Monday, November 16, 2015

A shaky foundation - Infrastructure built on the backs of the poor

For the past 20 years we've known there's a problem.  Bridges on the brink of toppling down, pothole infested roads and overcrowded freeways obsolete for the volume they handle from the day they open.

It's a problem of neglect.  One the pundits lay squarely on the backs of a gas tax that hasn't kept pace with inflation.  If only all those giant SUV's rumbling over the earth in the early part of the century had been paying another 5 cents a gallon there'd be no problem.

At least that's the argument.  One that proponents of raising the gas tax to fund public infrastructure find agreeable.  

On Sunday mornings I'm usually traveling over some of those very bridges and freeways that have benefited from public financing.  If I'm lucky I can catch the latest broadcast of the Intelligence squared debates.

This past week the topic was the gas tax with the advocates both for and against it. 

It's rare that I don't line up on one side or the other but this was one of those times.  
The arguments flew back and forth about the sorry state of the country's infrastructure.  That it's a sad state of affairs isn't in contention, the evidence isn't some abstraction it's physical.

What is in contention is how to pay for it.  Conservatives would rather see public funding go away entirely while liberal viewpoints contend that public infrastructure is one of the most basic of government functions.  

I didn't care the arguments of either side.  Not because I don't believe there isn't a problem, there is.  No it's another case of treating the symptom while ignoring the patient.

In this case the patient isn't roads and bridges it's the people being asked to pay to fix them.  

The problem with use taxes is that they weigh heaviest on those who can afford it least.  Sure a few extra bucks is nothing if fueling your ride has no more impact on your finances than your morning latte'.  Unfortunately we live in technologically advanced world dominated by backward thinking.

Dearly held beliefs like: no real work gets done unless it's in a cubicle or a fair wage should be dictated by business and not societal needs.  Even if the people you employ can't afford to buy any of your goods.

That's the disconnect.  The assumption that the answer to every problem involves heaping more suffering on those that can't afford it.  I've got a real problem with that even if the cause is just.  

It's just not realistic to accommodate every public project based on revenue streams that don't take into account the fortunes of those it would affect.   In discussions like these, however, it's always the same dire causation.  That being that funding hasn't kept up with inflation and the only fix is to make everybody pay more to fix the problem.

It drives me insane...

Public funding will NEVER keep up with inflation so long as the workaday Joe or Janet can't afford anything!  You know what else hasn't kept up with inflation?  Wages!  Back in 1988 I could afford a 1 bedroom apartment and keep 2 people safe and warm and dry on 15 grand a year with a car for each of them.  3 decades later you can still end up with that same wage with less than half the buying power.

It's an economic death spiral that far too many find themselves in when meager compensation forces them into the arms of a corrupt credit system just to make (inflationary adjusted) ends meet.  A system that by no accident enjoys a symbiotic relationship with financial interests whose fortunes are built on the hope of default and financial ruin of the powerless.

So when I hear the sad, sad tale of employers who claim they'd be put out of business if they had to pay a "living wage" I can hardly believe that anyone accepts their argument.  That being that paying the equivalent of a slave wage is not only necessary to the survival of their business but a core constituent of its success.

So long as that's the prevailing wisdom in this country there's no way that any discussion of the public good can't first address the inequity.  

Economic inequity is a root cause with many symptoms some of which show up in a crumbling infrastructure, high rates of credit default and sagging economies.  

Stop putting band aids on the economic equivalent of paper cuts and deal with the massive coronary that's going on.  

Monday, November 2, 2015

Your personal information is your responsibility...Right?

It's not a question of "if" but "when" the next data security breach happens.  Will it be your bank, your favorite store or an online purchase?

Here's the problem.  We tend to take the security of our personal information way too lightly.  At least that's what we're told when Target or Home Depot get hacked.  We're supposed to be diligent and wary of strangers.  Hide those pin numbers, don't use "monkey123" for your password and don't trust anybody.

That last one has some weight to it. 

But not for the reason you think.  The people you shouldn't be trusting are exactly the people responsible for breaking your trust.

It's the bank with the vulnerable database easily accessible from the Internet, the gas station that doesn't notice the card skimmers on their pumps, the home improvement store that doesn't bother to check the security of their Point of Sales systems.

It always seems there's some degree of "blame the victim."  Always that undertone that the "stupid consumer" is at least partially at fault.  So when bad things happen it's on you to fix their mess. 

Oh sure, they'll offer up "free credit monitoring" but that's about the extent of their "customer care."

Free credit monitoring is like being invited to a funeral.   

Something's dead, you can't do anything but watch and there's lots of crying.

The world we live in demands submission.  Want a job?  Be prepared to offer up more information than your mother knows about you.  Going to school? same story.

It's all in the name of "security."  We don't want to be working next to the next Osama Bin Laden now do we?

Fine, I feel very cozy in my little cubicle knowing that the guy next to me is unlikely to start living out his Soldier of Fortune fantasies in the break room anytime soon.

Except that it's all BS.  I repeat, it's all a huge, steaming pile of BS...

Personal information is a sacred trust. One that needs to be respected and not thrown around like a Facebook profile.  Yet your Facebook page is probably more secure than your credit report.  

Case in point and a personal pet peeve, Credit Reports used for anything but credit.

A credit report is reflective of your past ability to pay bills, that's it.  It is not reflective of your character, ethics or suitability for employment. 

But it seems you can't do anything without giving up the most personal of information to those who aren't the best custodians of it.

I'll cut to the chase, if I'm required to lay myself bare to get a job or buy a power drill then those entrusted with the information need to be responsible for it.  Offering up a year of credit monitoring is useless.  If my life is ruined because somebody didn't take that responsibility seriously then they need to do more than offer me a subscription to watch my own destruction. 

If my identity is stolen, my accounts spread all over the dark net and my job prospects ruined for a decade because somebody got lazy at your company then guess what...

I'm your ward.  You're now responsible for my well being.  You're going to make sure all my needs are taken care of.  I'll never have to worry about qualifying for a mortgage or paying the light bill because you're going to take care of it all.

All of it, no exceptions.  If I get married, you're going to pay for it.  If I want to take a Hawaiian vacation you'd better FedEx me the plane tickets.

That's the price of being careless.  If it's so critical to know everything about me just to sell me something, enroll in a college class or apply for a job then you should have as much risk as I do.

That's not ridiculous that's parity.  What's so ridiculous about demanding the same level of responsibility as is imposed on those providing the information?

"That's just the way the world is" is NOT a valid answer.  You can't be held to a standard that the standard bearers themselves don't adhere to.

One of two things needs to happen.  Either those that demand our personal information need to have as much at risk caring for it as we do or we just need to stop being required to provide it so freely. 

I'll say it again...I've NEVER seen ANYTHING on a credit report that had any bearing on somebody's ABILITY to do a job or reflected on their CHARACTER in any way. 

Yet it's a favorite rationalization for submitting to a financial colonscopy for everything and anything.  So long as it is, we need to demand equivalence or just refuse to participate. 

"Sorry" is not enough.