Monday, January 31, 2011

The Horseplay Doctrine

Many of us have done stupid things at work.  Let me rephrase - my readers can relate to doing stupid things at work.  Up until now, stupidity and disruptive, boorish behavior left us unprotected, potential victims to an ethical boss who believes that a day's pay demands a day's work.  But infantile pranks and games in the workplace build morale, we argue.  Dumb stuff makes us who we are, and we can no sooner leave these acts of our childhood behind when work begins than we could leave our arms or legs at home.  Accept us whole, or leave us alone!

Finally, the Virginia Supreme Court agrees:

Filed by Roberto Ceniceros of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management.

Virginia Court Says ‘Horseplay Doctrine’ Entitles Worker to Comp
Under the “horseplay doctrine” a restaurant server injured by co-workers who threw ice at him is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, Virginia’s Supreme Court has ruled.

The ruling last week in Matthew Edward Simms v. Ruby Tuesday Inc. et al. is the first time Virginia’s high court has addressed the horseplay doctrine, which says an innocent victim of on-the-job horseplay is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, court records show.

Simms suffered a dislocated shoulder when he lifted his left arm to protect himself from pieces of ice thrown by co-workers, court records state.

A deputy workers’ compensation commissioner concluded that Simms was entitled to temporary total disability. However, before his injury at work, Simms had dislocated his shoulder several times, so the deputy commissioner also found that the surgery Simms underwent later was not related to his work injury.

However, the Virginia Court of Appeals ruled in 2009 that even though Simms was an innocent victim of horseplay, there was no connection between his employment conditions and the ice attack. The ruling sided with the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission, which had overturned the deputy commissioner’s decision.

But in its ruling last week, Virginia’s Supreme Court applied an “actual risk test,” in which an injury falls within workers’ compensation law “only if there is a causal connection between the employee’s injury and the conditions under which the employer requires the work to be done,” court records state.

The state high court also relied on a theory of recovery, which has found that joking actions of co-workers are a risk of employment because humans are playful and from time to time engage in pranks, which can be dangerous.

The Virginia Supreme Court remanded the case for a finding consistent with its opinion. In a contrary ruling last year, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled an injured worker must prove his injury was not a result of horseplay in order to receive workers’ compensation benefits. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Giving Us the Business - Part II

I am afraid that this will become Part II of a series that may continue through November 2012, but it is important.  I am not afraid of writing about it - I am afraid that this false line of reasoning from the current Republican Congress will be repeated and repeated until the public forgets the real truth.  Good thing I'm here.  You're welcome.

As I mentioned in an earlier post this year, the GOP has embarked on a strategy to take credit for every piece of economic good news that will come out over the next two years.  It is Politics 101 to take credit for the good, blame the bad on the other side, and trust in the American gift for forgetting what happened the day before.  We are easily distracted.  "Look, a squirrel!"

Here is House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, getting squirrelly and accepting credit for economic growth:

"This morning, the GDP projection for the last quarter was released, showing a 3.2% growth for the fourth quarter and suggesting the economy will pick up speed this year. This uptick is no doubt due in part to the certainty that Washington has given the private sector through the recent tax deal and the newly elected House Republican Majority who have pledged to rein in the size and scope of our federal government which has exploded over the last 4 years. At a time when our nation's debt is over $14 trillion, it's time to get serious about cutting spending and growing jobs in the private sector, rather than cutting spending and "investing" in new government programs."

Reality check, Eric.  The tax deal that you suggest led to the 4th quarter growth occurred in mid-December, when the quarter was 10+ weeks old.  This was also the 6th straight quarter of growth, despite the Democrat's passage of "growth-killing" legislation, like the Affordable Care Act, Wall St. financial regulation, and student loan reform.  Apparently, in direct contradiction to your talking points, these legislative movements did not destroy the economy.  The markets, pre-Egyptian rioting anyway, are optimistic, and have been all year.

Cantor is not alone in his party in claiming credit for policies he opposed.  On Fox News last week, House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) insisted that indications of economic improvements are "in large part" because Republicans "won our majority and we're pursuing pro-growth policies."  Shameless.  He argues that 6 consecutive quarters of grow have come from an event that happened in the final 45 days of an 18 month cycle.  Insulting. 

In the first quarter of 2011, let's not forget the laser focus from the Right on jobs and growth.  As we were told during campaign season, their priority once we entrusted them with our votes would be "jobs, jobs, jobs."  So far, they have introduced a purely symbolic vote to repeal health care reform, a rewrite of abortion laws, and a rewrite of the 14th Amendment regarding birthright citizenship.  Yup, that's a laser-focus alright.  They are pandering to the base, and riding Obama's coattails of economic success while they do it.  I fully expect the GOP to be pictured near a GM plant before 2012, talking about how their tough talk and social policy agenda led to the rebirth of the auto industry in this country - retroactively.

Courtesy of Steve Benen, here's a home-made chart, showing GDP numbers by quarter since the Great Recession began. The red columns show the economy under the Bush administration; the blue columns show the economy under the Obama administration.

Would we like to see more growth?  Slow and steady, yes.  Did the GOP and its policies account for the past 6 quarters of growth?  If anything, they railed against the very policies that have produced the results.  Memory check - in September 2008, things were so bad that the GOP nominee suspended his presidential campaign to fly into Washington and save the nation from financial collapse.  Given how dire things were when Obama walked in the door, these results are pretty good, and achieve in spite of Republican opposition and obstructionism.

Ah, but what about that pesky deficit?  Fact check:  the day of President Obama's inauguration, the federal budget deficit left by the Republican administration was $1.3 trillion. After some additional economy-saving measures were added to the mix, the 2009 deficit reached $1.4 trillion. Last year, things improved slightly, and the deficit fell to $1.29 trillion.  Now it's projected at $1.5 trillion after the GOP lobbied and succeeded in getting their donors the tax cut extension that, had it expired on schedule, would have reduced the deficit by $700 billion over 10 years.

"Listen to the American people."  This has been a familiar refrain.  This is what I hear - Obama's job approval numbers are at 50% after a painful election cycle and stubbornly high unemployment.  He seems to have some Teflon of his own, and I understand now why the GOP would want to co-opt his economic legacy.  I just won't let them do it.

If you want to argue that YOUR policies will lead to more growth, go ahead.  If you want to argue that the Obama agenda has led to growth that is unsustainable, go ahead.  Just don't pretend that any good news is because of anything you've done.  So far, you've done nothing.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Pants on Fire

“It’s not a lie, if you believe it to be true.”  - George Costanza

Kris Dunn wrote an article in Workforce, an obscure HR and Staffing industry trade rag, titled “The Top 5 Lies in HR”.  The title did its job, and encouraged me to take the next step and read the text.  Being in HR for the past 20 years, I believe I am qualified to comment on her work.  In summary, I found her “lies” to be uninteresting and pedestrian, and not a part of my Top 5, but you can judge for yourself:

1.       We’re responsible for the work/life balance of team members.
That might be a lie, if we folks in HR ever thought that.  It might be more true today that we worry more about employee’s work/life blend.  We stress more about cell phone use after hours and laptop use over vacations, and whether that time is compensable.  The real worry is that we’re responsible for the liability after hours, not the quality of your private life.  Just be productive when you are here please.

2.       It’s the company’s desire to provide strong benefits to all team members.
The company’s desire is to provide benefits that are more attractive than the competition’s benefits so you accept our job offer and stay until your productivity wanes, or the boss decides you are too negative.  The company wants the most employee benefits for the least money causing the least disruption to productivity.  Is that really so shocking?

3.       We’re into pay for performance.
We’re into saying that because we heard someone else mention it at a meeting or in a magazine article.  We think we’re “strategic partners” and friends with the CFO if we talk about pay for performance.  We are just like you, though.  We are more comfortable protecting the status quo, which means pay for seniority.  It’s one thing to tie compensation to company performance.  It’s a another thing to show that the pay caused the performance.  See “Drive”.

4.       We want only “A” players.
We want B and C players that never complain and never leave.  If they never complain, our jobs are easy.  If they never leave, we don’t have to recruit and interview more people, and we hate that (not to mention new hire orientation – yuck).  “A” players, generally speaking, are a pain in the a**.

5.       Everyone’s equal here.
That’s a lie, but I have never heard anyone in HR say that.  A line manager might say that in order to avoid an admission of favoritism.  We HR folks might say, "We treat everyone fairly." which is definitely a goal.  The reality is that a definition of "fairly" is in the eye of the beholder...or the plaintiff.

While I applaud Ms. Dunn’s attempt to present some ‘provocative’ lies to sell some magazines, here is my list of the Top 5 HR Lies, and I’ll supply them for free (no magazine subscription required):

1.       We haven’t decided yet.
We probably have, and if it were to your benefit, we’d tell you.  Assume I have told you that "we haven’t decided yet" to avoid any confrontation before I can prepare security to be nearby when I break the bad news.

2.       We have an open door policy.”
We love being in HR because we can close our doors, and tell everyone, “Sorry, I need privacy so I can protect your confidentiality."  It is easier to talk about you behind your back if the door is closed.

3.       All employment decisions are based on an individual’s knowledge, skills and abilities.
There are about 100 other factors that weigh into employment decisions, and you’ve probably already guessed the other 97 of them.

4.       We value the annual performance review process.
We hate it more than you do.  If supervisors did their jobs and provided feedback and direction to their direct reports regularly, there would be no need for annual appraisals.  In the absence of competent supervision that gives meaningful feedback and direction, we substitute this format, designed to keep us out of court and to discourage employees from trying very hard for the other 11 months of the year.

5.       We like people.
That’s half-true.  We used to like people, but that was before we got into HR.  Now we have learned through seminars and books that people are “human capital”, which is code for “a tangible asset that we can depreciate over time.”  Again, the CFOs out there love that kind of talk, and apparently, we want to hang out with finance people more.  Can you blame us?  They control our budget.

Now, the title of this post could be construed as a lie, since there was no mention of 'pant's or 'fire' in this diatribe.  I prefer, however, to think of it as effective marketing, and that should never be confused with a lie…right?

Editor’s Note:  The thoughts and opinions expressed in this blog’s posts are mine alone and are not representative, unless clearly and unequivocally stated, of those of any past, present, or future client or employer. That is the truth.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow Daze

I am certain that there are a thousand stories like this from yesterday’s snow commute disaster, but this is mine:

(Times are approximate, except for the start and stop times)

4:57 PM:  I start my car and exit the parking garage at work.  Boy, the snow is coming down fast and furious.  It is heavy, wet and blowing.  It sticks to the driver’s side window, reducing visibility out that side to zero.  That will limit my shifts into the left lane, but otherwise, I am carefree.

4:58 PM:  At the parking lot exit, my first decision.  A left turn is quicker and closer to the entrance to Route 66, but the road is more hazardous.  A right turn is slightly longer, but better traveled.  I’ll go right.  I’m in no hurry, so safety first!

4:59 PM:  My second decision.  I usually turn left towards home, but that route has tight curves and rolling hills.  I am a confident Jersey trained snow driver, but not insane.  I’ll go right and stay on major arteries.  The pace will be slow, but the road surface should be better.

5:01 PM:  Traffic leading up to Route 123 is at a dead stop in the right turn lane.  Cars on the opposite side cannot negotiate up a slight incline, so all traffic in the other direction is stopped cold.  My driver’s side window is buried under snow.  I step out to clean it off.

5:20 PM:  I have traveled about 50 more feet.  Making good time.  I make a bold decision.  I’ll switch into the left lane, cruise to the intersection, and then make the right turn from the middle lane.  There is no perceived danger, since traffic is crawling anyway.  My goal is Route 66 West, a mere 150 yards from the intersection.  I can smell that home cooking.

5:35 PM:  I have made the right onto Route 123, and I am driving without incident along the left lane, the “fast lane” as it were.  One simple slip into the right lane for the Route 66 entrance is all it will take now. 

5:45 PM:  It seems simple to cut into the right lane, and at speed it would be.  In the absence of any speed (cars are parked trying to get onto 66), it is more challenging.  There’s the issue of the snow/slush temporary median strip that have developed on the highway.  Another obstacle is that once I have turned, the blinding snow is no longer on my left window.  It is piling up on my right window, blocking my view of the cars that I hope to merge in between.  The first seeds of frustration begin to grow.

5:50 PM:  No worries.  Route 66 is at a stand still.  If there’s an accident on that road, I could be stuck for hours.  I will outsmart everyone.  I’ll continue straight on Route 123, and jump on Route 50 West.  That will also be slow, but well traveled.  I cross over the top of Route 66, headed south.

6:10 PM:  I am sitting still on 123 wondering what the hell is going on.  I fight the urge to honk the horn at no one in particular.  The traffic report doesn’t even mention my location.  The report basically says, “It’s bad everywhere, please be kind to people.”  I think it’s the end of the world.  When the traffic report is that non-specific, I think this might take awhile.

6:15 PM:  My “Low Fuel” light comes on.  That wasn’t good planning on my part.  If I stop for gas, I could lose my place in line.

6:30 PM:  I can see Route 50 now.  Cars are not able to scale a simple incline in front of Tastee 29 Diner.  I see cars go up, I see cars slide down.  I wonder if they will allow Jersey trained drivers to give it a shot.  It doesn’t look that bad, if I could just get to the intersection.  I call home asking about alternative routes.  I don’t like my options.  I tell Cherie that I might not get home until 7:30 PM at this pace.

6:35 PM:  I can’t wait any longer, I’d better get some gas in the car while I can.  I cut through the intersection without watching the traffic signals (they are useless at this juncture), and glide into the Exxon.

6:40 PM:  Windows cleared, legs stretched, gas tank full, I have no choice out of the gas station except a right turn onto Route 50 headed east.  It is the opposite direction from where I want to go, but no one is moving west.  I’ll drive east, and find a cut over towards a better road.  Surely, there are roads that these Virginia drivers fear that I will not.  I call home for new options.  I am traveling at 30 miles per hour, and I don’t care that I am going the wrong way.  The speed feels like victory.

6:43 PM:  Eastbound traffic on Route 50 is at a standstill.  Cars cannot climb the slight incline on the westbound side at this point either, but I have no idea what the issue is on my side of the road.  I see red brake lights extend as far as visibility will allow.  I am stopped dead, headed in the wrong direction, and it is still snowing at an estimate rate of 2 inches per hour.  This is hell without the heat.

7:00 PM:  My brother-in-law calls and helps me decide to quit for awhile.  We agree that I have earned dinner at Artie’s, a fine dining experience near the Fairfax Circle.  I try not to dwell on the fact that I earned this meal while driving 2 hours, and ending up 2 miles further from home than when I started.  I’ll watch the Caps game and enjoy a nice meal.  Traffic will be gone by the time I’m done.

7:05 PM:  Karen the bartender explains to me that the reason all the TV screens have the Direct TV icon and not actual programming on.  In her words, “Direct TV sucks.”  That may be true, but what else is true is that there will be no Caps game for me tonight, at least not until I’m back in the car headed home.

7:45 PM:  Pale ale gone, food arrives.  The grouper special is magical.  Another stranded motorist, Anna, sits next to me, and we share traffic horror stories.  The whole bar comes alive with suggestions on short cuts, hazards to avoid, and tales of survival.  Underneath all of our bravado, I think we all know we are so screwed.  50-50 chance we sleep in our cars tonight.

8:35 PM:  Brimming with confidence and a full belly, I walk to the car with a plan.  I am headed straight into Fairfax City.  A few zigs and zags, and I’ll make it back to 123, then Braddock, then home.

8:50 PM:  I am lulled into a false sense of security with my simple trip into Fairfax City.  The roads are really bad, but I am a trained Jersey driver (have I mentioned that?).  Home free, until this unusual stop at a traffic light near the Fairfax Library.  Why isn’t anyone moving?

8:55 PM:  I call home to give Cherie an update.  She suggests turning around, or some other ridiculous idea, that is only ridiculous to those of us who are out here in this wintery maze.  I think I might have been rude and dismissive.  Mental note to apologize if I ever get home.

9:10 PM:  Dope-smoking George Mason college boys think blocking intersections is a faster way to get to where they are going.  I think about ramming them with my late model Honda Accord, and claiming it was the weather’s fault.  Cooler heads prevail when I find a new radio station I had not heard before.  Peace.  Caps losing 1-0.

10:00 PM:  Good bye, Fairfax City!  My plan is coming together.  I roll down University Blvd., make a right at the Mason campus and head towards Route 123.  The sense of déjà vu I feel as I approach 123 should have been a warning sign.  Never mind!  There are only 3 cars ahead of me to turn onto 123.  Best news yet!  Caps get shut out, 1-0.

10:35 PM:  A transformer blows about 50 feet in front of me.  Lights up the sky like the sun.  Sparks everywhere.  That was a nice diversion.

10:45 PM:  I have inched (literally) about 150 feet in 45 minutes.  My brother-in-law suggests I bail out and stay at his house tonight.  He is close by.  Of course, once I am in the right lane, turning around or switching lanes is impossible.  I am trapped like those race cars on the Grand Prix ride at Disney World.  I kindly reject his offer.  I am on a mission, and I am getting stubborn.  I am also really up to date on all of the world and national news.

11:05 PM:  I make a right turn onto Braddock Road.  Abandoned cars litter the road.  Some have flashers, most do not.  I need to pee real bad.  I wonder how much that water bottle holds?

11:20 PM:  Hey, knuckleheads!  If you don’t keep your speed, you WILL get stuck.  Use the gas, redneck!!!

11:30 PM:  It’s getting fun now.  I am on Fairfax County Parkway North, near the Fairfax Costco.  The road conditions are terrible with deep piles and very few sustainable trails.  I have given up caring.  I am going home.

11:33 PM:  Dead stop ahead, but I will not stop anymore.  I exit right before gridlock traps me again, onto West Ox Road.  I can weave my way home this way.  Surely, no one else has thought of this.

11:48 PM:  I love West Ox Road, and I am flying past Fair Oaks Hospital.  I knew I’d make it.

11:49 PM:  Fairfax County Parkway South is a parking lot.  No movement.  Fortunately, I am on the north side, and I am alone.  My feelings of guilt at my good fortune do not last.  Suckers.  I am almost home.  HA!

11:55 PM:  I am in my neighborhood.  The road conditions are the best I have seen all night.

12:03 AM:  I pull into the driveway, but my rear end (I should say the car’s rear end) wouldn’t make it all the way.  I’m half in the street.  Finally home, and now I’m stuck.

12:05 AM:  Back outside, shovel in hand.  Frankly, I could use the exercise after sitting in the car for that long.

12:20 AM:  Car is on the sidewalk, I think, but at least it isn’t in the street.  I’m home.

7 miles commute, 7 hour trip.  You do the math.

Live Blogging on Tape Delay from the State of the Union

After reviewing my newsfeed last night and today on Facebook, it is clear that everyone has an opinion on Tuesday’s address to the nation.  It is also clear to me that most of those opinions could have been written before the speech was even delivered.  My friends on the right hated it.  My friends on the left liked it.  My non-political friends posted stuff about their kids and funny You Tube video links.  No surprises.  Perhaps this summary of my observations from the speech will also provide no surprises, but here you are anyway.  Keep reading.

Here are some of the notes that I scribbled to myself during Obama’s SOTU to Congress last night:
  • I like Boehner’s pink tie.  Very sensitive, and he is clearly comfortable with his masculinity.  Wonder if he’ll cry.
  • I see that Obama has been guilted into wearing the flag pin pretty consistently.
  • I thought for sure Obama would open with a joke about the size of Boehner’s gavel.
  • Obama mentions Gabby Giffords from Arizona.  I thought her mention would garner a louder and longer ovation.
  • I am glad that he didn’t dwell on the shooting in Tucson.  He mentioned it, and moved on.  That felt right.
  • “Sit together tonight, but work together tomorrow.”  That’s a good line.
  • It was good that he spent a few moments laying out the seismic changes in the work of world over the past several decades brought on by technological advances.  The world IS different than it was 20 years ago, and we do need to be reminded about that.
  • “Out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.”  This has been a campaign speech so far.  Pretty soon, he should get to the boring policy stuff.
  • Every time he says the word “investment”, I know that the GOP is thinking “spending”.  It is not the same thing, although both sides will use those words as bludgeons on one another to support their positions.
  • “By 2035, 80% of our energy will come from renewable sources.” Ever since JFK’s ‘man-on-the-moon by the end of the decade’ pronouncement, every President feels like they have to have some huge, long term goal in their SOTU, and usually it’s a goal with arbitrary percentages and deadlines…like this one.  Remember Bush’s pledge that we were going to Mars by 2020?  Most of us will BE biofuel by the time 2035 rolls around.
  • His education initiative “Race to the Top” – where have I been?  I don’t remember hearing much about that replacing No Child Left Behind.  Any educators out there know about this?
  • Everybody claps for teachers.  Such an easy and hollow gesture.  I am sure teachers are flattered, but I think they’d rather see better pay.
  • Nice to see the 2004 Dream Unity Ticket of Kerry and McCain sitting together.  Could they have won?
  • I hear a lot about high speed rail, and I understand its benefits, but this country isn’t Europe.  Will we really start using that kind of service, instead of car and air?  What else could we use that money for?
  • I don’t think that TSA pat down joke was necessary.  Leave that stuff to Leno and Letterman.
  • The tax code is the new 3rd rail of politics.  Every President proposes simplifying the tax code.  I am a cynic.  Until someone is elected on an all-tax code change platform, nothing will really change.
  • 5 year spending freeze across the board.  Candidate Obama skewered candidate McCain for proposing a similar thing in 2008 debates.  Said something like that would be using a hatchet when a scalpel is needed.  Guess he changed his mind.
  • Side note as a preemptive strike: Closing a tax loophole should not be considered a tax increase, IMHO.
  • Obama promises to veto any bill with an earmark.  I’ll believe that when I see it.  Easier said than done.  It could be that he can now veto any GOP legislation by claiming that he found an earmark buried inside.  Could be his own version of the Party of No.  It worked for the GOP this election cycle.  This is one promise I can’t imagine he could keep.
  • Glad he mentioned the student loan reform.  He eliminated the middle man in the loan process (banks) and that money can be used as budget savings and/or more educational loans.  Businesses are praised for cutting out the middle man.  This should get more play.
  • As I look at him at the podium, I still can’t believe he won.  In January 2007 when he announced, who honestly thought he’d be in this position?  Reality is stranger than fiction.
  • Poor Hillary.  Did she even shower today?  Not her best day.
  • The mixing of GOP and Democrats in the crowd subdued the entire speech.  That’s a good thing.  The pep rally atmosphere was getting out of control.  If civility is boring, I’ll take civility.
  • I thought we’d hear a longer laundry list of accomplishments.  Either he decided to focus on the future, or polling numbers told him otherwise.
Bonus Notes:

I read today that Rep. Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota had the following quote in her original text of her State of the Union response that she released to the press:

Obama should "commit himself to signing" a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget. 

The Constitution gives the president no role in amendments, which go directly to the states for ratification after Congress approves them.  Someone must have pointed this out to poor Michelle.  She deleted the reference in her final remarks.

This clip should sum up Rep. Bachmann’s grasp of US history, and facts in general:

Vantage Points

In the run-up to the 2010 midterm election in which Democrats lost control of the House, the Obama administration repeatedly broke the law by using federal funds to send Cabinet secretaries and other high-level political appointees to congressional districts of Democratic candidates in tight races, according to a government report.

"Because those trips were classified as official, funds from the U.S. Treasury were used to finance the trips and reimbursement from the relevant campaigns was never sought," stated the report by the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency that enforces Hatch Act restrictions on partisan political activity inside the federal government.

"In other cases, even when trips were correctly designated as political, agencies used U.S. Treasury funds to cover the costs associated with the trips and did not recoup those funds as required by the Hatch Act and its regulations," the office concluded.

I would image that a story like this would lend credence to the GOP storyline that the Obama administration is guilty of spreading tyranny and that we have lost control of our government.  Why isn’t the right wing blogosphere filled with this breaking news story?  Gather your pitchforks!!!

I guess it’s because this never happened.  This is the real news story that came out yesterday from the Associated Press:

In the run-up to the 2006 midterm election in which Republicans lost control of the House, the Bush administration repeatedly broke the law by using federal funds to send Cabinet secretaries and other high-level political appointees to congressional districts of GOP candidates in tight races, according to a government report.

"Because those trips were classified as official, funds from the U.S. Treasury were used to finance the trips and reimbursement from the relevant campaigns was never sought," stated the report by the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency that enforces Hatch Act restrictions on partisan political activity inside the federal government.

"In other cases, even when trips were correctly designated as political, agencies used U.S. Treasury funds to cover the costs associated with the trips and did not recoup those funds as required by the Hatch Act and its regulations," the office concluded.

Insert indignation here __________.  It seems that levels of outrage depend on what side of the aisle  you sit.  If you are wondering what the penalty is for this 'infraction', the perps lose their jobs.  Too late for that sanction to hurt.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Life Support

Jack LaLanne passed away this week at the age of 96.  Jack LaLanne brought the message of exercise as a critical function of everyday life down to earth for the everyday American.  He kept working out and being physically active, and it seems as if he was able to extend his lifespan.  His routines changed as his body and overall health changed, but the commitment to staying active never changed.  His tenure on this planet, by most measures, was a success.

Social Security was enacted in 1937 during the FDR administration to provide security for those most at risk, at a time when jobs were moving outside of homes and into offices and factories.  By most accepted measures, the system will remain 100% solvent until 2041, assuming no changes are made at all to the benefits.  The program would then expire.  At that point, Social Security would have provided a minimal level of financial support and some dignity to our seniors for 4 generations.  While some may preach that Social Security has been a failed experiment, I see a program that worked for almost 100 years.  I think that anything that has worked for almost 100 years cannot be fairly described as a failure.

Maybe with some hard work and some sacrifice, we can extend the lifespan of Social Security.  Change the Social Security ‘routines’ now that it is older, and let’s keep the patient alive for many more generations to come.  We can debate how to do this.  I will not budge on the premise that we have to do it. 
I have the positivity of Jack LaLanne with me on this one (although I recognize that things didn’t work out so great for him in the end…).  Hopefully, Social Security will not suffer a similar fate.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Food Fights

My kids love watching food shows on TV.  The hot show for all 3 of them right now is Chopped, a food version of The Apprentice.  Two contestants are given several food items (like a meat, a spice, a vegetable, and a fruit), and are asked to create a 3 course meal with these items as the primary ingredients.  A panel of taste experts (not sure how you land that gig) then rates the dishes on presentation, taste, and creativity.  The winning chef gets $10,000.  The loser gets “chopped”.  Clever, huh?  (Or should I say “Cleaver, huh?).  Cooking shows have come a long way since Dan Aykroyd did his iconic Julia Child spoof on SNL. 

All 3 of my kids seem very interested in exotic foods and their preparation for a group that thinks Chipotle is 5-star dining.  They’ve never been to a restaurant that doesn’t provide crayons with the menus, but they know how to prepare seared mahi-mahi and mango chutney.  How ironic that my relationship with food is getting simpler just when theirs is getting more complex.  That figures.   As an infant, there are a variety of foods you can’t eat.  Your body isn’t prepared to process them.  On the back end of life’s bell curve, the process of selective dieting begins anew.  So here I am.

I recently revisited the South Beach Diet as part of my New Year’s do over.   I have used the 3 phase diet program twice before, with very positive results.  It is easy to follow, the food variety is palatable, and did I mention it worked?  The ‘trick’, of course, if you could call it a trick, is to remain on the diet forever.  In theory, that should not be too difficult.  Avoid sugar.  Stay away from white flour breads and pastas.  Eat in moderation.  Train your metabolism to burn fat through a change in diet.  All very doable things, but it does require you to think about what you are eating.  That’s the hard part.  Eating without thinking is more fun, at least in the short term.  In my long term, thinking about what I eat and how much is a must.

I am pretty thin, as many of you know.  So for me, it isn’t so much a problem of ‘volume’ but of distribution.  Gravity is unfortunately a law that we all have to live by.  For my kids watching Chopped, Cupcakes Wars, Rachel Ray, and God knows what else on the Food Network, their problem is that eating has no negative consequences, unless you count running out of food as a consequence.  I will miss those days, and I accept that they are gone.  I am confident that there are new food tasting discoveries out there for me that will not keep me up at night, give me audible flatulence, or force me to shop exclusively for pants with elastic waistbands.  I will embrace the gustational journey, and bring along a few Tums, just in case.
My own diet could be a reality TV show.  “Watch Joe take on sugar and lactose for 30 minutes every Monday night at 8 PM.  The winner extends his life expectancy by one month.  The loser is forced to do TV commercials as the Pilsbury Dough Boy for the next year.” 
It could be The Decision:  “I’ve decided that I’m takin’ my talents to South Beach…the diet.”

As long as my diet doesn’t become the basis for an episode of House or CSI, I think I’ll be OK.  I would NOT let my kids watch that.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

It’s a Numbers Game

As my hockey buddies know, I have worn the number 7 on my sweater for the past 7 seasons, but not everyone knows why.  I wear that number out of respect for two athletes from my youth.  One deserves respect for his class, his talent and his on-ice results.  The second deserves respect for no other reason than his ability to stick around.

The first Number 7 was Rod Gilbert, right wing for the NY Rangers from 1962 to 1978, and his number 7 hangs in the rafters at MSG.  Working with Jean Ratelle at center, and Vic Hadfield on the left wing, all 3 were on pace in 1972 to each score 50 goals, a feat never achieved by any linemates in NHL history.  Hadfield did reach the plateau, while Ratelle and Gilbert fell short, 46 goals and 43 goals respectively, primarily because they each missed games due to injury that season.  They were known as the GAG Line (goal-a game pace), and I passionately pleaded their case for immortality in a letter to the editors of Hockey News, circa 1977.  They printed my letter, and I still have that issue.

The second Number 7 is an obscure baseball player that only loyal Mets fans will remember.  Ed Kranepool spent his entire career with the NY Mets from the team’s inception in 1962 (I was also founded in 1962).  There are few teams where a player could be called a legend with a .261 career batting average, a single All-Star game appearance, no Gold Gloves, 1400 hits in an 18 year career and a whopping 118 home runs out of a power hitting position (first base), but that is the Mets.

I read this recent quote from Kranepool, and after the feeling of relief that he was still alive dissipated, I smiled in agreement.  Speaking about the Mets today:
 “I only watch a good product,” Kranepool said. “If they are winning, I will watch, and if not, I turn the station and root for someone else."

“I am a Met true and true. I am the only guy who played his whole career with the Mets, I’ve got the longest time, longevity-wise … but I still want to see a good ball club.”

Craig Calcaterra said it best in Hardball Talk online:  “If anyone on the planet has a right to feel this way about their ballclub, it’s Ed Kranepool and the Mets.  And to be honest, I know a lot of Mets fans who feel much the same way.  Really, I don’t think there’s a fan base of its size in all of sports that has a more balanced take on things.  Mets fans love ‘em when they win. When they don’t, well, they’re not gonna cry about it and make their lives miserable.  Don’t get ‘em wrong — they’ll be there for the team through thick and thin — but you rarely find a Mets fans who lets his team’s misfortunes truly upset him any more than a few minutes after the game is over. Life goes on. There’s another game tomorrow.

Some folks may think that’s not cool, and that you should almost literally live and die with your team.  Personally, I find it kind of healthy.”

Gotta love us Met fans.  We’ve been up and we’ve been down, but we never forget where we’ve been.  We enjoyed 1986, but we carry the scars of 1962 and 1977 (along with some recent late season collapses).  Kranepool’s quote embodies that pragmatism and survivor mentality for me.

So I’d like to think I wear #7 because of my class, talent and on-rink results, just like Gilbert.  I fear it is probably more accurate to say that I wear #7 for no other reason than my ability to stick around, just like Kranepool.  I can live with that, hopefully for a few more seasons.

Editor’s Note:  Please don’t tell my son that I wear #7 for any other reason than that he was born on the 7th.  That will have to remain in the vault until he is old enough and mature enough to handle the blow.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Giving Us the Business

There is no more predictable line of reasoning from the GOP than this: every piece of good economic good news between now and November 2012 will be the result of their takeover of the House in 2010.  That’s a no brainer.  I foolishly thought that this argument would first be heard in late spring, and then become a steady drumbeat by caucus time in the fall.

If you are on the side of the House majority, though, why wait?

Here's an exchange between conservative senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Bloomberg News' Al Hunt (courtesy of Washington Monthly) that puts this argument forward right now:

HUNT: Let me talk about the Obama administration and business. Corporate profits are soaring. Goldman Sachs named 110 new partners. Bonuses are flowing. S&P has risen more than in any three-year period since the tech bubble. General Motors is -- the IPO. This isn't an anti-business administration, is it?
KYL: I would contend that, for the last two years, it's been highly anti-business. Some of the results that you just talked about, I suspect, are coming from the fact that we extended tax rates that the president did not want to extend, but was willing to do so at the end of the year last year.
HUNT: But, of course, all these things happened before that.
KYL: No, all these things are, I think, partially a -- a result of the knowledge now that taxes are not going to be raised in the next two years.

“I have to wonder if even Jon Kyl believes his own rhetoric on this. For two years, the senator has argued that the Obama administration's policies were bad for businesses. While those policies were being implemented, businesses fared pretty well, and profits soared.

Asked to explain how this is possible, Kyl believes a tax policy that wasn't crafted until December can explain private-sector growth for the previous 11 months.

In other words, business leaders in, say, March 2010 could see into the future, accurately predict a tax policy that would be drawn up in December 2010, and then shape their practices accordingly -- in the process making Republicans responsible for private-sector growth, even while they were complaining that government policies were preventing such growth.”

Get ready to keep up with this logic, America.  The GOP is ready to take credit for everything they fought against.  As I recall, according to right wing thinking, Obama owned the US economy just before taking the oath in 2009.  “Stop blaming Bush”, I believe that has been the battle cry.

What a country.

Sen Kyl's remarks don't deserve the whole joke, but I'll at least give him the punchline: "His lips are moving."

Monday, January 17, 2011

Losing My Religion

I watched The Invention of Lying this past weekend.  The movie, written by and starring Golden Globes Golden Boy, Ricky Gervais, takes us into a world where no one has ever lied, until Ricky’s character decides to comfort his dying mother with tales of a “man in the sky” and a safe and happy afterlife.  That’s when the fun begins, as we are introduced to the birth of religion in the modern world, complete with the “rules” being presented on two “tablets” made out of pizza box lids.  It had a Monty Python-esque quality that held the whole movie together for me.  I would grade it “Rental Option”, which is below “Rental Priority”, but ahead of ”Skip it”.

Some of you would consider the entire enterprise of comparing the birth of religion to the creation of a lie a bit blasphemous, and you would probably be right.  The dry British wit works well, and I did enjoy the movie, but it may leave the more religiously grounded a bit uncomfortable.  Is Gervais saying that all religion is a lie?  Quite a heavy message for a light romantic tale, wouldn’t you say?  Pass the popcorn.

I also saw the 7th Harry Potter movie with my son.  As full disclosure, I have never read any of the books and I have never seen any of the other movies.  I did know what Muggles were, and I knew that Hogwarts was the magic school attended by young Harry.  That’s about it.  (Spoiler alert!) The movie involves Harry and his companions searching for 3 items that together would give the bearer mastery over death.  Talk about your religious overtones! 
Harry Potter and Ricky Gervais do not represent what one would call your ‘mainstream’ religious traditions, but these days, how can you tell?  A new study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that our pious citizenry scored only 50% on 32 question quiz on world religions.  The questions were basic, such as “What is the first book of the Bible? (Genesis, btw).  This is an indictment of our entire system of learning in this country, of course.  If these questions were never on a state Standards of Learning exam, how could we expect any child to know the answer.  I think the issue goes deeper than a lack of general learning, however.  Religion has been a building block of civilization since the dawn of time, and it is about time we starting teaching religion and learning religion in schools.

No one need be an expert on every religion to thrive in our newly integrated global community, but a basic understanding of religions, other than your own, is required to understand political, economic and cultural decisions that are made around the world.  The course of history has been driven by religious beliefs.  Globalization is here, and religion plays a key role in most, if not all, of the developed and Third World.  Can you understand the Arab World without a working understanding of Islam?  Can you understand the source of tensions between India and Pakistan without knowing what Hinduism teaches?  How can we solve world problems without studying the traditions that shaped the world in the first place?

We require students to learn a foreign language to graduate, but that’s just words.  Real communication with others is more nuanced, and is enhanced by a basic understanding of how religious traditions impacted a culture.  This would go a long way towards improved communication. 
Education need not be synonymous indoctrination.  Let’s teach world religion in schools.  The goal is not recruitment, nor is it to place all religions on an equal footing.  Granted, that’s a difficult needle to thread, and it will be hard for some to find that balance.  There is a difference between informing and endorsing, and that balance is worth finding.

Here’s the stark choice:  we can teach world religions in schools, or we can just let the kids learn it from Harry Potter and Ricky Gervais.

Friday, January 14, 2011

704 Hauser Street

On January 12, 1971, 40 years ago this week, one of the greatest and most influential shows ever on television debuted on CBS.  All in the Family, the story of the stereotypically New York Archie Bunker, Edith, Gloria and ultra-liberal son-in-law, Mike, ran for 9 seasons and inspired several successful spin-offs (The Jeffersons, Maude, then Good Times).  Like many of my peers, I grew up watching the show, and creator Norman Lear no doubt shaped my opinions of social change and national events of the times.
Archie was a bigot, but he was a lovable one.  His views on race, politics, and society in general were laid bare each week for 30 minutes of mockery.  You could love Archie, but reject his politics. Deep down, you know he loved his country, his wife, his God, and especially his chair.  And that was endearing.

Archie was dismissive of anyone who disagreed with his world view, but his heart was usually in the right place.  He was comically misinformed, but he did understand the basic building block of the American experiment:  love your country.  He was a proud veteran of the second World War, or as he liked to say, “The Big One, WWII.”

He was an enigma.  He espoused a pro-business stance on the issues, even as his livelihood depended on his card-carrying union membership.  He was a curmudgeon who hated long hair on men, yet accepted Mike Stivic into his home.  He tried to understand the black experience through his indelicate, yet innocent questions to Lionel Jefferson, his neighbor’s son, and his questions revealed his deep-seeded biases.  He was full of bluster but with underlying insecurities never too far from the surface.   Archie above all wanted to stop progress because change scared him.
How does Archie look to us today through the lens of history?  Would Archie be a Tea Party patriot?  Probably.  Just like Archie, there are Tea Partiers singing “We could use a man like Herbert Hoover again” - familiar, safe, reliably pro-business, conservative, and ultimately a failure.

The same kind of fear that gave life to the Archie character still exists today – fear of the unknown, fear of people who are different, fear of losing a job.  In the face of that fear, he lashed out at others, usually by yelling, and that same pattern exists today.  Fear manifests itself in strange ways, even when the fear is justifiable.

In the same way that we recognize the humanity in Archie, I hope that we can see the underlying humanity in our political opposition more often.  It could only help.
Those Were the Days - All in the Family Theme Song

Boy the way Glenn Miller played
Songs that made the hit parade
Guys like us we had it made
Those were the days

And you knew who you were then
Girls were girls and men were men
Mister we could use a man
Like Herbert Hoover again

Didn't need no welfare state
Everybody pulled his weight
Gee our old LaSalle ran great
Those were the days

Editor’s Note:  If the show were still on today, Mike could be played by Michael Moore and James Gandofini could be casted as Archie.  I’d tune in for that.  Who would you cast?  Suggestions welcome.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Halftime during the Blame Bowl

I have avoided writing on this topic for days.  I did not want to add to the toxic waste of recriminations and finger pointing over the accountability for the tragic shooting in Tucson on Saturday.  After careful reflection, however, I believe that I can add to the debate in a new and meaningful way.  I believe that I can make the case of straight line causation from one specific societal influence directly to the violence.  I have not heard one talking head or so-called “expert” address the most egregious purveyor of systematic violence that is directly responsible for preying on the most weak-minded in our society.  I refer, of course, to the NFL’s marketing of professional football.

The language of the game, repeated ad naseum during playoff season, is riddled with references to a wide variety of weapons, from small arms to WMDs.  How many times did the unbalanced shooter hear about Brady’s effectiveness from the “shotgun” formation before the violent imagery seeped into his consciousness and forced him to act?  We have all been affected, sometimes overtly, by commentators loving references to Clay Matthews’ bulging biceps as his “guns”.  Immobile quarterbacks are known as the proverbial “sitting ducks”, ready to be hunted.  Devin Hester being deified for his ability to “knife” through special teams’ coverage is repulsive, and any American interested in a more civic discourse should reject these types of dangerous clichés that lead directly and unequivocally to public mayhem.

You disagree?  Have you ever met a Raiders fan on game day up close?

One month before the assailant took deadly aim, ESPN was consumed with talk about the “gunner” for the Dolphins being tripped up deliberately by the Jets sideline players during punt return coverage.  You don’t need an advanced degree in criminology to see how a mentally ill young man could take up this assault against a gunner with a gun of his own.  Words matter.  The cumulative effect of this kind of verbiage must have become too much for him to bear.

Can’t we get back to talking about kinder, gentler football topics, like Rex Ryan’s predilection for women’s footwear?
Yes, the NFL has taken a zero tolerance stance to “shots to the head”, but at the same time, the league is marketing these hits to young fans.  The league cannot ignore this hypocrisy, and their flag waving attempt at political correctness fools no one.  No sane person can deny the relationship between these football messages and the events of Saturday in Arizona.  Let’s face it, half the players on the field are offensive in one form or another.  Do I have to draw it on a chalkboard for you to understand?

Even in the aftermath of the events of Saturday, I have heard ESPN on-air personalities Mike and Mike describe the Falcons-Packers game as a potential “shoot out” in Atlanta.  Other than supplying the weapons at a kiosk on the Georgia Dome concourse at halftime, I am not sure that they could be more culpable for any future violence in Atlanta than that.  Shame on you, ESPN.

Ron Jaworski has been all over the same network leading up to the playoffs.  Known as “The Polish Rifle” during his playing days, his presence on screen has to influence those viewers most vulnerable to his commentary on “schemes” and “disguised” attacks.  This is the language of paranoia, and terror is what resulted.  Jaws can claim that everyone is doing it, and hey – it’s just football, right?  That does not relieve him or his network of responsibility for its cultural insensitivity.  He could be just as tough with a nickname like, “The Polish Sausage” instead, and no one would get hurt.

I do not think it is a coincidence that no one seems to be mentioning the “bomb” pass anymore, ever since the new START treaty was ratified by Congress.  The connection couldn’t be clearer.  Tone down the rhetoric of war, and weapons of war disappear.  If we tone down the rhetoric of violence, lives may be spared.
Tone does matter, and I hope that this weekend’s playoff coverage will be more inclusive, more gentle, and more responsible.  This violent talk must stop, or as a Baltimore Raven once said, “Nevermore.” 

Please pray for the victims, and join me in condemning the league for its role in making Jared Lee Loughner into a killer.  Punish the league by voting with your ticket dollars.  Go see a baseball game.

J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Big Brother’s Fingerprints

Sixty-one years ago, George Orwell’s final novel was published.  1984 has since entered the pantheon of influential American novels, and there is no more compelling character within its pages than Big Brother.  Big Brother’s name has been invoked to scare generations of Americans on the potential of unchecked government intrusion into our private lives, and he is the official boogeyman of libertarians across the nation.   He represents the elimination of choice in our lives.  He represents a loss of personal freedom.  He represents the suppression of individuality.  Big Brother (the TV show notwithstanding) is usually bad, and no one likes Big Brother.   He is always watching, and we cringe at the thought of the invasion of our privacy (unless we are on Facebook, where privacy is frowned upon).

Is Big Brother always bad?  As technology has improved geometrically since the original publication date of Orwell’s masterpiece, the reach of law enforcement and government regulation into what was formerly the realm of individual choice and private preference has expanded incrementally.  The creep of Big Brother’s reach is usually in the name of safety and security, and those are good things, popular things.  For example, traffic cameras slow speeders and reduce the number of accidents at risky intersections.  Some don’t like being watched, but few are in favor of more accidents.  Ashley Halsey III raised the specter of Big Brother indirectly for me in her provocative front page story in Saturday’s Washington Post, and caused me to struggle with my competing instincts to protect free choice, privacy and security.

The article, titled “Too drunk? Your car won’t go along for the ride”, said that we are 5-7 years away from reliable sensors in cars that would measure the driver’s blood alcohol level, and disable the engine automatically if a legally intoxicated individual tried to operate it.  The passive infrared sensors could become standard features on cars of the future, and teach an important lesson in temperance to a new generation - the hard way.

The technology is possible because of increased investment in security research post-9/11.  Advances in bomb-detecting devices are paving the way for this new intrusive safety feature.  Could another consequence of Osama bin Laden's war against the West be fewer alcohol related road fatalities?   This partnership between the auto manufacturers and Federal safety regulators (NHTSA) is in itself a scary idea for the strict anti-government activists out there, who recoil at taxpayer dollars being used to help private industry in any way, even to provide better safety to all citizens.

My first objections to the idea were all based on ignorance of the technology.  How would it know, based on the air in the car, who was drunk?  Could a car be rendered inoperable if filled with one designated driver and three slobbering drunks breathing on his neck?  If the touch pad system were deployed to cars, would those wanting a few glasses of wine with dinner use the “sensor-free” car for those outings, and only young Johnny would be forced to drive the Big Brother Blood Monitoring Mobile?  I will need to know more to render an opinion on whether I think it would even work.

The drunk-free sensors could be an optional feature, an “upgrade”, like leather interiors or side impact air bags.  Volvo would be the first to make them standard issue in keeping with their marketing strategy to sell safety, not cars.  What demographic of car buyer would gravitate to cars with the standard issue sensors?  Soccer moms?  More importantly, which demographic would shy away from cars with this feature?  Could late model cars be more likely to be pulled over at night than the new cars with the passive system installed?  We could see a new wrinkle in the profiling debate.  “Step out of the vehicle.  I pulled you over because you are driving a 1998 Honda Civic, and it was pulling to the right in a suspicious manner.”

Car prices would have to rise if the new system became a mandatory feature, like the air bag increased vehicle costs.  How much of an increase would be too much?  The system is just one cost, too.  The other cost to manufacturers is liability insurance.  If a drunk driver kills someone, is the car company now an accessory, since their sensor system did not prevent the accident?  Personal responsibility takes one more step backwards.

There is another side to this coin, of course.  Alcohol related injuries and deaths extract a tremendous financial toll not only on the victims but on society as a whole.  Last year, over 10,000 fatalities on the roads were alcohol-related, and injuries and property damages add to the costs.  If this technology reduced these costs in financial and human terms, is it worth the inconvenience?  Remember, the installation of seat belts into cars was fought by automobile companies as imposing a sort of safety tax onto the price of every vehicle.  Then lives started being saved, and today, seat belts are not only mandatory, many states mandate their use by all passengers.  In retrospect, the arguments of the 1960s against mandatory seat belt installation in cars seem ridiculous.

My final thought is an important one.  A passive blood alcohol sensor in every car assumes the worst – the driver is impaired until the computer proves otherwise.  Is there anything more un-American than being guilty until proven innocent?

In this situation, we may be forced to choose between freedom and privacy on one end of the continuum, and safety and security on the other end.  The middle ground between the two is viewed as a momentary pause on the slippery slope towards one extreme direction or the other.  I wonder if no balancing point truly exists.  Mandatory sensors, or the wild, wild West – which will we embrace?  I want my kid’s car to turn off if they are legally impaired, no question.  I would prefer that they hand the keys to someone else before a computer ever has to make that choice for them.

This technology, if installed on all cars in the future, should reduce alcohol-related driving fatalities.  How many fewer, and at what cost, remains to be debated.  This technology could save our lives, but only if we submit to its’ will.  Maybe Orwell was correct when he wrote, “Freedom is Slavery.”


Sunday, January 9, 2011

War of Words

There are different ways to chart the ebb and flow of history, and measure the concepts that define the various eras.  Leave it to Google to find another high tech way.

This is the link to a crazy powerful site called Books Ngram Viewer.  Google charted the usage of words in recorded book history to find out how often they occur, and then charts the frequency on a graph.  It gives the user the ability to see visually how some ideas rise and fall over time.  Sounds silly, but here's an example:

This is a chart I created in seconds that compares the appearance of the words 'diversity' (blue line) and 'inclusion' (red line).  Looks like diversity really took off in the late 1980s, and has fallen off since the administration of George the II.

Let's try a single word:  terrorism.

Quite a jump starting in the late 1990s, and a major spike after September 11th.

One more word war:  Franklin Roosevelt vs. John Kennedy:

Interesting how their appearance in books seems to run in a parallel trend.

Anyway, try the site, and stage your own war of words from the safety of your own home.  Boys vs. Girls, Football vs. Baseball vs. Soccer, whatever you want.  Harvard vs. Yale gives a good result.

Thanks to Dan Pink for the head's up on this cool procrastination tool.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Sour Kraut-Hammer

In last Friday’s Washington Post (Dec. 31st), everyone’s favorite right wing pundit, Charles Krauthammer, argued that Obama’s use of executive orders and regulatory rules to circumvent the legislative process was an abuse of the system, and another example of his secret plan to create an imperial Presidency.  I disagree.  Obama’s use of these tools are a symptom of a dysfunctional Congress, and these tools have been used for years by many Presidents, and to a greater degree.

He started off with a statement that raised my ire.  When talking about Medicare payments for end-of-life counseling (you know, the "Death Panels"). he writes that "it aroused so much anxiety as a possible first slippery step on the road to state-mandated late-life rationing that the Senate never included it in the final health-care law."  Yes, it raised so much anxiety because the far right media echo chamber repeated the falsehood over and over and over.  In the absence of fact, repetition is a good substitute.  But I digress.  Back to my point.

Circumventing the sausage making process of the modern Congress by using the other available tools at a President’s disposal is nothing new, or unique, as Krauthammer would lead the reader to believe.  Obama’s predecessor, George Bush, used signing statements to unilaterally decide what parts of laws he would enforce and which ones he would ignore.  That's not just circumventing.  That's changing the rules.

Bush "broke all records" while abusing this presidential tool, "using signing statements to challenge about 1,200 sections of bills over his eight years in office, about twice the number challenged by all previous presidents combined."  Many of Mr. Bush’s challenges were based on an expansive view of the president’s power, as commander in chief, to take actions he believes necessary, regardless of what Congress says in legislation.

The American Bar Association declared that such signing statements were “contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional separation of powers,” and called on Mr. Bush and future presidents to stop using them and to return to a system of either signing a bill and then enforcing all of it, or vetoing the bill and giving Congress a chance to override that veto.

I searched in vain for an op-ed by Mr. Krauthammer condemning this practice by his Champion of Freedom.  If he published one, I could not find it on the “lame stream” Internet.  Let me know if I missed it.

In fact, in one of Obama’s first acts as President, he revoked Bush's most far-reaching claim of control over agency regulations. Executive Order 13422, which Bush issued in January 2007, replaced career civil servants steeped in the specific missions and subject-matter expertise of their agencies with political appointees.  Executive Order 13422 gave the president undue control over federal agency rulemaking while circumventing legislative intent, but that must not concern Krauthammer.  Bush was a Republican, doing the will of the people, no doubt.

Other Presidents have used the executive order and regulatory powers to advance their agendas and programs, beginning with George Washington.  The Constitution allows for that power, although it was probably more necessary in a time when Congress was a tough group to gather together for legislative sessions.  Air travel was almost 2 centuries away at the time.  The fact of matter is that without using regulatory authority and executive orders, nothing would get done.  If that is Krauthammer goal, to stop functioning government and create a libertarian utopia (or anarchy), then condemn the practice by ALL Presidents. 

If Krauthammer disagrees with the specific policy directive, fine.  Say so and be done.  His critique of the way in which Obama is operating to get things done in Washington, however, is misplaced and blindly partisan.