansas City to Wisconsin. I entered a class of kids who had all been together since kindergarten. Worse, I had the horrible combination of a Southern accent and a speech impediment. The perfunctory entrance screening I was given mistakenly placed me at the bottom of my class.

I was pissed.

I was also relentless and focused. I worked as fast as the teacher would allow, and sometimes faster than she would allow. I taught myself to read and write upside-down so I could do both halves of the workbook simultaneously. But I also got into fights–usually on the losing end. Slowly, I made friends, or at least frenemies, as I would play baseball and get hit by pitches more often than anyone else or get stepped on or kicked when I fell during a game. I made friends, but even years later I felt isolated. I was popular enough, or, at least, got good enough grades, to get voted Most Likely To Succeed, but that didn’t make me want to stay. I resented the people in my town, and I wanted nothing more than to get away. So I did.

It took me a long time to understand what really happened, and that most people were good, even if we couldn’t relate to each other. I know now that my rejection was nothing compared to what many others have experienced. I wasn’t particularly adaptive, and they weren’t terribly inclusive. And therein lies the problem.

It’s always been the problem with immigrants. People who are already here want newcomers to abandon their old ways and embrace their new community. Very often, the immigrants moved because they had to move, not because they wanted to move, so they had no interest in adapting any more than necessary. So the immigrants keep to themselves and make no effort to integrate themselves, and the long-time residents shun them and feel taken advantage of when the immigrants use government services. Both sides could help each other, but neither does, and resentment grows. Both sides feel that they are treated unfairly, and they are both right.

We are all human beings. We should be treated with respect. We should help each other. We should teach each other and learn from each other. We should try to understand each other, even though that understanding will never be perfect.

Guns aren’t the whole problem.

Muslims aren’t the whole problem.

We are the problem.

Be kind. Make a new friend. Help a stranger. Smile, even when it hurts. We are all in this together. Act like it.

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Filed under Gay Marriage and Gender Issues, Immigration, Public Safety, Religion

The Remaining Republicans, Plus a Bit of Overcompensation

First, a little diversion. A few minutes ago my daughter Zari and I were walking across a parking lot when she said, “Look, Daddy! I see two stars!” Most parents would say something along the lines of “That’s nice, dear,” and continue on their way. That’s not the way I roll. I said, “I don’t think you see any stars, because I think those are planets.” I was pretty sure that the lower “star” was Venus, so I pulled out my Android phone and ran the Google Sky Map app. Sure enough, the lower one was Venus, while the upper one was Jupiter. I showed this to Zari on my phone, and she was happy to see it. Of course, her next question was, “Where’s Betelgeuse tonight?” Fortunately, even with the bright moon tonight, I was able to point to her favorite star–this time without resorting to the app. One problem with our schools today is the lack of parental involvement in children’s education, and I think a large part of this is that many parents aren’t trained to turn a child’s question into a teaching moment. I have a few ideas on how to make this type of experience happen more often.

Last month I discussed four of the six Republican Presidential candidates in the race at the time. Since then, Huntsman and Perry have dropped out, but the two I had missed, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, are still in the race.

Mitt Romney

I think Mitt Romney is best equipped to persuade independent voters that he’s not a far-right conservative candidate. Unfortunately, he’s had to undermine much of that to put himself in the lead for the Republican nomination. He governed Massachusetts as a moderate Republican, but he has distanced himself from many of his successes because they run contrary to Republican dogma. Having said that, unlike Gingrich, I think his word is good, even if I consider some of his beliefs to be flawed. One article today focused on his views on abortion, religious freedom, and gay marriage. I disagree with his gay marriage position, but his abortion position is better than that of his Republican opponents, since he would at least allow emergency contraception for rape victims. I can see both sides of the religious freedom argument, but I think the bottom line is that if a religious organization is willing to accept government funding, it has to expect to have to follow some governmental regulations. Romney currently sides with the religious groups, and I wish I knew whether this was a real change or an attempt to gain votes.

Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum is the poster child for misguided good intentions. His social conservative credentials are spotless, which makes me very uneasy. I don’t think there is any question that he means well. The Bono quote about Santorum really summarizes my feelings about him, “(He) has a kind of Tourette’s disease. He will always say the most unpopular thing. But on our issues, he has been a defender of the most vulnerable.” Of all the Republican candidates, he seems to best understand the importance of development assistance, both for its own sake and to counter China’s growing influence. I wouldn’t be upset with him in an ambassadorial position, and I could potentially see him being an adequate Secretary of State, but on social issues, he terrifies me. Of the three non-Romney candidates, I think Santorum is the most likely to get a VP nod to shore up Romney’s conservatism, but I think such a mood would seal Obama’s reelection.

The Corporate Pendulum

I consider myself fortunate to have mostly worked for small businesses. I like being on a first-name basis with my ultimate boss, the CEO, President, or owner of my employer (yes, amazingly enough, even this job, but that’s a story for another day). In my current job, our smallness makes us nimble, and we have been able to adjust and benefit from changing market conditions while seeing our competition wither and, unfortunately, sometimes go out of business. I do have many friends working in Corporate America, and I see one recurring theme: They rarely get promoted without changing employers. I have a two theories as to why this happens, one of which is discussed far too often–the emphasis on immediate short-term profits–but the other is that too many corporate managers do not understand the importance of institutional memory.

I do not have an MBA–my business school experience is limited to helping a girlfriend through her business classes at USC–but I’m guessing that from the willingness to trade expensive experienced employees for cheap inexperienced recent college graduates, this isn’t something that’s taught. This problem is also present in government: the U.S. often has trade representatives with limited experience doing battle with negotiators from other countries with decades in their jobs. Recently, I’ve heard corporate horror stories from two friends:

The Big Box Store

One friend of mine is an expert in payment processing systems. He wrote the code or managed the writing of the code for most of their systems, which process millions of dollars of transactions daily. The problem for my friend is that his employer doesn’t recognize his value, or, more specifically, his institutional memory, so he is stuck in a cycle of corporate consulting followed by unemployment. He will work on a system upgrade on a contract running anywhere from six to eighteen months, at which time he’ll be unemployed for six months to a year, waiting for the next upgrade cycle. It isn’t quite that simple though: When the next upgrade cycle arrives, the Big Box Store doesn’t call him, it hires headhunters to find someone with the necessary qualifications. There is only one person on the planet with the necessary qualifications, so they always find him and present him with a low, insulting offer. After some negotiations, he returns to the job with a 20% increase, only to find that in the time he was gone, almost all of the team for the last upgrade has left for greener pastures, replaced by H-1B visa imported workers. My friend should be a lifetime employee, and he should have coworkers who have worked with him for a decade or longer.

The Call Center

When my other friend began her employment with the call center, the company had the highest customer satisfaction rating in the industry by a significant margin. Management was not satisfied with this, because the company was lagging in market share, so about two years ago, the company shifted the call center focus from helping customers to upselling them. Revenues and profits have not improved as a result, and the company has gone from first to worst–again, by a significant margin. Management blames the call center employees for the decline. Management’s failure to realize that the problem is the result of their philosophy shift, combined with the loss of their top customer service employees because they were unable, or perhaps unwilling, to do a job that they were not hired to do. These employees knew how to provide great customer service, and because of the change they are likely lost forever. Regaining customer trust takes far longer than losing it, but the emphasis on profit makes me think that the likely long-term management solution is to outsource these jobs.

So, Topher, How Do You Fix It?

Employers argue that there is a shortage of qualified workers in many fields, so they must employ foreign-born and -trained workers. That these workers usually happen to be less expensive than their American counterparts is a bonus. I would address the problem on two fronts:

  1. Base student loan interest rates on the course of study. If there’s a high demand for computer engineers, offer a low interest rate for computer engineering students. If there’s a low demand for marketers, then the interest rate should be significantly higher–if the government guarantees the loan at all. If someone really wants to be a marketer, he can still get a degree, but he can’t expect the government to invest in his career choice. This should drive students toward majors that provide good career opportunities. Obviously, as the business climate changes, these interest rates should be adjusted accordingly.
  2. Make companies pay a premium salary to H-1B visa recipients. If companies can pay entry-level wages to H-1B employees, then they will gleefully replace seasoned American workers with the cheaper foreign labor. If there really is a shortage, act like it, and pay the workers accordingly. I think setting the minimum salary at the median for an American worker with five years of experience might be a good starting point. If the shortage is artificial, it will disappear soon enough.

Thanks for your time, and please let me know what you think, good or bad.

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Filed under Abortion, Corporate America, Gay Marriage and Gender Issues, Republicans

So, I’m running for Congress…

In Tennessee it is ridiculously easy to get on the ballot for federal offices. Essentially, I need twenty-five signatures from registered voters within Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District.

So, why exactly should you vote for me? Simple: I have ideas. Some of these ideas are good, some probably aren’t, but my ideas are ones that aren’t getting widespread attention. (Note: When I say “my” ideas, I’m not claiming that they are true original thoughts–although some may be. I’ll try to give credit where credit is due.) I’ll give details in future posts, but here are a few highlights.

Taxation

I don’t like the income tax, because I believe it does things completely backward. Income tax punishes people for earning money, when I believe people should be “punished” for spending money wastefully. This may sound similar to the Flat Tax various Tea Party and other groups support, but it really isn’t, because, while I propose a national sales tax, there is nothing “flat” about it.  I would like to have three levels of sales tax:

  1. For necessities like food staples, those items that are currently WIC-eligible; a reasonable housing and utilities allowance; work and school clothing; reasonable transportation costs; and similar items; the tax rate should be low or none.
  2. For items that aren’t necessities but which have some societal value, we would have a moderate tax rate. I would put things like books, computers, moderately-priced clothing, and non-luxury automobiles in this category. This tax rate would be around 10%.
  3. For luxury items, I would have a high tax rate, probably in the range of 35% to 50%. Now, by luxury items I don’t just mean yachts, sports cars, Jimmy Choo shoes, and first-class airfare. I include things like DVDs, video games, candy, soft drinks, movie tickets, and fast food meals. This level is not designed to punish the rich: It’s designed to punish those who spend their money on garbage instead of investing in themselves and their families.

This is just a brief summary–I want input from many others with expertise before trying to introduce it–but you get the general idea.

Immigration

First, note that the above tax plan works perfectly well for illegal immigrants, as they will be taxed on the products and services they buy, instead of dodging income tax. They will pay their fair share for the government services they use.

The current immigration system is broken in almost every way imaginable. Motivated individuals in impoverished areas or who live under oppressive regimes move to give themselves and their families a chance at better lives. Everyone living in the United States has ancestors who left their homeland in search of something better–yes, even the Indians crossed the Bering Strait to leave Asia. I don’t want to punish people for wanting a better life. Having said that, I do want to encourage people to follow simple rules to gain timely permission to immigrate to the United States. Right now, if a Mexican wants to legally move to the U.S., he cannot enter the lottery to obtain a green card. If he doesn’t have a family member already living here legally, his only choice is to sneak across the border and hope he doesn’t get caught. Furthermore, the same people screaming loudest about illegal immigrants “taking American jobs” are the same people complaining when a company opens a factory outside the U.S.–which would help encourage people to stay in their home countries.

What should we do?

  1. Simplify the immigration process to let more people of all national and educational backgrounds legally enter the country. Ideally, we would start this under better economic conditions, and throttle the admission process upward and downward depending on the current economic conditions. Theoretically, we could admit people to work in low unemployment areas while heavily restricting immigration to areas of high unemployment.
  2. Encourage microloans so women can start businesses in countries with strong pressures toward emigration. Some of this might be done with federal aid seed money, but much can be done through private means.
  3. Target foreign aid toward the education of girls. Uneducated women have far more children than those who are educated, so if we want to solve the immigration problem in the future, we need to do our best to make sure that women aren’t having more children than they can afford.

The current proposals, such as stronger immigration enforcement and building border fences, are only bandages. They don’t address the real problem of income inequality. By encouraging the most motivated individuals to come to the U.S. while providing economic opportunities for them at home, we can fix the long-term problem.

Gay Marriage

My solution to the problem of gay marriage is simple: Take government out of the marriage business. Marriage is mostly a religious institution, so if your church doesn’t want to allow same-sex marriages, it shouldn’t have to perform them. If someone else’s church feels that they should sanction such relationships, they should be allowed to do so. If marriage is no longer a factor in income taxes, then most government functions involving marriage can be handled through other legal documents, such as powers-of-attorney and wills.

Tomorrow I will address some other hot button issues, but if you have any suggested topics, please feel free to make comments.

Topher

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Filed under Gay Marriage and Gender Issues, Immigration, Taxation