27 November 2013

Solving Puerto Rico 004: Marcos Polanco

Continuing The Jenius's vidcast series, Solving Puerto Rico, We come to Marcos Polanco. Not only is Marcos a serial entrepreneur, he also worked for the government agency called Puerto Rico Industrial Corporation, better known as TRASH, er, I meant PRIDCO.

Marcos is closely involved with Our start-up community and was a major force behind the successful TEDx San Juan Conference. We cover a series of topics in almost rapid-fire fashion, and leave many more for future chats. Check it out here, or simply click below.

I'm very sure that, time permitting, Marcos will be back on the vidcast. There's too many ideas We could discuss to leave unexplored.

The Jenius Has Interviewed.

22 November 2013

We Were Screwed, Then The Rapists Showed Up

Ronald Reagan, second banana to a chimp for most of his life, once said, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

Screw that. They're still true, but they've been replaced by "You're bankrupt and Wall Street will help fix that."

So combine the two, the federal government shoving Wall Street at a problem, and you have the current "Huzzah!" moment Puerto Rico is going through.

 "But, Jenius," some of you will say, "it's just the feds coming in to set things straight. Who said anything about Wall Street?"

I did, I do and there's no hiding it. The federal government is trying to head off the financial collapse of Puerto Rico and who knows more about financial collapses than the banksters of the Street?

Look, We are bankrupt. Our debt and debt service are beyond Our current and estimated future capacity to repay. Anyone who argues the contrary is an idiot or ignorant of the facts. Puerto Rico's bond rating has not been properly classified as "junk" because there's too many billions of dollars of Our debt running around in too many pension funds and investment pools.

Yes, Puerto Rico, through bankster-like mismanagement and greed, has become "too big to fail." Woo.

And hoo.

The feds may have ordered the "rescue mission," but the banksters are going to do the actual """work""", and if history is any sort of teacher--and it is--We're about to get raped. Oh, not immediately, of course not, that would be counterproductive. No, the rape will be delayed, to a time well after the money-grubbing forced "pawing foreplay" has properly run its course. Then, when the banksters and their cronies, both federal and local, have had their fill of easy pickings, then We'll experience the full effect. Think of it as going roofied, by command.

But by then, the feds and the banksters and most of the local vermin will have moved on, to another target.

It's not called a "SWAT team" for nothing.

And yes, "rape" is a harsh and horrible word. But Puerto Rico is about to be forced, compelled and obligated to perform solely to please someone else's idea of "satisfaction." We will ultimately get nothing out of the "rescue the Island's financial status" process except a loss of self, an image tainted by contempt and lasting pain. That is economic rape.

We can demand transparency in the process. We won't get it.

We can demand a greater say in the process. We won't get it.

We can demand more control over Our economy. We won't get it.

We can demand to be left alone to solve it Ourselves. Nobody will believe Us.

We won't get any of the above because We haven't got the guts, brains or will to demand any of it. And even if We did, We'd get nothing.

What We'll get, is shafted. Economically stripped and plundered like a Roman vestal by rampaging Visigoths wearing $2,000 suits and the moral IQ of a lead bullet.

They'll get what they want. We'll just get older. And more screwed.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

20 November 2013

Solving Puerto Rico 003: Raúl Colón

Serial entrepreneur and young father Raúl Colón has a varied background. On top of that, he is a passionate advocate of and for Puerto Rico. Our Solving Puerto Rico vidcast crept over the 30-minute mark because Raúl unleashes ideas a mile a minute and I saw no need to stem such a favorable tide.

You can see the the interview here, or click below.

For Raúl, a social change is needed, a building of trust between individuals and organizations, so that We come together rather than dedicate Ourselves to wretched in-fighting. It's about time We realized that We don't live in a zero-sum world, but We are responsible for the zero-sum society We live in.

[In strict order, Raúl's was vidcast 004, but I want to bookend Marcos Polanco and Ramphis Castro over the next two weeks. Continuity-obsessed fans can watch them in chronological order, to avoid any severe and debilitating stress My decision may cause them.]


As a follow-up to Solving Puerto Rico 001, with Luis Herrero, his idea was to change the incentives in the education system to provide a greater level of support to school principals. It is beyond discussion that the educational system We have is a failure. And yet as a system, it sustains itself, so whatever incentives the system has must be working. That the system's goals are not what We want them to be is the issue, so I start by asking: who benefits from the current (fetid) educational system's incentives?

At a general level, the Department of (Mis)Education's personnel structure is about a 51/49 ratio, with the higher number being administrators or some such crap. (I'm taking the high road here, obviously.) That looks pretty bad, when one considers that an educational system should have more educators than a mere "less than half."

But a closer look reveals that in terms of personnel compensation, the ratio in percentages is closer to 66/34, in other words, the pay scale for crap exceeds that of teachers/ (Again, I'm on the high road here.) Even a third grade (math teacher) student can see that 51/49 does not equal 66/34.

Drilling a little deeper, with what little statistics the department provides (data from 2009 and not online as far as I could find), you'll see that on the administrative side, almost 23% of the total payroll goes to "consultants." A simple calculation (66 X .227) will show that almost 15% of the department's total payroll goes to outsiders, folks who neither teach in a classroom or directly support those who do.

"So what?" you say. "Teachers can't work alone." Granted, but when the average teacher salary barely cracks $21,000 on average, you'll note that the average consultant salary averages $79,000.

Uh-oh. Crap be expensive.

So Let's just look at that angle. The system knows it gets many millions of dollars, from both local (it is the largest single departmental budget in PR) and federal funding. Instead of focusing the department on education, the system looks inward to create boondoggles for political cronies. The incentives are not geared to "education," but "profiteering," on the form of increased bureaucracy (more people doing crap) and sweetheart deals, which include consulting and "services." Have you ever wondered why the local department of education doesn't keep accurate statistics? Now you know why.

You want proof? Our educational system was pretty much under federal government control for several years because from 1992-2008, it was a morass of corruption and fraud. It isn't much better now, but at least We no longer have the feds probing every orifice.

When education spirals downward year after year, and corruption and fraud rise over the same period, it is obvious what the incentives of the system support. So Luis Herrero's idea of changing the incentives of the system to foster stronger community schools is a great idea. It aligns the system's goals with its primary mission, whereas before the goal was "lip service to education" and the mission was "grab as much as you can before they catch on."

The educational system works as a partnership platform for back-scratching-cum-profiteering, acronym F.E.L.O.N.S. Seems appropriate that the acronym begins with the exact letter grade the system has earned for over two generations of ill-served students, parents and teachers.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

18 November 2013

Low-Wage Corporate Welfare Must Die

Wal-mart. Taco Bell. McDonald's. KFC. Marshalls. Pizza Hut.

You know these places. You know what the offer. But did you know they are amongst the lowest-paying companies in the U.S of part of A?

According to a 24/7WallStreet.com article, these companies, along with Sears, Macy's, Target, Starbucks, Kroger, Olive Garden and Red Lobster are in the group of the 10 lowest-paying cheapskates.

But unless We work there, what do We care? "Bring on the low prices," We say!

To the employees of these companies, whose average wage is under $10 an hour and most are limited to part-time work to avoid getting benefits, the reality is very different. There's a reason the government tracks a category called "working poor."

Did you know there's a company that made $17 billion in annual profit, paid virtually no taxes in almost every state, has over 1.4 million employees and is by far the company with the most employees receiving food stamps and welfare support? In fact, in some states, their employees are the single-largest group of welfare recipients? Did you know that company is Wal-mart?

Now you do.

And what do you care, right? You don't work at Wal-mart. Bring on everyday low prices!

Okay, but who pays that welfare support to Wal-mart employees? It isn't Wal-mart, who protects its profits with canny accounting. It's Us. Our taxes subsidize Wal-mart underpaying its employees. In effect, We pay for these employees, as We do for those who work in McDonald's, Sears, Pizza Hut and the rest.

You might say that people have to work and at least these folks have a job. Wrong point. Look at the other end: $17 billion in annual profit. How much of that is needed to raise wages to a level that gets Us--you and I and Our taxes--off the hook, so We stop providing welfare to employees and the companies that underpay them? Did you make $17 billion in annual profit last year? So why should your money underwrite the company that made that much and expects to make more this year?

The argument for establishing a "living wage" minimum, which can range (according to whose numbers you believe) from $11 to $25 an hour, is based on the idea that when people earn enough money to sustain themselves, they need less welfare. They can thus consume more and as We have all learned from Saturday morning TV ads, consumption makes the world go round.

The companies listed above are vehemently opposed to a "living wage." Wal-mart and many of these companies are also vehemently opposed to unions, who can organize to negotiate one. Cynically, the opposition is because these companies will then have to get off the welfare teat and actually work for a living. The specific driving force is that the shareholders want profits and profits are harder to come by when the monies have to be paid to the employees, rather than letting the state and federal governments pay out.

But are profits really that hard to come by when paying a living wage? Costco has routinely kicked Wal-mart's Sam's Club ass year after year, generating more sales per square foot and far more sales per employee. Costco workers average just under $17.00 per hour in base pay, nearly all work full-time and thus enjoy benefits such as medical plans and retirement funds. Costco is not as large as Sam's Club, but it generates roughly the same level of profit per store, and that makes them just as attractive to shareholders.

McDonald's has a dominant position in one market, where the stores have above-average sales and wages are equivalent to about $15.50 per hour. There's even plans to open more stores, despite having to pay over twice Our national minimum wage. Where is this magical place of Happy Happy Joy Joy Meals? 


Stick that in your low-wage pouch and smoke it.

The largest segment of workers in Puerto Rico are in the "Services" category. Just drive around and you'll see why, with many of the cheapskate companies listed above joined by Walgreens, Pep Boys, Burger King, Auto Zone, Wendy's and Office Max along with local retail chains like Pitusa, Econo, Selectos and Me Salvé. All have the same marginal-wage structure, trying to cap employee hours at 35 per week and letting the welfare system fill the gaps.

A friend of Mine, who has an MBA, lost her job when the multinational she worked for closed with barely 15 day's notice. She went to verify her unemployment benefits and to see if she could get a job through the government agency's resources. She was only offered jobs at Burger King. The pitch? "Take the job and we'll get you food stamps to help out."

She's living in Boston now.

Where Burger King and McDonald's and Wal-mart and Starbucks employees also qualify for food stamps.

You see the problem, right? "Blame it on the system," right?

But aren't We "the system"?  Damn right We are. So it's either fix it, destroy it or stay out of it altogether. 

We can do all three, and We should. Solutions are out there, but like with ideas, it's making them happen, the execution, that makes the difference.

Let's explore that, shall We?

The Jenius Has Spoken.

P.S. -- From today's Cleveland Plain Dealer website: A Wal-mart in Canton. Ohio is holding a Thanksgiving food drive "for their associates in need." Associates, what Wal-mart calls its employees, are in need? Of food? What the hell is Wal-mart paying them? Peanut shells? And how the hell does a company with a $17 billion annual profit have the totally unmitigated gall of asking its customers to directly help feed its employees? Is this the new image of America? 


[Update: 20 Nov 2013: You vote more with your dollars than you do with your, uh, vote. Here's the explanation and how powerful it is, via Free From Broke.]

[Update: 21 Nov 2013: How Wal-mart Could Pay Workers a Decent Wage Without Raising Prices. From Mother Jones. The skinny? Take the money the company uses to buy back its stock, to enrich the Walton family, and put it into wages instead. And you thought I was just spewing gall about the $17 billion profit, of which $7.6 billion goes to buying back stock...

And from Bloomberg.com, How McDonald's and Wal-mart Became Welfare Queens. A few words, to sully the palate: "Wal-mart’s 'associates' are paid so little, according to Grayson, that they receive $1,000 on average in public assistance." That's over $1.4 billion a year that taxpayers shell out for "everyday low prices." Shit.

Speaking of which, from the good people that run the other welfare queen bitch: "McDonald's Tells Employees To Consider Returning Holiday Gifts To Get Out Of Debt."

Merry Christmas, everybody!]

[Update: 22 Nov 2013: Counterpoint, also from Bloomberg: Why Wal-mart Will Never Pay Like Costco. A quote: "Costco really is a store where affluent, high-socioeconomic status households occasionally buy huge quantities of goods on the cheap: That’s Costco's business strategy (which is why its stores are pretty much found in affluent near-in suburbs). Wal-Mart, however, is mostly a store where low-income people do their everyday shopping." The article makes, and supports, its valid points.]

13 November 2013

Solving Puerto Rico 002: María José de Mata

The second Gil The Jenius: Solving Puerto Rico vidcast features a talented young lady who is looking to make her way in films and multimedia. Although Puerto Rico is a huge consumer of entertainment, the only genre with a great number of projects is music. Local films are few and far between, and the obstacles We face to increase their number are many.

Some folks might consider that government monies used in supporting films are wasted, when there are drug addicts on the streets, battered women without shelter and politicians needing a late-model Lexus. But it isn't a matter of "or," but of "and." We should have the flexibility and support systems to foster films, decrease the number of addicts, protect battered women and run politicians over with their current Lexus.

María focuses on the film side of the equation, and the chance to develop Our own stories. Use the direct link or just click below.

On the off-chance that you might ask, the cat's name is "Sally."

The Jenius Has Interviewed.

12 November 2013


Yes!! It's that glorious tiME of the year (roughly a 9.4-month period) that culminates in...wait for it...MY BIRTHDAY!!!

Feel free to applaud. Hoist a drink. Dance a jig. Freedom of expression rules here.

For the past 9 years, I've been celebrating MY BIRTHDAY as part of My Jenius utterings. This year has been different. I only recently got back into this groove, or actually, a new groove. We'll see how far this takes Me in terms of accomplishing soME things I've been pondering for a while.

Yes, "utterings" is a word.

I'm keenly interested in the Center for New Economy's "The Mysteries of Your Electric Bill" campaign. Our local power company is a monopoly, run by cronyism, charlatans and crooks, and it's way past tiME that soMEone jabbed a pointy two-by-four into its eye.

Now for those of you who have followed My trajectory here, you know I'm not a fan of the CNE. I considered them a cynical useless piece of Establishment fluff with the mental acuity of toejam. I may have been wrong, or more accurately, they may be evolving into a group that can prove Me wrong. If they do, I'll take partial credit for the upgrade.

In a recent developMEnt, I have a friend, a brother actually, who is on the opposite side of the world right now. He is working, aiming at completing a task that few could hope to even imagine doing. I haven't seen him in over two years and I hope that absence ends soon.

My Son continues to gain My admiration simply by being a more well-rounded person at 13 than I was at 31. And I don't think it's a coincidence that I have had only a tiny handful of "ugh" days since I met Mrs. Jenius seven years ago. For a person who had almost three years of continuous "ugh" days, the difference is truly life-changing.

Unlike other years, this version of MY BIRTHDAY has a greater sense of gratitude in it. Life isn't perfect, it never will be, and though there are several things I yearn to fix (mainly health issues faced by wonderful friends), I can accept that I have limitations. Not easily, but acceptance it is.

And as for the problems faced by My Island, I'm no longer consuMEd by anger, spiking into occasional rage. There's a sense that a change is coming, not because We willed it into being, but because the system is so befouled, so broken, that a change will happen anyway. A rotting log will eventually collapse under its own devastated weight. (Feel free to add imagery of creepy-crawlies and the appropriate MEtaphor related to the Fools who hollow out Our Island, skittering in darkness.)

In a little while, I'll pin My "BIRTHDAY BOY" blue ribbon on and take a couple of hours to sit soMEwhere and continue writing. (I'm doing NaNoWriMo again.) Maybe I'll get free coffee again. (It worked in March. And June. And September.)

Yeah, it's MY BIRTHDAY!!! Pretty much all year long.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

06 November 2013

Solving Puerto Rico: Luis Herrero

As promised, here's the new Jenius effort, the Solving Puerto Rico vidcast. The inaugural episode belongs to Luis Herrero, technologist, entrepreneur and lawyer, which is where he falls off the pedestal.


Luis and I discuss his idea of changing Our educational system by looking at the system itself and where it places its incentives. Give yourself about 22 minutes to watch Us explore the topic and feel free to weigh in with your comments.

If you'd rather go to The Jenius channel and hang out, just click below.

Thanks, and there's much more to come.

The Jenius Has Interviewed.