Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Science of Hot

I thought that it was unseasonably hot out this morning, but was cooled by the idea that the extreme weather that I thought I was experiencing was only a liberal myth.  I can now stop sweating through my t-shirt and liberally applying the 100 SPF to the back of my neck.  I was only burning up because liberals want to hurt America’s potential competitiveness in the fossil fuels economy of the 21st century.  I can mop my brow with relief.  Climate change is fake so my discomfort is all in my mind.

The temperature in my part of Virginia is predicted to peak at 102 degrees today, but according to local meteorologists (rhymes with ‘astrologists’), it will feel like a pizza oven and we’ll be wearing mozzarella underwear.  I am told it might be an all-time record high, but I am not worried.  When it dips to 30 below zero one day this winter, the average temperature will only be 36 degrees, and that is completely tolerable with a wool jacket and a pair of fingerless gloves.  No need to panic and regulate pollutants because you need a sweater occasionally.  Climate change is fake so my discomfort is all in my mind.

Here in Virginia, my elected representatives are looking out for any overreactions to this unparalleled hot weather.  Thankfully, they know that extreme weather events are all just a matter of perception.  They won’t let us be indoctrinated!  My state GOP was certain to omit any reference to “climate change” and “sea-level rise” in funding a study of the growing flood problem in the Commonwealth.  Yes, they really did.

Scientists (aka liberals) say sea levels along state’s coast have risen more than a foot and are still rising (they used suspect methods like 'measurement').  Republicans concede that flooding is a growing problem, but insisted there could be no mention of “sea level rise” because it is a “left-wing term.”  Good point.  “Sea level rise”, while arguably a statement of fact, is also imbued with all kinds of liberal meaning.  Drowning in a flood is something a Democrat would say.  Republicans know that drowning is just another way of saying “over-hydrated”.  That could happen to anyone.

Perception is reality, and words have meaning.  Now we need our GOP brethren to save us from this sweltering, non-climate change related heat.  Maybe they could pass a law that Code Red days should be called “tropic”.  That sounds nice.  Tropic.

And the new hole in the side of my house courtesy of the violent weather event featuring high winds and rain last night can be called a "rustic window".   Climate change is fake so the hole in my house is all in my mind.

I have more to say, but it is too damn fracking hot today, and I need to chainsaw the fallen tree felled by the "tropical" breezes.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Other Mandates

So that’s over.

Lucy Van Pelt (Chief Justice Roberts) has pulled the football (Affordable Care Act) away from Charlie Brown (conservatives) at the last second.  This is one football I will not spike.  The Right would just flag me for excessive celebration or worse, taunting.  I prefer the cool confidence of Bill Walsh in victory instead of the cocky bravado of Rex Ryan.  It’s how I roll.

This individual mandate passed Constitutional muster, but it was not the first mandate to be challenged and it certainly will not be the last. 

In the Great Battle over the constitutionality of the individual mandate portion of the ACA, we lost sight of some of recent history’s other epic fights over proposed individual mandates.  When we forget history, we are doomed to repeat it.

Who could forget the failed Members Only Mandate of 1978?  Initially, like the ACA individual mandate, both parties supported the law that would require all men of a certain age to purchase a Members Only jacket.  Over time, however, support slipped as Southern Congressmen complained that the jackets were too warm, and some Blue Dog Democrats argued that everyone was wearing the jackets without a mandate.  In the end, that proposed mandate died in committee once both sides recognized that a mandate was not necessary.  Everyone owned one of those jackets already. 

We learned the lesson that mandates only have meaning when people are forced to do what they would not ordinarily do without coercion.  Members Only jackets were everywhere, and they were inexplicably worn voluntarily.

Sometimes even failed mandates can lead to future measures to control individual behavior.  There was a time not long ago when women in this country were mandated to have feathered hairstyles like Farrah Fawcett, and that mandate was later amended to require all women to sport the Dorothy Hamill bob.  There was little dissension against those mandatory hair styles, but today, state legislatures have no qualms about introducing laws that require mandatory transvaginal probes for women seeking legal abortions.  Mandates can be a slippery slope.  Once government can control women’s hair styles, it is a short trip to individual reproductive health mandates.

Today there are 3 other individual mandates under consideration in Congress, each with its own unique costs and benefits:

Ms. Manners Mandate (sponsored by MADD – Mothers Against Disrespectful Dialogue):  HR 2015 calls for mandatory time outs for non-compliant individuals under the age of 21.  This law would require the liberal use of ‘please’ and ’thank you’  at all dinner tables and when speaking with adults in a public setting.  Conservatives, who generally support the mandate, stripped the requirement that these polite words be used in private homes, viewing that as an attack on parental rights.  The bill is held up while Tea Party advocates push for the time out penalty to be replaced by a good spanking.  Progressives have labeled this mandate “socialism”.

Car Magnet Mandate:  HR 1979 would punish car owners who do not display a car magnet ribbon on their automobile by charging them more for gasoline at the pump.  While Republicans consider this a tax on gasoline, Democrats have countered that it is a tax cut for drivers who have slapped that decorative ribbon on their rear ends.  The car magnets themselves would not be an entitlement; drivers would need to purchase them from state exchanges organized to encourage competition and keep magnet prices low.  There would be subsidies for families who are below the federal poverty level who need car magnets. 
Hangover Part III Mandate (sponsored by Sen. Harry Reid –D-NV):  SB 1017 is not, as the name might imply, a mandate that all Americans be subjected to yet another Hangover movie, particularly since Part II was such a huge disappointment.  This proposed mandate would force all men between the ages of 21 and 50 to spend at least 1 weekend in Las Vegas on a bi-annual basis.  This mandate has inspired a rare show of bipartisanship.  Romney benefactor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson signed on to the proposed law after Reid agreed to add a plank that all men must show proof of citizenship when entering any casino or pay a penalty (not a tax).  Recent polls show that public opinion is split evenly at 50-50 on the measure, with men supporting it 100% and women polling against it by the same percentage. 
The ACA individual mandate is constitutional.  That fight is over, but there are more wars to be fought over a wide range of individual mandates.  With the ACA finished legally if not politically, the Supreme Court now has a clear docket to hear oral arguments on the most oppressive mandate of them all – the All Employees Must Wash Hands Mandate.

Dirty hands are a right that you'll have to wash off my cold, dead hands.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Letting Dirty Dogs Lie

And in other news from SCOTUS today:

Lying is now a federally protected activity when running for office.  The case in question involved a politician and his false claim of military heroism, but the reach of the Supreme Court ruling is much greater.  The result appears to speed the demise of free and fair elections that began with the infamous Citizens United decision that allowed for unlimited corporate graft to campaigns.  Now politicians can lie with impunity AND raise unlimited funds from single corporation sponsors.  What could possibly go wrong? 

From article today: 

The case involved Xavier Alvarez who was an elected member of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District Board in Pomona, California. In 2007 Alvarez said at a public water district board meeting that he was a retired Marine, had been “wounded many times,” and had been “awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor” in 1987.

In fact, he had never served in the United States armed forces.

He pleaded guilty to violating the Stolen Valor Act, but claimed that his false statements were protected by the First Amendment right of free speech.

The Stolen Valor Act has criminal penalties for making false claims about one’s personal military history, a common practice among the ambitious and conscious-free running for public service positions.  Unfortunately, “going to Hell” is not one of the criminal penalties outlined in the statute, although it should be if you falsely claim war injuries.

In what conservatives would call “an ironic twist”, the Obama administration defended the telling of truth, at least as it relates to running for office.   (Once elected to office, the administration argues that false statements “happen”).   They argued before the justices that if Mr. Alvarez was not punished for his lie, it would “make the public skeptical of all claims to have received awards….”  As if we already were not skeptical of any politician’s claim of valor, courage, and commitment to a Higher Purpose.

Alvarez’s lawyers contended that the Frist Amendment freedom of speech protected “exaggerated anecdotes, barroom braggadocio, and cocktail party puffery”, or in other words, campaign stump speeches.  The fine line between “barroom braggadocio” and a pledge to lower taxes, cut spending, create jobs and increase the defense budget simultaneously is dangerously thin, and according to the Supreme Court, needed to be protected.

Liberals were devastated by the ruling, but the validation of the individual mandate during the same session tempered the gloom.  The only downside for conservatives will be that when the Ten Commandments are posted in courthouses, Amendment #6, “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness” must be stricken with White Out.  According to the Supreme Court, bear falsely all you like!  So both sides have a right to complain, although we can’t know if either side is really disappointed in the ruling since they could be lying.  We’ll never know.

After the victory in court, a newly emboldened Alvarez said at his Water Board meeting (not to be confused with a “waterboarding meeting”, also legal) that he can finally tell the story about the fish that got away without fear of government retribution.

“Seriously, it was this big!” he said, holding his arms as far apart as possible.  “Trust me.”  A story like that has GOT to be true.

So SCOTUS was one out of two today.  Not a bad record for a Thursday.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Father's Day Card Rebuttal

My 7 year old daughter did what 7 year old daughters do on Father’s Day.  She presented me with a homemade card.  In life, there are few moments as special for a father as receiving that special card from his daughter.  We know that there will be stormy relationship seas in the future, but at age 7, those days seem far, far away.  When your daughter is 7, there is nothing but unconditional love.  After reading her card, however, I think the first squall of storm season may be brewing.

The card began with such promise.  There was a drawing of a hockey goal on the cover, and a cut out figure of a dad (presumably me) holding a hockey stick, wearing skates, and smiling ear to ear.  Daddy was doing something he loved.  The proportions were out of kilter and the word hockey was spelled without the ‘e’, but that only added to its innocent charm. 
Here is the handwritten text from the inside of the card:

You’re the best hocky player even know most hocky games you get know goals or you don’t win the hocky game.

Girl, we have got a problem and not just with spelling and grammar.  I’d better not find out that your mother was feeding you any of this disinformation. 
Sit down and let me educate you.  In my 8 team league, my team, the Sweaty Boxers, has a record of 5-5-1, ranking us fifth with 6 games left to play before the playoffs.  We win plenty. 
You think I can’t put the biscuit in the basket anymore?  After 10 games, I rank second in the league in goals with 19.  That’s all your fingers plus all your toes except for one pinky toe.  19.  That’s 4 goals ahead of some dude named Vitaliy Andryeyeshyn, and with a good Russian name like that, you know he’s good.  I’m better.  Learn it.  Live it.  Know it.

The card was signed “I Love You Daddy”, which is nice, but when you disrespect my sick hockey skills, it’s an empty kind of love.   I will pretend that you were trying to be funny this time, and I will try to forget this little incident.  I suggest you do the same, particularly if you ever want ice cream in the future.

Next year, I expect another homemade card and another hockey theme.  But next year, get your statistics straight or else it’s back in the penalty box.  Game misconduct and possible suspension for you, child. 

Daddy still has it going on, but he is getting a bit more sensitive and somewhat more insecure.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Rorschach Candidate

Earlier this year, when describing Mitt Romney’s planned pivot to the center after a bruising GOP primary pulled him ‘severely’ starboard, one of his advisors anticipated the candidate’s Etch-A-Sketch strategy of turning himself upside down and shaking until the memory of those unpopular positions disappeared from the electoral screen.  Once the slate was clean, Romney could outline a new, swing voter friendly image.  The competent business man, the turnaround specialist, someone who has never served in government**, the classic outsider from the private sector, here to save the day.

** = Massachusetts never happened.

Turns out this Etch-A-Sketch metaphor isn’t entirely accurate.  Instead of drawing a new picture of himself for voters with clear straight lines, Romney has decided to be the Rorschach candidate.  His apparent goal is to present a big amorphous ink blot and hope that voters see whatever they want to see in his candidacy.  He has apparently decided that vague impressions trump substantial information, and sadly he might be right. 

This is not an accidental approach.  This was Romney speaking earlier this year about his plan to divulge as little of his post-election plan as possible.  He was responding to a question about what federal agencies he thought should be eliminated:

"One of the things I found in a short campaign against Ted Kennedy was that when I said, for instance, that I wanted to eliminate the Department of Education, that was used to suggest I don't care about education. So will there be some that get eliminated or combined? The answer is yes, but I'm not going to give you a list right now."

In other words, Romney believes that if he tells the public what he might actually do in office they will dislike his plans and reject them.  If he does tell you what he will do, the opposition might repeat his plan aloud so the electorate is fully informed about what they are buying with a Romney vote.  That would be an unfair “attack” on freedom, or job creation, or people in general.  Better the voter project their own most disfavored federal agency into his non-answer.  In that way, you the voter will be satisfied.

What will he do in Afghanistan?  He won’t say, except that he’ll listen to the generals on the ground before deciding.  Translation – he doesn’t know, so neither will you, the voter, before casting your ballot.

Will he reverse the President’s recent immigration order allowing children brought here by their parents to avoid deportation?  He refuses to say, except that he will seek a more permanent solution once elected.  I ask you, what the hell does that mean?  Whatever the listener wants it to mean, I guess.

Romney will repeal and replace Obamacare.  How he plans to repeal a law passed by Congress he can’t say (because he cannot legally repeal the law, unless he now favors an imperial presidency, a position he will not favor until he gets elected).  As for replacement, he again provides no detailed plan, unless a declaration of following a “consumer market” model passes for details in GOP Land.

(Since Romney won’t give any details on what “consumer market” plans means, I’ll fill in the picture for you.  It might well bring down insurance premiums for people healthy enough to be the object of all that competition, but for everyone else, it could make the status quo much, much worse, destroying existing state regulations that protect access to health insurance and seek to provide some parity in rates, as companies gratefully migrate to states that let them do whatever they want.)

Since the Equal Pay Act is before Congress, Mr. Romney, can you tell us if you would have supported the Lily Ledbetter Act, the first law Obama signed as President?  The Romney response was, “We’ll get back to you.”

Romney will close the deficit by closing tax loopholes.  He won’t tell us which loopholes, and he has said that his plan “cannot be scored” for its impact on the debt by the Congressional Budget Office.  Even Romney’s BFF, Rep. Paul Ryan, the architect of The Plan, can only offer his solemn word that his party will make good on closing those nondescript loopholes. Pressed by Fox’s Chris Wallace this month to name any loopholes he would support cutting, Ryan responded, “I can’t because those decisions haven’t been made.”  Romney would allow Congress to make those decisions.  That should work out just fine and dandy.

Romney has proposed to make the Bush tax cuts permanent and to then cut taxes further. He also wants to increase defense spending. To make up for that lost revenue, he has promised to cut spending as well, but he has been reluctant to mention specific cuts.  Remember, his opponents may notify the public about his proposed cuts, and that would be an “unfair attack” on the rich, Mormons, white people, women, and reason.

His approach echoes the genius of Delta fraternity President, Robert Hoover, who when responding to charges of indecency at his Faber College fraternity famously said, “The Delta House has a long tradition of existence to its members and to the community at large.”  Well said, Hoover, well said.

The Rorschach Candidate could be too scientific a name.  Maybe the Slinky candidate – no spine, shiny to look at, beauty is in its simplicity.  Maybe the Yo-Yo candidate - up, down, up, down, but never really going anywhere.

Romney wants a referendum on Obama, and the more vague Romney remains in the minds of the voters, the better his chances.  But this election is not just a referendum on Obama.  It is a choice.  You are not only rejecting one vision with a vote against Obama; you are embracing a different vision with a vote for Romney.  It should not be too much to ask to know what that vision is.  So far, I have heard platitudes which sound like George Bush without the compassion rhetoric.  It is a fair question to ask what specific policies he will endorse that differ from what the GOP has already tried.  It would be even more fair to ask what SPECIFICALLY do you plan to do as President.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Free Stuff!

According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Sunday, what is predicted to be the last weekend before the completion of the most egregious conservative flip-flop of all time (they were for the mandate before they were against it):
  • 56% of those polled are against the healthcare overhaul; 44% favor it.
The individual provisions, however, continue to draw solid support:
  • 82 % of survey respondents favoring banning insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
  • 61% are in favor of allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26.
  • 72 % back requiring companies with more than 50 employees to provide insurance for their employees.
The big exception is the “individual mandate,” which requires most U.S. residents to own health insurance:
  • 61% of Americans are against the mandate; 39 % favor it.
In summary, Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of the benefits provided by the Affordable Care Act.  They are equally overwhelmingly against paying for it.  That is the quintessential American position, isn’t it?  It also explains the attitude that conservatives argue has destroyed our federal budget.  We love free stuff.

The wait for the judges’ decision is almost over.  Then the battle begins to undo the "other" mandate - the mandate that health care providers offer service regardless of a person's ability to pay.  Once doctors can deny service to freeloaders, then costs will come down.

Ain't that America.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Nose for the Ball

People.  They’re the worst.

It is easy to lose faith in humanity.  There are a lot of bad actors in the world, from terrorists to pedophiles to people who text while driving.  In my profession, human resources, I have seen some reprehensible behavior, although I am duty bound by my professional code of conduct not to divulge any of the sordid details in this public forum.  Ask me about the IT manager, the temp and the copy machine after a few beers, however, and I might crack.

Today my faith in humanity was shaken again.  This story from MSNBC had me bemoaning the end of civilization.  When people ask me why I moved from New Jersey, I think in the future I will just reference this story:

MANCHESTER TOWNSHIP, N.J. - A New Jersey woman who was struck in the face with a baseball at a Little League game is suing the young catcher who threw it.

Elizabeth Lloyd is seeking more than $150,000 in damages to cover medical costs stemming from the incident at a Manchester Little League game two years ago. She's also seeking an undefined amount for pain and suffering. 

Lloyd was sitting at a picnic table near a fenced-in bullpen when she was hit with the ball. 

Catcher Matthew Migliaccio was 11 years old at the time and was warming up a pitcher.

The lawsuit filed April 24 alleges Migliaccio's errant throw was intentional and reckless, "assaulted and battered" Lloyd and caused "severe, painful and permanent" injuries.

A second count alleges Migliaccio's actions were negligent and careless through "engaging in inappropriate physical and/or sporting activity" near Lloyd. She continues to suffer pain and anguish, incur medical expenses and has been unable to carry out her usual duties and activities, the lawsuit says. 

And Lloyd's husband, in a third count, is suing for the loss of "services, society and consortium" of his wife. They've demanded a jury trial. 

Matthew's father, Bob Migliaccio, said they were concerned for Lloyd when it happened. Then his son started receiving threatening and nasty letters, he said, and he started getting angry. 

"The whole thing has almost been surreal," Migliaccio said. "We keep thinking it's just going to go away, and then a week and a half ago a sheriff shows up at my door to serve my son the papers." 

Migliaccio said if his son had been horsing around, he would feel differently. But Matthew was doing what his coaches told him to do, he said, and noted Little League players aren't always accurate in their throws.

I will admit that I do not have all of the details, but it sure does sound like Elizabeth Lloyd is not a nice person.  No wonder Mr. Lloyd is suffering from a loss of “services”.

I am sympathetic to a young ball player with the rocket for an arm.  As a lad in the New Jersey Little League of the ‘70s, I too had a cannon for an arm.  Unfortunately like Matthew Migliaccio, I was directionally challenged.  My throws featured a surprise hook or a slice, a preview of my future golf game.  My ball went a country mile, but my aim was what one might call “erratic”.  Just ask my sister.

In a non-sanctioned game played in my backyard, I once let loose a hardball at high speed, planning for the ball to fly into the glove of my friend, Oscar.  Instead the ball hurled towards my sister, and I did what any kid would do in order to protect his sister.  I yelled, “Look out!”

Now, in retrospect, “Look out!” is the exact wrong instruction to give to a person in this situation.  Instinctually, the person being yelled at will turn in the direction of the shout so they know what to “look out!” for.  My sister turned her face in the direction of the ball, and I flattened her nose.

Blood.  Lots of blood.  As she screamed for the attention she always craved, I went through the same emotions as Matthew Migliaccio did when the ball struck face – guilt, sadness, anger that the victim chose to turn into the ball instead of away from the ball.  I can totally relate. 

Come to think of it, my sister lives in Jersey now, and she knows an attorney, a pretty darn good one, so he tells me.  Just remember, little sis, the statute of limitations has probably expired and besides, I am not worth that much (as you have been kind enough to remind me on occasion).  On top of that, you still have your looks, unlike poor Elizabeth Lloyd, and hopefully, consortium is plentiful although I’d prefer not to think about it.

Thankfully I know that my sister comes from good stock (well, 'stock' anyway) and would never resort to legal action just because I tattooed her mug with a baseball 40 years ago.  C’mon – sign the release and restore my faith in people!

And next time, look AWAY.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Amity Means Friendship

Political entertainers have learned that hazy, hot and humid debates about the presidential candidates’ recommended policy prescriptions for improving global economic conditions can make a hazy, hot and humid summer seem even more so.  Serious subjects that involve math and science take the summer off and we instead spend our leisure time on summer replacement issues, like dogs on car roofs and critique of a candidate’s vocal range.  Bask in the cool comfort of fluff issues.

We media consumers need light fare to keep comfortable in July.  Now is the season to ask breezy questions such as “Boxers or briefs?” or “Ginger or Marianne?”  Inquiring minds want to know.  It takes our minds off our personal misery indices like a tall glass of sweet iced tea on a hot summer day quenches our seasonal malaise.  Position papers make us too sweaty, then we start to smell.

Presidents have been asked for years about their favorite summer movies as a diversion from the hot topics of the day.   Reagan was asked the question.  Not surprisingly, he liked Star Wars, for obvious geopolitical reasons.  Clinton praised the summer classic Porky’s for its uplifting dialogue and graphic cinematography.  George Bush said his favorite movie was Titanic because the ending was such a surprise to him.  Who could have predicted that big boat would sink?

In keeping with this summer tradition, President Obama was asked to take the first dip into the shallows, and he announced that his favorite summer blockbuster movie of all time was Steven Spielberg’s 1975 thriller, Jaws.  “Great performances and a little scare makes for a fun movie,” he said.  Ah, very safe and highly forgettable.  That’s refreshing.

Cue the Jaws theme.  The Great Campaign Beasts swim into the frame.  Maybe Obama’s movie preference isn’t as benign as we thought.

The Far Right blogosphere erupts.  “Of course Obama would love a movie that promoted fear.  Fear is his greatest governing tool.  If he is reelected, we are all going to need a bigger boat – to escape his failed policies.” 

It’s getting warm out there.  The Romney campaign joins in with its own interpretation of the President’s hidden message in his movie choice. 
Jaws is a fine motion picture but you cannot ignore its’ socialist themes.  Obama loves Jaws because of the subtle anti-capitalist message of the story,” reads the campaign’s release.  “The only way to save the economy of Amity Island in Obama-land was to put a government employee and an overeducated Northeastern environmental elitist in charge of an independent contractor on that boat.  What Obama and his fans overlook is that Mr. Quint would have killed that economic threat without their interference for the paltry sum of $10,000.  Brody and Hooper didn’t trust the market, and neither does Obama.” 
 The heat continues to build.

“Typical Romney,” began the rebuttal statement from the Obama camp.  “In a shameless pander to coastal voters, he claims Jaws is a “fine motion picture”, but then goes on to deride its message.  Which is it, Mitt?  Did you like Jaws or not?  Leaders take a stand.  Etch-A-Sketchers shake.”

The Far Left blogosphere smells blood in the water, and brings some heat of its own.

“It’s no wonder that Romney can’t bring himself to completely reject Jaws as an American classic.  The tragedy of the story comes straight from Romney’s playbook.  Wealthy business owners in the town clearly placed their economic well-being ahead of the safety of the Amity residents.  Those members of the island’s 1% had their own puppet in office, Mayor Vaughn, who was more than happy to risk lives to please his financial supporters.”  

“You don’t understand,” he condescended to the brave Chief Brody.  “We’re a summer town.  We need summer dollars.”  The puppet mayor accused the hero Brody of inexperience and questioned his judgment.  The moneyed interests in town even convinced the coroner to reject the science of crime scene investigation and amend a legal death certificate.  This was wrong in 1975 Amity, and it was wrong in 2008 U.S. of A.” 

The Romney camp strikes back with fire.

“It is no coincidence that Obama’s favorite summer movie begins with a drug party on the beach and ends with the preventable death of a decorated World War II veteran.  The story line is a perfect metaphor for his approach to domestic policy, and before long, we’ll all be left out to sea without a paddle.”

“The shark,” retorts the MSNBC hosts, “represents Romney’s vision of the American ruling business class.  In reality, Romney’s dream economic model is the middle class’ nightmare.  To update Captain Quint’s view, “You know the thing about capitalism, it’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eye. When it comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be livin’. Until it bites ya and those black eyes roll over white. And then, ah then you hear that terrible high pitch screamin’ of the middle class and the market turns red and spite of all the poundin’ and the hollerin’ the 1% all come in and rip you to pieces.”

Fox and Friends gives a slightly different interpretation of the shark metaphor in Jaws.  In their view, Obama is the shark that “When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be livin’. Until he bites ya with his tax increases and those black eyes roll over white. And then, ah then you hear that terrible high pitch screamin’ of the middle class and the economy turns red and spite of all the poundin’ and the hollerin’ the government comes in and rips you to pieces.” 
Yes, America.  Obama fancies himself a government savior like Chief Brody, when in reality he is the dangerous beast destroying the economy of Main Street with his insatiable appetite for your money.  Those who actually pay taxes are out there splashing in the surf and lining up to be a hot lunch for Obama’s irresponsible spending plans.

The Left fights back. 

“There is no denying that stronger government regulations, such as advocated by Chief Brody, would have saved the life of poor little Alex Kintner.   Closing those beaches would have cost some profitability, but what price do you put on Mrs. Kintner’s grief?  In Romney’s America, you will be eaten alive.”

If it is true that hot air contributes significantly to global climate change, this might end up being the hottest summer on record.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dance Therapy

The thing about being a dad is that you have no idea in the moment whether or not you are doing the right thing for your kids.  Even worse, you may never know if you did the right thing(s).  At some point, you come to the painful and inevitable realization that your legacy as a father is in the hands of an as yet to be hired therapist who has never met you and probably never will.  This realization may be temporarily softened by the sweet or humorous sentiments dictated by your spouse to the children the morning of the Big Day and neatly printed on a few homemade greeting cards, but the fact remains.  As a group, we men are completely lost in the role of father and at the mercy of the psychiatric profession.  God help us all.

Here’s an example of the kind of dilemma dads like me sometimes face:

My oldest daughter dances.  This makes me happy.  It teaches her discipline, it is good exercise, it surrounds her with great role models, and she is learning teamwork.  I stroke those checks for dance practice every month as an investment in her future well-being.  Being part of this dance troupe is good.  I support it and the lessons it teaches her. 

There is one additional lesson that I would like her to learn through the dance classes.  It is the lesson of cost.  Dance classes are not free.  In fact, they can be inordinately expensive and at times, I think unreasonable.  There are rehearsal fees, special instructor fees, tap shoes, ballet shoes, and tights, tights, tights.  Recital fees, costume bills, fees for the DVD copies of performance.  Once all this is paid, we can pay admission to see the actual performance.  For me, it can be the Dance of Debt, and the expense drip, drip, drip is exhausting.

Now, how do I impart the message that dance costs money and requires real sacrifice without imparting an equally powerful message that dance should make my daughter feel guilty about practicing her craft?  I provide the occasional gentle reminder of the monthly cost, usually on those days when she takes the privilege for granted, or confuses her teenage rights with unlimited freedom without responsibility.  OK, sometimes in order to provide absolute clarity to my message of fiscal accountability, I raise my voice and I could have once in a while mentioned that the dance privilege could just as easily be taken away from her.  It’s all part of learning, right? 
So I stew about the money and I stew about her inability to pretend that she appreciates the privilege of dancing on my dime.  When it comes to dance classes, I need more than an annual card from Hallmark.  I want her to feel what I feel when I am told that the $100 pair of dance shoes she already has aren’t the right shade of brown so she’ll need another $100 pair for her 45 second appearance in the recital tomorrow, or else she will need to quit dance forever and start those therapy sessions a few years earlier than expected.  Is that wrong? 

On Saturday, all this angst disappeared for an hour and fifteen minutes of music, lights and dance.  I watched her annual recital and it was one of those special parent moments when all the money, all the drop off and pick up trips, all the arguments about ‘studying comes first’ melted away in that dark performance hall.  The money part hadn’t completely melted away however.  On the way out of the recital, I remarked to one of the parents about the cost per minute on stage for a particular costume, and he replied, “She’s happy, though isn’t she?” 
Yea, but I didn’t think that was the goal.  I thought the goal was to teach her all those important life lessons through her dance experience, and if happiness was a by-product, all the better.  I guess this is where I must be confused as a dad.  So I turned to the church for answers…well, not really, but the sermon on Sunday seemed to be speaking to me. 
The sermon told the story of a group of school children learning about how things grow.  Each child had a little Styrofoam cup and they filled it with fertile soil and a few flower seeds.  They supplied some daily sun and some water and waited.  Eventually, the teacher told the children, their flowers would bloom.

One child couldn’t wait.  He was too impatient.  His seed didn’t bloom fast enough, so he dug up that seed to look at it.  No blooms.  So he decided that more water must be the answer.  It wasn’t.  He drowned that little seed and his flower never bloomed.  His seed needed some warmth, some water, and a lot of patience to grow.  He supplied some warmth, a lot of water, and no patience.  Bad combination as it turned out, although his intentions were noble.

The urge to watch and manage the growth of your child constantly and overwater occasionally is strong.  I think the hardest part of being a dad is knowing how and when to get out of the way, and when to let them just dance and grow.  A little warmth, a little water and a sh*tload of patience.  The sermon left out the “sh*tload” part; I added that myself.

The thing about being a father, as Maury Povich has proven with DNA evidence on many occasions, is that anyone can do it.  Being a dad is a little trickier.  Only my daughter’s therapist will know if I found the right balance of ingredients, and that doctor will be happy to tell my daughter the answer to that question - for $150 per hour.  That is one bill I am NOT paying. 

I’ll fund dance another year and smile, but she can buy the costumes.  Hopefully that will make us both happy, although that was not the goal.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Black Gold...Texas Tea

For those upset that Obama is anti-oil and has enforced policies meant to increase our dependence on foreign energy sources, I offer this nugget:

The U.S. produced over six million barrels of oil a day in the first quarter of 2012, the first time since 1998, according to the federal Energy Information Administration. Output in North Dakota skyrocketed to 570,000 barrels a day, outpacing Alaska to become the second-leading oil producer, trailing only Texas which produces 1.8 million barrels a day. North Dakota’s output in March was up by 215,000 barrels a day, a 60% increase from the previous year. The state’s surging oil production is largely attributed to shale formations stretching across western North Dakota. (Source: Politico

For those upset that Obama is anti-environment and has not enforced policies meant to increase our protections against Big Oil pollution, I offer this nugget:

Hydraulic fracturing — the controversial process behind the spread of natural gas drilling — is enabling oil companies to reach previously inaccessible reserves in North Dakota, triggering a turnaround not only in the state's fortunes, but also in domestic energy production. 

The downside is waste — lots of it. Companies produce millions of gallons of salty, chemical-infused wastewater, known as brine, as part of drilling and fracking each well. Drillers are supposed to inject this material thousands of feet underground into disposal wells, but some of it isn't making it that far.

According to data obtained by ProPublica, oil companies in North Dakota reported more than 1,000 accidental releases of oil, drilling wastewater or other fluids in 2011, about as many as in the previous two years combined. Many more illicit releases went unreported, state regulators acknowledge, when companies dumped truckloads of toxic fluid along the road or drained waste pits illegally.

Under North Dakota regulations, the agencies that oversee drilling and water safety can sanction companies that dump or spill waste, but they seldom do: They have issued fewer than 50 disciplinary actions for all types of drilling violations, including spills, over the past three years.

(Source: Nicholas Kusnetz, ProPublica)

So with this information as a backdrop, let’s consider the Keystone Pipeline controversy.  Conservatives have argued that the Obama emphasis on the green economy means he is ignoring traditional sources of energy in favor of the extreme environmentalist agenda.  Liberals have argued that Obama (and the Democrats) has yet to stand up to Big Oil and has compromised the environment in favor of short term political gain. 

Keystone was delayed awaiting a re-routing plan.  Conservatives pounced.  Keystone will eventually be approved.  Liberals will groan.  When you cut through the election year chatter, both sides are passionate about their positions.  If Obama is making both extremes mad, he’s probably doing something right.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

NY Yankee in King Bryce’s Court

I remember the last time they came to town.  Back in 2006, it was like anticipating a game between the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals, and we on the Generals’ side of the aisle.  The Generals may make a few baskets, but in the end, there is no question that the Globetrotters can hit the highlight shots and win whenever they choose to do so.  When the Bombers came to visit in 2006 after a 38 year hiatus, they had all the swagger, all the stars (all the payroll), all the fans, all the rings.  We had nothing but hope and a few career bench players, but hope cannot be underestimated when considering a crowd that waited 37 years before cheering a home baseball team.

The 2006 interleague visit was a Father’s Day weekend series just like this upcoming one.  Game One at RFK, the retrofitted football stadium on life support, was on a Friday night.  Yankees won.  No surprise there.  It was shaping up to be a ho-hum beat down with Goliath crushing the weaker and smaller David.

My son and I went on Saturday for Game Two, a spectacularly sun drenched day at the packed ballpark.  I prepped my 7 year old for a torrential downpour of profanity that was sure to rain down on him and his Nationals’ ball cap in a stadium dominated by displaced New Yorkers.  The crowd swelled to over 43,000, more than double the average attendance for any other game that year.  The Yankee fans wanted blood.  We Nats fans just happy to be there and wished only to survive 9 innings with an intact shred of integrity.

We got more than that from the home team.  As I remind my son every baseball season, he was there to witness history on that sunny Saturday.  He got to see Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in the history of the game, blow a lead to the lowly Nationals on June 17, 2006.  The Nats trailed 9-2 in the 5th inning, and 9-6 in the 7th and when Enter Sandman appeared, he uncharacteristically blew it.  The Nats chased the Yankees with 2 in the bottom of the 7th and 3 in the bottom of the 8th to stun the Bronx faithful.  The profanities never sounded so good, and my high forehead sunburn seemed a little less painful that night.  A curly W was in the books.

I was not there for the rubber game of the series, a Father’s Day afternoon special.  Nats starter Mike O’Connor battled Yankee star Chien-Ming Wang (eventual 19 game winner that season and future Nats reclamation project) pitch for pitch until Nats reliever Gary Majewski allowed the Yankees to take a one-run lead in the 8th inning.  The Nats came to bat in the bottom of the 9th trailing, but they would not face Rivera on this day.  Joe Torre decided to give his relief ace the day off after pitching the previous two games.  It was Wang’s game to finish.  The Nats were 12 ½ games out of first and fading.  Sticking with Wang was not a tough decision for Torre, but it would prove fateful.

Marlon Anderson hit a one-out single, and up came Nats’ 21 year old Rookie of the Year candidate Ryan Zimmerman.  Zimmerman, who had never hit a walk off home run at any level, would hit his first of many for the franchise, a no-doubt-about-it shot over the left field wall to ignite the largest single game crowd in RFK history.  The DC’s love affair with Ryan Zimmerman was born with the crack of that bat on that day.  Happy Father’s Day.

The Nats fans’ flames of that day were to be doused by a string of 100 loss campaigns, while the Yankees annually played meaningful baseball in October and won the whole thing in 2009.  The glory of that summer weekend seemed as distant as the days when Walter Johnson dominated as a Senator. 

That was then.  The Nationals line up of Ramon Ortiz, Jose Vidro, Jose Guillen, Robert Fick and Brian Schneider has been replaced with Harper, Strasburg, Morse, Desmond and Clippard (who was on that 2006 Yankee squad – thanks for trading him to us).  Now Father’s Day weekend is no longer the Globetrotter vs. the Generals.  It is a Clash of the Titans, two first place teams riding 6 game winning streaks.  You can call this weekend series a World Series preview and not be laughed at.  The tides are turning in Natstown. 

Some things haven’t changed.  The Yankee payroll is still equal to the 22nd largest economy in the world.  Jeter, A-Rod and Pettite are still there.  The Yankee fans will again try to take over the park and colorful cursing will again fill the air.  I will not be there to see it, however.  Years of mediocrity have conditioned me to enjoy the intimacy of 22,000 in paid attendance and the ability to sit just about anywhere for my $10 admission.  The thought of fighting the game day traffic, only being able to watch from my assigned seat and missing an inning while waiting on a long line to pee is too much.  Instead of sharing a beer line with some drunkard in pinstripes chanting “27 rings”, I’ll watch on TV and plan a trip to the Tampa Bay series next week.  I can’t share the stadium with a fair weather crowd. 

2006 was a long time ago.  It’s a new team.  It’s a (sort of) new stadium. Dare I say, it’s a New Natitude?  Can the Nats win this weekend?  As our teenage superstar with the excessive eye black said this week to a reporter in Toronto, “That’s a clown question, bro.”  

According to The Week, a man from Connecticut is suing the local hospital, claiming that the staff ignored his persistent erection in order to watch a baseball game causing him irreparable damage.  Should the Nats complete their 3rd consecutive series sweep this weekend by vanquishing the hated Yankees, there could be some season long untreated erections amongst loyal Nats fans in the DC market.

With every victory over stiffer and stiffer competition, we’re getting more excited in Washington, that’s for sure.

Welcome, Yankees.  We’ve got a surprise for you.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Water Bazooka Joe

Joe Biden has been indefinitely suspended from his position as Vice President of the United States for violating the administration’s zero tolerance weapons policy.  On Saturday afternoon while hosting his annual media picnic for reporters and their families at his residence in Washington, D.C., the VP got carried away and started a water gun fight on the grounds with some of the children in attendance.  According to the OPM Employer’s Handbook for Political Personnel, using any sort of weapon on the grounds is prohibited, even seemingly harmless water pistols and water cannons.  Biden vowed to appeal the suspension. 

The Biden appeal will focus on the administration’s draconian “zero tolerance” policy and he will argue that the policy as written is brutally strict and is biased in favor of harsh punishment over re-education for perpetrators.   In recent years, anxious government officials have relied increasingly on zero tolerance policies as a simple, albeit inflexible, response to perceived threats of violence that relieved them of the need to exercise judgment and make reasoned decisions in response to workplace situations.  Biden’s automatic suspension from the Vice Presidency is required punishment under the policy, and he agreed to abide by the policy when he took the Oath of Office in 2009.

Over time, zero tolerance policies that were originally intended to apply only to serious criminal behavior involving firearms or illegal drugs have been extended to cover many more types of behavior and circumstances.  The prohibition of weapons often now includes toy weapons and objects that appeared to be weapons.   Water pistols and water bazookas, such as those used by the Vice President and the children at Saturday’s family picnic, would fall under this definition.

The media has reported on stories of zero tolerance enforcement across the country for many years.  Some examples include:

  • A five-year-old in California was expelled after he found a razor blade at his bus stop and carried it to school and gave it to his teacher.
  • A nine-year-old in Ohio was suspended for having a 1” knife in a manicure kit.
  • A twelve-year-old in Rhode Island was suspended for bringing a toy gun to school.
  • A seventeen-year-old in Chicago was arrested and subsequently expelled for shooting a paper clip with a rubber band.

Opponents of these policies contend that zero tolerance policies now treat all threats of violence as equally dangerous and deserving of the same consequences.  They make the point that these kinds of policies provide no latitude for authorities to consider the seriousness of the threat or degree of risk posed by the person’s behavior.

The American Bar Association agrees, and passed a resolution back in 2001 condemning zero tolerance:

“ …the ABA opposes, in principle, "zero tolerance" policies that have a discriminatory effect, or mandate either expulsion or referral of students to juvenile or criminal court, without regard to the circumstances or nature of the offense or the student's history.”  While the ABA focused its response on student behavior, Vice President Biden’s behavior can comfortably be classified as ‘juvenile’.

Some liberals applauded the decision.  “The Vice President must be held to the same standard as our elementary school children.  He’s lucky he isn’t getting expelled,” said gun control enthusiast Michael Moore.  “I know the good people of Scranton wouldn’t tolerate his callous disregard for the sensitivities of those children who were targeted by his pressure-propelled stream shot from a water cannon at 186 feet per second from close range.  The little tikes must have been scared to death.”

Biden mother, who was called at home to come and pick up his son at the event, was incredulous.  “Why is my boy being singled out?  He did nothing wrong.  They were water guns, for cripe’s sake.  The last Vice President shot a friend in the face, and he never had to miss a day in office.”

Mrs. Biden was referring to an incident from several years ago when Richard Cheney, whom his enemies called Dick, shot a man with a real gun.  Supporters have argued that Cheney shot his friend during his off hours and not during the performance of any official duties.  Biden, on the other hand, not only had water weapons on the grounds, he encouraged impressionable children to brandish the weapons in a hostile manner as well. 

“If Joe has to miss more than a day or two, he’ll never be able to make up the missed assignments.  He needs the structure in his day,” Mrs. Biden added.

The Obama administration was quick to defend its swift action to suspend the Vice President.  Spokesperson Jay Carney told the press, “We are used to Joe Biden shooting his mouth off, but bringing these weapon-like toys onto the grounds cannot be tolerated.  Someone could have drowned.”

Joe Biden seems to be taking his suspension from his duties in stride.  When asked if he feared being held back to repeat his term in office because of the suspension, the VP just smiled. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fault Lines

The self-help industry took off as a liberal cultural trend in the 1970s, but Mitt Romney and the Republicans have now infected the 2012 body politic with this philosophy.  Self-help, Mitt tells us, is the prescription for everything that ails our nation.  Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for yourself.  “We the People” has been replaced by “You the Person”.  Fostering “community” is code for forcing people like Mitt to financially support people like Obama.  The poor should help themselves while the rich help themselves.  A hand up is a hand out.

This concept of self-determination appears in a number of the GOP approaches to national issues:

·         Health insurance policies that include birth control coverage?  Not necessary.  What women need is some self-control.

·         Too many illegal immigrants taking low-wage jobs and robbing houses in your neighborhood?  Not in Romney’s America.  He’ll provide the incentive for the lawbreakers to self-deport.

·         Large banks that are too big to fail putting the global economy at risk?  Don’t bet on that being a problem much longer.  We’re capitalists and the banks can self-regulate for the greater good.

·         Spending too much of our national wealth on food stamps and benefits for the unemployed?  No worries.  Mitt will encourage a new era of self-reliance.

·         Childhood obesity?  Reduce waistlines through self-denial.  Social safety net?  Repeal and replace it with personal savings built through self-discipline.

·         Unions?  Groupthink that stifles your ability to self-actualize and achieve your greatest potential in productivity and earnings.  Unions strive for equity through shared mediocrity.

Rugged individuals built this nation and that’s the way forward.  Public policy solutions to problems of individual weakness are anathema to a free society.  We don’t need more teachers, we are told; we need more kids that aren’t too lazy to learn.  We don’t need more police; we just need harsher penalties to discourage crime.  We don’t need smaller sodas; we need to control ourselves.  This message that problems are the result of individual actors and individual actions resonates in a country imbued with the Puritan philosophy that we are all sinners and must punish ourselves on earth to achieve heaven above.  Look inward, young man – it is your fault.

Conservatives embrace another philosophy besides the Theory of the Self-Determination known as the Theory of Broken Windows.  Rudy Giuliani popularized the idea as a key component in his successful campaign to drop crime rates dramatically in NYC in the 1990s.  This anti-crime theory called for an all-out assault against graffiti, panhandlers extorting money in exchange for a clean windshield, and fare jumpers in the subway.  Giuliani and others believed that these minor infractions created an environment in which individuals felt safe to commit other more serious crimes.  If these environmental conditions were changed, criminals would no longer be empowered to commit crimes.  Fix the broken windows and crime will drop.

There are many reasons that crime dipped precipitously in NYC during Giuliani’s tenure but it was the vigilant application of the Broken Window theory in practice that is credited with driving crime rate so low so quickly.  In short, it worked.

What did that prove?  It was not that there were fewer potential criminals in NYC all of a sudden.  It was that fewer potential criminals were empowered by the external environment to commit crimes.  The sociological conditions and the physical conditions surrounding the individuals mattered.  It was not all just an individual’s fault, otherwise the absence of broken windows and graffiti would not have impacted crime rates.  The criminal who lacked self-control would act with or without the social cue to do so.  The surroundings mattered and the cues to commit crimes mattered.  Change the conditions and people acted differently.

When infrastructure investment is mocked as wasteful public works stimulus spending, think about the Theory of Broken Windows and add it to the list of things the Right was for before they were against it.  External physical conditions can affect individual behaviors and make them more or less likely to occur.  Blaming society’s problems on a collection of individual decisions without accounting for environmental context is not only wrong, it’s anti-science (not that being anti-science is insulting to modern day hard core conservatives).  Changing the context in which individuals make decisions may be a fiscally conservative position.

Context matters.