27 February 2009

False Dilemma, True Options

So the headline stated that 40,000 government jobs had to be eliminated or the sales tax raised to 25% (up from 7%).

That's known as the "false dichotomy" or "false dilemma" error in logic. What the headline implies is that "For Puerto Rico to survive, 40,000 parasites must be dumped or We get slammed with a 25% sales tax." That is a false "black or white" framing of the situation. 

Let Me give you statehooders an example: "For Puerto Rico to survive, Luis "The Larva" Fortuño must resign or be abducted by space aliens." 

Okay, wait a minute, that doesn't prove My point.

This one does: "For Puerto Rico to survive, 400,000 people must leave the Island or We declare bankruptcy." What the false dilemma does is frame a larger debate into a convenient window, an either-or limitation meant to prove an often indefensible point.

Note that the false dilemma occurs even if one of the options is actually true. In the headline's case, at least 40,000 government workers need to be fired. There's no rational argument against this, for not only does Our (non)government employ far too many people, Our economic morass simply cannot continue to feed that many blood-sucking mouths.

"But, Jenius," you say, "What will those 40,000 workers do? Most of them support families. Think about the children!" Economic corrections never satisfy everyone. And the longer they are delayed, the larger the impact of the correction.

What could have been easy in the 1970s, after (pseudo)governor Luis "Hire 'Em Sideways" Ferré packed the government with walking vegetables (his percentage increase in government workers over 4 years is exceeded only by the increase seen in 1952-1956, the first four years of Our stupid commonwealth "experiment" in colonialism), and may have been difficult-but-manageable in the 1980s, became a Godzilla in the 1990s and a catastrophe under Sila "Quitter" Calderón and Aníbal "Jellyfish" Acevedo. At this point, We have four decades of political cronyism, corruption, outright theft and rampant cowardice to overcome.

And it demands a correction We can no longer delay.

Raising the sales tax to 25% is not an option. To state that is to blather and babble like an acephalic cretin (a synonym for "politician" or "journalist" in Puerto Rico.) Firing 40,000 workers is just one possible option, but it is virtually a requirement now. Here are others along those lines:

A) Close or consolidate government agencies: Why do We have a Public Buildings Authority, when practically every agency owns, manages or supervises its own buildings? Why do We have separate agencies for Planning and Permits for each of residential, commercial and industrial needs, not to mention environmental issues? Why do We have agencies in Ports and Agriculture that do nothing but mirror Federal government personnel who are the only ones who can carry out the legal functions? 

B) Privatize: It's a dirty word to unions--who should be banned from government--and it's a dirty word when the government keeps its grubby tentacles in the pie. I've said it before and it bears repeating: Privatization of government functions (such as utilities) works well when the government leaves operations entirely in private hands and retains the consumer protection oversight function. There may be problems (cable TV, anyone?), but part of the oversight is to seek out competitive options to improve overall service.

C) Fire sub-contractors: From consultants to advisors to supervisors, Our government hands out sub-contract work like the money to pay them isn't theirs. Here's the golden standard: Unless they're building something, no sub-contractors allowed. 

D) Fix the government's budget to GDP: The fallacy We have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt is that government-based jobs help an economy grow. They don't, because for every dollar in "consumerism" supposedly created by a parasite, two or three times that is lost in wasted time and money. (Bureaucratic deadbeats, anyone?) However, if the government wants to grow its budget and (gasp!) actually help the economy, increasing the Gross Domestic Product--the value of what We produce--is a great way to go about it. A rising tide lifts all boats, but the ebbing tide We have now is creating a "too few lifeboats on the Titanic" feeling.

E) Cut taxes and drastically reduce government spending to energize the economy: Yes, that means government shrinks all over. If it worked for The Great Depression--and it did--then it will work for Us. Especially since We get a $5 billion+ free ride on Uncle Sam(e Old Same Old)'s musty wallet.

That We lack credible leadership is a given. That We have for decades is beyond question. That We can continue with such, with airheads and numbskulls playing the "either-or" game to suit themselves, is not an option. Either We step up and make positive things happen, or We watch what's left of Our future spiral down a gutless drain.

False dilemma? I wish...

The Jenius Has Spoken.

25 February 2009

Larva(l) Metamorphosis

They say you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. The point is that you can't force something on someone, so in that spirit, I am herein suggesting a way for The Larva, a.k.a (non)governor Luis Fortuño, to transform himself from, well, what he is, to the "leader" he could be.

Yes, I know I said that wasn't likely, but with My help--with the plan I propose here--even he can make a change deemed impossible.

Seeing as how The Larva has already elevated waffling, inaction and passivity to a near-art form, My plan to transform him into a leader is very much along the lines he has set for himself. (And as My Special One pointed out recently, The Larva has aged noticeably in the past two months. Just goes to show that some people are cut out for leadership and others should just cut it out.) (But I digress...)

My plan is actually four words long: Get. Into. A. Cocoon.

Pun thoroughly intended, ever since I decided to write this piece last week.

Yes, Larva, get into a cocoon. Literally. Take this "No see me" attitude you've tried to sell as "Me busy," but keeps coming off as "Me don't know what to do" and shut yourself away. Don't try to solve anything, don't try to change anything, don't challenge any of Us to do anything and let the government you don't run anyway keep rattling along. 

Only two things can happen, and I really mean that: only two.

1) Things go to pot so badly, so quickly and with such utter force that the crisis it engenders makes your position strong enough to let you lead. Note that I stress your position, as non-(non)governor at that point, because that will change while you cannot, in the way that The Mask transforms Stanley from dud to stud. From this position of "You gotta help Us" strength, your only task is to suggest decent-enough ideas that can be implemented quickly. Even you can do that and that will make you the hero of the crisis. The big risk is that the crisis doesn't come until too close to the 2012 election, denying you the chance to show your stuff. But that would be similar to what's going on now, where time keeps chugging along, you keep shuffling like a spavined nag and the 2012 election comes up without you ever showing your stuff, if there is any.

2) Things somehow stay the same, not getting worse, maybe even improving a little, and you emerge from the cocoon sometime in late 2011 and claim the good results as part of your own strategy. (A) That's what politicians do and you've already shown enough within your limited political savvy to know how to do that. (Head Beggar, anyone?) (B) It's the kind of claim that can't be proven false, so you have a strong platform going in. (C) It doesn't require anything from you, not even a feeble effort at coming up with "solutions." And (D), it allows the Gluttonns and the Tantrums in your party sufficient rope to hang themselves as they flail to take you down. The big risk here is that things only get slightly worse, enough so that people blame you for "not leading." But given how bad the economy is worldwide, how the worst is yet to come, how utterly clueless your opposition (the commonwealthers) are and how id-driven your opposition (legislative presidents and party leaders) are about true leadership, do you really think things are only going to get "slightly worse"? As for the label of "not leading." you're not leading now, so what's the problem with that?

Of course, miracles can happen and things could suddenly become much better, like a golden dawn after a horribly stormy night. If that does happen while you're in your cocoon, rejoice! You will sweep back into the current (non)governor's mansion to inflict a second term upon Us and take your place as the rightful obstacle to Gluttonny and Tantrum. 

But then, could the miraculous dawn happen while you're not in your cocoon, Oh Larvous One? 


The Jenius Has Spoken.

23 February 2009

Speed-to-Business Equals Growth

Kevin Shockey and I have had many lenghty conversations (Genius-to-Jenius, as it were) about Puerto Rico's general and specific problems. A significant number of My posts cover topics he has either discussed with Me, were triggered by his comments or lead into more discussions with him.

One We touched upon recently was the oft-noted observation that Puerto Rico fosters new business growth like penicillin fosters infection. (To you statehooders out there: We're killing new businesses.) I noted that the overgrown legal system (laws, regulations, licenses, permits, taxes etc.) did that to legitimate businesses, and that in fact this was the prime motivator for the recent spurt of the "underground" economy, as evidenced by the huge proliferation of flea markets.

I touched upon this before, noting that flea markets have gone from "one or two, only on Sunday events" to "dozens, some open every day" with a parallel expansion from "mostly old junk" to "plenty of new stuff, groceries, electronics and services." Here's an example from a recent flea market visit I made:

Tony is a hair stylist who works Friday through Sunday at a flea market. His stall has two large chairs and several metal folding chairs, bright lights, two fans shoving air in semicircles and a 27-inch TV set on a pedestal playing a popular movie still in theaters. He cuts hair, trims beards and eyebrows and charges from $6 to $20 per client. In an average 9-hour day he pockets $250-$350, averaging about $1,000 on a weekend.

His Tuesday-Thursday job is manning a chair at a large local salon, in the Mall, with 11 other stylists, male and female. He has a few regulars, but he's young and hasn't built a clientele yet. The salon charges from $10 to $34 for the same hair cut, beard trim and eyebrow plucking services. Of the amount charged, Tony gets to keep roughly 40%, for he pays a "chair fee" to work at the salon, a cleaning fee to keep his chair area neat and an override commission to cover utilities . His average per 9-hour day at the fancy salon in the Mall: $60-$80. 

Yes, Tony makes more in one day at the flea market than he does in three days at the salon.

Tony pays $200 a week for his space at the flea market, signing a guaranteed 20-week contract after his credit was verified. He gets space, electricity, security, even debit and credit card payment processing in the deal, which he worked out in about 2 hours one Thursday afternoon, when he called in sick at the salon and went to the flea market. Tony was even offered an instant loan of up to $3,000 to get his barbershop set up, at a very fair 15% interest rate, with only his stall's furnishings as collateral, even though they totaled about $550. 

Would he consider opening a salon like the one he works in? Would you? Even before finding out it took the salon's owner 19 weeks to simply take over the salon from its former owner, who took 29 weeks to open it back in 1997? And since then, the legal system has thrown another 3-8 weeks of red tape, a.ka. garbage, to increasingly keep businesses from starting up efficiently.

Now it's true that Tony faces a hike in his rate soon, to about $225 or even $250 a week. Competition, you know. But he has seen a steady increase in clients as the months have gone by, with his salon regulars now dropping in--by appointment--to save themselves a few bucks. And as he told Me: Why bother for months with bureaucracy when you can have your business in a day? 

And that, as they say in cardiology, is the heart of the matter. The more the Fools (politicians of every stripe, scar, birthmark, mole, open sore and leprosy) throw roadblocks at business, trying stupidly to skim even more of Our money as it changes hands, all they're doing is reducing legitimate businesses in favor of ad hoc--underground--commerce.

Like crack addicts, they can't stop what they're doing even if their microcephaly gives them a glimpse of a better way. As the economy worsens--and it will get much worse for Us--it is this ad hoc economy that will sustain Us. The huge amount of cash it represents is the underlying foundation for Our economic resistance to outright swooning. The moment that cash flow is interrupted, We will see an abrupt contraction of this underground economy and that will be like chopping the roots of Our economic tree.

Is this underground economy "right"? Isn't it, in fact, illegal to generate income and avoid paying taxes on almost all of it? Yes, the underground economy is illegal--because the legal economy is unfair, abusive and ineffective. How else could the ad hoc economy match or even exceed the legal type? When the benefits outweigh the risks, people will do what is wrong. When the benefits clearly outweigh the risks and no other viable option is allowed, many more people will do what's wrong. In this case, it means going undergroud. Either that or they leave,  go on welfare , beg, steal, prostitute themselves or deal drugs. But they won't starve, that's for sure.

Should We do something about the underground economy, even though it allows rapid entrepreneurship, has a venture capital system that places greater value on the person's skill set and knowledge rather than his contacts in government, makes money quickly and consistently and keeps thousands of Our people "gainfully employed"?

Yes We should. As soon as We make the "legimitate" economy just as good.

The Jenius Has Spoken. 

20 February 2009

Another Irrelevant Party

Puerto Rico's status is that of myth: a centaur, gryphon or manticore, neither wholly one thing or another, conceptual instead of actual and just as the mythos beings listed here, increasingly forgotten.

The commonwealth status is the near-stillborn child of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), once again at this point, neither Popular nor Democratic, what with its past president Aníbal "The Jellyfish" Acevedo in federal court and looking whipped. Negotiated with the U.S. of part of A. by Our last (and only) great political leader, Luis Muñoz Marín*, this commonwealth thing he and his party thrust on Us has become a stultifying and scarring birthmark, and its party an irrelevant bunch of hoodlums.

(* That Muñoz Marín was a great political leader is not debatable. Here's the clincher: He walked away from power when it was his for the taking. He wasn't chased away by voters, kicked out by his party, arrested away or investigated away. He walked away on his own terms to make way for others.  No one else in Our history can match his level of political performance and say the same. Case closed. But that doesn't mean he was perfect.)

The problem with the commonwealth status is that it makes Us and keeps Us a colony. That, too, is beyond debate. (You can debate it if you wish, but it's like debating whether the Sun is hot or cold. You can say "cold" 'til your toenails freeze, but that won't change the Sun an iota.) Because it makes Us and keeps Us a colony and this reality cannot be snowed under by torrents of words and snappy jingles, the PDP has opted for ignoring the issue, continuously thrusting commonwealth into the background, like the retarded child of first cousins. And by doing so, the PDP has lost its reason for existence and its relevancy.

In that sense, it has joined the former independence party in irrelevancy. The independentistas, smothered by the overbearing ego of their President-for-Life Rubén "Hot Air" Berríos, went from being a party centered on an identifiable concept for its existence to insightful critic of government processes to nagging cohorts within the government to outsiders leeching government funds. Their central message, their very reason to be in the voter's minds, was dropped when the torrents of words and snappy jingles could no longer hide the vast indifference and rejection their patriotic cause engendered. And thus they became irrelevant.

In the PDP's case, they have gone from political power to nagging cohorts without ever touching the level of insightful critics. Like fish who can describe everything in their world except water, the PDP swam through (and created ) so much of the sewers of government that they could never hope to be insightful critics, for that takes either an outsider's perspective or an objective sense of proportion.

Does that mean that statehood is the only option left for Puerto Rico?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAhahahahahahahellno. Not while the Sun shines. What the PDP's irrelevancy means is that We are effectively living a one-party system, where one party can still espouse some core concept (even though it's akin to calling the Sun "freezing") while the erstwhile main opposition party can only wave its arms, stamp its feet and spout banalities while waiting--hoping--for the enemy to screw up so badly they get the revenge vote.

In other words, an ongoing festival of idiots battling idiots while slack-jawed idiots applaud "their" side as the nation drowns in idiotically-futile fervor pretending to be action. 

But there is a silver lining to all this, yes there is: The spectacle is becoming more noticeably grotesque and at some point in the next few years, it might goad Uncle Sam(e Crap, Different Day) to just drop Us like an old newspaper into their choice for Our future.

That's not much of a silver lining, but given what We have now, I'll take whatever the hell We can get.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

18 February 2009

Our City Is Babbling

"When you ask what message a city sends, you sometimes get surprising answers."

That quote is from a May, 2008 essay by Paul Graham. For those of you who believe in serendipity, this is another example, for not only did I launch a "Puerto Rico more like a U.S. city" metaphor in My last post, I was building this post to be about what kind of "city" Puerto Rico truly is. Then lo and behold, this gem of an essay flits onto My screen.

Let Me dismiss something outright. I don't see "city as a belittling label or metaphor for Puerto Rico. Labels are needed to define things and I am trying to define My argument that We should measure Ourselves by human resources rather than by land area. And for another, cities have long had a history of being not only legitimate bases for nationalistic pride, but have also been enormously influential, as anyone studying the history of Athens or Florence can attest. So, no, calling Puerto Rico a "city" is not a slur or damning with faint praise.

Back to Graham's essay: "Great cities attract ambitious people. You can sense it when you walk around one. In a hundred subtle ways, the city sends you a message: you could do more; you should try harder."

Graham says that New York sends the message of "make more money," while Los Angeles is "be famous," Boston (Cambridge) is "be smarter" and Silicon Valley (a multi-part "city") emits a message of "you should be more powerful" (as in causing deep and extensive positive change in your world.) He goes on to write: "So far the complete list of messages I've picked up from cities is: wealth, style, hipness, physical attractiveness, fame, political power, economic power, intelligence, social class, and quality of life."

Now if you look at that list, there's two that stand out (at least to Me) that Puerto Rico could have locked up long ago as its personal message that ends up bringing people here rather than driving them out: intelligence and quality of life.

There was a time (70s and 80s) when Puerto Rico led the U.S. in bilingual college graduates, an advantage We could have done more with in a country that stupidly prides itself on knowing and wanting to know only one language. And since intelligence is more than just a degree and grammar, the brain drain We've gone through for 40 years, with its subsequent national and global impact in medicine, education, sciences, journalism, politics and yes, sports and entertainment, is ample testimony that We had and have the widespread talent at a level that other regions and countries would like to produce.

Graham points out that Cambridge may be the intellectual center of the world despite its harsh weather. If you think cold and wet makes for intellectual growth, check out Athens or Florence, where weather is quite pleasant by their region's standards. Compared to the U.S. of part of A., Our weather is the stuff of vacation and honeymoon dreams, year-round. But climate is only one aspect of quality of life; in nearly every other factor you care to bring up, We have turned a near-paradise of an island into a chaotic mess.

Graham again: "Does anyone who wants to do great work have to live in a great city? No; all great cities inspire some sort of ambition, but they aren't the only places that do. For some kinds of work, all you need is a handful of talented colleagues...

...It's in fields like the arts or writing or technology that the larger environment matters. In these the best practitioners aren't conveniently collected in a few top university departments and research labs—partly because talent is harder to judge, and partly because people pay for these things, so one doesn't need to rely on teaching or research funding to support oneself. It's in these more chaotic fields that it helps most to be in a great city: you need the encouragement of feeling that people around you care about the kind of work you do, and since you have to find peers for yourself, you need the much larger intake mechanism of a great city."

If We had focused on quality of life, on admiring and holding up as exemplary the works of educators, scientists, entrepreneurs and technologists rather than the air-headed silicone prancings of fat-assed models, addle-pated street-thug rants and over-surgeried pageant meat, maybe then We could have created the environment of a great city, one where Our intelligence and talent could create instead of consume. So instead of having Our brightest minds forging a future in an atmosphere of growth, We let the street-level chaos generate opportunistic dropouts.

"A city speaks to you mostly by accident—in things you see through windows, in conversations you overhear. It's not something you have to seek out, but something you can't turn off." We--as a city--are not speaking. We are not conversing. We are either ranting or mute, slack-jawed observers of idiocies or fervent applauders of it, disingenuous babblers or demagogic babblers. In any case, We are not speaking Our message: We are babbling as time ticks away.

The Jenius Has Spoken.


16 February 2009

Our Children Left Behind

Back some time ago, I made four predictions. Two of them have already made subtle-but-noticeable appearances: the public debate (such as that can be) on Luis "The Larva" Fortuño's obvious (to Me for so long) lack of leadership and... skip down a bit. This deserves its own paragraph.

From a highly-placed source in Our local Department of (Mis)Education, there's a frantic kerfluffle going on to assuage and appease the Federal Gods of Funding who are eminently irate at Our heinous lack of progress under No Child Left Intact... I mean, No Child Left Unscathed. Uh, Behind.

It appears that time is running out on options to keep Our (mis)education system out of federal control, as the NCLB statutes apply. That NCLB is to education what salmonella is to peanut butter is beside the point; the point here is that billions of dollars, an entire educational system and the integrity of Our country to manage its own internal affairs in its own way are about to become stink bombs.

Why an entire educational system? Because We, in Our infinite(simal) wisdom, decided that centralization of educational control was best, at a time when the rest of the world was decentralizing and becoming more efficient. Take a heavily-politicized, historically-inept government agency, add layers of ding-dongs to an already-crowded lamebrain jug band while smashing them into one huge mess and then toss in several billion dollars for motivation and it's a freaking miracle We still have schools.

So instead of 14 schools, or 22, or 41 facing sanctions for sub-standard Annual Yearly Progress, Puerto Rico has over 730 schools that fail to make the passing grade. That's 47% of Our total public schools, despite a per-student infusion of federal funds that exceeds nearly every State of the Union.

A handful of Our schools (24) have been under AYP levels for 7 or 8 years. That's every year of the ridiculous NCLB act, but when you play by the rules (by taking the federal money), then you have to abide by the rules. Close to 420 schools have been sub-par for at least the last four years. And of the "acceptable" schools, more than half are within 5 percentage points of falling (no child left) behind.

That the No Child Left Behind act is a disaster is, at this point, beyond debate. It turns education into a "downward push for acceptable standards" that is simply stupid. If the same standard applied to baseball, strikeouts would now take 5 strikes, or maybe 6, you know, so the players won't get those awful "K"s in the box score...and Our team can look better!

No, that's not the issue here. The issue for Us is that We are on the verge of becoming the (sub)standard by which federal control of a state's (territory's) educational system is measured. We--Our children--will become the poster children for "too stupid to learn well," a patently false label that nonetheless will stick for years to come. That the standards are stupid is obvious; that Our children are not will be much less so. The criminal stupidity of Our "education" leaders will (continue to) haunt Us for years.

And that's what We get for putting up with heavily-politicized, historically-inept (mis)education system, that for decades added layers of ding-dongs to an already-crowded lamebrain jug band and then smashed them into one huge mess that proceeded to misuse and mishandle and mismanage billions of dollars over the past 20 years.

[Insert "F" word here.]

The Jenius Has Spoken.

13 February 2009

Not Rational, Not Sane

What happens in a society when serious discussions of long-term issues disappears?

What does it mean when the public debate  about an issue of transcendental importance--such as education, long-term security, industrial development and environmental protection--ceases to be about facts and rational progression of ideas and becomes nothing more than a contest to outshout, out-talk and even cut out any and all opposition?

What happens to a nation when the primary form of dissemination of ideas is gossip, innuendo, mockery, demagoguery, bluff and ribaldry?

Where is a society heading when ideas are worth nothing and emotions are the standard for deciding policy?

When rationality is subtracted from the public forum, sanity at the policy level becomes intermittent, then nonexistent.

When ideas are demeaned to the point of instant rejection, debates are no longer about the merits of issues (pros and cons), but about prejudices, i.e., whims and  lusts.

When debate ceases to be a rational search for meritorious resolution, the creation of policy via "debate" is not a progression, but a regression, a downward spiral where reality is the starting point and the path downward is fueled by ids and egos.

And in that rush to feed the bottom of wretched souls, the most extreme ids and most extreme egos lead the way. Sanity is not the realm of extreme ids and extreme egos.

Sanity is not Our realm now, not at the public level. We are led by ids and egos that deplore rationality in favor of "what I want, no, what I lust for" and on that basis, We are like the crewmembers on the Pequod or the Caine, caught in the rantings of madmen (and unhinged women) who are obsessed with their own psychotic visions, caring little or nothing about where they lead Us.

And if you think I exaggerate, do this the next time you hear a "public debate" on some large issue facing Us as a nation: notice how much is constructive rather than critical or of an emotional appeal. Serious debates are meant to build a solution, a plan or a process. What We have are slashfests, where mud-slinging criticism is sprayed without regard to hitting a specific target; rants, where anger and volume are the poorest of substitutes for analysis and veracity, and We have whines, where the idea is to shame the opposition through inane complaints and mindless sarcasm.

Listen, if you can, to what passes for public debate. Listen, if you can, to loquacious lunacy masquerading as leadership. Listen, for as long as you can, and then wonder how We got here...and how We'll get out.

The Jenius Has Spoken. 

11 February 2009

No Brains = Brain Drain

"The University of Chicago economist and Nobel laureate Robert Lucas declared that the spillovers in knowledge that result from talent-clustering are the main cause of economic growth. Well-educated professionals and creative workers who live together in dense ecosystems, interacting directly, generate ideas and turn them into products and services faster than talented people in other places can. There is no evidence that globalization or the Internet has changed that. Indeed, as globalization has increased the financial return on innovation by widening the consumer market, the pull of innovative places, already dense with highly talented workers, has only grown stronger, creating a snowball effect. Talent-rich ecosystems are not easy to replicate, and to realize their full economic value, talented and ambitious people increasingly need to live within them. 

Big, talent-attracting places benefit from accelerated rates of “urban metabolism,” according to a pioneering theory of urban evolution developed by a multidisciplinary team of researchers affiliated with the SantaFe Institute. The rate at which living things convert food into energy—their metabolic rate—tends to slow as organisms increase in size. But when the Santa Fe team examined trends in innovation, patent activity, wages and GDP, they found that successful cities, unlike biological organisms, actually get faster as they grow. In order to grow bigger and overcome diseconomies of scale like congestion and rising housing and business costs, cities must become more efficient, innovative and productive. The researchers dubbed the extraordinarily rapid metabolic rate that successful cities are able to achieve “super-linear” scaling.
“By almost any measure,” they wrote, “the larger a city’s population, the greater the innovation and wealth creation per person.” (Emphasis Mine.)

The quote is from page 2 of a fascinating article written by Richard Florida in this month's The Atlantic. The author's previous article in that magazine was about the clustering of the "educational elite" in fewer cities than before, a trend he saw as having an enormous economic impact. I read that article back in October 0f 2006 and discussed its findings and reasoning with several colleagues. With the current economic crisis, the ability to overcome downturns is paramount, and sadly, it's an ability Puerto Rico has long declined to develop.

Anyone who spends at least a day in Puerto Rico doing business will encounter the two-word poem "brain drain." That it has been a staple of Our vocabulary since the 1960s will tell the person that We have been lugging that particular baggage for a very long time. Simply put, "brain drain" has kept Us from taking advantage of Our best resource--almost certainly Our only world-class resource--and thus We have allowed Our economy to stagnate rather than to innovate.

What "brain drain" represents is not just the exodus of educated people, it represents major failures in three distinct areas:

1) Education: Obvious, but not really understood. Highly-educated people are often highly-mobile as well. Puerto Rico failed to develop its educational system to keep people on the Island and to attract highly-educated people from other places. The universities in the U.S. of part of A., England, Germany and other countries are magnets for talent. Our schools and universities are more often magnets for thieves.

2) Politics: Hypocrisy about education and the economy has dominated Our politics for six decades. The next politician who spouts that "Children are Our future" should be shot in the present. Year after year, since the mid-1960s, politicians of every stripe have consistently acted to undermine, sabotage and ruin Our educational system by seeing it as simply another political playing field, where the whims and prejudices of "ideology" mean much more than respect for Our future. And constant kowtowing to Uncle Sam's wallet has caused Us to switch Our focus from Our brains to his butt.

3) Law/Regulations: As I write this, the legislature is spewing another flurry of bills aimed at adding regulations and permits to a wide range of products and businesses, from cell phones and MP3 players to inflatable playhouses and beauty salons. The average start-up period in Puerto Rico is amongst the longest in any democracy, and is actually longer than some former Soviet satellite nations. And to top it off, the tax structure is about to become a bigger burden as these same vermin cough up more bills to try to sustain their cancerous leech-hold on Our wallets.

Take these three failures as a group and you have an economy that (a) disrespects talent and knowledge (of course it does: politicians lack both),  (b) strangles business owners with red tape and unnecessary costs, (c) which in turn denies innovation and (d) thus impedes growth.

The opposite of what Richard Florida discusses in his two articles.

The best level of comparison between Puerto Rico and the U.S., based solely on numbers, is not "P.R.-State" but "P.R.-City." Our size has much more in common with the average U.S. city than with any State, and by that token, Puerto Rico's roughly 4.01 million people would rank as the second-largest city in the U.S. Now I ask you, My Fellow Puerto Ricans, would you rather be second-largest or 49th of 51? And shouldn't We really be measured by Our people rather than by Our landmass?

We should. But We haven't cared about "Us as a whole" more than some people have cared about "Us as a group." And so, despite a population density that favors the kind of highly-connected economic hub that Richard Florida describes, despite a hybrid sociopolitical standing straddling two languages and two continents, despite a workforce that evolved into one anchored in high education, despite being the center of economic attention for two decades and hell, despite having gorgeous weather and warm sandy beaches galore, We are now on the level of an average small city in the U.S., a Tupelo or Titusville, wondering where "they" are going, wondering what will happen to Us and trying to understand what happened to get Us into this mess.

I don't know about Tupelo or Titusville, but I just told you about Puerto Rico.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

09 February 2009

7 Traits of Great Political Leaders

Is there a chance that Our (non)governor, Luis "The Larva" Fortuño, will eventually wrap himself in a cocoon and emerge a mariposa, i.e., a full-fledged, effective political leader? (Let's ignore the fact that in Our slang, mariposa is also a word for a gay man, something some members of The Larva's party already call him. Oh, don't worry: people in other parties call him that, too. But since The Larva's sexuality is of no concern to anyone, We'll not mention it.)

A chance? Beyond question, indubitably, make no mistake, without a doubt, without any fear of error (as usual for Me) and sans hesitation: not a snowball's chance in hell.

Good-to-great political leaders combine 7 traits in a unique blend, and argue as much as you want, great political leaders have all 7 of these traits to a visible degree. The traits are: intelligence, integrity, will, charisma, "savvy," ruthlessness and egotism.

"Savvy" is shorthand for political acumen, that recognizable ability that struck raw fear in opponents of a Lyndon Johnson or Our past (un)governor The Jellyfish (on trial now for fraud charges; so much for integrity there, right?) It's that slick-slimy way some people have of making every situation a political knot that wraps their opponents and leaves them free. Not the true trait of a leader, but certainly a defining quality in a political leader.

Of the seven traits above, The Larva has only one: intelligence. (Mentioned first because in My book, it's the most valuable. Read on to find out how valuable it really is in this case.) The Larva obviously lacks charisma, "savvy," ruthlessness, will and egotism. The jury's still out (oh how clever of Me to link The Larva to The Jellyfish by mentioning a jury!) on whether The Larva has integrity. My money is on "yes," but I'm not wagering more than 22 cents...

On a scale of 70 (maximum 10 points per trait), I'd give The Larva a 22. (See the cleverness again? Man I have fun being Me!) So who's a better political leader? Let's look no further that two of Our favorite nicknamed targets, senate president Thomas "Tantrums 'R' Us" Rivera (didja notice the "T-R" sequence in there? Marvelous touch, huh?) and house president Jenniffer "Gluttonny" González.

Let's rate them, shall We?

Intelligence: I'd give "Tantrum" a 5 and "Gluttonny" a 4. Both could be lower, but I'm being generous in My specialty only because I can afford to be.

Integrity: I'll rate "Gluttonny" at 5 and "Tantrum" at 3. Both have inserted so many feet in their mouths they qualify as centipedes, but neither has really tossed all their integrity on the trash heap of ambition. Yet.

Will: Here "Gluttonny" takes a clear lead, rating at an 8 to "Tantrum"'s 5, largely because the latter hitched his will to former (mis)governor Pedro Stupid Rosselló while "Gluttonny" only pretended to hitch hers to The Larva's barely-existent will.

Charisma: Whereas "Gluttonny" has the grace of a bull in a china shop, "Tantrum" is more like a pit bull in a chain store. Neither attracts admirers so much as generates frowning curiosity. I'll give her a 3 and him a 4 only because men still attract more attention than women in Our political backwaters.

"Savvy": The clear lead here is for Gluttonny," deserving a 9, with "Tantrum" bringing in his rear at 5. He's getting better, but he's learning whereas "Gluttonny" is cruising.

Ruthlessness: Although his reputation is for being a maniacal hatchet man, "Tantrum" is actually measured in his actions. His pit bull bark is worse than his bite. (I'm so self-referential I may write Myself into this post...) On the other paw--hand--"Gluttonny" has shown to have a mean streak a mile wide. He gets a 4, she gets an 8. Moving on...

Egotism: "Tantrum" gets a 4 because he has yet to make a full break from Stupid's shadow (the same size as Stupid, but weighs nothing. Thanks, Steve.) "Gluttonny" is keeping her egotism under wraps, but it practically rumbles like a pre-earthquake tremor. So I'll say 6 for her.

Totals are: "Gluttonny": 43. "Tantrum": 30. However, the lead is greater if you take the importance of each trait for a political leader, where the list would be arranged from most to least important in this manner: will, savvy, egotism, charisma, ruthlessness, intelligence and integrity. In that order, "Gluttonny" leads "Tantrum" easily in 4 of the top 5 traits.

Now does this mean "Gluttonny" is a great political leader? Puh-lease. She's not. Does she have the capacity? Sure, just like I have the capacity to climb Mt. Everest on a pogo stick. (It's humanly possible, but juuuust barely.) And "Tantrum"? Ditto, only Me on a left-handed pogo stick. No, the whole "political leader traits" example is to show what makes a political leader in order to highlight and contrast what makes a true leader.

For you see, a true leader's trait list from most important to least, would be: integrity, will, charisma, savvy, intelligence, ruthlessness and egotism. The biggest difference is integrity, and political animals such as "Gluttonny" and "Tantrum" have already tossed that by the wayside. They can be good political leaders, and if struck by lightning in the forebrain, could mutate into great political leaders, of the kind that drag their societies and nations in new directions, not usually good ones.

But will they ever be good leaders, the kind that make their society an example for others to follow? No. And neither can The Larva. In that sense, whether it's 7 traits or 2 or 12, We're left with the certainty of Our so-called leaders falling far short--very far short--of what's so urgently needed.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

06 February 2009

Casting Light on Cockroaches

Okay. You are one of the persons in charge of Our government's (hahaha) economic policy (hahahaha) (Sorry. I'm not laughing at you...) and you have three basic choices:

1) Leave taxes as they are.

2) Raise taxes.

3) Cut taxes.

Let Me add some very simple Truths:

---Tax revenue has fallen short of all projections--even the worst case scenarios--since the implementation of the 7% sales tax three years ago. Now part of that shortfall can be laid at the feet of a global recession, but the numbers are woeful anyway.

---Real income in Puerto Rico is anywhere from 6% to 19% lower than it was in 2000. Bottom line: We each have less money to do everything than We did nine years ago.

---Tax studies from around the world have shown that raising taxes in a weak economy is like jackhammering a stopwatch: It pretty much ruins the whole thing.

So, given these simple premises, what do you choose to do? Right. Cut taxes. It makes a ton of sense simply because it make a ton of sense. But of course, sense and government parted ways back in Paine's day. (That's Thomas Paine, you statehooders, not Sila.) So Our crap-for-cerebrum excuse for (non)government-in-hiding is looking real hard at options 1 and 2 above for one reason only: to keep their (non)government intact.

What I'm saying is that Our elected leaders are looking at the current economic crisis as an "Us versus Them" deal, with "Us" being all the walking bags of cheap fertilizer that represent some 24% of Our total workforce and "Them" being you and I. Yup, they're looking to protect their own and leave you and Me as the subsidizing suckers.

That Our (non)government represents 24% of Our workforce is humiliating and obscene. That this same (non)government is acting with the brilliant insight and decisive action of a dead turtle is also humiliating and obscene. But to let them continue this fiscal attack on Our pocketbooks to keep themselves comfy is beyond humiliating and obscene, it is criminal.

And We are the aiders and abetters of this crime.

We, as a society, don't understand how fragile the power the government has really is. It rests on the basic premise that We allow them to do certain things, and that only so long as We allow thngs to happen, they will continue. And no, it doesn't require massive protests or marches or firing weapons to make the government stop what it's doing, it simply requires that We pay attention and cast light on what they are trying to do. Just as light scatters cockroaches, so does light scatter the cockroach asses We call politicians.

And who casts the light? We, as citizens. The media. Corporations. Non-profits. Opposition party members. (An aside: That was the role the Independence Party had until they joined the greed-grabfest the two major parties had long indulged in. And it's the role the PPR should have had if its leader had had more than a half-teaspoon of brains.) In short, Us.

A nation cannot be run for long on an "Us vs. Them" mentality, but it can never make any real progress when the "Us vs. Them" is defined by the elected leaders. "Them" work for "Us." Any other arrangement ceases to be democracy and becomes a rule by cretins... as We have shown for too long.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

04 February 2009

I Do? Yes, I Do

The front page of local dishrag Primera Hora this week states that "67 of every 100 marriages separate." Along with this headline are two more: "60% of mothers have children without being married" and "There is a deficit of men to violent deaths." As a capper, the front page cartoon is of a bride and groom; the groom's thought is "I thought this (marriage) was for life" and her thought is the local version of "Yeah, right."

Plenty to snipe at, fer sure. First point: Primera Hora is a dishrag, a raggedy, semi-slimy dishraggy excuse for a newspaper. (Yes, I said "dishraggy.") That We put up with it is tantamount to living with a bong-smoking swimmer... who doesn't win 8 gold medals.

Second point: If it's true that 67% of marriages end in separation, what is that saying about what's left of Our society? "What's left" because the nuclear family is the basic component of a society and when 2/3 of those components are broken, what kind of social fabric do you have...left

It frosts My perineum to have religious leaders shrieking like howler monkeys against gay marriage, but keeping mum about the free-fall disruption marriage--"regular" marriage--has become. Better to fight against 500-700 marriages a year than to focus on the 70,000-82,000 marriages that go under like bowling balls in ponds.

Third point: That 60% of mothers are unwed when they have their children is a moral/economic seachange. Moral because it is no longer considered an awful humiliation to have a bastard (see how the word shocks you more than the act?) and economic because women are no longer the subservient vassals to men's incomes. 

Couple that in a certain way with the fourth point, that there is a shortage of men, although according to the dishrag it's due to violent deaths. Pifflegab. And poo. Even with a high incidence of murders, and with accidents and illness, the ratio of men to women in Puerto Rico is still 52%-48%, pretty much what it is in other similar societies. It's not a numbers game, at least not those numbers: It's a game of standards. And men simply aren't measuring up.

More women than men are enrolled in universities, graduate and go on to post-graduate degrees and more women than men are launching new businesses. What this means is that more and more, women are both better prepared and better focused than men to make their lives grow in positive ways. When women have better prospects and the money to engage in building their lives on their own, they don't have to settle for any guy...neither before or after getting married.

Does this mean women are to blame for the declining rate of successful marriages? That's like blaming an improved player for his team's declining performance. It isn't women's fault: it's men's. Now it's true that it takes (for now) a man and woman to make a marriage, and also to end one. But by and large the expanding role and scope of women's roles and prospects is a fundamental change that Our society has failed to properly accept and expand to ensure that men also follow suit. We continue to place a huge burden of responsibility on women to be professionals, mothers and spouses while demanding of men only that they be money-makers.

Why else would so many men opt to skip college to "go into business," all-too-often on the fringes of legality or even beyond it? Why else do We allow men to spurt their sperm and then merely write checks (if even that) to pay for the result, barely tending to a child's needs? What responsibility do We as a society expect from men beyond that of being cash machines? Treat any person like a thing and you cannot ever be surprised when that "thing" fails to deliver optimum results.

Now I know--yes, I do--(pun not intended) that there are plenty of men who take their roles as fathers and spouses seriously, with utmost sincerity and high integrity. I'm privileged to know a few. But by any measure, they are too few. They are the exceptions that prove the rule that society has been simply offering men a worthless blank check and they are paying society back in kind.

And yet, the cartoon captures a poignant truth about modern marriage: Men pretty much still do believe it can be forever, but women--despite novelas--don't. Men too often see marriage as an endpoint, while women tend to see it more realistically as the beginning of a new process that will go on until it cannot be borne. And that point is increasingly reached very much before "death do Us part."

We, as a society, liberated women and told them You can now go out there and be all you want to be, but you have to be everything you were before, too. At the same time, We told men Move over because the world is changing, but you can do what you did before: just do it for more money. The messages are simple and subtle, but given 40 years for them to sink in, the simple subtlety has created a clearly complex divide.

Can We fix it? Not according to religious leaders, who basically imitate Pontius Pilate rather than Pilate's most-famous defendant. Not according to political "leaders," who don't give a rat's patootie about anything in society except money and power. And not according to the educational system that continues to force boys to be "more like girls," thus launching them on a path to eventually show just how much they aren't like them. 

And yet, it can be fixed. Start by making men and women be truly responsible for the children they bring into the world. Make workfare a reality so that welfare becomes what it should be: a temporary support system. Make a high school degree mandatory for receiving welfare or workfare, whether with degree in hand or making progress towards it. Slash or eliminate their welfare benefits if they fail to make progress in education or work, or have more children without improving their station. 

The odds of a person (man or woman) ending up in poverty when s/he has a child before finishing high school and is under the age of 20 are 70 times higher than for persons in other situations. Seventy. Times. Higher. Unless We break that cycle, We can't build a widespread platform of successful nuclear families.

And Let's start focusing Our society's message to men so that it says We expect you to be professionals... and fathers and spouses and true partners to the women you cherish and nurture. Let's ask more of men, to tap the atavistic want/need of men to be protectors of women, for Let's face it, even when women can stand on their own two feet (maybe especially when they do) it's still a good feeling for both of them when he comes in and sweeps her off her feet, away from trouble and into the fading sunset.

At least that's something novelas still have right...

The Jenius Has Spoken.

02 February 2009

A Deadly Sin Unleashed

There was a bit of a tiff recently in Our (out)house of (non)representatives, one that simply adds another dot in the emerging outline of a woman's raw march to power.

A Fool named José "Conny" Varela (no, I didn't give him that nickname) decided he was either going to take a stand against the party in power and/or seek some facetime with the local media by stating that he would not accept his pay raise and allowance increase.

(The possibility that he did so out of a true concern for the plight of the common wage earner in these difficult economic times is the same possibility that, in Hell, ice cubes serve as hand warmers.)

The pay raise and allowance increase--that happened automatically since the Fools legislated it that way--went into effect this term, so "Con(ny)" decided he wouldn't take it. The president of the (out)house, one Jenniffer "Gluttonny" González responded to this statement by a fellow Fool by--make sure you're sitting down--suspending the entire pay and services budget due to "Con(ny)".

Yes, she not only froze his salary, she also froze the operating budget for his services as a supposed representative. In other words, she cut him off at the knees solely because he made her look bad.

Don't think so? Okay, answer this: in what other way does "Con(knee)'s" statement harm The Gluttonnous One? Go ahead, I've got time... 

Yeah, I know: there is no other way. "Gluttonny" hammered "Conny" for one reason and only one reason: To make sure her positions are not openly challenged as she climbs to the governor's mansion.

Alongside this pay raise tiff is a little thing called consultants, a position "Gluttonny" said (to Me, in fact) would be studied carefully with the goal of "reducing the budget for them and consolidating their services to make better use of expenses." So what does "Gluttonny" do the first month of her reign of feeding frenzy? She hires her mentor for $120,000 a year and her close friend for $80,000, and others, in contracts that are directly linked to her office. In short, her hirings topped the $280,000 mark and are exactly the kind of contracts she supposedly took her stand against.

So what have We learned from this?

1) The pay raise and allowance increase are wrong, but only one Fool spoke out against them.

2) "Gluttonny" is insecure and will over-react in the way insecure people will. Her key hot buttons are related to her position (she's keenly aware of having come very far in a short time), her personal life (not a political issue, but one that does and will come into play; just ask her mentor who faced allegations of being a lesbian) and her educational level (she's studying law and likes to point out that she reads voraciously.)

3) She no longer looks to The Larva in the governor's mansion for guidance. Her smackdown of "Conny" was not an action The Larva would suggest or condone. This is the first clear action she takes that says she will act outside the narrow limits of The Larva's puny political acumen.

4) And finally, that "Gluttonny" is nothing more than a political animal, no different from The Jellyfish or The Horse or any other lamebrain excuse for lousy leadership. But those other two animals were governors, and "Gluttonny" wants to make this a list of 3-for-3.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

P.S. -- If "Conny the Insignificant" had really wanted to take a strong stand against the pay raise and allowance increase, he would have rallied to continue running his office despite "Gluttonny"'s draconian action, thus casting her and her entire party's positions in bas relief. That he didn't, that he actually capitulated within a day of "Gluttonny"'s response to him shows that "Conny" and his party lack brains, guts and imagination. Three cheers for the Fools!