Saturday, January 21, 2017

Sharing A Post From My Cousin - On The Women's March for America

Today, millions of women and men march around the world in support of women's right and to counter the hateful rhetoric spewed from Donald Trump's mouth during his campaign. My cousin's daughter attended one of these marches and wrote a beautiful essay about her experience. I am sharing her essay below (with her permission of course). Nathalie, I cannot be more proud! Here it is:

Friday, January 20, 2017

Musings about Trump's Inauguration

I didn't watch the inauguration.  Forget for a moment that it was airing early morning on Kauai -- I had no desire to make the time to witness Trump being sworn in as our 45th President.  Sour grapes?  Maybe.  But mostly, he has already diminished the prestige of the Office of the President before being sworn in with all his antics, Twitter wars, sexist comments and the like.  And while that is not to say that all presidents have been "prestigious" and statesmanlike, it's just such a stark contrast going from a genuinely kind, thoughtful and well-spoken family man of a president (President Obama if that wasn't obvious), to this narcissistic, inconsistent, unready buffoon.

Trump enters the White House as a President with the lowest approval rating at the start of his presidency, according to NBC News.  Many Republicans I have communicated with don't like him.  Perhaps you too have read the articles that there were more permits issued for tour buses to park at the National Mall for protesters than for those who were to attend his inauguration.

Let's be real: he is going to have a tough time earning the respect of the American people.  His legitimacy as president will be diminished by the millions of people who stand up to defend their rights through collective protest and civil disobedience.  Trump has no one to blame for this reaction than himself, since he had polarized the public against him with his embarrassing gaffs and offensive behavior.

Also, his election is thanks to the antiquated Electoral College, something he previously described as a "distaster for a democracy."

Trump had repeatedly said he would push for a constitutional amendment to implement Congressional term limits.  While a worthy cause, Trump should advocate for a constitutional amendment to end the Electoral College!  While you might say such a move might delegitimize his presidency, I think it is fair to say that many already see his election as illegitimate.  Pushing to end the Electoral College might be the olive branch we need to bring real reform to the system, gain respect from both his supporters and detractors and put his money where is mouth is.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, December 06, 2013

The Minimum Wage Should Be Tied To The Poverty Line

There has been talk about raising the minimum wage for a while now. As a citizen, I am surprised how haphazardly we legislate and calculate the minimum wage. The wage is passed into law without being tied to any economic measure and does not automatically increase with inflation. It is a static wage.

I would suggest that the minimum wage be calculated using the poverty line as a basis. But in that regard, I also feel that we do not adaquaty measure the poverty rate accurately and so such a change to how we calculate the minimum wage would require reevaluating the way we measure poverty in America.

The US government currently calculates the poverty line using a method determined by Mollie Orshansky (see who was an economist at the Social Security Administration who in 1964 designed the formula we use today to determine the poverty line for an internal research paper. At the time there was no other objective measure of "poverty" used by the government so she came up with her own using food cost data as the basis. 

When President Johnson launched his War on Poverty, the Orshansky formula became the official measure for poverty in the US. Remarkably, after nearly 50 years, the formula has not been adapted to fit modern conditions which has been one of the many criticisms leveled at the US government about how it measures poverty.

The Orshansky formula is quite simple as it is based upon food costs alone. In short, we take the food costs measures from the USDA for various sized family units and multiply that by three (because back in 1964 when this equation was devised, food costs represented about a third of one's basic living expenses). So for a family of 4, the estimated food costs are $7,683.30 and thus the poverty line is roughly $7,683.30 x 3 or $23,050 for a family of 4.

Immediately there is a major problem with this calculation -- food costs now only represent about one fifth of the average person's living expenses as food costs have dropped and housing costs have risen since the 1960s, acording to the Southern Poverty Law Center (see If you take this into consideration, the poverty line for a family of four should actually be $38,416.50 - the current formula used by the US government underestimates the poverty line by 40%!

There are other criticisms of the Orshansky formula, such as that it does not take housing costs into consideration and is not calculated relative to various regions within the country, with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii. I argue that more nuanced approach to determining the poverty line should take into consideration all the factors we as a society expect for a healthy and productive people inducing average food costs, average housing costs, basic utilities, health care and transportation costs (to and from work by public transportation).

Unfortunately I don't have the time to research and calculate this more nuanced approach at this time and so if we just go by the Southern Poverty Law Center's adjustment of the Orshansky formula (that considers food costs representing one fifth of one's annual living expenses), for a single person the poverty line should be $19,150 and not $11,400 as currently calculated by the Department of Labor. If someone worked 50 weeks a year at a regular 40 hour a week job, with 2 weeks off for vacation, the minimum wage should be $9.58/hour.

Considering that if we take other factors into consideration like rent and health care, the minimum wage could be even larger based upon this method.

The point of this thought experiment was really to suggest the following:

1. We need a better formula to calculate the poverty rate, that takes into consideration the basics of living in a modern world including food costs, rent, utilities, health care and adequate transportation to and from work.
2. We need to base our minimum wage laws on this new poverty measure
3. When calculating the minimum wage, we should still consider a minimum of 2 weeks vacation.
4. We should consider adapting this discussion to not only discuss the bare minimum poverty levels and minimum wages. We should come up with levels that calculate the costs of not just surviving but of thriving in a modern country that include the costs of higher education, and leisure/engagement of cultural endeavors.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mandatory Public Service: Reviving Civic Responsibility in an Age of Bread and Circuses

In my spare time between work, sleep, commuting, diaper changes and an occasional meal, I have been slowly reading two books. One is Larry Sabato's "A More Perfect Constitution" and Bret Stephenson's "From Boys to Men: Spiritual Rites of Passage in an Indulgent Age".

The ideas in each of these books have found a happy home in my gray matter.

In "A More Perfect Constitution", a well written book by Larry Sabato which advocates for a new constitution, Sabato pushes the idea that every able-bodied able-minded citizen serve two years performing public service for their country at minimum wage and housed in public housing. His thinking is that such a program that requires everyone from all walks of life to live together and make the same wage may help each citizen better understand their fellow citizen. Furthermore, it may serve as a training ground for citizens to learned leadership skills that can further benefit the nation as a whole.

I find it an interesting idea. And it may serve two other purposes that Sabato didn't think of. The first is that it can serve as a modern day rite of passage. We don't have many or really any true rites of passage in our culture any more -- earning the right to vote and acceptance as an adult at 18 years only requires that you are capable of breathing long enough to see your 18th birthday. Rites of passage generally require you to remove yourself from your adolescent environment, experience some kind of hardship that "kills your childhood ego" and upon returning to your community some kind of community acceptance that you are now an adult. A nationally administered public service program can serve the purpose.