Recently in Society / Politics Category

In a democracy, every citizen has some influence over what the government does. That influence does not require wealth or position; it is bestowed simply by virtue of one's ability to vote and speak up.

In a publicly traded corporation, however, the only influence an individual who is not employed by the corporation can have is by owning shares in that company, and that cannot be done without wealth. And, even worse, one's influence increases with one's wealth. In a world where wealth is not evenly distributed, influence is concentrated in the hands of the wealthiest minority. That is called a plutocracy. 

These issues of limited public influence are even greater when it comes to private companies, as the public (who are not employees) may have effectively NO influence over the corporation at all. There is no opportunity to direct the company to stop doing things that harm society.

Some may argue that the public has influence via the market. If a company behaves badly, punish it by not buying its products or services. If enough people punish it, it will change its ways. The flaw in that thinking is that, once again, one person's influence over that company is directly related to how much money that person has. Wealth = influence, so we are back to a plutocratic state.

So, we turn to the only democratic mechanism we, the public, have to influence industry: laws. As laws are set by the government, and government is influenced by all who can vote, this translates into influence over industry that does not depend on wealth.

This also highlights the need to ensure that money's influence over who gets elected remains small. Once money begins determining who gets elected, and politicians start being accountable to only those with wealth, we arrive back at plutocracy.

If you are in the top 0.1% of wealth-holders in the United States, you already have outsized influence on politics and legislation. If the rest of us have any hope of keeping our preferences and needs reflected in the actions of both government and industry, that tiny minority's influence must not be allowed to continue to grow, lest it supercede all others for perpetuity...or at least until violent revolution occurs. And that is not something anyone should desire.
LANGUAGE VIGILANTE
by Craig Froehle

You might call me a "Grammar Nazi,"
But I want to set the record straight;
I am a language vigilante
And I didn't come here to debate.

I'm a walking encyclopedia
Of punctuation and language rules.
If you ever doubt my credentials,
Here's a long list of my former schools.

I have accounts on all the websites.
I intend to point out each misdeed.
Your sentences are abominations
And your spelling makes my eyes bleed.

If you don't want me to hassle you,
Then adopt a better attitude.
Start to love subject-verb agreement
and confusing who with whom is rude.

The art of using semicolons
Is a subtle one, I will admit.
But substituting "your" for "you're"
Is an egregious crime to commit.

And when you confuse which and that
Or mix up adjectives and adverbs.
Please know I speak the truth when I say
I'm not the only one it disturbs.

Oxford commas are not optional.
Don't let anyone tell you they are.
Hyphens and dashes are different;
That you don't know that is just bizarre.

Knowing where commas go near quotations,
Is a sign of a civilized mind.
If I don't yell about your four-dot 
Ellipsis, know I am being kind.

When you see a comment with nothing
But asterisked words and silent rage,
You'll know that I have visited
Your blog, Twitter, or Facebook page.

But realize that my cause is just 
And my goal is nothing too extreme.
I simply want an error-free Web.
Is that too optimistic a dream?

Phone Wars

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So you think Google+ is dying, eh? Your stream seems to be drying up or decaying into a mundane trickle of banality. Well, I'm sorry to say this, but it's probably not Google+, it's you. You may be doing it wrong.

I'm no "SEO expert" or social media guru, but if you want Google+ to be a dynamic, inspiring, fascinating river of content and ideas for you, I suggest doing four things:

1)      Understand yourself. Without a good understanding and appreciation of what you're passionate about, you'll meander among seemingly random posts, never finding that group of people who will light up G+ like a Christmas tree for you. If you can identify those topics that you most enjoy discussing, it will help you to find others who share that passion much more quickly and effectively. And those people are the point of social media platforms like Google+.

2)      Engage. Now, you need to engage those people in a meaningful way. If you can start to do that, the conversations you'll begin having will make it easier to find even more people who can provide content of value to you. Engagement is more than punching the +1 button on the occasional pretty photo or commenting "Nice!" on a useful infographic. Engagement is also more than just making a lot of posts. Meaningful engagement means making substantive comments and interacting with others to enhance the intellectual value of a post -- or even over a series of posts --  whether it's yours or someone else's. In a nutshell, engagement requires conversation...there's no avoiding that.

3)      Post publicly. This is a potentially confusing recommendation for some people, as they've come to believe that circles on G+ are meant to restrict the audience for your outgoing content. In some (rare) cases, that's true, such as when you want to keep a post private and give access to a small number of other people (e.g., close friends, family members, or a spouse). Personally, I use circles to limit the audience when I post photos of my kids, as I'd rather those not go floating about the Internet. But for more general content, restricting the audience hurts your ability to engage. For example, if you're posting a link to an interesting article about a new camera that's coming out, limiting that to being visible only to your Photography circle is a mistake. One reason is that you just can't be sure who is going to be interested in seeing that, and by restricting who gets to, you remove the possibility of serendipity. That guy who you circled because of his fascinating posts about cooking just might be looking for a new camera. Not letting him see that is actually a disservice. After all, if he's not looking for one, ignoring your post is as easy as, well, doing nothing. A better use for circles on G+ is for focusing your incoming content into sub-streams that are more homogeneous, which might make it easier to read if you're not bouncing around lots of different topics from incoming post to incoming post. Or, using circles to quickly catch up on what close friends and family are doing, whose posts might get lost in the torrent of those high-volume political activists you're following, is incredibly easy. So, use circles mostly just for two purposes: (a) restricting access to outgoing posts for privacy (not relevance) reasons, and (b) focusing/filtering your incoming content for easier reading.

4)      Be consistent. Unless you're famous, it can be challenging to develop a social media community that you're comfortable engaging and sharing your online existence. It's going to be doubly difficult if you only pop in once or twice a week for a little while. While you may only be following a few (dozen/hundred) people, many of those who you want to see your original thoughts, reshared posts, or external links follow lots of people. As a result, your post might just be another drop in their otherwise fast-moving stream. I've not seen too many people satisfied with the quality of their G+ experiences who don't interact at least several times a week, if not daily. It doesn't need to be obsessive, but consistent attention matters a lot. Assuming you are making posts and comments people enjoy, the more frequently people see you (or, more accurately, your avatar), the more they'll start to value your presence in their stream and the more they'll engage you back. If you only appear once every blue moon, you'll never develop enough social persistence to become an indispensable thread in their online social fabric.

To sum up, I've found Google+ to be a rich, dynamic, and rewarding social network. But, to make the most of it, you'll need to do some introspection and understand what floats your boat; meaningfully engage those with similar passions; post publicly as much of your content as can be safely shared; and do all that regularly. If you do, I think you'll find Google+ quickly becoming a cherished part of your online, social experience.

Dear President Obama,
Your words, spoken during the early days of the Arab Spring movements, helped remind the world that governments have a responsibility to respect and maintain the human rights of free speech and peaceful assembly. Recent actions by police and local governments here in the United States directly contradict your message, undermining your position as the President. If we, the citizens of the United States, can not expect the benefit of the very freedoms you espouse and our Constitution guarantees, the future of our nation is at risk. Please act now, in accordance with your oath to "protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," to maintain this nation as an exemplar of these fundamental human rights.
Sincerely,
The 99%

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If you don't know what a Gini coefficient is, you really should.

"The Gini coefficient is a measure of the inequality of a distribution...usually defined mathematically based on the Lorenz curve, which plots the proportion of the total income of the population (y axis) that is cumulatively earned by the bottom x% of the population."

Here's a plot of major nations' Gini coefficients over the past six or so decades

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Looking at that graph, you'll notice some interesting things:

1) The only country in that graph with a substantially higher Gini coefficient than the US has (i.e., greater wealth inequality) is Brazil, a country famous for its slums (among other things much more pleasant).That's where the US is heading pretty quickly if you extrapolate the curve that started around 1980.

2) The other two countries near the US are Mexico and China...two nations not exactly known for having high standards of living. Sure, some live very well...but that's the point: the higher the Gini coefficient of a nation, the wider the divide between the haves and the have-nots.

3) Most countries that are generally considered to have the highest standard of living / quality of life have Gini coefficients in the 25-35 range. The US's was almost 45 in 2007, and is even higher today.

So, if you're poor in the US today, you're going to get poorer. If you're middle-class in the US today, the chances that you'll slip out of the middle class and into poverty are much, much higher than the chance that you'll move up out of the middle class. And if you're in the top 1% in the US today, chances are you'll accumulate wealth faster than any previous generation of Americans were able to (except for maybe white plantation owners in the pre-Civil War South).
I'm not a conspiracy-minded man. Really. Most people and groups are too incompetent to manage any endeavor so complex and nefarious as to merit the title of conspiracy. But one exception is starting to become clear, and it's being perpetrated by conscienceless corporate power-brokers.

As a business professor, I'm both intellectually and professionally curious about how business should work, what it should accomplish, and how it should get along with government.  When I think about the long-term implications of corporations having so much influence over government, it starts to become scary.

Laws control people. Governments control laws. And people are supposed to control governments, just to make a nice, virtuous circle.  However, if corporations control governments (as they already do to a huge extent), and "the people" have very little control over corporations (see what influence those 100 shares you own get you at the next board meeting), then that circle becomes a unidirectional line, with business at the top and everything else at the bottom.

And the recent wave of Republican muscle-flexing is clearly, obviously aimed at supporting the eventual control of everything by corporations. Why? Money. And power. Well, there's not much difference between those, since they mutually reinforce each other...have one and you'll get the other, etc., etc.

Let's take a look at recent events to work through a hypothetical.  First, GOP governors want to end labor's rights to organize while simultaneously giving big tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy (who are almost universally tied to corporations). This is exactly the same kind of "wealth redistribution" Obama talked about, and which the Right decried as an abomination, during the 2008 election, but in the opposite direction. As labor rights decrease, so do wages and benefits....i.e., wealth. But where does that wealth go? It stays with the corporation, which no longer is forced to distribute that to its employees. If it's a good corporation, that newly conserved wealth gets distributed instead to shareholders, which are generally the wealthiest 10% already. So, now you have wealth from the working poor and middle-class being transferred to other corporations and wealthy individuals.

But that's not the most nefarious part. Not even close. By undermining the tax base, Republicans get to reduce social services and spending on public education. This drives states and local governments to lay off teachers and consolidate schools. That drives the number of kids per class up and the number of extracurricular learning activities and educational materials down. As a result, overall educational quality drops for all those kids not fortunate enough to be able to afford private school. And who would those be? Yep, the kids of the working poor and middle-class.

So these kids get a crappy education, which means it's harder to get into a good college. Not even state schools will be able to take them because they're having to cut rolls or raise tuition (and limit scholarships), if not both, as a result of these same GOP efforts to reduce support for public higher education.  And not to mention the reduction in federal and state education grants, which isn't a universally Republican thing.  This means these kids will have less of a chance to get a good education and will have a harder time competing for the most desirable jobs. Instead, who will get those good jobs? The kids of the wealthy...the ones who initially benefited from the major redistribution of wealth. 

This entrenches that wealth transfer by creating a permanent underclass, who are locked into menial and low-paying jobs by virtue of no realistic way to acquire a decent education (the only way most people move up through the socioeconomic hierarchy).  The less they earn, the less taxes their communities generate, which means even less money for education, and the cycle into entrenched poverty is complete.

Also, as voting tendencies correlate with income, the growing number of poor will have less and less influence as to who is making the laws that define their society.  And, Citizens United already granted corporations some citizen-like, or at least person-like, rights that can greatly influence elections. Since these undereducated masses will have little ability to think critically about the information being provided to them, and the "news" networks will continue to use their bully pulpits to push agendas that benefit themselves first and foremost, there's little chance that the masses will get access to good, critical information. And, even if they did, what's the chance they'd be able to comprehend it?  After all, isn't that Dancing with the Stars controversy much more interesting?

You may think I'm being melodramatic. Or that I have a conspiratorial streak in me after all. You could be right...but what if I am?  Education is the fundamental linchpin that holds society together. If we let corporations undermine that, as they are indirectly starting to, we are lost.
After a relatively successful set of predictions for 2010, here are our prognostications for 2011.  Don't laugh...if history serves as a guide, several will come true...or mostly true.

1. The Apple iPad 2 (or whatever it's called) will be available with a front-facing camera and 4G (LTE), but will have the same screen resolution as the iPad.  We should know about April.

2. Nintendo will launch a new Wii console with HD output, DVD playback, and a Kinect-like video camera accessory.  I think the first two are a lock, but the third part of that is more wish than expectation.

3. At least one of the smartphone platforms (iOS, Android, Symbian, Blackberry, WP7, MeeGo, webOS, Bada) will go away for good.  My money is on Bada.

4. 3D will continue to grow, but not substantially and will mostly be relegated to gaming and in-theater movie experiences.

5. More Android tablets/slates will be sold in 2011 than iOS tablets/slates.  That assumes, of course, that the tsunami of Android slates we should see at CES results in products you can actually buy.

6. At least one of the DSLR manufacturers (Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, Pentax/Samsung, Leica, Panasonic, Sigma) will cease producing DSLRs and/or be acquired by another company.  My guess is Sigma, as I really have no idea how they can afford to put out mediocre (read "poorly selling") DSLR after mediocre DSLR.

7. By the end of 2011, Windows Phone will have the third largest app catalog (behind iOS & Android).  That shouldn't be too much of a stretch, as its growth curve means it'll surpass Blackberry's 15,000 apps or so in a few months.
 
8. Google will struggle to establish content licensing agreements for Google TV, ending 2011 with a still-lackluster platform.  Unless Google is willing to toss a bunch of cash at the networks, that is...it isn't going to win this on charm alone.

9. Facebook will become the 2nd largest (most trafficked) website in the world (overtaking Microsoft.com).  Heck...maybe the largest.  A reminder that being successful doesn't mean doing anything to significantly improve the human condition.

10. Twitter will be acquired by another company. Fingers crossed they aren't evil.
As is now a tradition, it's time to revisit our GearBits' predictions for 2010 to see if we were anywhere close to accurate. 
 
1) Cyberterrorism Becomes a Significant Issue
We've all read reports and stories that say cyberterrorism (the act of attacking a country via its computer networks) is a growing threat and that the US should take it seriously. We've even seen some limited cases where it was used to minor effect. I expect 2010 will see the first major example of the damage cyberterrorism can achieve, and we'll all be much more aware of it as a result. Sub-prediction: McAfee and Symantec sales grow significantly as a result.

thumbs-down.gifI'm REALLY happy that I got this one wrong. That is, of course, if you ignore the Chinese hacking of Google and other companies, and you don't consider WikiLeaks' activity "cyberterrorism" (I don't) or the "hacktivism" it prompted. Frankly, I was expecting some major outage -- a stock exchange taken down, a city's electrical grid compromised, or something on that order -- and it's great that that didn't happen in 2010. 
 
2) Microsoft Launches Windows Mobile 7, Enough to Stay in the Game
The smartphone space is inhabited mostly by 6 key platform players: Symbian, Blackberry, iPhone, Android, webOS, and Windows Mobile. Microsoft's recent endeavors in the mobile space haven't netted much (except perhaps some slight momentum on the media player side). WinMo 6.5 was late and generally uncompetitive with more contemporary offerings already in the marketplace. Pink was an absolute disaster. Even hardcore WinMo fans are getting restless for something really new. Windows Mobile 7 will have a daunting challenge in successfully fighting back against 5 competitors with better products and/or well-established market shares. Windows Mobile 7, when it comes out in the latter half of 2010, will still seem a little stale in comparison, but much better than 6.5. I do, however, fully expect 7 will tap into the other mobile products & services Microsoft has been cultivating, such as Bing and Zune (what is it with their onomotopoeic product names?). It won't be a barnburner, but, with some help from HTC and a couple other big-name handset producers Microsoft can count on, they'll have a small stable of fairly impressive devices available by the end of the year.

thumbs-up.gifYep...mostly. Windows Phone 7 did not come out seeming "stale," but it was roundly criticized for lacking a long list of features found on other platforms (e.g., copy & paste, tethering, multitasking, etc.). While it certainly doesn't have the fleet of handsets that Android boasts, WP7 has launched on an impressive number of devices and carriers across the globe. Add to that the fact that WP7, just a few months after launch, already has more apps than webOS does after more than 18 months, Microsoft appears to have gotten more right than wrong and certainly enough to keep their seat at the smartphone table. 
 
3) 3-D Gets Even More Press but No Real Traction in the Home
3-D televisions and video players will be all over the place at CES, but their availability and technical trade-offs will keep them from seeing significant adoption in 2010. Long-term, however, I think 3-D will eventually take off, but I doubt it will happen as long as viewers have to wear special glasses in order to not be nauseated by the image.

thumbs-up.gifBy any measure, 3D TV has been talked about in the press more than it's been brought into consumers' homes. In 2010, the combination of scant high-quality content and expensive/uncomfortable/incompatible gear failed to make 3D a compelling experience, and slow sales was the result.

4) Fervor over Social Search Subsides but Doesn't Die Out
Social search (i.e., using real-time social media as sources of useful information for returning search results) is all the rage as we enter 2010. I think that the major search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, Yahoo!, et al.) will all figure out by the end of the year that, while social search has some promise for a small subset of queries, information produced by social media is largely junk and an unreliable source of value to their customers (search engine users). However, there is some gold in them thar hills, and we'll start seeing the fruits of their efforts as they isolate those situations where social search can indeed be really, really valuable (e.g., product reviews and event status).

thumbs-up.gifThere's been relatively little discussion in 2010 of how social media should change search. While we saw a lot of sites become more integrated into social media, such as via Facebook's nearly ubiquitous "Like" button, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!'s attempts to add a social component to their search products never really gained traction. Clearly, it's harder than it seems to glean those rare nuggets of helpful, timely information from the vast noise of the social web.

5) Movies and TV Shows Go Mashup...and Not in a Good Way
A lot of media producers seem to be running out of ideas, so I think they'll start going for unique combinations of themes and concepts to fuel their movies and television shows. Think space vampires and hot robot/android women battling killer zombies driving souped-up, well-armed cars really fast around Las Vegas. Coming soon to theaters near you.

thumbs-down.gifLooking back at 2010, I don't see any noticeable increase in "trans-genre" movies and TV shows. And maybe that's for the best, really. But, if the forthcoming "Cowboys & Aliens" is any indication, I just might've been a year early on this prediction. 
 
6) Apple Announces a Tablet
Yes, I'm a sucker for this rumor-that-will-not-die. It's not like I'm even a fan of the tablet concept, so this isn't something I'm particularly hoping will happen. I just think it will. Imagine a 7"-to-10" iPhone Touch and you won't be too far off. Oh, and it will be more expensive than anyone who isn't an Apple shareholder thinks is reasonable, yet it will sell quite well (at least initially).

thumbs-up.gifPretty much, yeah. ;-) 
 
7) SuperSpeed USB Takes Off Quickly
I think we'll see SuperSpeed USB (a.k.a. USB 3.0) be adopted very rapidly in 2010. Signs from motherboard and accessory makers are that they're very eager to adopt this recently ratified standard, and I think everyone would agree that faster USB connections is only a good thing. As long as they don't screw up backward compatibility (one of the keys to USB 2.0 being as successful as it has been), it'll be another home run. On a related note, Wireless USB will not get the attention or traction we'd all like a stable, high-speed wireless connectivity standard to get, mostly because it just won't be as simple as plugging a wire into a hole.
thumbs-up.gifI'm going to give this one to me, but I'll admit that USB 3.0 adoption has been a bit softer than I thought it would be. I mean, we do now have motherboards, PCs, external external hard drives, and flash drives that all use USB 3.0, but it's clearly not ubiquitous yet. Wireless USB went nowhere in 2010, unfortunately, just as predicted. 
 
8) Steve Jobs Gives an Apple Keynote Presentation
Might Sir Jobs be the "one more thing" at WWDC?

thumbs-up.gifClearly a thumbs-up. You don't think Steve would've missed the grand unveiling of his "magical" iPad, now would you? 
 
9) Sprint is Acquired
The cellular carrier's weak valuation and lackluster performance in retaining customers and attracting new ones, combined with its continued WiMAX roll-out will make it a target for some kind of merger or acquisition, likely by a European carrier looking to get entry into the US market. The actual acquisition may not go through in 2010 due to extensive regulatory review, but the intent will be announced.

thumbs-down.gifBzzt! Wrong...thanks for playing. Sprint never got a buyout offer, but it did end 2010 on a much stronger note than it started the year. Not only has it met all its WiMax/4G rollout milestones, it is now being lauded for having among the best customer service in the US cellular market. Not that that's saying much ("tallest pygmy" and all that), but it's something. 
 
10) Twitter Grows at a Slower Rate than in 2009
Twitter will continue to gain new members faster than it loses them, but it will not see the huge surge it enjoyed in 2009. This will mostly be because the company's management has a tenuous, at best, grasp on what its users want (leading it to make bad design decisions) and a business model that does not support both rapid growth and scalable, reliable service (thereby turning off users). It's too bad, too, as Twitter could've become the next Facebook had they played their cards right. The only thing that can save it is an acquisition...Google, perhaps?

thumbs-up.gifTwitter grew a lot in 2010, but not as quickly as it did in 2009. Two stats support this assessment. In 2009, Twitter grew from an Alexa "reach" rating of essentially zero to about a 5; in 2010, it grew from a 5 to about an 8. While that's another big increase, it's a smaller increase than in 2009. Also, in 2009, Twitter grew from 100 million tweets per quarter to 2 billion, a 1900% growth rate. In 2010, it grew from 2 billion to a around 8 billion quarterly posts, a 400% increase. So, while Twitter is still growing hugely, 2010 just wasn't as blockbuster of a year as 2009 was.
   

For 2010, things look pretty good: we got 7 right and 3 wrong.

Here are GearBits' previous years' predictions and results:

2004:Predictions,No Results
2006:Predictions,Results
2007:Predictions,Results
2008:Predictions,Results
2009:Predictions,Results
There's been a lot of talk around the recent election in the US about "socialism."  Unfortunately, that talk has mostly been simply about how evil socialism is rather than what socialism actually is in the first place.  The fact is that there is no uniform definition of socialism -- it consists of a range of values, ideologies and philosophies, and social, political, and economic principles.  Some sound pretty attractive, others sound odd, but I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to explore the extensive Wikipedia entry on socialism on his own.  

But let's talk more plainly for a moment, lest we get lost among the weedy details.  Many perceive socialism as the establishment of a common living standard for all individuals (i.e., everyone has the same amount and quality of property and wealth).  While few people would consider that to be an admirable, if even achievable, goal, I do think there's merit in thinking about how wealth is distributed.

A recent piece of research showed that Americans generally want a far more equitable distribution of wealth in the US than we currently have.  Put more plainly, the wealthy are far more wealthy and the poor are far more poor than most people think is proper.  The magnitude of that gap is truly astonishing, though; please read the short, but interesting, study: Building a Better America - One Wealth Quintile at a Time

Personally, I think any civilized society should establish a reasonable minimim quality of life available to every one of its members.  That means truncating (cutting off) the low-end tail of the wealth distribution.  In other words, there would be no truly destitute, or incredibly poor, people in that society (unless they want to be...there may be some who have a true desire to be impoverished).

This is desirable for two very different reasons:  human decency and self-preservation.  It is easily argued that casting a human being into a life of poverty so deep that he has no available means of escaping it, save death, is cruel beyond what humanity should consider allowable.  To argue that we should permit a helpless newborn to be subject to the terrors of the worst possible urban slum or starved to death in a rural dustfarm is to abandon one of the very qualities that makes us human: compassion.  For example, data clearly show that someone who grows up in a very poor neighborhood will, on average, have a shorter and less healthy life than someone who grows up in a wealthier neighborhood even if their genetics are otherwise similar. If we consider giving everyone a fair shot at "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" a goal of society, how can we allow such disparities to fundamentally, and systemically, undercut it?

The other reason -- self-preservation -- is far more pragmatic.  There is undeniable evidence that the "wealth gap" (i.e., the disappearance of the middle class as more and more wealth gets concentrated among fewer and fewer people) is growing in the US.  Eventually, if you let the rich minority control more and more of the economic wealth, the disenfranchised poor become so numerous and so desperate that they eventually overthrow the wealthy (and often not in a very polite way).  The French Revolution (where Louis XVI was guillotined) and the end of apartheid in South Africa (where many white, wealthy farmers have had their land taken from them without recourse) are but two examples.  To put it bluntly, if the poorest members of a society are not terribly discontent, the wealthy are far more safe in pursuing their lifestyles.  If the rich are permitted to take away the last few percentages of the poor's tiny share of wealth, which they will invariably do if permitted, they put themselves and the entire social order at risk.

However, there should not be a similar truncation on the high end of the wealth distribution curve.  Placing a ceiling on the wealth that can be earned or accumulated by an individual should not be pursued.  There is an inherent unfairness associated with limiting the success available to someone, as some individuals can create vast amounts of value to society and, therefore, should be able to benefit accordingly.  Also, the rich will always act as inspiration to some (though potentially small) segment of society who will work harder/better in order to become more successful like them.

However, there has to be some mechanism of ensuring that the rich do not continue to amass wealth, passing it from generation to generation, thereby effectively withholding it from the lower classes.  Progressive income and inheritance taxation are the most obvious, but not only, approaches.  A society could also reward these individuals in non-monetary ways for redistributing a portion of their wealth.  Bestowing honors upon philanthropers is one example.  But, since this is simply trading an unlimited (and, therefore, not very valuable) resource (e.g., praise) for a limited (and, thus, valuable) resource (wealth), it cannot be relied upon as the exclusive, or even primary, mechanism.

The trick seems to be determining two things:  where the lower bound of the wealth curve should be (i.e., how poor should the poor be allowed to get), and the appropriate mix of mechanisms for recirculating a portion of the wealth accumulated by the rich and investing it back into the society to ensure the poor do not get too poor.  The first matter is certainly open to debate; individuals will have a variety of opinions on where the minimum living standard should be set.  The second matter is fodder for endless argument among economists, politicians, accountants, and the like.  I wish I had deeper insight into what these answers should be, but I do not . . . yet.
Plutocracy: rule by the wealthy

Oligarchy: rule by a small segment of society, usually royalty, the wealthy & connected, or military

The combination of plutocracy and oligarchy is called plutarchy.   (source: Wikipedia)


A recent story in Time (The Government Can Use GPS to Track Your Moves) made me wonder just how far, and fast, Americans will tolerate this shift towards giving complete and utter power to this country's wealthiest minority.

Why did this story make me wonder that?  In short, it's because the courts decided that the police can put a GPS tracking device on your car without telling you and without getting a warrant if your car is parked on the street or even in your driveway.  But, they have to get a warrant if they want to put one on your car when it's parked in your garage.  So, those Americans wealthy (or lucky) enough to have garages have more protection under the law than those who do not. 

While having money has always been a de facto advantage when concerning matters of the law, such as being able to hire a private (and assumedly more competent and/or less overworked) attorney to represent you in court, this interpretation actually makes wealth a de jure advantage.

And that is shocking in a country that was founded on the principle of equality by people tired of monarchy and looking for a more just nation.
In response to this poll in the Cincinnati Enquirer, I wrote a letter to the editor.  Since there's no guarantee it will be published, I thought I'd put it here:

The results of your poll about Cincinnati's proposed streetcar are a good reminder that popular opinion is not necessarily a good metric when thinking about what makes cities successful or the economics of infrastructure investments.  For example, Paul Brown Stadium was a popular project, yet we've gotten back relatively little return on our $400+ million investment.  Evidence from many other cities suggests that the streetcar, in contrast, would generate large financial returns for the city and its businesses.  Cincinnati has a rich history of impressive achievements; let's get back our "can do" attitude and make the streetcar a reality.


Found these and enjoyed them, so I thought I'd post for posterity:

Ariel and Will Durant:
    Education is the transmission of civilization.
   

Bertrand Russell:
    I found one day in school a boy of medium size ill-treating a smaller boy. I expostulated, but he replied: 'The bigs hit me, so I hit the babies; that's fair.' In these words he epitomized the history of the human race.  (Education and the Social Order)
   

Charlotte Bronte:
    Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among rocks.
   

Douglas Adams:
    Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.
   
   
George Bernard Shaw:
    A fool's brain digests philosophy into folly, science into superstition, and art into pedantry.
   

Henry Steele Commager:
    Change does not necessarily assure progress, but progress implacably requires change. Education is essential to change, for education creates both new wants and the ability to satisfy them.
 
   
Lord Brougham:
    Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.


John F. Kennedy:
    Remember that our nation's first great leaders were also our first great scholars.


John Adams:
    Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially for the lower classes of people, are so extremely wise and useful that to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.


Thomas Jefferson:
    Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.
Between 1840 and 1940, Cincinnati became a uniquely progressive, economically and socially vibrant, American city with few equals.  Now, in 2010, we are held captive by nattering nabobs of negativism whose only contribution is to point out why we can't accomplish things and, if we even dare to try, work simply to put obstacles in our way.

cincinnati1850.pngThink about the accomplishments and attributes that set Cincinnati apart from other US cities in the century spanning 1840 - 1940:
  • Meatpacking leader in mid-1800s due to massive German immigration
  • Active hub on the Underground Railroad (through 1865)
  • Cincinnati Enquirer (founded 1841) among first to publish a Sunday edition (1848)
  • First US city to have a greeting card publisher (1850)
  • First Jewish Hospital (1850)
  • First municipal fire department (1853)
  • First professional baseball team (1869)
  • First public weather bureau (1869)
  • First municipal university, eventually becoming the University of Cincinnati (1870)
  • First annual industrial trade show (1870)
  • First Jewish theological college (1875)
  • Second public zoo in the US (1875)
  • Music Hall funded by first public-private matching grant effort (1877)
  • First female-founded and operated manufacturing company (1880)
  • First (and only) city to build and own a major railroad (1880)
  • Large public art museum built (1881)
  • Cincinnati Children's Hospital founded, just the 10th in the nation (1883)
  • Highest population density of any city in the US (late 1880s)
  • First reinforced concrete skyscraper (1902)
  • Birthplace of the Boy Scouts of America (1905)
  • Birthplace of co-operative education (1906)
  • Union Terminal built, one of nation's largest train stations (1933)
  • First night baseball game at an artificially lit stadium (1935)
From 1840 to 1940, Cincinnati embodied the American ideals of fostering private-public partnership, achieving harmony between commercial and social institutions, and a commitment to innovation in all aspects of life.

So what happened?

It's convenient, and may have some merit, to blame the combination of increasing popularity of automobiles and the rise of the highway system in dispersing Cincinnati's residents into the rapidly growing suburbs.  This lead to fewer people supporting the public institutions (and tax base) that helped create the vibrant city that attracted so many and fostered such tremendous growth in the prior 100+ years.  Dwelling on that is unlikely to help much, as cars and suburbs aren't going away any time soon. 

An issue that can still be addressed, however, is potentially far more destructive to our future:  the belief by some Cincinnatians that our city cannot, and possibly should not, even attempt to change...to adapt...to innovate.

Since I moved to Cincinnati in 1987, I've seen so many worthwhile initiatives shot down by a loud minority of citizens some have quite reasonably nicknamed CAVEmen (Citizens Against Virtually Everything), which exist everywhere, but seem to be particularly vocal in our fair city.

These individuals, for a variety of reasons that only they seem to clearly understand, have stood in the way of progress on multiple fronts:  developing our downtown, building infrastructure (both transportation and communication), adopting more environmentally sustainable policies, investing in our educational and police systems, and even pursuing financial support for worthwhile projects from the federal government.

If we are to move Cincinnati back onto a trajectory of prosperity, growth, and advancement, we need to start ignoring these naysayers, pushing forward with necessary improvements, and fostering innovative ideas.  Our city's population, economic viability, and future prospects have all suffered from this conservative posture we have taken towards new ideas.  While it is easy to be risk-averse, it is rare that prosperity comes to those who always play it safe and avoid change.  Said more simply, the only guaranteed risk is never taking any.

The Streetcar initiative and the Banks are clear examples of what we should be striving to accomplish as a community, but they have taken far too long and have consumed far too many resources to get to where they are today.  We must be more effective, and efficient, at converting ideas into reality, goals into accomplishments.

So, to the leaders of the City of Cincinnati, I ask that you simply do two things:  1) pursue opportunity for advancing the public good more aggressively than you defend the status quo, and 2) promote an innovative vision with far more vigor than you seek compromise and consensus. 

And, to the people of Cincinnati, I simply ask that you support our leaders, regardless of party or politic, in their attainment of those two objectives.  If you can also contribute innovative thinking, capital, or sweat in helping improve things, then all the better, but the mere absence of obstinate obstructionists would do more to help accelerate our betterment than a thousand good ideas.

Our future is not yet written, and we have no reason to allow the world around us to determine our fate.  But, if we do not take the task of reigniting within ourselves the progressive flame that impelled our once-mighty city, conservatism may very well douse our light entirely.

You've probably heard lots of horror stories, outlandish claims, and outright lies about what the new health care reform law does.  Here's a summary, originally published by Reuters, of the bill's actual contents:

WITHIN THE FIRST YEAR OF ENACTMENT

* Insurance companies will be barred from dropping people from coverage when they get sick. Life time coverage limits will be eliminated and annual limits are to be restricted.

* Insurers will be barred from excluding children for coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

* Young adults will be able to stay on their parents' health plans until the age of 26. Many health plans currently drop dependents from coverage when they turn 19 or finish college.

* Uninsured adults with a pre-existing conditions will be able to obtain health coverage through a new program that will expire once new insurance exchanges begin operating in 2014.

* A temporary reinsurance program is created to help companies maintain health coverage for early retirees between the ages of 55 and 64. This also expires in 2014.

* Medicare drug beneficiaries who fall into the "doughnut hole" coverage gap will get a $250 rebate. The bill eventually closes that gap which currently begins after$2,700 is spent on drugs. Coverage starts again after $6,154 is spent.

* A tax credit becomes available for some small businesses to help provide coverage for workers.

* A 10 percent tax on indoor tanning services that use ultraviolet lamps goes into effect on July 1.

WHAT HAPPENS IN 2011

* Medicare provides 10percent bonus payments to primary care physicians and general surgeons.

* Medicare beneficiaries will be able to get a free annual wellness visit and personalized prevention plan service. New health plans will be required to cover preventive services with little or no cost to patients.

* A new program under the Medicaid plan for the poor goes into effect in October that allows states to offer home and community based care for the disabled that might otherwise require institutional care.

*  Payments to insurers offering Medicare Advantage services are frozen at 2010 levels. These payments are to be gradually reduced to bring them more in line with traditional Medicare.

* Employers are required to disclose the value of health benefits on employees' W-2 tax forms.

* An annual fee is imposed on pharmaceutical companies according to market share. The fee does not apply to companies with sales of $5 million or less.

WHAT HAPPENS IN 2012

* Physician payment reforms are implemented in Medicare to enhance primary care services and encourage doctors to form "accountable care organizations" to improve quality and efficiency of care.

* An incentive program is established in Medicare for acute care hospitals to improve quality outcomes.

* The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees the government programs, begin  tracking hospital readmission rates and puts in place financial incentives to reduce preventable read missions.

WHAT HAPPENS IN 2013

* A national pilot program is established for Medicare on payment bundling to encourage doctors,hospitals and other care providers to better coordinate patient care.

* The threshold for claiming medical expenses on itemized tax returns is raised to 10 percent from7.5 percent of income. The threshold remains at 7.5 percent for the elderly through 2016.

* The Medicare payroll tax is raised to 2.35 percent from 1.45 percent for individuals earning more than$200,000 and married couples with incomes over $250,000. The tax is imposed on some investment income for that income group.

* A 2.9 percent excise tax in imposed on the sale of medical devices. Anything generally purchased at the retail level by the public is excluded from the tax.

WHAT HAPPENS IN 2014

* State health insurance exchanges for small businesses and individuals open.

* Most people will be required to obtain health insurance coverage or pay a fine if they don't. Health care tax credits become available to help people with incomes up to 400percent of poverty purchase coverage on the exchange.

*Health plans no longer can exclude people from coverage due to pre-existing conditions.

* Employers with 50 or more workers who do not offer coverage face a fine of $2,000 for each employee if any worker receives subsidized insurance on the exchange. The first 30employees aren't counted for the fine.

* Health insurance companies begin paying a fee based on their market share.

WHAT HAPPENS IN 2015

* Medicare creates a physician payment program aimed at rewarding quality of care rather than volume of services.

WHAT HAPPENS IN 2018

* An excise tax on high cost employer-provided plans is imposed. The first $27,500 of a family plan and $10,200 for individual coverage is exempt from the tax. Higher levels are set for plans covering retirees and people in high risk professions.