Friday, June 29, 2012

We Can Work at Home

What your company assumes you're doing when you work at home (Source: Colourbox)

Matt Yglesias of Slate posted a column Tuesday on the hidden benefits of telecommuting. Here's the gist:
...But there is also a compelling case to make that working at home makes people much more efficient, because it allows workers to take care of annoying little chores while still getting their jobs done. Remote working—at least occasional remote working—can be great precisely because of the opportunity it affords to get a certain amount of non-work stuff done. It’s much faster to shop for groceries at a quarter to three than to stand in line during the after-work rush. Far too many people work similar schedules and want to eat dinner at dinnertime. My neighborhood supermarket turns into a nightmare from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday late afternoon, another popular shopping time, is even worse, with the aisles often featuring Soviet-style shortages of key commodities. If you just start working a bit earlier (no commute, after all) and pop by the store during a lull when lines are short, you can get both more work and more shopping done in a fixed amount of time. Even better, if more people did that, then shift workers with genuinely inflexible schedules might also be spared some line pain.
And telecommuting allows you to tackle household tasks that take up a lot of time but don’t actually involve much work. Watching laundry spin in your washer or dryer is perfectly compatible with productive work. But between the washing step and the drying step comes a time-sensitive “put the wet clothing in the drier” phase. Taking just a few minutes off from work to do the swap lets you get the chore done efficiently, and leaves your actual leisure time free for exciting activities like leaving the house. Many recipes, similarly, involve considerable periods of simmering or roasting during which it’s good to be around the house but you don’t actually have to do anything. In a “work-then-shop-then-cook-then-eat” paradigm, it’s challenging to eat anything that can’t be made quickly. But if you can simmer while you work, then a lot of household labor can be accomplished with minimal reduction in professional output.
Amen. I have a job that provides me with the flexibility to work remotely very often, just not on a pre-scheduled basis. The benefits are numerous. By having no commute to and from work (as well as extra time spent getting ready in the morning), that's at least an extra hour to do work that you aren't instead spending on driving, walking, bicycling, or waiting for/riding in buses and trains. That also means your morning will be a little less stressful getting little Johnny and Sally off to school, and your evening may less stressful if you are already home and ready to take Johnny or Sally to their soccer game or piano class as soon as you are done working.

In fact, I worked remotely today. I was able to get my hair cut and run a few errands, and do 2 loads of laundry, totaling about an hour that I wasn't actually working. If I had attempted to get a hair cut or run these errands during the normal times I'd be available it would have probably taken me at least 2 hours, factoring in time getting from work to my hairdresser, and probably forced me to take a 1/2 vacation day.

Generally, I also find myself more productive on the days I work remotely, even though I am doing many of the same chores Yglesias describes above while I am home. Instead of stretching and taking a quick five-minute break to clear your head in the office, you can take a five-minute break to do a load of laundry at home. Occasionally, I'll watch an inning here and there of an afternoon ballgame, but I'd be trying to listen to that on the radio if I was at work anyway.

Being out of earshot of your coworkers often allows you to be able to focus more on getting your work done, instead of continually being interrupted so you can help others get their work done. (for more on this, see this great video - "Why You Can't Work at Work"). Many times if you aren't "right there" and your coworkers have to call or email you with whatever question they had, they will just spend 5-10 minutes figuring out the answer on their own, as they should. It's amazing how little verbal communication/interaction is actually necessary at 21st century office jobs, yet if you are in the office you can't get away from the chatter.

Overall, the case for office workers being more productive and motivated in their jobs, if they were able to work remotely 1-2 days a week, seems pretty solid. This would be a welcome change to the culture of office work.

Do Big Corporate Donors Matter More or Less?

 The Citizens United decision was ex-cellent

I just want to preface the following post by saying I've haven't really thought this through all the way yet, so there may be some major holes in my analysis, but this occurred to me today when I was daydreaming in line at the coffee shop.

The conventional wisdom after Citizens United was that our political system would now just be bought by the highest bidders in the corporate world. While I still think that is probably true. A few things have happened recently that changed my mind a little.

You could always determine how members of Congress and Senators voted on particular issues, just based on whatever industry had donated the most to their campaigns. In some cases a politician already supported that particular industry or issue and would just use that previous support to raise more money. In that case, the bribe kind of went in the other direction: "I already support you, but if you don't donate to my campaign, I may stop supporting you." But typically it seemed to go in the usual direction, as witnessed during the Health Care Reform debate when the last 4 Democratic holdouts in the Senate (Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln, and Mary Landrieu) all happened to be huge recipients of campaign donations from Aetna, Mutual of Omaha, etc). Therefore concessions had to be made to get all of them on board. And of course with the exception of Landrieu, the others will have been voted out of office or retired without facing voters again. So congrats, you tried to make the bill worse at the behest of your campaign donors and it didn't even help your political career anyway.

But getting back to the original issue, with the exception of the vote against getting rid of tax breaks and subsidies for Big Oil, I can't think of one other vote the last few years where it was obvious the GOP was voting blindly in the interest of one of their traditional big corporate donors.

Part of the reason I was always so confident that the GOP eventually would let ObamaCare stand once it became law and validated by the SCOTUS, is that to tinker with the structure of the law at that point, could hurt Big Insurance's profits. For example if you are able to take away the mandate, but leave the other regulations in place and Big Insurance could be in a risk-management death spiral. Big Insurance fought the law and the law won. And at that point, the theory goes, having the whole law in place is better for them, than just some parts of it.

If the Republicans truly go forward with their vow to remove the mandate and possibly other parts of the law through the Reconciliation budget process that only requires 51 votes in the Senate (they'd also need a President Romney to sign that), then I think we really are seeing a party that doesn't care as much about corporate donors any more. (Caveat: maybe I'm missing something but I can't see how Big Insurance would be better off with part of the law repealed). It'll be interesting to see how it plays out. If Romney wins, will they really follow through on this or not? Is this all a ruse to fire up the Tea Party for one more election, or are they really going to try to repeal key parts of it?

It seems to me the shift we could be seeing is the GOP being able to rely more on the donations of many, many rich individuals, along with a few dozen billionaires like the Koch Brothers. The big corporations still contribute, but with other sources of unlimited campaign cash, they may not hold the same sway they used to within the party. And with Unions even weaker, that means the Democrats ultimately will be more dependent on the donations of the big corporations. In the end, the middle class will continue losing ground, until Citizens United is overturned or the campaign finance system gets repaired. And of course it's just assumed that Wall St. still has veto power over everything either party does.

For liberals like myself it's actually a much scarier world where the GOP isn't predictable when it comes tending to the whims of whoever is their highest bidder in the corporate world. That's when the political system shifts from being a conventional center-right party vs a conventional center-left party to a far right-wing party looking to implement radical change to the social democracy we've had for the last 100 years vs. a center-left party who may not have adapted to this change in the game quickly enough.

Random Thoughts on SCOTUS Ruling on ACA

 High five! 

(Source: Pete Souza/The White House/Getty Images, Obama and Roberts at his re-do swearing-in in Jan. 2009)

1. I'm pleased Chief Justice Roberts was able to see how far-reaching a ruling striking down a century of domestic policy precedents would have been. It appears to me that he wasn't quite ready to get on the bus to Crazy Town with the other 4 activist conservative justices yet, so he looked to compromise with the 4 liberal to moderate justices who were going to uphold the law. I'm sure we'll have dozens of books and behind-the-scenes features to read in the coming years on how this all went down.

I do hear some usual liberal panic over the fact that they may have won the battle, but will eventually lose the war, based on the more-limited interpretation of the Commerce Clause. We'll see. Ultimately, however, I can't see many more big expansions of social welfare programs being proposed in the next 20 years, so to my liberal friends, just enjoy the victory for now. Then get back to work asap. Remember, in the last 3.5 years the Dems have won a lot of legal and legislative battles to advance progressive causes, but haven't done so good at the voting booth. If you want to see these changes remain for many years, it's time to win some damn elections.

2. I'm tired of hearing the phrase "The America I used to know no longer exists" or something to that effect. Can we retire this phrase once and for all?  The "America we used to know" stops existing every day. And that's a good thing.

America looked quite different to slaves after 1863 (Emancipation Proclamation). It also looked quite different for women after 1920 (Nineteenth Amendment). It looked much different for unions after the victories of organized labor in the 1930's. It looked much different for middle class people after WW2, in that, a true middle class was actually created. It looked much different for black people living in the old Confederate states again after 1964 (Civil Rights). And it looked much different for Senior Citizens after 1935 (Social Security) and then again after 1965 (Medicare). All of those programs were really "rights" programs - freedom from slavery, voting rights, collective bargaining rights, safety nets for elderly, etc.

All of these victories changed America for the better. Accessible/affordable Health Care for all was the next domino to fall. It took decades of trying, but finally it's the law of the land.

3. I don't know if it means that much for 2012 election, but if anything it will force the Republicans and Romney to provide more specificity on what exactly they don't like about the ACA that has driven them to wage a three-year campaign to keep it from passing and now to try to repeal it. As recently as early 2009, almost everything in the law was supported by most mainstream Republican politicians. The only thing that changed is a Democratic president proposed it instead of Mitt Romney or John McCain.

From 2009-present, much of the objection was on the constitutionality of the law and complaints were wrapped in generic terms like "freedom", "liberty", with misinformation about "Death Panels" and so on. So now that the constitutionality issue has been resolved, they should be required to provide specifics on why they want to repeal it and what they want to replace it with. No more he said/she said free passes from the MSM.

4. In the coming months, Obama and the Dems need to do a better job re-selling this to the American people. Again, tell everyone what's in it. Maybe have a SuperPAC buy some ads in swing states to promote the good things in the law that will benefit all Americans. And make a distinction between this law and the missing GOP plan. The GOP wants to rescind the checks to Seniors that fill the Medicare doughnut hole - what are they replacing it with?  The GOP wants to get rid of regulations that end discrimination based on pre-existing conditions - what are they replacing it with? The GOP wants to end regulations that force insurance companies to spend more of their profits on actual health care or else have to reimburse policy-holders - fine, what are they replacing it with?

5. The often-criticized legal strategy of the Obama Administration was again vindicated. Just as it was with their decision to avoid an Executive Order to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell, but instead to be patient and wait for Congress to pass a more lasting repeal. Just as it was with the Arizona SB1070 ruling, and the decision by the Dept of Justice to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act, which eventually evolved into a full support of gay marriage.

6. This is the 3rd issue now in the last 2 months that Team Romney has seemed ill-prepared to address. The first 2 were legitimate surprises: Obama's public support for gay marriage and his announcement of an Executive Order to create the Dream Act. It seemed to take the Romney campaign several days in those instances to have a coherent response that sort of pleased the GOP base and swing voters. Romney couldn't thread that needle without contradicting a previous held position.

In the case of the ACA ruling, we've known the decision was coming for weeks now, and that it would be 1 of 4 or so possibilities, depending on what was upheld or struck down. Romney's press conference after the ruling just seemed like it could have been given a month ago, with no specifics, just typical red meat for the base.

You can make the argument that how decisive a candidate is during a campaign, reacting to daily news events, reflects on how decisive he'd be as President reacting to the same daily events. And in those cases, Romney is now 0-for-3.

7. And finally, no sorry Right-Wingers, freedom and liberty didn't die with this ruling. Freedom and liberty was expanded and granted to those who, through no fault of their own, got sick and happened to not be wealthy. They now have the freedom to receive affordable health insurance coverage for all their necessary medical treatment, without having to worry about either having to go without necessary care or bankrupting them and their families.

It's been said that slavery was America's Original Sin. And lack of health insurance reform and lack of universal care was an ongoing daily mortal sin. So again, freedom didn't die. And now many millions more Americans have the freedom to not die due to a lack of access to quality affordable Health Care. That, as Vice President Joe Biden said, is a big-fucking-deal.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The ACA Ruling Will Impact People More Than Politicians

No matter which way the Supreme Court rules this week in regards to the Affordable Care Act, it's important to remember the stakes for real people, whose lives will be vastly better with this law and worse without it. Sometimes that gets lost in academic arguments over the Commerce Clause and "severability" and the purposefully obtuse analogies about whether the government could force you to buy broccoli.

So most of the insta-analysis will be whether the ruling helps or hurts Obama's or Romney's election chances. There will be legal analysis over what this ruling means for the Supreme Court's respect of past precedents and whether that's predictive of how future cases will be decided. And that's all fine. People are employed to do that kind of analysis. But again, let's remember that the decision affects real people with real problems.

So, until tomorrow at 10am, remember this will be the plight of uninsured or under-insured people, who can't obtain or afford health insurance should the entire ACA law be struck down.

People getting treated, waiting at Free Health Clinic in Maynardville, TN in 2009 (Source: AP)

People waiting in line at Free Health Clinic in Wise County, VA in 2009 (Source: Reuters)

People waiting in line at a Free Health Clinic in Portland, OR in 2009 (Source: Courier-Journal)

The fate of these people will be in the hands of a majority of nine wealthy justices, enjoying taxpayer funded, government health insurance.

Dinosaur Jumbler

The Flinstones was not based on a true story

Gallup conducted a poll recently showing 46% of Americans say they believe in Creationism, or as Gallup's poll worded it, they believe that:

...God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so

Katha Pollitt of The Nation flagged this number, which is even more mind-boggling:

....the proportion of college graduates who are creationists is exactly the same as for the general public. That’s right: 46 percent of Americans with sixteen long years of education under their belt believe the story of Adam and Eve is literally true. Even 25 percent of Americans with graduate degrees believe dinosaurs and humans romped together before Noah’s flood. Needless to say, this remarkable demonstration of educational failure attracts little attention from those who call for improving our schools.

I'm not totally surprised by this result, but I am still disappointed. I would have expected 20% perhaps (20% of the country seems to believe virtually anything on a given day), but not 46%. On one hand, of course you are free to believe whatever you want. But on the other hand, we do have huge problems we need to tackle in the coming decades. This includes everything from Climate Change and natural disaster preparation/prevention to technocratic solutions to every-day problems in fields like health care, pollution, expanding wireless and broadband access, etc. Creationists obviously would not appear to be the most open to scientific arguments in support of solutions to these problems. And they would seem more susceptible to misinformation campaigns that question the accuracy of scientific data. This is highlighted in Chris Mooney's latest book related to how some of us process scientific arguments within our own set of biases.

In order to help implement solutions to these problems within our current political system, it will take an educated public who understands the consequences of our behavior and is accepting of whatever solution is supported by the empirical data. If you believe carbon dating and radiometric dating are trumped by what you read in Genesis, then I'm not sure where we go from there.

Needless to say, I am skeptical you can persuade the majority of the public on the merits of the public option or green energy or of the importance of preventing the polar ice caps from melting when nearly half the country (and nearly half of those with college degrees!) believes the human race began in the last 10,000 years and that we must have lived during the same period as dinosaurs. This clip from the late great Bill Hicks is still relevant.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Apple Economy

Employees at an Apple Store. The 2012 version of the American factory? (Credit: James Martin/CNET)

The New York Times published a great article about Apple employees and their compensation earlier this week.  Here's are the basics:

About 30,000 of the 43,000 Apple employees in this country work in Apple Stores, as members of the service economy, and many of them earn about $25,000 a year. They work inside the world’s fastest growing industry, for the most valuable company, run by one of the country’s most richly compensated chief executives, Tim Cook. Last year, he received stock grants, which vest over a 10-year period, that at today’s share price would be worth more than $570 million.

So the iconic American technology company has approximately 70% of their work force working in sales and customer service. By all accounts, these employees are compensated better than most retail-store employees with decent benefits, and the employees seem generally happy, albeit with lowered expectations, so that doesn't seem to be a big problem. But this highlights a key shift in our society to a more service based economy, with fewer and fewer employees needed to operate. You'd think if the most profitable company in the country was a technology company, they'd employ legions of engineers.

This piece in the New York Times from back in January, noted that Apple employs 43,000 American workers and an additional 20,000 overseas, with these margins:

Apple has become one of the best-known, most admired and most imitated companies on earth, in part through an unrelenting mastery of global operations. Last year, it earned over $400,000 in profit per employee, more than Goldman Sachs, Exxon Mobil or Google.
Apple will likely surpass Exxon Mobil and end 2012 as America's most profitable company. And they will be doing so with just 63,000 employees world wide.

By comparison, in the 1950's when General Motors was the country's largest and most profitable company, they employed over 500,000 workers. Yeah, I know different eras and industries and all that, but the point is back then corporations' profits went back into the company to hire workers to produce more widgets.

I don't know what the answer is. Apple has obviously fulfilled its duty to its share holders and its customers, but questions surrounding what, if any, obligations Apple has to its employees and ultimately the country as a whole that helped provided it with this opportunity, is certainly a topic to be explored more in the future.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Voter Suppression Will Help Win PA for Romney, says Republican Hack

At least that's what PA House Republican leader Mike Turzai came right out and said. Normally these suppression laws are couched in terms of "protecting the integrity of the vote" or other ambiguous poll-tested language. You're not supposed to actually come and out say your Voter ID law is designed to help win elections for your party, by targeting mostly those who vote for the other party.

Turzai should at least be given points for his brutal honesty.

(H/T to Philadelphia Inquirer political writer, Tom Fitzgerald )

Update: 06/27/12 - has a story about this today.

Friday, June 22, 2012

May the Fed Be With You

Help us Ben Bernanke, you're our only hope.

Up until the mid-aughts, I didn't know specifically what the Federal Reserve did. For much of my young adult years, my only point of reference was every few months this mysterious Merlin-like Chairman Alan Greenspan would go before Congress and tell them that he was lowering interest rates again and that we needed to reduce the deficit, yadda, yadda, yadda, Charlie Brown's teacher's voice. Whatever, dude, leave me be while I try to get in on this great investment.

As I've learned, over the years the Federal Reserve is our Central Bank and they are in charge of setting monetary policy and controlling the money supply. So that means they adjust interest rates and/or pull out or pump more dollars into the economy as they see fit.

Matt Yglesias has posted about this quite a bit recently, so I recommend you check out this, this, this, and this for more background. Here's a key passage [bold mine]:

In translating their ideas to the activist audience at Netroots, [Paul] Krugman and others tend to skip over the fact that monetary stimulus from the Fed is pretty clearly necessary. Just ask yourself what the world would look like if some optimal fiscal policy were enacted and growth accelerated to the point at which we were adding 300,000-400,000 jobs a month instead of 100,000-200,000 jobs.

Well, millions of new workers would start burning gasoline and commuting to their new jobs. Millions of Americans would start moving out of their mom’s basement or their sister’s spare room to rent their own place. They’ll be running their own heaters and air conditioners. They might eat out a bit more often, and cook a bit less rice and beans and a bit more meat.

Those are all good things—but would mean higher prices.

There’s plenty of slack and idle resources in the economy, but we don’t have vast tankers of unemployed gasoline and the supply of rental housing is pretty low. In my opinion, a temporary price surge would be a small cost for a return to full employment. Or to put it another way, keeping the country on track for a years-long spell of mass unemployment is a shockingly stupid and immoral way to ensure cheap gasoline and affordable bacon.

So to recap, since the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, aka "the Stimulus"), Congress has been unwilling to provide more stimulus for the economy, other than smaller-scale things that are as popular to everyone as ice cream on a summer day, like the payroll tax cut. Unfortunately, the payroll tax cut was already included in the original ARRA, so extending it every year, doesn't really provide additional stimulus, it just continues current policy, as did the 2-year extension of the Bush tax cuts. The cautious approach signaled that Washington just wanted to keep the economy from falling off a cliff, while hoping for a more robust private sector recovery at some point. And we're still waiting. The Fed unfortunately has taken the same approach thus far.

When Congress is unwilling to act, it's the Federal Reserve's duty to provide needed stimulus. The Federal Reserve's job is NOT to prevent inflation from rising, it's to adjust monetary policy with the goal of creating full employment. So when Congress is not acting, the Fed make adjustments. For the Fed to stand by and do nothing, it means they are implicitly saying that 8+% unemployment is totally acceptable.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of $2B will likely be spent on this Presidential campaign before it's all said and done. But the political futures of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are much more dependent on the actions of Ben Bernanke in the coming months, than on whatever that money buys them.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Money Changes Everything


Example #12,742,535 how money wins in politics: here's a great piece in the NY Times today pointing out how the disinformation campaign against the Affordable Care Act was aided by a huge spending advantage, roughly $235M in ads against it vs. only $69M spent on ads in favor of it.

That success may stem in large part from more than $200 million in advertising spending by an array of conservative groups, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($27 million) to Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS ($18 million), which includes the billionaire Sheldon Adelson among its donors, and the American Action Network ($9 million), founded by Fred V. Malek, an investor and prominent Republican fund-raiser.
Only $69 million has been spent on advertising supporting it. Just $700,000 of that comes from the Obama campaign, and none of its ads mentioning the law are currently being broadcast, said Elizabeth Wilner, vice president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group.
In contrast, most advertising spending in support of the law has come from the Department of Health and Human Services. Appearing mostly on national and cable networks, the agency’s ads are bland, explaining aspects of the law.
A law that was about 50/50 approve/disapprove when it was passed is only going to get more unpopular when the spending for ads in favor of it is almost a 4 to 1 disparity. Perhaps, the Democrats and their donors should have taken advantage of the Citizens United ruling in 2010 to build more support for the law.

Related: here's an excellent story by the New Republic's Alec MacGillis highlighting the effect of this misinformation. Many people who would benefit greatly from the law, either didn't realize such a law was even passed, or if they were aware, they had no idea it would help them. This seriously was the best thing I've read all week, so check it out!

The Amazon Effect

I've been catching up on some reading from a few weeks ago, so I apologize if this isn't very timely. But here's a good long piece by the Nation's Steve Wasserman on Amazon. It focuses a lot on the cutthroat business practices of Jeff Bezos.

Jeff Bezos got what he wanted: Amazon got big fast and is getting bigger, dwarfing all rivals. To fully appreciate the fear that is sucking the oxygen out of publishers’ suites, it is important to understand what a steamroller Amazon has become. Last year it had $48 billion in revenue, more than all six of the major American publishing conglomerates combined, with a cash reserve of $5 billion. The company is valued at nearly $100 billion and employs more than 65,000 workers (all nonunion); Bezos, according to Forbes, is the thirtieth wealthiest man in America. Amazon may be identified in the public mind with books, but the reality is that book sales account for a diminishing share of its overall business; the company is no longer principally a bookseller. Amazon is now an online Walmart, and while 50 percent of its revenues are derived from music, TV shows, movies and, yes, books, another 50 percent comes from a diverse array of products and services. In the late 1990s Bezos bought, the authoritative movie website. In 2009 he went gunning for bigger game, spending nearly $900 million to acquire, a shoe retailer. He also owns, a baby products website. Now he seeks to colonize high-end fashion as well. “Bezos may well be the premier technologist in America,” said Wired, “a figure who casts as big a shadow as legends like Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs.”

But I think overall it highlights many of the issues I and many others wrestle with in our new economy. On one hand, we purchase many non-perishable goods online from places like Amazon. We enjoy the convenience of having a box show up on our front step a few days later, while paying discounted prices and often even getting free shipping. But on the other hand, are the effects of these long term trends good for the economy and the country?

Here was the most disturbing anecdote in the story:
 Amazon has sixty-nine data and fulfillment centers, seventeen of which were built in the past year alone, with more to come. For the thousands of often older migratory baby boomers living out of RVs, who work furiously at the centers filling customer orders at almost literally a breakneck pace, it is, by all accounts, a high-stress job. These workers are the Morlocks who make possible Amazon’s vaunted customer service. Last fall, the Morning Call investigated their plight in one of Amazon’s main fulfillment warehouses in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It found that some employees risked stroke and heat exhaustion while running themselves ragged trying to fulfill quotas that resemble the onerous conditions so indelibly satirized by Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times. Ambulances were routinely stationed in the facility’s giant parking lot to rush stricken workers to nearby hospitals. Amazon, for its part, says such problems are exceptional, and indeed by OSHA’s standards incidents of this kind are not the norm....

Obviously, since the start of wide-scale commerce and currency hundreds of years ago, businesses have re-organized around the goal of becoming middle men between consumers and products or services. The Internet era has changed that relationship by shrinking the chain of middle men (and often outsourcing the manual labor to other countries). The plus is lower costs for consumers. The downsides are often less profit for the creators/distributors of the products/services, elimination of jobs in the chain, and stronger monopolies or duopolies. This is typical for the way industries evolve over time, but in the last 15 years, things have evolved much faster than ever before, contributing to the poor economic conditions we've had for over 10 years now. A big job vacuum has been created and no adequate solutions have been proposed thus far.

I don't have any grand solutions, but a few ideas would improve this situation:

1. Companies like Amazon definitely need to pay state sales taxes (based on the city of the purchaser) to support the infrastructure that allows them to do business. There are roads and bridges and such needed to distribute their products. There are local police and fire departments who are employed to protect their assets. Somebody has to help pay for that. Not to mention, investing in local communities' schools ensures there will be more people who will actually be willing and able to buy an E-Reader and some E-Books down the line. That's a bedrock "pay it forward" principle of our system of taxation.

2. And yes those costs need to be passed on to the consumer. I can't speak for everyone, but I would be willing to pay an extra $1 or so per shipment if it goes to supporting health benefits for their workers or the higher wages that unionized workers can demand.  

3. For those who create the content that is sold, why not some extra fractions of a dollar of every purchase of a CD or a book go to the artist/label, author/publisher? If it no longer becomes worth artists/authors time to spend years making something that essentially creates millionaire middle men, but only earns them roughly enough money to eat, quite a few may stop doing it altogether. And the less artists creating, means less quality products for Amazon to sell.

The article concludes:

...Peter Mayer of Overlook Press: “All sides of this argument need to think deeply—not just about their businesses, but also about their world. I grew up in a world in which many parts together formed a community adversarial in a microcosmic way but communal in a larger sense: authors, editors, agents, publishers, wholesalers, retailers and readers. I hope, worried as I am about the current trajectory [of publishing], that we do not look back one day, sitting on a stump as the boy does in Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, and only see what has become a largely denuded wasteland.”


Hello and welcome. This blog is a labor of like that I've been meaning to start at some point.  Over the years as I've gotten more interested in politics, my interests have gone beyond just polls and what Team Blue has to do to defeat Team Red.  I've gotten much more interested in policy and why that matters. I probably won't get too policy wonk-ish here, but will frequently link to others who are and then attempt to explain why that issue is relevant to the average person.

In general I feel the biggest unfilled demand opportunity in news coverage today is bridging the gap between policy and political news. The long term mission of this blog is to hopefully fill that hope a little bit, in an entertaining way. Ben Franklin famously said, "honesty is the best policy", yet when it comes to actual policy debates, honesty usually results in defeat with the public..I'd like to help change that.

And naturally it's an election year, so I'll be posting about pure politics from time to time as well.

A little about me: I'm a tail-end Gen-X'er. I am a Philadelphian through and through - born here, raised here, living here, and will probably die here.

Politically, I'm left-of-center on most issues, but enjoy a good honest substantive debate. I enjoy reading principled conservatives like David Frum, Bruce Bartlett, George Will, and Reihan Salan almost as much as my favorite progressive writers. I'm tolerant of almost all views as long as they aren't steeped in ignorance or dishonesty

So anyway, I hope you enjoy reading this blog and continue visiting the site. I will be posting much more frequently soon.