The union of decent human beings

Before Wisconsin Governor Walker tried to make state-sponsored union bashing into sport, and before the labor union movement in the twenties, what just happened in Bangladesh, where 112 people died in a sweat shop making clothes for Wal-Mart used to happen here. Exploitation of human capital for profit is nothing new.

The only question is how long can we force ourselves to look away?

Wal-Mart’s simple answer is to deny they knew about it, then cut off one head of the serpent- and hope it goes away:

Wal-Mart said Monday that the factory, owned by Tazreen Fashions Ltd., had been making clothes for the U.S. retail giant without its knowledge. Tazreen was given a “high risk” safety rating after a May 2011 audit conducted by an “ethical sourcing” assessor for Wal-Mart, according to a document posted on the website of Tazreen’s parent company, the Tuba Group.

Wal-Mart said the factory was no longer authorized to produce merchandise for Wal-Mart but that a supplier subcontracted work to it “in direct violation of our policies.” The retailer said it stopped doing business with the supplier Monday.

“The fact that this occurred is extremely troubling to us, and we will continue to work across the apparel industry to improve fire safety education and training in Bangladesh,” Wal-Mart said in a statement.

via Bangladeshis mourn garment-fire dead, plan protest |

But, just blaming Wal-Mart isn’t fair. The computer I’m writing this on, made for the “most valuable” company in the world- Apple, is assembled by people working in sub-standard conditions for sub-standard pay. Both companies are based in the USA- but do very little actual making of the goods they profit from here. Both companies also pay their executives exorbitant salaries and bonuses, based in part, by their ability to stand on the backs of people who are earning a subsistence wage.

It doesn’t have to be this way. It is possible to pay people a living decent wage, provide health care, work in safe conditions and still make money. Need proof? My friend Bridget had this NYT article in her Facebook feed about Costco and its CEO Jim Sinegal- I’ve extracted the relevant parts:

Costco’s average pay, for example, is $17 an hour, 42 percent higher than its fiercest rival, Sam’s Club. And Costco’s health plan makes those at many other retailers look Scroogish. One analyst, Bill Dreher of Deutsche Bank, complained last year that at Costco “it’s better to be an employee or a customer than a shareholder.”

Mr. Sinegal begs to differ. He rejects Wall Street’s assumption that to succeed in discount retailing, companies must pay poorly and skimp on benefits, or must ratchet up prices to meet Wall Street’s profit demands.

Good wages and benefits are why Costco has extremely low rates of turnover and theft by employees, he said. And Costco’s customers, who are more affluent than other warehouse store shoppers, stay loyal because they like that low prices do not come at the workers’ expense. “This is not altruistic,” he said. “This is good business.”

He also dismisses calls to increase Costco’s product markups. Mr. Sinegal, who has been in the retailing business for more than a half-century, said that heeding Wall Street’s advice to raise some prices would bring…

IF shareholders mind Mr. Sinegal’s philosophy, it is not obvious: Costco’s stock price has risen more than 10 percent in the last 12 months, while Wal-Mart’s has slipped 5 percent. Costco shares sell for almost 23 times expected earnings; at Wal-Mart the multiple is about 19.Mr. Dreher said Costco’s share price was so high because so many people love the company. “It’s a cult stock,” he said.

Emme Kozloff, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company, faulted Mr. Sinegal as being too generous to employees, noting that when analysts complained that Costco’s workers were paying just 4 percent toward their health costs, he raised that percentage only to 8 percent, when the retail average is 25 percent…

“When Jim talks to us about setting wages and benefits, he doesn’t want us to be better than everyone else, he wants us to be demonstrably better,” said John Matthews, Costco’s senior vice president for human resources.

With his ferocious attention to detail and price, Mr. Sinegal has made Costco the nation’s leading warehouse retailer, with about half of the market, compared with 40 percent for the No. 2, Sam’s Club. But Sam’s is not a typical runner-up: it is part of the Wal-Mart empire, which, with $288 billion in sales last year, dwarfs Costco….

Despite Costco’s impressive record, Mr. Sinegal’s salary is just $350,000, although he also received a $200,000 bonus last year. That puts him at less than 10 percent of many other chief executives, though Costco ranks 29th in revenue among all American companies.

“I’ve been very well rewarded,” said Mr. Sinegal, who is worth more than $150 million thanks to his Costco stock holdings. “I just think that if you’re going to try to run an organization that’s very cost-conscious, then you can’t have those disparities. Having an individual who is making 100 or 200 or 300 times more than the average person working on the floor is wrong.” (emphasis added)…

Besides paying considerably more than competitors, for example, Costco contributes generously to its workers’ 401(k) plans, starting with 3 percent of salary the second year and rising to 9 percent after 25 years.

ITS insurance plans absorb most dental expenses, and part-time workers are eligible for health insurance after just six months on the job, compared with two years at Wal-Mart. Eighty-five percent of Costco’s workers have health insurance, compared with less than half at Wal-Mart and Target.

Costco also has not shut out unions, as some of its rivals have. The Teamsters union, for example, represents 14,000 of Costco’s 113,000 employees. “They gave us the best agreement of any retailer in the country,” said Rome Aloise, the union’s chief negotiator with Costco. The contract guarantees employees at least 25 hours of work a week, he said, and requires that at least half of a store’s workers be full time.

via How Costco Became the Anti-Wal-Mart – New York Times.

And while I’m sure Costco is buying inventory made by subsistence workers as well, the expression “charity begins at home” comes to play in that at least Costco workers aren’t on food stamps like most Wal-Mart workers. When we hear about the rise of “entitlements” and the “47% who don’t pay taxes” being bandied about by politicians who pan-handle their way into power by accepting campaign payola from companies like Wal-Mart, why aren’t we asking if there is a better way? Instead of spending $^ billion on winning/losing elections, or subsidizing the payroll of companies like Wal-Mart, why aren’t we looking to build a system that only rewards those who create jobs that wouldn’t embarrass the company when the conditions are revealed (hence Wal-Mart cutting off the company that just incinerated 112 people).

It’s not about tax rates, as Warren Buffett just pointed out (once again) in another letter to the New York Times, it’s not about entitlements, it’s not about “Obama care” it’s about creating a country where “all men are created equal” and given an equal chance to contribute.

Our national pride should be on the line- not based on wars won or lost, or our “democratic process” (which isn’t so democratic when you realize that only with the help of the wealthy can anyone get elected)- but based on the common decency we grant to all.

The ratio model for CEO pay that Jim Sinegal abides by should be the first step in any process to fixing our country’s financial mess. Forget the maximum tax rate of 39%- tax compensation over a 40 to 1 ratio at 90% and see how fast things change. If Wal-Mart paid its employees enough that they didn’t qualify for food stamps and their executives weren’t spending millions buying favorable laws from the pan-handling politicians, as our nation’s largest private employer things would be a lot different.

Maybe even starting with 112 less dead people in a sweatshop.



Great gifts for the holidays

In case you’ve wondered, life has had to take a front seat to keeping you informed on the inner workings of Dayton. I should be back on track soon. But, in the meantime, it’s CyberMonday and if you are going to shop- here’s my advice on some gifts that I think rock. Plus- if you buy by following the link- it helps pay for this site.

My first advice- is shop local. This doesn’t help me fund this site- but it helps us keep our economy vibrant. Many local restaurants have gift certificates- as do small shops.

Apple earpods in the amazing great case

The case makes the Apple Ear Pods even more delightful.

The best improvement for your iPhone or iPod. Apple came out with new ear buds- or ear pods- as they call them. Getting the ones with your iPhone is ripping you off of the best part of the retail item- the little white case that they snap into and wrap the cord. For $29 they sound awesome and carrying them around has never been easier. Unfortunately, Amazon isn’t the best place to get them- so go to MacTown or MacDepot. If you want to spend a bit more at Amazon- avoiding sales tax and driving, they are $33 I carry mine all the time, and for the first time- can actually use these ear buds while running.

The Next Learning Thermostat

Save money year round with the Nest Learning Thermostat

My favorite gift that keeps on giving- is the Nest Learning Thermostat – not only does it look great, and is easy to use- it will save you a ton of money. I have the first generation- it’s a little thicker – but uses the same software as the new one. Either way- spend $229 to $249  and save money all year long. You can access your thermostat via your smart phone- and turn the heat down (away) and back up when you need it. You get monthly reports of how much energy you saved- and it takes into account local weather as well. Amazing technology from the guy who designed the iPod.

If you want to eat healthier and feel great- I’m going to point you back to another post- where I talked about our government, your health and our food– I’ve loved the Breville Juicer– but now am looking at an Omega J8006 Nutrition Center Commercial Masticating Juicer, Black and Chrome too- believe it or not- each has it’s own advantages. For $200 to $300 you can get into juicing and feel great and get a lot of nutrition easily and not feel hungry. Really.

If you really like someone- I can’t live without my iPad- and now you have choices of the iPad Mini which is really sweet- or picking up an older iPad 2 for about the same $350. And while the DDn version of the paper sucks on the iPad- you can read it for free- saving you a subscription- and the dead trees. Get a subscription to the New York Times for $20 a month and you’ll have plenty of great news. Amazon isn’t always the best place to look- the Apple store is always good to buy refurbs which have the same warranty as new ones, but here’s Apple iPads on Amazon

If you know any photographers- or budding ones- the DSLR is getting close to perfect as it’s being threatened with obsolescence by the ubiquitous cell phone cameras (The iPhone 4s has an amazing camera- and supposedly the iPhone 5 is even better). The camera we love at the office is the new Canon EOS Rebel T4i 18.0 MP CMOS Digital SLR with 18-55mm EF-S IS II Lens I’m not a huge fan of the stock lens- I really love this camera with either the “Nifty 50” Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens for $110
or the new pancake Canon 40mm EF f/2.8 STM Lens which is $149 – both lenses will give you amazing low light portraits with “bokeh” and take your photography to the next level.

A subscription to Netflix is another thoughtful gift- I’m amazed at how well this service delivers entertainment value with a really amazing fun interface. You can watch it via so many different devices- your iPad, your laptop, or with a Playstation, Wii or many of the wired DVD players on your TV.

I also still love giving people a subscription to Wired magazine. It’s not just tech- it’s what’s next, written beautifully- and they give it away for $12 a year.

And, if you haven’t switched to a Mac yet- and are considering a computer purchase- I love the Apple MacBook Pro MD102LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop once you switch- you’ll never go back to a PC. Yes, they are expensive- but worth every penny.

And, just FYI- if you go to Amazon via any of these links- and then do your shopping, it helps.

Any suggestions of other great gifts?

Bringing your own technology to school

On Wednesday afternoon I was invited to a discussion at Dayton Public schools about the idea of letting students (primarily grades 7-12) bring their own laptops, tablets, e-readers to school. Dr. Melson, their head of IT led the presentation where I learned that by Dec. 31st all Dayton Public Schools will be completely wired with fiber and wifi. Fast access with lots of scalable bandwidth. The problem is what will they do with it?

I’ve advocated for a long time that any school in the digital age that hasn’t supplied its students with a computing device is failing to provide students with the most critical tool they will be required to use as a digital global citizen for the rest of their life. I also believe that when implemented correctly, technology in the classroom can provide huge savings in paper, printing, time to grade and of course, in textbooks which are a major cost to all schools.

This idea of letting kids bring their own computing devices to school is a half-assed solution and will cause more troubles than it’s worth for many reasons. But here are my initial concerns:

  • DPS is an urban district with some families struggling to put shoes on their kids. Allowing some to have tech while others don’t can cause even more trouble than allowing kids to wear their own fashion compared to a uniform (I’m a big fan of school uniforms). We’re basically going to create inequity in the classrooms through this policy.
  • The district is proposing all kinds of rules on what you can and can’t do with the technology- things like taking photos of other students is on the no-no list. My question is how do you enforce these rules? And how many forensics people will you need to be able to “prove” a violation? What right does the district have to search and seize and violate the privacy on a privately owned computer?
  • They are also overly concerned with what the students can access via these tools- and want to totally limit to their filtered content system- as if they truly believe that they can protect kids from what they can see at any public library’s computer.
  • Lastly, without standardized machines with standardized tools, how can a teacher be effective in giving assignments and possibly administering tests etc.?

In short, the premise of this “idea” of “BYOT” is a ridiculous stop-gap measure to make up excuses for not providing the proper tools. This is a clear example of where Ohio should be embarrassed about not solving the school-funding equation, but also embarrassed that they are still utilizing the overpriced, Texas school board approved, curriculum from a few monopolistic text book publishers.

Despite the worries of educators everywhere, technology isn’t a bad thing to introduce, and with the costs of tablets/e-readers costing less than what 1 year’s worth of textbooks is costing it’s insane not to be handing out nooks or kindles as fast as possible.

Considering “reading is fundamental” – one should wonder why we aren’t trying to get these devices into the hands of pre-schoolers. Think about it. In homes where there are no books, you can hand a kid a kindle with hundreds of classic books that are in the public domain and let them read to their hearts’ content. Here is a list of 1oo public domain books for every humanities student that are totally free: An entire library for every student on a device that costs $70 or less? In high school I had to buy 6-12 paperbacks a year of “classics” – plus had to have a library stocked with multiple copies, what’s the savings just with an e-reader?

But, let’s move on to what happens when we give them a smart device with web access. All of a sudden, we can put our syllabus online, allow them to type their papers and turn them in electronically, take exams and even read the Dayton Daily News for free (if we give them something that can read the “iPad Edition”). Now, they have access to everything from Wikipedia to their own wikis where they can assemble a body of knowledge working alone- or collaborating with their classmates or even students across the globe. Things change quickly. Judging by the number of “worksheets” and forms and newsletters that my kids bring home, I’m guessing each school goes through a tractor trailer worth of paper a year. How much of that is just garbage? And the costs?

I don’t recall getting worksheets in elementary school at all- sometimes we might get “mimeographed” handouts, but for the most part, we wrote down the questions from the teacher, or worked out of a textbook, and they were used year in, year out. Now, my kids get a single year textbook that’s also a workbook- and probably costs $30+ per copy. Really?

It’s time to reconsider what can and should be done in education. Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, an awesome self-paced online education resource, talks passionately about flipping the classroom- letting kids watch the tutorials/lectures at home at their own pace, and then spending school time working on the homework- with the teacher investing time working one-on-one to help the students overcome obstacles. It’s a fascinating look at the power of data in identifying where kids are stumbling- a kind of data set that the conventional classroom can’t achieve. Watch this TED talk:

After watching the curriculum and methodology offered by Khan Academy, are you wondering why we’re spending money on textbooks at all? Not only is there Khan Academy, there is a whole movement toward “open courseware” at all levels. Why learn physics from Joe Average teacher, when students can watch lessons from an MIT master?

Educational freedom isn’t provided by giving choices between public and charter schools- educational freedom is available now on the Internet- the only thing needed is a device and access. Which brings me to the biggest problem facing the DPS student- internet access is only guaranteed at school. Programs like Khan Academy require a live connection, while access to books do not.  Either we provide the digital infrastructure to narrow the digital divide by somehow putting inexpensive internet access into every school kid’s home- or we restructure the educational rubric of where you do your reading and where you do your math etc. Khan talks about flipping the classroom into the study hall, but, it’s only partially possible until we bridge the access gap.

If we look at all of our very expensive standardized testing and “no child left behind” garbage and compare it with its single point snapshot of student achievement to the dashboard of real-time progress that Khan Academy provides (for free) it should be obvious that we’re missing an amazing opportunity to transform our educational process and systems by giving our students the digital tools to learn at their own pace. Khan has even added gameification to the system to award points and badges for achievement, something our current system of teaching and grading is sorely missing- instead, always telling students where they aren’t proficient and failing.

The crazy part to me is that Nicholas Negroponte at the MIT media lab has been building an inexpensive laptop, the XO, from the One Laptop Per Child non-profit for distribution to every other third world country- and we have nothing like it for our own students. It even provides for it’s own networking system, so students can build ad hoc networks no matter where we are.

I’ve talked about this before on this site- feel free to search: xo laptop for instance. The sad part is DPS is only now starting to catch on, and other school districts, even wealthy ones (Lakota’s policy for BYOT was being passed around as a model) aren’t on board with the savings and value technology can bring to our schools. Yes, voters are correct in voting down school levys- as long as districts are still using dead tree textbooks and not fully utilizing the resources of the internet in the classrooms. It’s time to demand a total re-evaluation of the teaching model at all levels in this country.

The saddest part I heard in the meeting was that school administrators somehow don’t think that iPads are somehow ready to be used in the classroom, or that kids can’t be trusted with them. Somehow I don’t think educators who aren’t using this technology should be trusted with teaching our kids, because we’ve only just seen the beginning of the information revolution and it’s happening too fast to wait to jump in.


Random morality

General Petraeus should have resigned as CIA director, not for having an affair, but for being stupid. When decisions you make aren’t measured by profits and losses but by lives lost and history being made, you don’t have time to be sneaking around to have sex. In this case, the likelihood of a fellow West Point graduate being a spy is nill, but the chance of being inaccessible when something like Benghazi is taking place is inexcusable.

As the saying goes, with great power, comes great responsibility.

But the right wing nut-job idea that exposing this the day after election day and the delays are some kind of way to stop the General from testifying about Benghazi is ludicrous. I think the General has more to fear from his wife than he does from a Congressional investigation. Sixty years of work building credibility as a trustworthy leader just came crashing down in a very public way. The man knew he’d screwed up and accepted it. Time for the country to move on.

However, the idea that the four deaths in Benghazi are somehow more important than the deaths of over 6,000 US service men and women in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is where we really need to examine our moral compasses. Where is the outrage over the failings of 2 presidents to end these meaningless wars? And, when you put things in perspective, the loss of US lives pales to the numbers of Iraqis and Afghans that have died.

There are somethings that you just can’t do in some professions. Airline pilots shouldn’t be drunk or high on the job, firefighters shouldn’t be out of shape, police officers shouldn’t be visually impaired, and chiefs of our spook service shouldn’t be caught sneaking around.

But, then again, is extra-marital sex really any of our business? Should it be? Had the General been single would this have been an issue? Had he still been in the Army, Paula Broadwell is clearly a subordinate as a Lt. Col. and he would have not had any business sleeping with her. But, he was CIA director at the time of the affair and UCMJ doesn’t apply. As a single man, he would have been showing bad judgement by risking the wrath of an angry husband, who may be slightly intimidated by the fact that this man has the power to order people detained or killed (arguably not US Citizens, but even that line is getting fuzzy). The job he has requires a focus and level of integrity that just doesn’t allow for this kind of distraction. The coordination of an illicit rendezvous, sucks time and energy out of a person who has a position that isn’t forgiving of lapses in concentration and focus.

This isn’t a congressman, who isn’t on the clock 24/7/365, this is the CIA director.

Of course, the next question is what about the president? Did Bill Clinton deserve to fall for an extra-marital blow-job by an unmarried intern? In the sliding scale of things, the real damage here was between Bill and Hillary and not one for the public. Yes, Monica Lewinsky managed to take our country off track with her actions, but, in the grand scheme of things- this is because we set some kind of impossible standard for morality among our leaders that isn’t shared by other nations. People do have sex, the question to ask is how many people were affected? Clinton’s whereabouts are known 24/7- and other than the embarrassment of his private business being exposed, blackmail shouldn’t have been an issue, nor should his ability to perform his job been questioned. In fact, shouldn’t all leadership have some down time allowed?

Should we have hard and fast rules about adultery and competency? Or should it be on a case-by-case basis? The critical questions shouldn’t be about the sex- but, about the risks that are taken. Had Broadwell been single, the only question should have been who, other than the General’s wife didn’t know about his whereabouts and if it impacted his job. Had he still been in the Army, UCMJ should be applied. The only remaining question is if Lt. Col. Broadwell will get busted under UCMJ for clearly violating the standards, if she doesn’t, then, and only then should we question the true nature of this political hot-potato.

The news cycle has once again been derailed, from the important matters of negotiating our way off the self-imposed “fiscal cliff” to how we’re going to fund our schools and local government if our economy doesn’t take a radical turn. The real damage of the growing disparity between the rich and the poor is a much greater threat to national security than where a general sticks his privates.


Reflections on the 2012 election

Many people automatically think that because I’ve run for office (so many times) I’m some sort of political wonk/junkie/analyst. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, I abhor people who believe that the metrics of elections are important, to me, they are a part of the problem. A big part of the problem.

We, as Americans have lost sight of what’s important in the political process. I believe we’ve actually done everything we possibly can to obscure all but a few from having a real handle on what’s really happening (and when I say a few- I mean not enough people to make even a small standard of deviation in election results). An analogy, coming from something that I am more of a wonk on may explain it better, so here it goes:

Political strategy of today is the twin brother of “Search Engine Optimization” (for those of you unfamiliar with my real life job, I run an ad agency that has been teaching a seminar, Websitetology, since 2005 to educate clients and potential clients on the proper way to approach the web for business). Search Engine Optimization for websites is, to use another analogy, what voodoo is compared to modern medicine- it’s fine if you want to do it in addition to sound medical practice, but a very bad decision if you want to bet the farm.

Let me explain. The goal of your website is to be the most valued resource on the web to people seeking answers to their problems. The New York Times spends a lot of time trying to be the best source for news on the web- generating high quality, informative, useful and delightful content. The people who throw their hat into the SEO world focus on creating key words, metadata and building links instead of doing the right thing. In other words- they build content for Search Engines- the New York Times builds content for people. Google has their best and brightest minds working hard to make sure that the content for people works, and routinely change the search algorithms, to thwart the SEO voodoo practitioners who spend their lives enthralled in figuring out some way to “game the system.” That’s what we have in politics today. What combination of keywords, buzz phrases and positions do we believe will work to game the system to get us elected. It’s come down to database voodoo and not much else as we saw the Obama campaign use their understanding of databases and a get-out-the-vote effort on hyperdrive only where it mattered.

How could all the pollsters be wrong?

How many polls did you hear that said it was within a few percentage points all the way to the last minute of the election? The answer lies, as it almost always does, in following the money. Over $6 billion was spent changing very little. In advertising that would be considered a massive fail. Why does P&G spend close to that much globally to shill its products and why are they the leader in almost everything they do? Because they understand a few things that our political amateur marketers don’t- people really do like to feel they have multiple choices (that’s why P&G makes a lot more than just Tide in the laundry aisle) and that there is no one size fits all. P&G isn’t afraid to stake out one market segment and own it, lock stock and barrel (which by the way almost never means having even close to 51% of the market), they just care about making a profit and staying in business.

Compare that to the business of politics. That $6 billion machine we’ve allowed to take over politics makes money only when there is fear, uncertainty and doubt of FUD. Pollsters, consultants and the media (which are the real winners in this bonanza of an auction) see money being thrown at them to solve the wrong problem- getting elected, instead of building a better politician (product). And sadly, politics in America has evolved to be a consumer product- something that can be bought off the shelf, like laundry soap.

Blame John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and television

Whip out some folding money and take a look at those mug shots, Franklin, Jackson, Washington, these guys wouldn’t exactly be called telegenic. Back when our country was founded and our constitution crafted, the idea of electing pretty boys and girls to run our country would have been laughed at as ludicrous. Not anymore. Likeability has moved on to “Likeonomics: The Unexpected Truth Behind Earning Trust, Influencing Behavior, and Inspiring Action” (the title of a book by my friend Rohit Bhargava, an ad guy who spotted a trend), which is why our politicians are more like products than representatives and political parties more like a brand than a political philosophy.

John Kennedy beat Nixon because he looked better on TV in the debates the theory went, and Ronald Reagan has gone down in history as “the great communicator” because he delivered his lines so well (he was an actor before he became governor of California just like Arnold Schwarzenegger after him). Our voters are kept in a constant state of FUD purposely, with the hope that at the last possible minute they’ll somehow vote the way the most messages connected with them on just a few key emotional points- most often the “hot button issues” of our country- guns, abortion, gays, taxes and “big government and our welfare state.”

In a country where we have somehow managed to turn water into a premium branded bottled product I guess this makes sense, but, when you get down to analyzing the chemical differences of the different waters there is very little and even in drinking a lot of it, not much changes.

What is missing from the equation?

As I sat last night with friends and listened to someone ramble on about how he should run for Mayor of a suburb in Dayton and how he’d win on his good name, which came after his blaming the re-election of our president for the closure of two bad steakhouses in Dayton because “health care costs of Obamacare” will kill their business, I knew that we’re still in the world of SEO voodoo as a substitute for a real political system.

We just witnessed $6 billion wasted on electing one more Democrat to the Senate and 7 extra “blue seats” in the ouse. Granted, Elizabeth Warren is a glowing example of a worthy winner (proving that a blind nut can find a squirrel) but remember, that seat had been held by Dems forever before Scott Brown got lucky. Hopefully the people who had the billions to waste on nothing will exercise the supposed smarts that “earned” them the right to have that kind of play money, and they get smart and kill off “Citizens United” so the next time it won’t cost so much.

But, wait, there is more. After watching our own Secretary of State try to interject himself in the election so many times that he’s now got a national name (and really, why else would he do so much before an election in what was considered one of the key battleground states?) shouldn’t we take a look at our system of locally run board of elections who have given us such wonders of design as the butterfly ballot which ended up swinging Florida to George W. Bush in 2000? Please follow this link to watch a short video produced by the New York Times with Mo Rocca interviewing designer Todd Oldham on ballot design and especially pay attention to Canada’s standard design for all ballots: or try to catch the film “Electoral Dysfunction” and reconsider if even the actual ballots we’re using contribute to adding FUD to our process shouldn’t be the first thing to go.

I hope I wasn’t the only one happy to see the return of bad local car dealer ads to TV starting right as the polls closed in Ohio. The economic damage this election caused by making advertising prohibitively expensive for the very “small businesses” that both candidates tried to woo is criminal, as was the costs added to cities across Ohio who had to pay for providing security for the candidates’ visits to our state, which only happens during election time. A simple law stating that no presidential candidate can visit a state more times than the sitting president visits the state during his last 3 years in office without getting billed for the costs out of their campaign kittys may put a stop to that.

And lastly, I still stand by my assertion that the best way the 99% or us, or even the 47% should pick our candidates if this crazy system is to continue in its current form is quite simple: always vote for the candidate who raises more of their money from the smaller donors. Take a look at this infographic and see the part about average contributions:

I know this post is long. I thank you for reading this far. I’d love to hear your thoughts. And as Mike Turner once again sweeps yet another opponent decisively out the door, our local voters learn that electing a president while also electing a congressman who is diametrically the opposite does nothing at all but prove that the system is broken at all levels.

And then the calls and emails stop….

Many of us will be relieved after Tuesday. No more robocalls, no more constant emails hitting us up for another donation and TV commercials reappear with screaming car dealers and talking babys.

Our election process has been corrupted by money. It won’t stop until not only is “Citizens United” overturned, but also that we publicly fund campaigns and limit the length of the process.

But, I want to know why do we not get regular emails from the president, or any other elected leader other than election season? Aren’t they supposed to be our representatives? Why can’t we have contests to have dinner with the president and why isn’t he visiting Ohio at least once a year while he’s in office and not- running?

Why is the only time we hear from out leadership when they want something?

And, where are their blogs, their tweets and their interaction while they are actually in a position to communicate for us?

It’s time that all politicians should have to write a “what we did in Congress/the White House or even the city commission” today piece so that there is not only a record- but a chance to get feedback from those they represent.

What do you think?

Endorsements to consider

I never liked the Dayton Daily News endorsing candidates when I was a candidate. The questions were weak, the answers weaker and the “basis” for their endorsement often was how much money the candidate had raised and who had  already endorsed them. Now that the Dayton Daily no longer gives endorsements, the dummy voter slate cards will almost guarantee mediocrity at the ballot box, giving some very undeserving folks a shot.

Unfortunately- having campaigned around a lot of these people, and befriending some (the saying that politics makes strange bedfellows may only be applicable to me these days- since most politicians now seem so polarized it makes most of us sick) I’ve come to know them as people and friends. All are very human, have feelings, and are running for office because they believe they have a way to solve our problems. Some actually do have real ideas for reform, but, if they do, most are afraid to actually come out and take hard lines for fear of alienating anyone (then of course, there’s me, who has no problem pissing everyone off :)

The easy elections to pick are the ones that I don’t personally know the candidates. For president, Obama, because I’m afraid of  Mitt Romney who at one point championed and actually ushered in Romneycare- which is virtually identical to Obamacare- and now is against it. I’m sure Mitt is a decent guy, but as with McCain before him, he put his spine away and has twisted every way the wind blows at the behest of polls and politicos. His assertions of not cutting defense spending guarantee that we’ll not solve our national financial problems sooner and his background from Wall Street means business as usual- unregulated and unfettered are sure to put us in an even deeper mess. Obama, now wizened by 4 years of being handed 2 wars, an economy in ruins and a congress made up of fools, may find a backbone for his last four years and push for real change and hope that he promised 4 years ago- or not. However, the choice of 2 more supreme court justices could make the difference in a lot of issues- including the opportunity to overturn Citizens United which is really killing our political system.

For Senate, Ohioans only have one choice, and it’s not the baby-faced Marine spewing rhetoric. Both are career politicians, but Sherrod Brown has been in politics before it was about big money and influence. Six years of Mandel and Portman and we’re in trouble. Brown all the way.

For Congress, Mike Turner has been handed a seat 5 times by the Dems. Vote for Sharen Neuhardt even though she’s everything Turner is- only not a crook. Turner should be in prison instead of Congress for the dealings of his wife and his pay to play politics.

The State Supreme Court has zero balance. It’s also still hamstrung by the candidates not being able to put their party affiliations on the ballot. Name recognition alone gets you elected. Considering judicial candidates can’t even talk positions, it’s hard for voters to know who to vote for. Please add Bill O’Neill and Mike Skindell to the bench and reelect Yvette McGee Brown to the court so we can have a chance to check people like Secretary of State  Husted and Governor Kasich who have already proven themselves to believe they are above the law.

Locally, there are only a few races where voters really have a great choice- the 37th State Rep seat currently held by Jim Butler who is facing Caroline Gentry is a good example of where the system is giving you two good candidates to choose from. Of course, since the districts are all wonky, voters’ voices are skewed by gerrymandering. I like both of these candidates and think that it’s too bad they are running against each other, we could certainly use them in other places. However, Butler got his seat by appointment when Peggy Lehner moved up the food chain by appointment and the house is stacked with Republicans- so in order to bring some balance to our state I’d vote for Gentry. Unfortunately, in my district, the 39th, I get a choice between the qualified, but deeply political insider Fred Strahorn for the D’s and novice Jeff Wellbaum for the R’s. Strahorn is only on the ballot because another emocratic party favorite, Clayton Luckie got caught with his hands in the cookie jar. As much as I hate the culture of corruption in the local Democratic party, Welbaum would be underwhelming as a voice for our community. Roland Winburn is another Dem party insider facing Clayton Mayor Joyce Deitering- and between the two, this is also a no-brainer if you want a combative, self-righteous representative vote for Deitering, if you want a public servant- Winburn.

In the Ohio Senate race, we have Rick McKiddy facing Peggy Lehner. Again, because of gerrymandering, I’m suggesting you vote for McKiddy to bring some balance to the statehouse. The crazy thing is, Mrs. Lehner who I at one time considered a single issue candidate with her anti-abortion, anti-choice stance, has turned out to be a moderate collaborative legislator- and even voted against the insane “heartbeat bill.”  Either way you vote in this race you win for honest representation, but, again, due to the insider political games- send a message that it’s time to put the power back in the hands of the people.

Most of the times, judges run unopposed in Montgomery County- thanks to back room deals by the parties who get nothing back from people who don’t vote on spending tax dollars (at best, Judges can reward their friends and family with patronage jobs- not big money contracts). But, this time, we’ve got a race where an aging incumbent is facing a great candidate who refuses to play the political game- C. Ralph Wilcoxson belongs on the bench for all the right reasons. He’s also willing to fight for ballot access by independent candidates- something near and dear to my heart. He’s one of the few people I truly believe will bring change to our community from the bench- unfettered by patronage, party or payola.

When it comes to the County offices- I’m in a state of disgust. The Montgomery County building is a den of nepotism, favoritism, patronage, plundering and bumbling. What’s worse, is we’ve got an interim County Administrator that the next bunch elected will choose. There isn’t a single candidate that’s running that I know well enough to say this person strongly deserves to be re-elected or elected, with the exception of our Treasurer Carolyn Rice. Although she’s part of the inner circle of the local Dems, I’ve always found her committed to doing the right thing- with an open mind. Her integrity is beyond question. Her opponent, Rene Oberer is so far out of touch with reality, you really don’t have a choice anyway.

I’ve always questioned if we really have 3 people on the current commission- Debbie Lieberman and Judy Dodge are as close as Siamese twins- which has always made me uncomfortable seeing them having private commission meetings with a majority of votes- well, all the time. Throw in the complete and utter milquetoast of Dan Foley and you have been paying for 3 minds and getting maybe one. Their lax oversight over former County Administrator Deb Feldman and the general slow speed of change in the county- along with the dual taxation system in Austin Road give me only one choice- vote against them. The opposition, former Sheriff Dave Vore is as capable as Dodge at doing nothing so he’s already passed the entry level test and that he knows the county better than most- makes him a credible choice. Ashley Webb is an odd bird in politics, as a West Point graduate he’s obviously passed the leadership bar on some level. He’s also been incredibly diligent about trying to learn how things work in the County building- going to meetings, asking questions, doing his homework. It’s refreshing. However, he’s done and supported some things I really can’t fathom, like term limits for Kettering Commissioners and cuts in pay. He’s not a rabid tea party candidate as the dems like to paint him- he claims to believe in social services, but, we’ve seen a lot of candidates say one thing before they do another. I’ve gotten to know Vore and Webb much better over the past year and think that if we put both of them on the commission, we might start to see business as usual go away. As much as I’d prefer to vote for Dems, I can’t vote for dems who I like as people, but abhor their tacit approval of nepotism, favoritism, and the idea that political parties are private clubs for their members advancement. It’s time to send a wake up call.

A shining example of absolute and utter disrespect for office is our county clerk of courts, Greg Brush. Hiring his father in law, at one time his wife, all the while thinking he actually deserves to be in office. His opposition, Mike Foley will get a boost from being confused with Dan Foley, who also got elected because of his name (his father was a long time judge), but that can’t hurt us. It’s time to take a clean sweep of people who take office as their personal playground.

Willis Blackshear is another dem insider. He’s generally done an ok job, however his pay for access to public records online is criminal. He claims to be working to end the policy, however, he still believes he was doing the right thing by “saving the taxpayers money” by getting the heavy users to pay for what is legally ours. Tim O’Bryant is someone I don’t know from Adam, but, if we want to see a housecleaning, this would be clear indicator to the local Democratic Party that you serve the citizens first and not yourself.

When it comes to issues, the two state issues are both a yes vote, only issue 2 really is important. The way we set our political boundaries is criminal. Letting one party vs another do it isn’t the answer. Technically- this could easily be done with a computer, with a set of parameters with weights- and let it run, but, anything is better than what we have. Please, if everything else disgusts you about this election- here’s your chance to make a change- vote YES ON 2. As to issue 1, why not have a review of our State Constitution? Maybe, we can figure out how to change it so we don’t put things in it like the address of a casino? Vote yes on 1.

The Library levy, issue 70, is one of those things that I despise. Yes, libraries are a good thing- and our library system is one of the best. Not as many people use the library as they could or should, and yes librarys are changing and they have to find their new role in the community. The problem is that they’ve done two things I don’t like- one, hiring Burgess out of Cleveland to run their campaign- and two, presented a plan that isn’t fully cooked. I don’t think that we should try to modify and adapt the current downtown library- the building is a mess on a messy lot. We could build a new one on the old site of the Patterson Career center and expand Cooper Park- maybe even turning the old library into a service center for the homeless (which it’s already doing dual duty as). Or, we could look at taking any number of large buildings that are available and converting them- like one of Mendelsons two old Delco plants which have floors thick enough to hold tanks- and parking garages already in place. I’m voting for the library levy– but hope they stop being stupid with their plans. I also believe that we should try to integrate schools with public libraries where ever possible- instead of separate buildings, but, that’s my idea.

If you have questions- please post in comments- if you have other races you want to discuss- same. If you find this useful- please let me know in comments. The Dayton Daily has built something close to what the BOE should build- at so if you want to enter your choices and email yourself- give it a whirl.

Thank you for participating in the process and taking the time to be informed.