My Life is Words
Words and ideas turn on the lights in the brain
You might wonder if a discussion of government and governing is philosophy; I believe it is. The Cambridge Dictionary online defines philosophy as:
I sometimes think I'm a little obsessed with topics such as politics and religion, and perhaps I am. I don't wake up to think about things; an event usually triggers it, or a news story, or something I've read. When that happens, my brain begins to whir, and I evolve an idea, opinion, or philosophy.
That brings me to the subject of this post, the philosophy of government. At the simplest level, we have two basic philosophies, progressive or liberal and conservative. Both are dominated by a school of thought that is itself founded in beliefs, values, and principles.
Generally speaking, the liberal philosophy seems to be based on the notion that all people are created equal and thus should be treated equally or as close to that as possible. This philosophy is based on compassion and understanding that humans succeed and fail. That those who fail may be entitled to some special considerations to ensure they do not suffer extreme hardships. Liberalism believes in the rule of law but prefers those laws to focus on creating positive results rather than punitive measures. It tries to be a peaceful philosophy that is opposed to war and embraces the idea that we should be able to communicate with each other and resolve our differences. In summary, liberalism is a philosophy of trust, compassion, and progress toward a better world for everyone.
The conservative philosophy seems to take a harsher view of the world and humans in general. There appears to be an attitude that if you are in dire straights, it likely is because you made bad decisions or did something wrong. This philosophy seems more combative and ready to impose penalties on others. Conservative philosophy tends to want to dictate certain aspects of society, often based on religious principles. The conservative philosophy appears to be less tolerant of discussion and reaching a consensus on those issues about which they feel strongly. The conservative philosophy takes a hard line toward foreign policy. It insists on an active military to back this approach to governing. To summarize conservatism, it is a policy based on distrust and on the idea that strict rules and harsh punishment bring about better results than caring and compassion.
Let me remind you that I stated I'm talking in generalities. Both philosophies are on a bell curve with adherents ranging from liberal to conservative within their philosophical curve. We, humans, are nothing if not diverse in thought and deed as well as our physical and cultural differences.
I count myself among the progress/liberal faction, so let me give you an example of how we might resolve one particular problem in society. I'll use the debate over the minimum wage (MW for brevity), an issue that roils emotions from the local to the federal levels of government. This is a complex issue and one I won't try to cover in excruciating detail, but in a way that I hope demonstrates a progressive approach to problem-solving and government. I'll use the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour as an example since the minimum wage is all over the map at local and state levels.
The argument that we consistently hear from the conservative side when talking about raising the MW is the impact on small businesses, and that is true. I think there is a general agreement on this notion of a liveable wage. In a perfect world, everyone would make a liveable wage, if only we could find an approach. So, how do we alleviate the poverty of those in the MW world while not breaking the back of small business people? Here are a couple of ideas.
The poverty level income for a family of three (two adults and one child) is $21,330 per year at this point. Working a full year is considered 2,020 hours a year, regardless of whether that is one job or two jobs. To reach the poverty level of income, you have to make $10.32/hour. Remember that only brings you up to poverty - that is not a liveable wage. Per the Living Wage calculator, in the state of Washington, and Seattle-King County, that family of three has to make $30.84/hour. The poverty level is $7.91/hour, and our MW stands at $11.50 as I write this. That means our MW is just over 1/3 of what is considered a liveable wage. You can use that calculator to look at any state and county in the country. You will find a broad variation depending on the state of the economy around our nation.
Back to Seattle. I'm now a small business owner. Let's say I have a pizza restaurant that is also serving sandwiches, salads, soft drinks, and beer and wine. I'm working in the kitchen. I have a dishwasher and a server in the front of the house. Remember, I'm trying to keep this simple without getting down the weeds on the cost of pizza sauce, etc. I open at 11:00 am to catch the lunch crowd, and I stay open until 9 pm. My day crew (dishwasher and server) work the 11 am to 4 pm shift, and the night crew comes on and works until 9 pm. So, I have four employees besides myself, who are each working 5 hours a day, and I'm open six days a week (closed on Sunday). My crew is working a total of 20 hours a day times six days for a total of 120 hours a week, and I'm paying them the current MW of $11.50/hour. That puts my payroll for the week at $1,380/week. But...
If you're in business, you know there are overhead costs and state taxes, etc. I ran a pretend set of numbers for my pizza shop on something call T-Sheets (by QuickBooks) to estimate the labor cost with all the other things rolled in; something call the wrap costs. With the numbers I used for rent, insurance, etc., my cost per employee came to $27.99 per employee, and remember I'm paying them $11.50 per hour.
I said the liveable wage in Seattle was $30.84/hour for a family of three. We'll assume all my employees are married and have one child. When I kick the wages up to that number, my total cost per employee per hour goes up to $48.81/hour. That's an increase of $20/hour, and that is hard to absorb. For my crew of four, my employee cost went from $167,940 per year (that's four people working 1500/hours a year and costing me $27.99/hour) to $292.860 or an increase of $124,920 per year. That's not small change.
Any plan has to look out for the employees (trying to get them to a liveable wage) and the small business owners. It should be possible to do a ramp-up to the liveable wage at a rate that get the employee to the liveable level in a reasonable time, while not breaking the backs of small business. The goal is to build something into the taxes that give the small business owner relief for helping our country bring people out of poverty and up to a liveable wage. There could be tax breaks or subsidies paid to the business to ease their burden.
Yes, this all comes out of taxes, but if we straighten out our tax system instead of letting billion-dollar corporations off tax free, it can be done. This is an example of seeking solutions that work for everyone. It moves us toward being a nation that tries to ensure that the working class doesn't have to rely on food stamps and Medicaid to survive. There would be significant reductions in those services, and that money could be redirected to the small business subsidies. As this all sorts itself out, and it will over time, then these programs can be reduced or dismantled.
These are not simple problems, and there are no simple solutions, but these clowns in DC are pulling down $174,000 a year to find answers. It's time they earned their paycheck. What might the conservative plan look like?
Everyone has their own definition for a democracy. Some want unfettered freedom and others want a security blanket. The fact is that we have both. We have more freedoms than many countries in the world and we have social security blankets but not as many as other democracies in the western world.
Over the next fourteen or so months, we are going to hear wild accusations, the gnashing of teeth, and see the wringing of hands as the various candidates for president and their supporters and paid mudslingers work to attract or distract the voters regarding their man or woman. Along with all of that, the blunderbuss currently holding the office will engage in rage-tweets and run-on sentences...make that strings of words that make little to no sense as he attempts to enhance the orange glow of his ridiculousness.
There will be shouts of socialism (maybe even the term commie a time or two), fascism, racism, nationalism, nepotism, cronyism, and as the great orange stink-tank cranks up, round after round of name-calling and childish put-downs, like what we’ve grown accustomed to over the last several years.
But as a voter, all we need to do is decide whether we’re progressive, conservative, hard-right-or-left, or independent (whatever that means). To assist in making that decision, it seems to me we need to fly over our government at about 50,000 feet and develop a macro-vision of what kind of nation we want to be. The awful details that turn that vision into reality will be the job of those we elect based on their vision of government. If they can’t get it right, we kick their butts out and try again.
To explain the next visual aid below (I’m a visual guy), I need to explain where this brain-fart came from. One of my assignments (I was sort of Shanghaied into the job) was as part of a team that was trying to standardize processes around the Boeing Company. I think it might have been easier to train a hive of killer bees to dance the Mexican hat dance than get folks to standardize, but that was my assignment. The basic problem with standardization is that no one wants to do that. We are a bunch of innovative, creative, and to a large extent rebellious human beings.
Using the Boeing example to make the point, you hire a highly degreed engineer to design the next generation of space fighters because he or she is on the leading edge of knowledge, technology, and a seer when it comes to flight engineering. You sit them down, give them all the company manuals and say something like, “Go to work, but do everything according to the standards - the way it’s always been done.” After they stop crying, they are likely to hand you their resignation.
Unlike the cow chewing its cud in the field for hours on end, we humans are not like that. We want variety, change (as long as it was our idea), and the liberty to do pretty damn much anything we want. We do not like marching in formation.
Something was said in one of those discussions at Boeing by my manager, who will remain nameless because he was, hands down, the worst manager in the roughly 60 years I worked in and around aerospace. He was Trump-like before most of us had ever heard of Trump.
Our task was to standardize those critical processes inside the company to ensure a continuity of results as well as to reduce the overall cost of doing business. My boss’ statement referred to a “level” of standardization that helped achieve that consistency of purpose and cost reduction. He called that line the “critical mass” line. The idea was that the processes above that line needed to be standardized for the benefit of the employees, the customer, and the company (the Big3).
Very briefly, in the context of a company the size of Boeing, you certainly want the payroll to be “standard” across the company. You can’t have every organization deciding what day they want to call payday, and each using their own financial institution to issue paychecks, etc. It would be chaos and costly to operate that way.
So we drew a pyramid to demonstrate the idea. The line or base of the top section of the pyramid was the “critical mass” line. Above this would go those processes that had to be common and standard across the company. Things like payroll, accounting, company identification badges, etcetera.
In the section below that top level was where we still wanted a degree of standardization, but we also wanted to allow organizations the flexibility to be innovative and creative while functioning in a way that was most efficient for them. There might be “company guidelines” to help them establish processes, but they would still innovate. And, where possible, we wanted them to cooperate with other organizations to utilize the best ideas and practices and to standardize where it made sense, again for the benefit of the Big3.
And at the bottom level was where the most flexibility existed. Individuals had quite a few choices. If they like a particular type of pen, or computer mouse, or office chairs for back issues, they could make those changes, they were free to flex on many issues. There were flexible shifts where possible. I won’t list everything here, but hopefully you see what I’m talking about.
Running a country is very much like running a big company, at least in terms of organization and where to utilize top-down federal control, where to allow states and localities the freedom to innovate, and where to let the people have maximum freedom without upsetting the balance of a functioning society. Here then, is that notional pyramid applied to government.
The ‘A’ level is dominated by the federal government. A few of the functions that would seem to best be managed at the federal level for the benefit of all are shown on the left. In some cases, these may be hard-dictates and in some cases the rules may allow some wiggle room (democracy) as long as the top-most goals at a federal level are being met.
Some might call this progressive, others socialism, or who knows what, but I think few people would argue that the military and FAA and similar functions should not be left to the whim of state, county, and city politicians or turned over to for-profit enterprises. It is more a matter of common sense. Our safety and security as a nation demand these be administered at the federal level. At the bottom of this top section, you see the red CM line indicating that critical processes belong above that line. I’ve made that top section blue because it is an important value to most progressives that we do the right thing for and by all the people.
Level ‘B’ allows more democracy for states and localities to tailor processes to their needs. There may be some federal guidelines to assist in setting up these processes, but for the most part, it comes under the heading of state and local government rights.
Level ‘C’ is what I have labeled as “libertarian”. This is where, like the the company employee choosing their computer mouse, individuals make their decisions based on what is right for them. Things like where to work, where to live, what religion if any they want to follow, who to choose for a family doctor, whether or not to vote and who to vote for, where to buy groceries and gas - it’s a long list of personal rights.
This, I hope, is an easier way to look at the big picture of government. Naturally, there will be arguments about where the lines dividing A, B, & C should go and which processes and rights belong in which section. But, again, that is one of the tasks of our elected representatives.
I believe that if you approach it with the goal of identifying those critical processes, then the ones for the states and local governments, and finally the individual, we would find that we probably agree on about 80% and we would have to arm wrestle over the other 20%.
Now, all you have to do is pick a candidate. 😁
More to the point, what do we want our United States government to be?
Two documents are the foundation of our democracy, the Declaration of Independence, and our Constitution. Both of these documents have a preamble that attempts to sum up what the founders of our nation had in mind.
The preamble of the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The intent of that paragraph is quite clear. We had been under the thumb of the monarchy of England, an authoritarian plutocracy that was anything but free.
Preamble to the Constitution for the United States: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
A third document that has come to represent the dream of our founders was the Gettysburg Address that President Lincoln gave in 1863. Eighty-seven years after we fought and died to gain our freedom from England, we fought each other in the bloodiest war in our history with an estimated 620,000 fatalities. It was a war fought over the freedom of all the people.
In Lincoln's address, the line that is best remembered is, "that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
The single thread running through all these statements are the words "people" and "equality." We are supposed to be a nation devoted to freedom, to the idea that no one class of people or entity within our society is better or above all others; we are a nation of, by, and for the people, all the people residing within our borders.
That idea should be the principle upon which all of our elected leaders, CEOs of corporations, and people in positions of influence, be they celebrities, sports stars, or religious leaders, should make their decisions and pronouncements. They should be asking themselves, "Is what I am about to do or say in the interest of all the people, or is it to benefit one particular interest group?" Will it fulfill the vision of our founders and the words of Abraham Lincoln?
That is also how we voters, the people referred to in all these document must measure the success or failure of our leaders. When we vote, or when we gather in public meetings to discuss policies in our towns, counties, states and federal government, we must ask, have our political, civil, and religious leaders shaped the policies and laws for the good of all the citizens, or only for a select few?
Yes, the details can be complicated, but the outcome should be measurable against those three basic statements. When we vote in our local and federal elections, that is the template we must use in evaluating those in office and those aspiring to hold office.
If we get that right, we will have lived up to the founder's dream of a United States that is, of, by, and for all the people; the rich, the poor, the able and disabled, all the genders, all the races and nationalities, and all the religions.
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Well, we Democrats now have our very own version of the Republican stampede that we saw in the 2016 election, something I enjoyed calling the 'clown car' at the time. I'm happy to say that while it looks like the Dems have matched the GOP in sheer numbers of candidates, I find our field decidedly brighter and offering more than just filling the airwaves with complaints about the current president who is more than worthy of any mudslinging that may come his way.
While most of us are very hopeful of seeing TrumPutin limited to one term (or less if we can get on with impeachment), this group of candidates will need to devote a degree of time to lambasting TrumPutin to convince voters he should never be allowed a second term. Given that scenario, we should expect the field to devote time to point out what is wrong with TrumPutin and his circle of jerks.
While it is very early in the election season; we will know more around next February and March who is likely to survive the free-for-all that is our election process. That will be determined mostly by money, but also their message and how well it resonates with voters. A couple will undoubtedly drop off either because they said something amazingly dumb, or because the press uncovered something in their past that takes them down. That is the job of the media concerning government regardless of the political party. And, let's not ignore what we learn this time.
That being said, I have looked at the candidates and arranged them in order of my preference based on what I know at this point in time. I won't go into a long dissertation on each; not now and not until the field shrinks to about four people. Here is a graphic that shows my stand at the moment.
As you can see, I've put them in tiers, one through four with one being my top picks for now. And, yes, I do discriminate between the candidates on several fundamental levels. First is what I've heard from them, their message, and of course like everyone to some degree, how effectively they deliver their message.
Gender: Yes, I am looking at gender. I think it is high time we put a woman in the White House assuming we can find the right one, and I think we already have several terrific candidates. We've had an African-American president, finally, and we've certainly had our fill of old white men, and old crazy white men; it's time to change.
Age: I know that with age comes a degree of wisdom, or it is supposed to, but I really want someone younger. We need a president who is in tune with technology, and with the changes we have achieved in our society. We don't need a president committed to turning back the clock to the 1950s. Full disclosure, I'm closing in on 77, and I want youth in leadership.
As for the rest of the crap that FOX Faux News likes to rant about, religion, partner preferences, socialism (which we already have) or any of the other political flak the opposition wants to throw in the air to distract us from the truth doesn't mean a damn thing to me. I care about democracy, civil rights, human rights, women's rights, and honesty in government.
Michael Bennett didn't make the cut because he announce just about the time I was writing this, so we'll se in time how he fits in the pyramid. Others may move up or down, depending. I'm not likely to do much with this for a number of months until the field starts to sort itself out. The so-called debates which usually amount to little more than stump speeches may or may not change my brackets.
We need leadership at home on the environment, everyone's rights, economic and tax reform, immigration, health care, infrastructure, renewable energy, and technology. And it has to be worked in the light of the impact on humanity and not just corporate profits. Yes, we need corporations and their job markets, but not at the cost of our democracy.
We need leadership for our relations around the world. That has to be a combination of strength tempered with compassion and a desire to develop an understanding of what other nations and people are experiencing.
In closing, let me say, MADA! MADA! MADA!
The Constitution of the United States and its addendums (amendments) are between 243 years (the original version) and 26 years old (the last amendment in 1992).
The original was written by men, mostly younger men, during a time when there were still such things as witch trials and slavery. There were debtors prisons that, for a multitude of reasons, were a failure. These are a couple of examples of the world they lived in.
In the 18th century, daughters literally belonged to their father or a woman to her husband. The "laws of coverture" prohibited a married woman from owning property, even if it was hers before the marriage.
Dating wasn't really a thing then. Marriages were a business between two men, their bargaining chips being their sons' inheritance and their daughters' dowries.
Nevertheless, and given the beliefs and practices of the time, the authors and signers of the Constitution did a remarkable job of authoring a document that would guide the United States to a position of being the most successful social endeavor in history. Still, the 27 amendments to that document suggest that it isn't perfect.
I am by no way suggesting we tear up the Constitution and begin again; that would be preposterous. I am, however, suggesting that in light of the 21st century, the information age, technology, and monumental challenges like climate change, we need a very new and perhaps radical approach to how we manage and govern our society. The old ideas from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries just don't fit the challenges of today.
As I write this in early 2019, there are new voices in our government that are challenging the old guard and the old ways. These voices that are proposing radical and big ideas like the New Green Deal that lay out some bold goals for the future. True, the details of how to get there are fuzzy as yet, and the consensus of how much and how fast we should embark on this journey are however to be defined, but it demonstrates a change in leadership that is sorely needed.
In addition to renewable energy and learning to live on a planet with 7 billion people and snowballing to 9 billion, we face a variety of social and technical challenges for our country.
We have a crumbling infrastructure that will soon fail us if it isn't repaired or replaced. The challenge there, using freeways and bridges as an example, is to create for the future. Will we be driving cars as we know them today or will we be riding in bullet trains or in small and compact air vehicles? What is the future of aviation and ground transportation? I would submit to you that it is unlikely that a bunch of septuagenarians, as loyal and patriotic as they have been, may not be the people to provide that vision.
The Internet, DNA, genetic engineering, replacement organs that are grown in a lab, conception, and birth outside the human body, and many other advances await us. Some of these we can't yet recognize, and some are yet to be imagined. All these will change our world dramatically, and we need the leadership that has grown up with and understands these issues to guide us through this social engineering maze.
I'm suggesting that since this new future will belong to the younger generation who will live through all this that the old silverbacks are not only incapable of designing that future, they have no stake in it because they won't share it with the people who are 40 and 50 years younger than they are.
That is why I say it is a new day and we need a new way lead by new people.