Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Essential Uber Driver

In January of this year, my friend Jon talked me into driving for the ride sharing service, Uber. Jon had made nearly 600 bucks in three days, half of which he made on New Year's Eve. That sounded like a pretty good deal to me. So I set about the task of trying to investigate Uber online. All I could find were a couple of cheer leading pieces telling me how lucrative Uber driving was. I suspected if people were making 50, 75, and 100k a year as some posts claimed- everyone would be driving for Uber. So I knew that was bullshit. I also found some disgruntled comments here and there. What I wasn't able to find was a comprehensive "pros and cons" type of piece written by an actual driver and not some company stooge or displaced taxi cab driver.

For the record, I am a retired police officer from small town America. Driving people around in cars comes pretty natural to me, although in the case of Uber- it's the rider's choice to take a ride rather than my decision to give them one. I like people, tolerate drunks well, and I can talk to anyone-so I thought Uber would be a strong fit for me. I decided to give it a try.

GETTING STARTED

Uber requires that at a minimum, prospective drivers have at least a 2006 model, four door vehicle. You must provide registration and proof of insurance. You must also have a driver's license with a fairly clean record and prospective drivers must submit to a background check. Your car also has to be inspected by a local shop which you will pay for- usually about 20 bucks. All communication with Uber is done using your camera phone and email. You will never talk to a human being in the Uber hierarchy- they see no utility in that. Drivers take pictures of themselves- pictures which are furnished to riders. You must have a fairly current smart phone to receive calls and map directions. I am currently using a Samsung Galaxy 4. It is easy to burn through a stock battery in just a few trips so I bought a huge battery pack which tripled my storage capacity. I still use a car charger as well. I have a three pronged set-up for passengers to use. You'd be surprised how many passengers have dead phones.

It takes 3-7 days to get through Uber's application process. There are a couple of online tutorials that will help you and give you some tips. Tips like buying passengers water- which I found to be a complete waste of time and money. If you really want to provide something passengers use- try gum instead. More on that later.

Once you are approved- you can go online.  My first call was a young gal at the airport. Drivers have 15 seconds to accept a ride. You simply touch your phone screen and then google maps locates you and gives you directions to your passenger. Once you accept a ride you can actually call or text your passenger. I use this feature quite a bit at the airport or when a passenger keeps me waiting curbside.

Google's mapping feature is far from precise. I have had five different addresses offered for the Boise Airport. Sometimes you can be an entire block off- meaning the customer is actually a block in front of or behind the given destination. Sometimes riders screw up the address when requesting a ride. Finding people in crowds is also very hard or in wide open spaces like giant apartment complexes and malls. In those types of environments, you must rely on the pin on the map which is the customer's GPS. Sometimes I use two navigation devices.

Uber does not let drivers see the trip length in advance. After arrival at a pick up point, you must swipe the "start trip" screen before you can see the destination- provided the rider has bothered to put it in. That way, drivers cannot decline a trip based on trip length.

Nothing irks me more than riders who cancel the ride after you are halfway there or riders who leave you waiting by the curb. I wait 6 minutes for riders and then I promptly leave. That happened today. I suspect she did it because the price was surging and paying the nominal 5 dollar no show fee (after a driver waits 5 mins) was cheaper than taking the ride to where ever it was that she was going. Which brings me to a few passenger tips and the two way rating system.

Anytime you have trouble with a passenger before the trip starts- especially if you are new to Uber- you are far better off canceling the trip than trying to salvage it. You can cancel as often as you like. Uber likes to call us "sub contractors" rather than employees. A huge benefit to having that designation is that you are the Captain of your ship. Anytime a passenger makes you wait too long, over stuffs your car with 5 or more passengers, tries to smoke, vape, or smuggle in drinks, asks you to haul muddy pets, or anything else you don't like- you are better off canceling the trip. Those types of trips tend to degrade and you can't stop the impending bad rating anyway- if your passenger doesn't like you at the beginning they will not like you at the end. Cancel those types of passengers. Save yourself the grief and a bad rating.

I've had people spit chew down the door, spill drinks on the seat and floor, been an unwitting party to a drug deal, and even witnessed a gal give a guy a hand job in the backseat. Check your backseats frequently. Lost cell phones and other items are common. Had I checked my back seat one night, I might have been able to mop up a rum and coke stain on my backseat before it became permanent.

RATING SYSTEM- ONE TO FIVE STARS

Let's talk about Uber's rating system. I personally believe that rating passengers after a trip is a waste of time because the data is simply not relevant. Bad passengers get us the same money as the good ones. I see no utility in giving a rider a bad rating. That's part of the job. Uber lets passengers get away with a lot. I have hauled passengers with low ratings and some deserved worse. In my 600 plus trips- I have never given any rider anything other than 5 stars. Uber doesn't care about rider ratings and even if they do- they sure don't communicate that to drivers. If you do see a ride pop up and the user has a low rating, you can choose to not take the trip. That has been the only saving grace to rider ratings.

Riders can see previous trips and the driver's photo on their application which is a nice feature. Drivers must remember names- I have a few "stand outs" which I remember- one who likes to vape in my car (vaping leaves a sticky film on your windows) and the other which used the service (and my car) to complete a drug deal including two trips to the same house and an atm. After tying up the car and being a general creep- I dropped him back off where we started from- a strip club. He immediately gave me the only bad rating I had that week. He was just a scumbag- there really is no other way of describing him, his appearance, or his demeanor. I immediately committed his name to my "no fly" list.

Riders issuing bad ratings to drivers works differently. Uber can and will shut your app down if a driver rating falls below 4.6. Drivers then have to pay for an online course and complete it before they can continue to drive. I get the whole accountability piece but the part that irritates me about the rating system is that any angry, drunk, surly, depressed, or entitled prince or princess can give you a bad rating for no other reason than they are just miserable people. Short of a functioning crystal ball, drivers can't avoid these people. A few days ago, I picked up a snotty gal who barked orders at me the entire trip. I tried to be nice to her but she ignored me while staring at her phone. I tend to remember people like "Charla."  Those types of trips can never get over fast enough- I wanted to hit the NOS. I thanked her despite her crappy attitude and waited for the inevitable bad rating which oddly, showed up a day or two later. Charla, I can guarantee you, will never ride in my car again.

When riders rate you poorly- they tend to do it right away. It will show up quickly. My personal experience is that about 1 person out of 20 will rate you poorly no matter what you do. Decent people are far more forgiving. Boise's best drivers sport a 4.88 rating. Mine is a little higher. One of the best things about driving for Uber, and one of the few reasons that I continued to drive for Uber as long as I have is that the vast majority of people are decent, interesting, and some are really fun to cart around. You are working in close quarters with strangers. I like people and Uber is a fantastic way of meeting them. Unfortunately, Uber is becoming the Walmart of transportation- enriching itself at the expense of their drivers.

THE UBER PAY STRUCTURE

I started driving for Uber in January. They had minimum hourly guarantees, rates of 9 and 14 depending on the time of day. We also had higher base fares and we received an additional dollar a ride.

By March, Uber had slashed the base fares some 35%. They did away with hourly guarantees. They also phased out the additional dollar a trip. Now we receive a base rate of 2 dollars, 1 dollar per mile, and .15 cents a minute for the time that the car is tied up. There is no additional fee for 2-4 riders- this is a fact not lost on partying college kids.

A very typical 3 mile trip in Boise will gross 6 bucks. Uber swipes 25% off the top, leaving you with about 4.50.

The average trip for a driver goes something like this. The pick up is 2.5 miles away. You take the customer 3 miles and your return trip home is 3.5 miles. You have driven 9 miles for a trip that will net you 4 bucks and change. If that sounds like a formula for financial success, Uber is looking for you.

Uber employs a strategy called "surge" pricing wherein they charge riders more at peak travel times. Surge pricing, a novelty really, has added about 400 dollars or less than 10% to my gross earnings. Most potential riders just wait 10 or 15 minutes until the rates return to normal before requesting a ride. In fact, I used to use surge times for breaks to go to the store and get gas because people just wait out surge pricing or take a cab instead.

People tip infrequently but I usually make something in tips. Maybe 5 bucks a day averaged over time. I use tips to buy gum. Many of my riders are hung over, trying to get back to their cars and homes on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Hardly anyone turns down gum and it cures cottonmouth. It doesn't hurt your rating either.

Uber it seems, can change your pay rate any time they choose with little notice. Under normal working conditions, employees in virtually any other job in this country are given a pre- determined and agreed upon wage which generally cannot go down. Apparently Uber thinks it does not have to adhere to that custom and so far- at least in Boise- they have proven that.

I have talked to other drivers from other locales. Where there is competition, Uber cannot afford to lose drivers. In places like Salt Lake City and San Francisco, drivers are still making decent money because Uber can't find a way to scalp employees and keep competitive in those markets. Here in Boise, many of us are simply quitting. About the time the competing Lyft service gets here, Uber will start paying drivers again. Given a choice, I hope Boise drivers remember what Uber did here.

COSTS 

You will need a cellphone, a data plan, a car, insurance, gas, brakes, tires, and oil. Uber does not re-imburse any of that. Writing it off on your taxes is tricky business and all costs are certainly not recoverable. Uber with holds nothing so you'll be on the hook for the additional tax bite.

The wear and tear on my car has been significant. I smoked a clutch hauling 4 of the biggest human beings ever stuffed into an Elantra. I was the small guy at 260. The clutch repair cost me 700 and two weeks of downtime. I had a tire blow up in front of me on the interstate and as I was dodging airborne parts of truck/trailer tire, I rolled over a piece which slapped up and damaged my rear bumper cover. I've also had two near collisions which brings me to a point that all drivers really need to consider.

If your insurance company finds out you are driving commercially- they will cancel you. They will not pay claims. That leaves you high and dry. Oddly, I cannot find policy terms for James River Insurance which is on the waybill as Uber's insurance carrier. My gut tells me that Uber probably insures themselves against losses incurred by drivers or passengers (liability) but I doubt that loss coverage is extended to drivers. If you were to get in a significant injury accident you would be in serious trouble- particularly if you were at fault. Brokering a commercial policy is expensive and probably the best way to go- this is something Uber should be doing. How they've managed to avoid this boggles my mind. If cities in America required Uber to adequately and commercially insure their drivers- they could probably run them out of business.

THE BIG FINISH

Uber is a great idea and probably the best thing that ever happened in the passenger hauling space. Riders love Uber. It is a car on demand anytime you need one. You know who is coming to get you, what they will be driving, how long it will take, and you can even watch them on the screen. The car is dedicated to the requesting party and cannot be hailed by anyone else. The entire trip from request to finish is logged even when a driver forgets to start the trip. The cars are generally nicer and the drivers speak fluid English. Uber costs one half of what a taxi might cost in our market although I cannot speak for other markets. No cash changes hands.

I like Uber a lot. It works. The problem is that Uber, like so many other greedy corporations, has found a way of exploiting drivers and cars. The result of this will be a thinning of the driver gene pool, so to speak. Cars and drivers will only meet the minimum standards. Intelligent drivers will quit because the math doesn't work. The workforce will become transitory, new drivers will come and go. It's a shame really because Uber is such a good idea. Eventually, the market will push back and the novelty of ride sharing will wear off. I don't think the barriers to market entry are all that great and one day I envision- an efficient and improved peer to peer application- (not unlike Tinder) may just take the place of a corporate entity skimming proceeds off the top of the ride sharing biz..

Today is my last day of Uber driving. The risk-reward ratio is just too far out of balance for me to continue. I have made 600 trips and I have only managed to gross 4200 bucks this year- about 7 bucks a trip. That total includes money from the old, attractive pricing structures, long trips, and surge pricing. Boise has two larger problems- a lack of long rides and excessive downtime between ride requests. I can't even make it pencil by only working peak times.

So it boils down to this. Find a value for your time, your car (cost), insurance, gas and oil, wear and tear, which I have priced at .90 cents a mile. (.60 for car, .30 a min. for labor or 18.00 an hr) Find your average trip length, let's say 9 miles round trip. If you didn't make 8.10 on that trip, you lost money. Uber would have paid you 4.50, before taxes. They do not count your time and mileage to the trip nor your time and mileage to return.

That as they say is the bottom line. In the end, market forces will determine what drivers make. With a current glut of math challenged drivers and no ride sharing competition- Uber is sweeping every last crumb off the table while they can in Boise. The truth is- Uber would do away with human drivers if they could. Read this piece on "driverless" cars. http://arstechnica.com/cars/2016/05/uber-to-begin-testing-self-driving-cars-in-pittsburgh/ That makes me laugh. Some riders would still find something to whine about.

Years ago when I was a kid, I got ripped off by an unscrupulous radio station that promised to pay me mileage and a dollar per delivery for coupon books they were selling. They never paid me a dime. I never forgot that lesson. They beat Uber to this punch bowl by some 40 years.

Hopefully I've been able to write the sort of comprehensive, "here's the pros and cons, this was my experience" sort of piece that I was searching for back in January. I know it leans a little harsh against driving for Uber but I think the information is generally accurate and universal. It might help people make informed decisions and perform a little due diligence on their own. Markets are different and Uber prices markets differently. Any potential driver can sort out his or her city's pricing structure. Uber up a ride and ask the driver a few questions. That's the best and most accurate information that you are likely to get.



















Saturday, May 7, 2016

The First Casualty Is the Truth- The Sunday Collage

A few years ago, I got a call from my first love. The one thing I always hated about her was her ability to white wash the truth. She is one of those people who will tell you how fantastic her life is while her house is burning down along with all of her possessions. Never, ever, would she disclose anything about herself or her life that was less than perfect.

That kind of self deception is nauseating. I hated it back in college and while we were on that phone call, she began telling me about her perfect life- while throwing a few little barbs my way. I remember thinking how close I came to marrying this gal. Marriage would have been disastrous. For just as she edits every last scintilla of awkward truthfulness about her life- I am the polar opposite.

I embrace the inconvenient truths about my life. I have no problem telling anyone my entire life story, the unedited and candid version, particularly if I think it will help them. I don't view my life as a series of events that I should be ashamed of. Should I be ashamed of living my life, making some bad decisions, and then cover them up? Is that how we learn? Is that how I grow and become a better person? By telling lies? Has that ever helped anyone?

I think a lot of families teach their members to keep the family mistakes private. In fact I believe so many people are accustomed to doing just that- that is is imprinted on our national conscience. It has become a universal truth in America that we have all tacitly agreed that lies about our personal lives are acceptable. In fact, if you tell the truth about yourself- often your peers will look at you like you've lost your mind. That's how bad it has become. So we all agree that it is acceptable to lie about personal issues because the judgers will make us feel ashamed. Sometimes our mistakes cause us to lose jobs, get divorces, lose custody of our children, and become bankrupt. Clearly, we can't always tell the truth, can we?

I have no other explanation for the rise of people like Barack Obama. Conceived by an unwed and juvenile mother- Barack Obama is the quintessential example of a person who we really know nothing about. His life is this giant mystery wherein if anyone dares look for the truth- they are castigated by the millions of supporting minions who have all agreed to the great lie. It's none of your business.

Hillary Clinton. Hillary might be the most scandalous person I have ever laid eyes on. Her entire life has been one scandal after another. I am in awe that in America- Hillary Clinton could accept millions of dollars in bribes, call them donations and put them in the "Clinton Foundation" while Secretary of State. The Clinton's foundation, a tax free charity organized in Canada, allows them to use the money any way that they wish. About 10% of the money is spent on charity- the rest is spent by the Clintons. Benghazi might be the greatest lie ever told by anyone in government- where good people fought desperately and died needlessly. We know the truth about what happened. Yet nobody is held accountable. That this woman actually stands any chance of becoming President is mind boggling.

We have a national debt that nobody ever talks about. A debt where nearly 20 trillion (on the books) is owed (and 100 trillion off the books) which is never going to be paid off- financed by a Federal Reserve Bank that is private and unaccountable to the American people. That debt will become the onerous burden of someone else.

People don't care. Not only do they not care but the majority of them have all apparently taken oaths wherein discussing the truth is akin to treason. You are forbidden to discuss certain things particularly if it involves high ranking officials. This is also the way it is in North Korea- that bastion of freedom.

So we have serious problems in America and like the good dysfunctional family that we've become- we're going to ignore our problems and hide them. Pretend they don't exist. That's how far we've fallen as a country, as a society.

The first casualty is always the truth. That has been the way of the world forever. The decline of civilizations everywhere can only be brought about after truth has been taken to the gallows. Once the quest for truth dies, then any number of lies can be offered up as replacements and accepted by a society that has found the truth to be inconvenient, useless, or even shameful.

Once again, I shall leave you with the Isabelle Patterson quote. It always seems appropriate.

Most of the harm in the world is done by good people, and not by accident, lapse, or omission. It is the result of their deliberate actions, long persevered in, which they hold to be motivated by high ideals toward virtuous ends.









Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Winter Season- The Sunday Collage

My friend Jim at Conservatives on Fire abruptly quit blogging over a year ago. He offered no explanation. Jim had always been a great supporter of mine. I missed him and worried about him. Jim was a class act. He tried to be impartial and never used profanity while writing. I have never had that sort of restraint.

Jim I think, was wiser than I- much sooner than I.

Back in 2008, I had this idea that blogging would be an excellent way to reach out and unite people. I believed that people could circle the wagons and repair our country if we could all just agree that we had a problem. I realize now, at age 55, that I was an idiot. That the vast majority of people don't care.

I can't even call them stupid because they might actually be the smart ones. Not caring might be the healthiest thing that the minions ever do for themselves. There is no saving America as we once knew it. Perhaps the best blog ever written on that topic is linked here. http://www.freemansperspective.com/wont-be-fixed/

This morning, I read that Judicial Watch had filed a Freedom Of Information Act request for Hillary Clinton's phone conversations during the period surrounding the siege at Benghazi. They struck gold. There it was- Hillary Clinton lying to our nation about some idiot videographer bashing Mohammad and Islam on "You Tube" which she alleged caused the Benghazi attack- and now we discover she was telling Saudi Arabia on the phone at virtually the same time that Benghazi was a planned Al Qaeda attack. Like her husband, she just flat out lied to America rather than suffer the shame and ridicule that her actions warranted.

The ramifications are enormous. After begging and pleading for additional staffing help, Ambassador Chris Steven's pleas were ignored by Hillary Clinton. Once the siege began with less than two months before the presidential elections, the Commander in Chief not only failed to send help that night but disappeared altogether. After Chris Steven's body was dragged through the streets of Libya- Hillary either concocted or saddled up to that ridiculous cover story to escape her wanton disregard and her dereliction of duty. She should have been immediately relieved of duty and prosecuted but we all know that ultimately President Obama called the shots that night. That this shameless sociopath has a chance to become President is testimony to the complete apathy of the American public. I can find no finer example of how far this country has fallen. Most people in America don't fucking care about this country or politics and people like Jim and I- albeit slow learners- are finding this out.

We are spoiled. America has become a nation of self absorbed, superficial, greedy, fat, unhealthy, plastic boobed narcissists who are forever wanting and thinking some material bullshit will make them happy. Many Americans actually believe we are better than other cultures. More than half this country checks out daily on prescription meds, illegal substances, and booze  or some other mindless activity involving cellphone chatter or television. They are too self absorbed to pay attention to anything beyond their inner circle.

You know why we have a huge substance problem in America? Because we don't like who we are and what we have become. Why do people use substances? They want to change the way they feel. If we really believed we were this shit hot role model for the human race- we would actually lead caring and spiritual lives with emotionally healthy coping mechanisms. We wouldn't need placebos like food, sex, booze, drugs, therapists, cellphones, and tobacco to change the way we feel. We can lie- like the Joneses' to our neighbors- but we can never lie to ourselves.

I know all of this. I finished this big blog this morning about Hillary Clinton's illegal and unethical activities because I am deathly afraid that this sociopath will become President. And then I remembered three things- people don't care, Blogger has a delete button, and that the world is perfect- exactly the way that it is. If Hillary becomes President then that is the way it is supposed to be. Acceptance is always the answer.

I'm about to share the greatest lesson I have ever had to learn.

The world is much larger than any of us. It was created perfectly. Everything that happens here is supposed to happen. People are supposed to grow old and die, some die young, and some die for terrible reasons. People make mistakes. People fail, that's what we do. It's what we learn from those mistakes and how we respond that is important. Sometimes people learn and get better, sometimes they don't. None of this is the fault of the earth or some make believe divine being who asks us to offer up human sacrifices or on occasion, sacrifices their own for the sake of us. Surely there has to be a better way of practicing faith.

Terra firma doesn't fail. It's just a platform, a stage, a place for all of this drama that we create to take place. When the time comes, a space rock will come and reset this planet. Mother Earth will shake us off like a bunch of fleas. Everything has a season and I understand that.

So why do bloggers write? Self fulfillment, ego, sometimes money. It's a damn good question and I'm afraid I don't have much of an answer right now. I have published 2030 blogs in 8 years. Some were pretty good and some were awful. I am out of topics, tired of writing about the same old stuff and tired of reading the same old stuff. A friend of mine sent me this video today. I never get tired of it.




















Monday, April 11, 2016

A Libertarian (Free) v Progressive (Collectivist) View of the World

An excellent essay. This lays out the thought process of every liberal I've ever known. My apologies for a little margin encroachment.

The Modern Progressive's Insatiable Thirst for Tyranny

By Dr. Richard Ebeling

What does freedom mean? What is the purpose of government? And what should be the government's relationship to each of us as individuals and as members of society as a whole? These issues recently came up during a dinner conversation with a new acquaintance with whom I'd not previously had such a discussion.
The views that I expressed in the calm and friendly and enjoyable exchange are those usually labeled as classical liberal or libertarian. My dinner companion reasoned from what is the "modern" liberal or "progressive" point-of-view. Like myself, he has been a professor in higher education, and he is widely read and very knowledgeable.
What became clear to both during the conversation and from reflecting on it afterwards are some of the following conclusions.
Conflicting Meanings of Freedom

As a classical liberal, freedom means that each individual possesses as a human being certain inviolable rights, those being rights to his life, liberty and honestly acquired property. And that human relationships should be based on voluntary consent and mutual agreement.
For my interlocutor, freedom means "empowerment" or the ability to do or achieve certain things, without which "freedom" is not complete. These include a minimum or "decent" standard of living and the ability to attain certain potentials in life, which are everyone's "right" as a member of society.
For my fellow conversationalist, society is a shared "community" of human beings each of whom owes certain things to the others, just as the others owe certain things to us. Society might be viewed as an extended family, from this perspective, all the members of which have certain required obligations to support and give assistance to their social "relatives."
I suggested that society is a network of human relationships formed between individuals based upon opportunities for mutual betterment, including both the economic and the cultural in the widest sense, the fundamental foundation of which derives from those essential individual rights.
The "Social Contract": Individualist or Collectivist?

My dinner companion raised the issue of "the social contract," to which we are all participants and benefactors. He referenced the famous French eighteenth century philosopher, Jean-Jacque Rousseau, who reasoned that man began as savages in the wild threatened by both beast and other men. Everyone entered into a social contract and formed society for mutual safety and betterment by giving up a portion of their complete and unrestrained "freedom" in that earlier setting of savagery for the order and security of shared community. The freedom given up is compensated by safety and the security of mutual aid, including the modern welfare state.
I suggested that if one was to refer to a "social contract" as a basis or rationale for organized society, the starting point should be the earlier British philosopher, John Locke, who argued that rights are not bestowed upon man by government or the community but belong to him by his nature as a human being. Government, in Locke's social contract, is to provide individuals with a tool for the common defense against the violence of some of their fellow men. The role of government is the securer of liberty by protecting each individual's rights to his life, liberty and property, and not as a guarantor of a certain standard of living or desired access to various material things.
The reason, I said, was that if the government undertook this latter responsibility of "social safety nets" and "positive" access to various other desired states of affairs, it can do so only by imposing through police power an obligation on others to provide the material means that some others are to be guaranteed. By doing so, government would be violating its original purpose for being brought into existence: the protecting of liberty (including people's property rights to their own honestly earned income and wealth) rather than a violator that takes from some without their consent for the asserted benefits of others.
Private Benevolence or Political Paternalism

At this point my dining companion asked, did this mean that concern and support for those less well off than us was to be left to private charity and philanthropy? I answered in the affirmative; that such an approach was the only one consistent with the ethical principle of an individual having the right to live his life as he chooses for his own purposes, taking on those obligations and benevolent activities on his own or in consort with others that he considers worthy and deserving.
The response from my new acquaintance was to say that that is a primitive and simplistic approach that may have been minimally workable in an earlier age, but not in a time of such complexity as our own. "How will 'Kenesha' in a low income job and little educational background know how to manage a retirement account or select a healthcare insurance policy, or even afford to have them?" he asked.
I resisted mentioning what seemed to me to be an implicit "racial profiling" that a young black woman would not have the ability to manage aspects of her daily life without a governmental overseer taking her by the hand to take care of it for her.
Instead, I asked who supposedly is qualified to make these decisions for others through the government, if it is not to be the people themselves through the competitive options and information that would be offered and constantly improved upon in a truly free market?
He replied that is precisely the role and task of the qualified experts who man and manage the appropriate governmental agencies, bureau, and departments concerned with providing for the necessities and needs of the general public and especially those in the lower income brackets.
The Paternalistic Hubris of the Progressive

I pointed out the paternalistic attitude in his view of things that people are neither responsible nor informed nor interested enough in their own lives to take care of these matters. He said, "Yes, look at how many people are obese, who clearly do not know how to follow reasonable and healthy diet choices. There need to be educated and trained by qualified experts in the government to move the uninformed and irresponsible citizen in the better direction that they don't always seem willing or able to do for themselves."
I said that I considered such an attitude to reflect a high degree of arrogance and hubris, a view that humanity is made up of weak-minded simpletons who need guiding care-givers and wardens to watch over and confine their conduct into narrow corridors of behavior that the government officials -- the "experts" – consider "good," "right" and 'just."
Contempt and Disregard for People's Free Choices

I explained that while "progressives" often use the rhetoric of "democracy" and respect for the dignity and diversity of people, the reality is that that they wish to override the choices people make in their everyday affairs to fit the presumed "right" and "rational" and "socially conscious" courses of actions that the proponents of political paternalism are convinced are the only "enlightened" and "just" ones.
The world is to be reduced to and confined within a narrow corridor of forms of "good behavior" that people will be either penalized for violating or subsidized for doing through government regulation and spending.
I reminded my new friend of the words of the British political philosopher, John Stuart Mill, who declared that until people are ready for freedom they can only hope to be ruled by a wise and benevolent dictator. But that Mill's contemporary, the noted British historian and political writer, Thomas Macaulay, replied by saying that Mill's suggestion reminded him of the fool in the story who said he would not go into the water until he knew how to swim. Unless freedom is exercised, individuals will never learn the lessons that may lead them to make wiser and more intelligent decisions over time. Otherwise, we run the risk of maintaining large portions of the population in a form of permanent childhood, living off and dependent upon the commanding decisions of those in political power.
The Arrogance and Abuse of Power

I also explained the argument and insight of the Austrian economist, Friedrich A. Hayek, that the more complex the society the less it is in the capacity of any one person or any group of people, no matter how well trained as "experts" in the art of political paternalism, to know enough to successfully manage and direct the affairs of the society better than leaving such matters to the individuals themselves in their own circumstances as they see and understand it best.
I pointed out to him that leaving such vital and essential matters in the hands of those in political authority and to the presumed "experts" in the government bureaus, agencies and departments ignores what we all, pragmatically, know to be true: the misuse and abuse of power and position by those in government for their own self-interested purposes and for those who assistant them in remaining in power.
The Hope And Dream for a World of Political Altruists

My interlocutor seemed unmoved by any of these counter arguments. He merely pointed to the class of especially trained "experts" who man the interventionist-welfare state in France, who seem to be not susceptible to the same corruption and abuse of power as in America. There are special French universities that have the precise purpose of educating and graduating a selfless elite who enthusiastically wish only to manage society for the good of the "the people."
I responded by pointing out that there seemed to be plenty enough scandals concerning those in political positions of power and responsibility, and corruptions involving influential special interest groups in France, as reported in the American media from time-to-time; this suggests that the French have their equal "fair share" of human beings who take advantage of their political and regulatory authority just like everywhere else.
They are not a special political class of ethical eunuchs who are altruistically living for and serving "humanity" in a manner different from the rest of mankind. This was merely another instance of the socialist fairytale that, once we go beyond the self-interest and selfishness of capitalism into the "social justice" of collectivism, human nature will be transformed into a world of pure and simple other-orientedness in which human beings only think in terms of and act for the good of some imaginary "common good" and never just for themselves.
His response was to point to all that is provided and done through government for the good of the poor and less responsible, and for economic improvements in society through government-business partnerships in the area of innovation and transformative technology.
What is Seen and What is Not Seen

I observed that after spending trillions of taxpayers' dollars over the last half-century "the poor are still with us" in America, with millions of people still locked out of market opportunities due to the burdens of the interventionist-welfare state. And there have been enough scandals and failures in the arena of government-business "partnerships" to suggest that the rhetoric surrounding them was "smoke and mirrors" to cover what they are really about: special interest groups picking the pockets of taxpayers because they cannot successfully market technologies and products that consumers value enough to buy at prices covering costs of production.
I pointed out that there was a nineteenth century French economist, Frederic Bastiat, who once penned a great essay called, "What is Seen and What is Not Seen." Yes, when government taxes away people's income and wealth to subsidize a solar power company, or to repair a bridge, or cover some people's expenses to go to college, we more directly see the results. And the proponents of such programs can proudly point to what is created or made available that might not have if not for this government largess.
But Bastiat's point was to remind us of what is not seen. If government had not taxed away those dollars and if they had remained the pockets of those who had honestly earned them, they would have been spent on many other things that the income earners themselves considered worthwhile and valuable. Instead of a government subsidized solar company, maybe some of those untaxed dollars would have been invested in a market-based profit-oriented pharmaceutical product that would alleviate the pain and suffering associated with some deadly disease.
Instead of repairing an existing bridge, maybe some of the money would be been invested in computer and software technologies that would made telecommuting for work easier so some roads and bridges would have to be less travelled. Or instead of covering one person's college education, some of the untaxed dollars would have been given as a charitable contribution for cancer research or to help fund a private wildlife preserve, or simply to buy new better pair of shoes for a taxpayers' own child's feet.
The look on my dinner companion's face hinted that that sounded all well and good, but those were just imaginary things in my trying to make a point. Private people do private things – therefore, non-"social" things – when they spend their own money. "Socially good" things only come primarily through governmental action serving the interests of all of us together, the community to which we all belong, and for which we all have the obligation and responsibility to contribute through tax dollars.
Progressives Cling to Collectivism

Here, in my opinion, are some of the essential issues and dilemmas facing the advocate of individual liberty, free markets, and constitutionally limited government. Too many of our fellow citizens do not believe that individuals have a right to live for themselves. They truly and honestly believe that "society," "community," the collective, is something independent of the distinct individuals who comprise it, and for which the individual is morally, politically and legally obligated to serve and sacrifice for. Police power is a legitimate and appropriate tool of enforcing these obligations and duties, if resistance or indifference is experienced among the citizens citizens in the undertaking of these activities.
For the "progressive," government is "society's" agent to undertake the tasks of "social justice" and "entitlement" that are owed to each member and to which everyone is required to provide their contribution. Police power is the means by which everyone is made to contribute their "social dues" in the form of either obedience to government regulations or payment of taxes for redistributive purposes.
Liberty and the Meaning of Society and the "Social"

For the classical liberal or libertarian, on the other hand, government is considered an agency for the protection of each individual's rights. "Society" is comprised of the networks of relationships and associations formed by individuals and in which they interact for various fulfillments of human happiness and well-being. These are not only the market exchange relationships of peaceful cooperation through competition and the buy and selling of goods and services.
It incorporates family, friends, professional associations, intellectual organizations and hobby groups. It includes faith and religious affiliations and participation, and all networks of charity and philanthropy at local community and wider levels. These networks of human association are what are often called "civil society."
The purpose of government in the classical liberal or libertarian perspective is to assure the security and protection from private plunder and violence that would disrupt or disturb the peaceful pursuits that individuals find it useful and enjoyable and fulfilling to follow through various and diverse associations of civil society.
Through them people express and satisfy the sundry sides of life and human existence that make the earthly sojourn meaningful and joyful, and "lived." Any intrusion of government, the political authority with its legitimized use of force, other than in the "negative" form of rights protection, weakens, undermines, and potentially destroys a person's liberty and therefore his ability to make his life have meaning and have happiness for himself.
Furthermore, the interventionist-welfare state undermines people's personal and financial ability to participate in those acts and associations of benevolence towards others that they are called by their conscience to pursue in the ways they consider best and most likely of success. The redistributive state arrogantly replaces each person's personal judgment and decision with that of the self-appointing "experts" who claim to speak and know best for society through the coercive arm of government.
Matching these ethical issues of the rights of the individual to live and act peacefully for himself as he sees best, the "progressive" often demonstrates a blinding degree of ignorance and misinformation about the workings of a competitive market economy, the nature of the profit and loss system, and the "invisible hand" of competitive cooperation through the peaceful and the voluntarist pursuit of self-interest.
He suffers from a confused, garbled, and contradictory grab bag of ideas derived from Marxism, Fabian socialism, nationalism, fascism, and, though it would be radically and vehemently denied, often-subtle forms of racism, as well.
Through all the progressive's rhetoric about "democracy" and "equality" and "social justice" and "diversity," theirs is a political philosophy and public policy ideology of elitism, hubris, and authoritarianism dominated by the idea and ideal of remaking human beings, human relationships and the structure and order of society into redesigned patterns and shapes that reflect their notion of how people should live, work, associate and earn a living.
That is why the modern liberal or progressive represents the face of a contemporary political, economic and cultural "soft" tyranny – compared to the brutal and murdering totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century – against which the classical liberal and libertarian must continue their centuries-long fight for human liberty.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

A Looking Bike, Hipster Tuneup, and the American Slave State- The Sunday Collage

It all started with an email from my sister and then a phone call from Late Night Dave. Late Night Dave works in a law enforcement capacity and by all accounts is a pretty nice guy. He lives in Seattle. I've only met him once.

Dave had found a beautiful 1994 Harley Davidson Heritage in the Nampa- Caldwell area about 20 miles west of Boise. He had been negotiating with the owner who had originally asked 8,000 for the bike which Dave had negotiated down to 7,000. With only 9800 miles, Late Night asked me if I would go check it out. 

I met the owner at his residence. His name is Dennis. Dennis showed me the bike. I am in awe anytime I see a motorcycle that is 22 years old and absolutely pristine. Not even a discolored pipe. The only flaw I could find was a 1/4" rock strike on the gas tank which peeled a little paint- even the tires still had the nubs on them. Dennis had just put on the second set of tires.

I often refer to bikes as "riding" bikes and "looking" bikes. This bike was a "looking" bike, nearly a museum piece. A trailer queen. I've never owned one. My bikes get ridden hard, sometimes in rain, and sometimes they swap paint or find the pavement. I've agreed to all of those terms. But the point of this story doesn't have anything to do with that pristine bike. It has to do with Late Night Dave-who at age 62 and without a motorcycle endorsement- asked me if he should be buying motorcycles.  

Have I ever heard anyone, regardless of age ever say, "gawd I wished I hadn't bought that bike." I don't think I've ever heard that- certainly not in the company of men. If someone actually regretted buying a motorcycle, that is something you keep to yourself or perhaps utter in a confessional booth. Mostly, I know people who regret not buying a bike or who regret selling a bike. That is the stuff I remember. And so it was- Dave at the advanced age of 62- bought a motorcycle. A very pristine one. I think he'll love it.

Shifting gears so to speak...

This morning my gal and I went out to eat. I've been doing my annual meat diet hoping to lose 40 pounds. We often go to this small restaurant that is quite popular and on weekends there is always a line. As it turns out, there was only one couple ahead of us. This is a seat yourself joint.

So as we stood in line, these two hipsters showed up and one of them muscles past me into the restaurant. I'm thinking he already has a seat and he just ran out to the parking lot for something. His buddy stood behind me in the line. As it turns out, the first hipster located a couple of vacant counter seats, turned around and motioned for his friend to come on in.

I suppose 25 years of dealing with assholes doesn't just wash off overnight. I wish that I could tell you that my Zen Buddhist philosophy kicked in and those of us in line hummed a few bars of "'Que Sera...Sera....whatever will be will be"....but that's not quite how it worked out. 

As soon as the first hipster motioned his friend in, I looked at them and I said "Sure you guys go ahead...you were first in line." The hipster behind me said, "you don't have to be a dick." That lit me up just a bit. I responded, "Well as a matter of fact it appears that I do and by the way, go fuck yourself." Now when you have a moment like this, and you decide to pull the trigger like that, you must accept the consequences. And for a brief instant, I was prepared to take an even more enthusiastic stand if you know what I mean. Sometimes that's how these things have to go. I am not particularly proud of how I handled this- but I'm not offering up any apologies either.

The truth is, at age 55 in my most lucid moments, I'm not sure I wanna dance anymore. I may get my ass kicked some day. Unfortunately, I just can't run away from my sense of right and wrong- it's like a part of me. I can't tolerate bullies either, I confront them. My gal was embarrassed and she's a girly girl- not much help in a scrap, so here's the deal.

People make mistakes. When I screw up, I apologize because that's what responsible people do. This sense of doing the right thing and offering an apology when you are out of line has apparently gone missing from whatever upbringing those two hipsters had. As is stands, I feel confident that those two won't be cutting in front of anyone having received that rather blunt, refresher course in manners.

For a couple of days, I've wanted to write a piece about the anger in this country as it applies to this "leadership" we have. We were conned. We had bank bail outs with tax payer money and then we had health insurance bailouts wherein our masters simply directed us to send in 6 thousand a year or more rather than simply steal it out of the treasury like they did for the bankers.

Do any of us actually think we are free?

American corporations, bankers, billionaires, the oligarchy. Winning. The rest of us....the middle class...

Are economic slaves. Our masters spend and we pay. Although I can't stand Warren Buffett, I actually like his father. His father understood well, the correlation between gold and freedom. I don't think I can explain it any better than this. Here then is a piece which will cause even the most skeptical people to pause. I think you'll like it.

https://www.sprottmoney.com/blog/warren-buffetts-father-gold-and-liberty-jeff-nielson.html




Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Affordable Plumbing Act of 2014


Greg drives to President Obama's new house, which is located in a very exclusive, gated community near Chicago, where all the residents have a net income of way more than $250,000 per year.
Greg arrives and takes his tools into the house. He is led to the guest bathroom that contains the leaky pipe under the sink. Greg assesses the problem and tells Obama that it's an easy repair, that will take less than 10 minutes. Obama asks Greg how much it will cost. Greg checks his rate chart and says, "$9,500."

"What?! $9,500?!" Obama asks, stunned, "But you said it's an easy repair. Michelle will kill me if I pay a plumber that much!"

Greg says, "Yes, but what I do is charge those who make more than $250,000 per year a much higher amount so I can fix the plumbing of poorer people for free. This has always been my philosophy. As a matter of fact, I lobbied the Democrat Congress, who passed this philosophy into law. Now all plumbers must do business this way. It's known as the 'Affordable Plumbing Act of 2014'. I'm surprised you haven't heard of it."

In spite of that, Obama tells Greg there's no way he's paying that much for a small plumbing repair, so Greg leaves. Obama spends the next hour flipping through the phone book calling for another plumber, but he finds that all other plumbing businesses in the area have gone out of business. Not wanting to pay Greg 's price, Obama does nothing and the leak goes un-repaired for several more days. A week later the leak is so bad President Obama has had to put a bucket under the sink.
Michelle is not happy as she has Oprah and guests arriving the next morning. The bucket fills up quickly and has to be emptied every hour, and there's a risk the room will flood, so Obama calls Greg and pleads with him to return.

Greg goes back to Obama's house, looks at the leaky pipe, checks his new rate chart and says, "Let's see, this will now cost you $21,000."
Obama quickly fires back, "What? A few days ago you told me it would cost $9,500!"

Greg explains, "Well, because of the 'Affordable Plumbing Act,' a lot of wealthier people are learning how to maintain and take care of their own plumbing, so there are fewer payers in the plumbing exchanges. As a result, the price I have to charge wealthy people like you keeps rising. Not only that, but for some reason the demand for plumbing work by those who get it for free has skyrocketed! There's a long waiting list of those who need repairs, but the amount we get doesn't cover our costs, especially paperwork and record-keeping. This unfortunately has put a lot of my fellow plumbers out of business, they're not being replaced, and nobody is going into the plumbing business because they know they can't make any money at it. I'm hurting too, all thanks to greedy rich people like you who won't pay their 'fair share'. On the other hand, why didn't you buy plumbing insurance last December? If you had bought plumbing insurance available under the 'Affordable Plumbing Act,' all this would have been covered by your policy."
"You mean I wouldn't have to pay anything to have you fix my plumbing problem?" asks Obama.
"Well, not exactly," replies Greg. "You would have had to buy the insurance before the deadline, which has passed now. And, because you're rich, you would have had to pay $34,000 in premiums, which would have given you a 'silver' plan, and then, since this would have been your first repair, you would have to pay up to the $21,000 deductible, and anything over that would have a $7,500 co-pay, and then there's the mandatory maintenance program, which is covered up to 17.5%, so there are some costs involved. Nothing is for free."

"WHAT?!" exclaims Obama. "Why so much for a puny sink leak?!"

With a bland look, Greg replies, "Well, paperwork, mostly, like I said. And the internal cost of the program itself. You don't think a program of this complexity and scope can run itself, do you? Besides, there are millions of folks with lower incomes than you, even many in the 'middle class', who qualify for subsidies that people like you must support. That's why they call it the 'Affordable Plumbing Act'! Only people who don't make much money can get it. If you want affordable plumbing, you'll have to give away most of what you have accumulated and cut your and Michelle's income by about 90%. Then you can qualify to GET your 'Fair Share' instead of GIVING it."

"But who would pass a crazy act like the 'Affordable Plumbing Act'?!" exclaims the exasperated Obama.
After a sigh, Greg replies, "Congress ... because they didn't read it."

This will help you understand Obamacare .... And here you have it, the 'Affordable Plumbing Act of 2014'. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Hypocrisy of "naked capitalism"

Old bankers and old cops. Sometimes we just cling to the old ways.

Today, I thought I'd comment on a blog I love to hate. I read it although there are things I despise about it. So let's just call this a review. "naked capitalism" is a blog with 77 million hits.

The author, Yves Smith is actually a gal named Susan Webber. Ms Webber is a Harvard grad (business school, I guess) who became a Wall Street banker among other things- even working for Goldman Sachs at one point. Her sketchy bio and what little information it provides- tells you very little about who she actually is. You get the privileged child meme but little else.

I have found over the years that people who write under pen names generally have something to hide. They are like the minions, those millions of commenters who refuse to use their real names. They do that because they want to be free of the accountability and responsibility of what they write. I get that. Free speech in America does not mean that what you say won't generate nasty retaliation and sometimes it crosses the line. Some anonymous types are just scared and they see the with holding of personal information as prudent.

I tend to overlook all of that and classify it under "personal circumstances." Whether you are rich or poor, educated or not- you may have something insightful to say. That is all part of the grand birth lottery initially- you are either born to a single crack addicted mother or you catch Susan's parents. Either way it is humbling to know that your success is probably owed to the winds of chance and nothing else. I often think that way.

In the 8 years I have been writing here, I have deleted 5 or 6 comments (other than spammers) only because they were vicious attacks. I would have let them stand had they been truthful or contained content of some merit- but they were just vitriolic, nasty, personal attacks and as such- I sent them to comment hell. Sometimes the reverse is true regarding comments. Some of the commenters and readers here have become my friends. They are actually on my Facebook page. I can think of at least four of you. Some comments have caused me to set aside my own personal bias to investigate allegations and claims which ultimately changed my belief about something.

Ms. Webber doesn't like my comments. I point out flaws and sometimes lies- like the Clinton surplus which never happened but for some odd reason people still believe it did- I guess because Slick Willy said so. That surplus chat was a big piece of a recent "nc" William K Black piece.

I don't like Modern Monetary Theory much either. It is just old Keynesian thinking dressed up as something new. Yves writes about MMT. So when I write comments, the few that have made it past her controlling eyes, they are either attacked or deleted.

I have this blog. I have never tried to create an echo chamber. My skin, while certainly not the thickest, is still pretty thick thanks to 25 years of policing and about 8 more years of writing publicly. If you take shit personally- and you don't feel comfortable with a little confrontation- then policing or public writing might not be for you.

Which brings me here.

I'm not going to work in a field filled with fraud, take paychecks for 20 years or so from thieves in suits, and then suddenly realize the banking industry is full of corruption. It's not going to take that long unless you are simply co-opted. It only took me about 9 months worth of ripping people off in Las Vegas- and I returned to law enforcement. The company I worked for, ITT Financial Services, was simply the most dishonest predatory lender I could imagine. Even the manager was stealing collateral (a Corvette) and claiming it was sold at auction.

So how does a blog receive 77 million hits while rendering a fair amount of opinion and bullshit? Is it clever writing or entertaining? Perhaps marginally so. Huffington Post, the online liberal fluff generator, sold for 300 million. I still scratch my head over that.

Writers have a great opportunity to include people. Instead they exclude people. If I were going to write a credible, believable blog- here are some rules I might employ.

Rule #1. Don't take paychecks from crooks for 20 years. (Hint- they are still crooks whether they are prosecuted or not, kind of like mobsters) That damages one's credibility. It either means you were complicit, a crook yourself, or after 20 years you became a disgruntled employee. Either way- being a bank insider and then suddenly discovering what they do and becoming angry abut it twenty years later makes me wonder if you might be a little slow.

Rule #2. Let's not pretend you are in possession of some proprietary information that only Ivy League grads can understand. You are not. Many of us understand that banks and trading desks manipulate markets, make exotic bets through the use of complex strategies and trading conduits, employ strategies to inure or re-insure positions, give shitty advice that they profit from, rip off clients or taxpayers as the case may be. Only the conduits by which they accomplish this are new.

Rule #3 Print comments. If you are going to be a fearful, controlling type that must edit everything except the inaccuracies of your own featured writers- then maybe close commenting altogether. As it stands- all the comments appearing under any given piece seek only to produce one big echo chamber where agreeable ass kissers pass the gatekeeper's muster, dissenters are persona non grata. Perhaps Susan should have us fill out an online application listing our credentials before approving it.

Rule #4  Don't be a snob even if that is at the core of your being. People don't like snobs and if they do- that concerns me. It takes me back to the Dave Barry days. Pay attention to how people treat the waiter because that is how they will treat you one day. I have seen such things come to pass.

I have probably read a thousand blogs. I learn something from every one of them. I have a gold trading blog where the author has been "dead on" with every turn in the market for over a year. That is a must read for a trader like me. I have two blogs which I have quit reading because they have turned into "pay to read my stuff" sites. I have one or two blogs wherein the writers have simply quit writing altogether. I read some blogs for their great writing, Ace and Taxicab Depressions, I like the pictures and conservative attitude of the Feral Irishman.

In the end, we do and read what we want. I read naked capitalism- but it is often inaccurate. It is certainly not a free speech zone either- you can do your own investigating while reading the comments and looking for dissenters. The other hallmark of snobbery on "nc" are the rules for commenting. Read that caustic page for the true flavor of who Susan Webber is.

Each year Yves-Susan launches a campaign drive looking for money. I giggle when I see that. It reminds me of some poor broker trying to shake down his clients selling the company's book. I suppose the old ways are hard to shake off. I'd kind of like to see how much Yves receives each year and where it is spent. Those are my old investigative ways and indeed, they are hard to shake off.

There it is Frankenstein Government style. Offering opinions for nothing and expecting the same in return. Sugar free since 2008.