Sunday, September 30, 2012

"I Like to Fire People"

Ed Frauenheim, a senior editor at Workforce, wrote a blog post last week that caught my attention as a full-time HR professional and a part-time political junkie.  He ties Mitt Romney’s 47% video comments to Romney’s business executive views of the modern labor force.  The post, titled “The 47 Percent: Romney's Misguided View of the 'Employment Deal'” outlines how Romney labor world view is from another time, not suited to today’s workforce challenges. 

As a refresher, here is what Mitt Romney said at a fundraiser in May, revealing his true feelings about American workers at the lower end of the wage scale:

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax…[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Frauenheim hears something else in these words, and he writes:

Implied is a view of a company where employees are costs to be minimized rather than assets to be valued and developed. It is a management mindset that reigned in the 1980s and 1990s. The corporate raider ethos, eager to lay off employees in the pursuit of quick profits. In fact, there's evidence Romney embraced or practiced this philosophy as head of Bain Capital.

We HR folks grumble about this all the time.  HR people whine about wanting “a seat at the table”, which translates to “we want respect on matters of financial importance to the company”.  We resent operations executives who view the workforce as an expense to be reduced instead of an asset that deserves investment, development and training.  We argue that labor as an expense is a short-sighted view; labor as an engine of profitability takes the long view.  Effectively developed, nurtured and deployed, labor creates profitability; it does not diminish it. 

“Labor is an expense line” – according to Frauenheim, that’s the business philosophy that Romney would bring to the White House.  It’s not just anti-labor; it’s wrong for the future of businesses in a competitive global economy.  Look at the companies investing in their workforce and winning the profitability battle – Southwest Airlines, Google, FedEx, The Container Store. 
He outlines the historical shift in industry’s approach to labor management: 

An employment deal that offers employees little in the way of security and treats them as necessary evils may have led to higher bottom lines for a while. It also may have served as a correction to the overly paternalistic compact around work in the 1950s, 60s and 70s: the one that saw companies give nearly guaranteed employment for life in exchange for employee loyalty.

Romney did get the evolution of the workforce memo.  He continues:

But companies can no longer be dismissive about their employees. Research shows that layoffs generally are not a strategy for success, that companies that are better to workers and to their stakeholders overall outperform peers in the stock market. Consumers increasingly want to do business with kind companies. And this just in: 75 percent of Americans would not take a job with a company that had a bad reputation, even if they were unemployed.

Romney wants to run for the Presidency on his business acumen, but his business acumen regarding workers was sharpened in another era into a philosophy that does not work in 2012 and beyond.

In short, Frauenheim concludes, “Romney's remarks reflect a version of the (employment) deal that is outdated and doomed.”  It makes you wonder what kind of direction he would give to a Secretary of Labor in a Romney administration.   


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Shell Game

In Mitt Romney’s quest for the Presidency, his money isn’t the only thing he’s stashing in the Cayman Islands.  Looks like he’s stashing the recent past there too.

Rosie Gray in BuzzFeed flagged an announcement about an upcoming seminar scheduled for November 2nd and 3rd on Grand Cayman.  It’s the Cayman Alternative Investment Summit, and the opening night keynote speaker will be none other than Republican National Convention no-show, former President and persona non grata on the Romney campaign train, George W. Bush.

Yes, this is awkward, isn’t it?  No, I am not making this up.

4 days before the election, original Decider will join fellow investors learning about the tax avoidance benefits of stashing millions in Cayman financial houses.  His address to the assembled job creators will most likely not mention Governor Romney’s empathy for the working man or Mitt’s new-found love for the lower 47%.  The search for WMDs will probably not make the final edit of the speech either.  George will probably avoid talking about the Presidential election completely.  But the visuals from the event could be a devastating final nail in the 2012 campaign.

Romney released his 2011 returns and the record shows he has cash on the island.  The cash is there not for the beaches, but to stay one step ahead of the IRS.  Now Bush will be there to stay one step ahead of the public's memory of his disastrous 8 years while they head to the polls.

“Institutional investors, private investors, asset allocators, fund managers, service providers, academics and regulators will benefit from this discussion on the future of the industry," reads the FAQ section of the event website.  Public school teachers and first responders will be underrepresented at the summit devoted to learning the features and benefits of tax avoidance and off-shoring.  Just as Mitt will begin to make his closing argument about his persona as a Man of the People, #43 will be undercutting that message and adding a dose of reminder about the failed leadership that brought the nation to this point in the first place. 

Romney may not have instructed Bush to leave the country during the final push towards Election Day, lest he accidentally be seen in public or quoted in the media, but I am sure he was glad to hear Bush would be gone.  Bush may have decided to leave town on his own as a gift to the nominee.  Methinks Romney was assuming Bush would hole up in South Africa or New Zealand.  But no.  Of all the gin joints in all the world, however, the guy had to pick Grand Cayman??? 
The genius of George Bush lives on.  If politics is perception, then having George W. Bush drop in to visit Romney’s tax sheltered millions right before the polls open is a perception that is politically inconvenient at best, politically fatal at worst.  

With friends like that…

Friday, September 28, 2012

Getting Off the Clock

The whining about the financial deal that ended the NFL referee’s lock out has begun.  I am reading comments from friends and strangers complaining about what they believe to be exorbitant pay and benefits for part-time workers with the NFL.  They see this settlement as representative of everything that is wrong with America.  Some even think that the referees believe they are victims, looking for free food, free housing and free health care from the NFL, their corporate benefactor.  Those refs are dependent on the league, they say, and it’s unhealthy.  Sound familiar?

My friends and those faceless strangers have it exactly backwards.  The referee deal represents what is great about America and the marketplace.  People are finally being compensated for the skill they bring to an organization instead of time they spend at work.  Isn’t that what we want in a meritocracy?

The question should not be about dollars and hours.  The question should be about value. 
Over the 8 years of the deal, salaries for the part time referees will rise from today’s average of $150,000 to $200,000.  Not bad for guys that go to work dressed like Foot Locker sales associates.  There were other issues, some financial (like the phase out of the existing pension plan), some job security related (fight against a bench of referees being hired to threaten the jobs of existing referees).  There is no debate that $150-$200k per year is a lot of money, whether earned in a day or a year.  

There is also no debate that NFL referees have a unique skill set, and one that cannot be duplicated by temporary fill-ins without causing damage to the league’s brand.  What’s that worth?  Apparently, between $150-$200k per year per person.

If you don’t think that being a referee at the NFL level is a specialized skill, ask someone in Green bay their opinion.

Stop thinking in terms of hours.  Think in terms of value.

Trading time for dollars is so 20th century.  The idea of hourly pay was cemented in our consciousness with the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1937.  In olden days, compensation was more often tied to piece work.  Workers were paid for results of their labors.  More efficiency, more productivity translated to more compensation for labor.  The guy that could harvest the most wheat made the most money, regardless of how many hours he spent in the fields.

The FLSA has been updated sparingly these past 80 years.  It was written for an industrial workforce, a workforce teeming with manual laborers.  It was written to stem the abuses of 19th century job creators and it largely changed the relationship between corporations and labor, but more importantly, it elevated the time clock to a position of power as yet unseen at that time.  The 40 hour workweek became sacrosanct.

The problem is that hours have lost their relevance in measuring much of the work that is done these days.

In the 21st century, how many white collar professionals in our knowledge economy are constrained by the traditional 40 hour work week?  Most everyone I know can log into their office computers to catch up on work over the weekend.   Most everyone I know gets calls or emails or texts from the office at any hour of any day, including over vacations.  The concept of work-life balance, so chic in the late 20th century, is now more accurately called work-life integration.  The line between work and personal life is blurred beyond recognition.  Who can punch a clock every time life stops and work begins anymore? 

So let’s stop.  Let’s stop punching the clock.  Let’s compensate for value.  Those that accomplish more and offer more value will be paid more and their effective hourly rate will be higher. 

So look at the refs a little differently.  They provide a value to the NFL that equals their pay and benefits package.  They offer a unique skill set that is not available in the general marketplace.  As we are all now painfully aware, especially in working class Green Bay, that skill set comes at a price and it cannot be reduced to an hourly pay rate. 

But as an HR person, I say, let’s go the next step with our thinking.  Let’s strip the FLSA down to a streamlined 21st century model.  Here’s my modest proposal:

Repeal the present day notion of exempt and nonexempt workers and draw the dividing line between the two with an annualized rate of pay.

If you make an annualized rate of pay over $50,000, you may automatically be considered a salaried employee, or exempt from hourly regulations as defined in the FLSA.   Everyone under $50,000 in annualized pay must be compensated by the hour and subject to FLSA restrictions.   The baseline number can rise with inflation.

This accomplishes a few things:
  • First, reduces lawsuits for wage and hour violations dramatically.  
  • Second, it finally recognizes that the 40 hour work week for the modern worker is a fallacy given the technological advances. 
  • Third, it reduces regulatory compliance costs for HR folks like myself who spend far too much time analyzing FLSA administrative, sales, computer professional, etc. exemptions.  (I’m tired to trying to figure out what constitutes ‘discretion and independent judgment’ in a job so we don’t get sued).  
  • Fourth, we stop wasting time arguing about compensable versus non-compensable time for things like travel, training, meetings, and the like.   
  • Fifth, the law has lost relevance in the 21st century and it costs more than it returns in value. 
NFL referees are being demonized as making too much money for the hours they put in at the office.  The question should not be, “how long do they work?” – it should be “how well did they work?”  At least for this week, NFL fans think they are worth every dime.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

It’s the Ideas, Stupid!

On the morning of November 7th, the odds are increasing that President Obama will be reelected by a comfortable electoral margin if not a comfortable popular vote margin.  A few polls may be flawed, but the preponderance of the numbers is making the argument against his winning a bit hollow and desperate.  I would caution anyone about overconfidence since there is still a steady downpour of SuperPAC ads waiting to drown us, but if I were a betting man (and I am not), it’s looking like 4 more years.

I have already blogged about the trial excuses being floated by various GOP apologists.  More sample excuses are sure to be trotted out as the weeks go by.  One of the great tragedies of this election may be that the conservative movement in America will blame their candidate for the loss of the White House against a vulnerable incumbent.  While the candidate and his flawed campaign strategy/execution will rightly deserve much of the blame, I believe it would be a mistake to argue that a different candidate could have won while espousing the same policy prescriptions.

The Republican governing philosophy and GOP’s ideas will cost the party the election.

This is clear on a range of issues, from immigration to war to taxes to the social safety net, where the majority of the country prefers the Democratic approaches when stripped down to their bare essentials.  I don’t know what mythical Republican could win on a platform of tax cuts for the wealthy, tax increases for the poor, the conversion of Medicare to vouchers, and the acceptance with a shrug of 50+ million citizens without access to health care.

Health care offers a good example of where the candidate, Romney, has tried to sell the GOP position with disastrous results.

On 60 Minutes, Mitt Romney towed the conservative movement’s talking points on the uninsured and coverage in America.  They have emergency rooms therefore they have health care:

Pelley: Does the government have a responsibility to provide health care to the 50 million Americans who don't have it today?

Romney: Well, we do provide care for people who don't have insurance, people -- we -- if someone has a heart attack, they don't sit in their apartment and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care.

Pelley: That's the most expensive way to do it.

Romney: Well the--

Pelley: In an emergency room.

Mitt Romney the Man knows this is ridiculous on economic grounds, on practical grounds and on moral grounds, but Mitt Romney the GOP candidate for President has to try to sell it anyway.

On the economics, a subject the party believes is one of their strengths, it's the most expensive method of treating patients.   It would be less expensive, and more medically effective, to pay for preventative care so that people don't have to wait for a medical emergency to seek treatment.  Romney knows this.  He’s a businessman.  He’s seen the numbers.

On the economics, when the sick cannot pay their hospital bills, how are those costs ‘redistributed’?  To you, me and everyone else, either through higher premiums or our tax dollars.  So we foot the bill to cover the most expensive and least medically recommended way to treat health issues in America.  Romney knows this.  He’s a businessman.  He’s seen the numbers.

But he has to try to sell it anyway.

On practical grounds, pretending that an emergency room is guaranteed health care in America is willfully ignorant.    For those with chronic ailments, visiting the emergency room to control or treat their condition, be it diabetes or kidney problems, is a non-starter.  If you have cancer, you are not going to drop by the emergency room every time you need chemotherapy.  When you have a communicable disease such as chicken pox, waiting until the sores are unbearable to seek treatment means many others are needlessly infected in the interim.  Counting emergency room visits as a national health care solution is impractical.

Romney knows this.  He’s a businessman.  He’s seen the numbers.

But he has to try to sell it anyway.

On moral grounds, the United States remains the last industrialized nation that does not provide health care to its citizens.  Corporate medicine pushes the theory that profiting from illness and the denial of care is part of our rugged individualism, part of our national character, and something to be celebrated and embraced.  To dismantle this for-profit model is to dismantle capitalism and replace it with socialism.  What are you, a Commie?  Ironically, explaining to an interviewer that our citizens have health care because they can go to an emergency room in case of a heart attack is not only socialized medicine, it’s expensive socialized medicine.

Romney knows this.  He’s a businessman.  He’s seen the numbers.

But he has to try to sell it anyway.

I know that Romney knows these things because he studied the issue and crafted a solution.  He’s a businessman.  He knows the guarantee of emergency room coverage ought to be supplemented by bringing Americans into the insurance system.  Here’s what he said a long, long time ago, back when professional referees rules the sidelines of the NFL (2010 on the Morning Joe program):

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to have millions and millions of people who have no health insurance, and yet who can go to the emergency room and get entirely free care for which they have no responsibility, particularly if they’re people who have sufficient means to pay their own way.  And so we said, look, we’ve got an idea. Let’s take all the money we’ve been spending to give out free care — paying hospitals who give out free care — and help people who can’t afford it buy insurance.”

So when he says dumb stuff like emergency room care represents health coverage for everyone, maybe it’s not Mitt’s fault.   Maybe it’s the message, not the messenger.  Not sure if any candidate could put lipstick on this pig of a health care philosophy.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again.  It’s Romney’s party that scares me, and if he loses, someone should blame his party’s ideas.  I believe those ideas are what should be repealed and replaced on Day One, November 7th.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Airplane Window Imponderable

Poor Ann Romney.  First, she is asked to play political surrogate for her husband when the man has no specific policy details on anything.  Then, her plane fills with smoke due to an electrical fire and the plane is forced to make an emergency landing.  Not sure which is worse.  Thankfully, she is fine and no one was injured.

Governor Romney was relieved to know she was safe as well, and made this statement:

"I appreciate the fact that she is on the ground, safe and sound. And I don't think she knows just how worried some of us were," Romney said. "When you have a fire in an aircraft, there's no place to go, exactly, there's no -- and you can't find any oxygen from outside the aircraft to get in the aircraft, because the windows don't open. I don't know why they don't do that. It's a real problem."

My degree is in Psychology, but I do know something about air pressure and high altitudes.  I can’t give you the science, but I do know that rolling down the windows in flight is generally frowned upon by the laws of nature.  How do I know this?  I’ve seen the effects of a midair opening of a cabin door in any number of movies.  For example, I remember vividly a portly man being sucked out of a window hole in a James Bond movie once.  In Airforce One, the good guys had to trick the bad guys into taking the plane down to 15,000 feet before jumping.  Otherwise “it would be suicide”, said the William H. Macy character.  Stuff like that has GOT to be true.

Now, in Mitt’s defense, I am confident that he was talking about installing child safety windows, the kind that don’t roll all the way down.  That is the height of safety.  While he did not specify, I am also certain that he would support a locking mechanism so kids couldn’t play with the windows up and down during an entire trans-Atlantic flight.  He’s a practical man we’re told.

This is not the first time that Romney has made questionable suggestions about ways to improve modern air travel.  He has clearly given the issue a lot of thought.  Here are his Top Ten recommended changes:

1.      Available roof rack privileges for family pets on overseas flights.
2.      Power all jet aircraft with matter-antimatter pods like the Starship Enterprise to reduce dependence on foreign oil.
3.      Start collecting federal income taxes with ticket purchases on the 47% of frequent fliers who are currently ‘moochers’ with a victim complex.
4.      Rename the coach section of all aircraft to the “Middle Class”.
5.      Install fine, Corinthian leather seats in the First Class cabins.
6.      Enlarge the overhead storage bins so that job creators are no longer is required to check their oversized wallets at the gate.
7.      Use drone technology to eliminate the need for pilots, thereby busting the union.
8.      Construct the entire plane out of the same material used to build the Black Box since that never seems to get destroyed in a crash.
9.      Allow early boarding privileges to all those passengers with seats on the Far Right of the plane.
10.  Empower TSA agents to inquire about citizenship status of any suspicious fliers.  ‘Suspicious’ is defined as having an accent or a union card.

And my favorite, as a bonus, was tweeted by Deborah N. Tornello (@litbrit):

“Passengers are given a voucher to purchase their own oxygen masks & life-vests.”

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Flag on the Field

In response to the growing criticism of the caliber of replacement NFL referees, the Republican ticket publicly reversed course today and stated their unequivocal support for the referee’s union in their standoff with league owners and Roger Goodell.  Political observers believed that backing the league in the dispute was hurting the GOP’s chances in the football-crazed industrial Midwest.  

This position reversal in favor of union employees represents a marked turn of events for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.  Known as staunch anti-union zealots, the running mates bowed to public pressure from their core constituencies in Ohio and Wisconsin to back professional referees against the NFL.  By backing the referee’s union against the powerful NFL, they hope to stem any potential loss of support in these states key to their electoral chances in November.  Recent polls have Romney running slightly ahead of Obama among white middle class football fans who paint their faces on game day, but the gap has closed. 

The professional referees were locked out by the league beginning this season, and are seeking league concessions in pay, benefits and job security.   The league countered by hiring ‘scabs’, or replacement referees from the lower tiers of football, including high school referees and former referees from the Lingerie Football League.  The league hoped that fans would not notice the difference in officiating, but that hope was misplaced.

The issue of replacement referees has been simmering with voters since the beginning of the season, and came to a head on Sunday and Monday nights.  On Sunday night, the NBC national broadcast was marred by Baltimore fans chanting their displeasure with an on-field call.  “Bullshit!” could be heard loud and clear through the telecast, a clear embarrassment to a league that goes out of its way to protect the NFL ‘shield’, or brand.  Last night, the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green bay Packers was decided on a controversial play.  On the game’s final play, the Packers had apparently intercepted the ball in the end zone, thereby securing a 5 point victory.  One referee signaled for a touchback while a second referee simultaneously signaled touchdown.  After a booth review of the play the touchdown was confirmed, despite all visual evidence to the contrary.

Fans and voters took to the airwaves to voice their disapproval of the league and calls for a deal with the union have grown louder throughout the day.  The electorate was moving towards the union position, and Romney had to act.

Mitt Romney did not always support the union in its battle against the NFL.  In May of this year, he was secretly recorded at a large fundraiser of NFL owners saying:

"There are 47 percent of the referees who with vote for the union no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with the union, but at the same time who are dependent upon the NFL, who believe that they are victims, who believe the NFL has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it -- that that's an entitlement. And the NFL should give it to them. And they will vote for the union no matter what. ... These are people who pay no income tax. ... [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Romney has pushed back against suggestions that he has changed positions at all.

“My position hasn’t changed.  I have fought against having activist judges on the bench and activist referees on the field of play.  Neither judges nor NFL referees should be writing their own laws and rules as they go.  Our citizens deserve justice and our NFL superstars deserve justice.”

“Justice should be blind, not our game day referees.”

Paul Ryan, a loyal cheesehead and Vice Presidential nominee, promised Wisconsin voters that the Green Bay Packers’ Monday Night loss would be repealed on Day One of a Romney administration.  Obama campaign officials called Ryan’s remarks “shameless pandering in the wake of an unspeakable tragedy.” 

President Obama has consistently been a strong supporter of the referee’s union, but he has found himself having to backpedal recently as well.  The President supported the union but also supported many of the additional regulations in the game designed to protect players.  As the officiating of the game has unraveled, it has become clear to many, including Obama, that there can be too much regulation. 

“The complex regulatory environment signed into law by the league with the union’s consent makes success at this level almost impossible.  If the recent use of replacement refs has taught us anything, it’s that even the experts cannot understand the web of regulations they are empowered to enforce.  The task of supervising on field compliance in the NFL is unwieldy.  It is time to deregulate and let them play.”

The talks between the NFL and the referees union are stalled with no meetings planned until the NFL thinks it might be losing money.  Veteran referee, Ed Hochuli, was vacationing at his Arctic Fortress of Solitude, and could not be reached for comment at press time.     

Sunday, September 23, 2012

In Context

An Open Letter to the First Lady nominee of the United States:

Dear Ann Romney,

Campaigning is tough work, and I admire your sacrifice to undertake such a massive challenge.  I cannot imagine putting myself or my family through what you are enduring.  The long days, the endless rope lines, and the constant spotlight has to take a terrible toll on a person.  Take solace that it will be over soon and you’ll be able to fade back into relative wealth and obscurity.

I admire your fortitude, but must point out when I believe you could use some rest.  When I heard you confusing the definition of the word ‘context’ this week, I knew that I needed to encourage you to take a few days off.  Fatigue is the only rationale for your confusion.

On Tuesday, you told an interviewer in Denver that your husband’s “47 percent” comments were “taken out of context”.  Actually, as I am sure you are aware, his comments were presented to the public in full context, so I can only assume that you are suffering from exhaustion.

You were quoted as saying, “It’s unfortunate when something gets misinterpreted like this or it’s taken out of context because if you really do listen to everything that he does say, he’s talking about what we’re facing in America right now. We’re facing some really difficult situations. If we don’t take corrective measures soon, more and more people will be dependent on government, and that’s not what he wants. He wants to have more economic opportunity for people. He wants to have better jobs for people.”

When the reporter followed up by asking you, “So he wasn’t expressing any disdain for people who are poor or who are on entitlement programs at this point?”, and you responded, “Absolutely not. Absolutely not.  That’s totally not so”, you could not have been deliberately misrepresenting yourself.  You should skip a day on the trail to recharge.

Of course Mitt was taken in context, and he said at the May fundraiser in response to a question:

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it -- that that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. ... These are people who pay no income tax. ... [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

The words and the context are clear and unambiguous.  Perhaps with all the travel you confused “recorded without his knowledge” and “out of context”.  Honest mistake, but as you know, these are not the same thing.

An example of something “out of context” would involve taking words or parts of sentences and paragraphs and only presenting them to the public without the benefit of knowing the audience, hearing the full question and full response, and in some cases, understanding the forum of the discussion.

When the GOP spent an entire day dedicated to the theme of “You didn’t build that”, this would be something taken out of context.  In its full context, President Obama telling business leaders and entrepreneurs that they did not build the roads that allow customers to reach them, or the public service security forces that protect their investments, that’s correct and politically benign.  Out of context, it can be ginned up to sound like Obama thinks business people do not “take personal responsibility and care for their lives” and think that “the government should give it (success) to them.”  

See what I did there?  Obama’s statement was not presented in full context; your husband’s disdain for 47% of the population was. 

It can be confusing, I know, especially with all the travel.  It is especially tough when your husband’s campaign tries to pivot the conversation away from his in context remarks to another out of context remark from Obama recorded in 1998.  The Romney campaign points to a video clip of Obama saying he believes in "redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure that everybody has got a shot."  Out of context, that’s sounds like Chairman Mao!

In context, it is much more free market friendly.  Here’s the full text:

“I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody's got a shot. How do we pool resources at the same time as we decentralize delivery systems in ways that both foster competition, can work in the marketplace, and can foster innovation at the local level and can be tailored to particular communities."

Pooling resources to foster competition and innovation at a local level is not too controversial, so the limited quote is needed to remove context.  I realize that out of context has more political clout than in context, so your misstatement about Mitt’s 47% video is understandable.  

Heck, even Paul Ryan is confusing the concept of context, so it’s no wonder you’re confused!  The VP nominee tried defending your husband by pretending that what he said wasn’t what he said.  "I think the point that Mitt is trying to make is that he cares not only about the middle class, he wants to grow the middle class."  If that was the point he was trying to make, he forgot to make it at all.

In summary, it’s OK that Mitt said what he said, and you shouldn’t fight a context battle that is unwinnable on the facts.  It will only tire you more.  Embrace the language, like Republican state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe did when discussing the Republican-imposed, PA state-ID law that facts say disenfranchises eligible voters:

"I don't believe any legitimate voter that actually wants to exercise that right and takes on the according responsibility that goes with that right to secure their photo ID will be disenfranchised.  As Mitt Romney said, 47% of the people that are living off the public dole, living off their neighbors' hard work, and we have a lot of people out there that are too lazy to get up and get out there and get the ID they need. If individuals are too lazy, the state can't fix that."

Rep. Metcalfe understands your husband.  The elderly, disabled, students, and the working poor are “too lazy to get up and get out there and get the ID they need.”  The state can’t fix lazy, and your husband can’t fix those who can’t take “personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Get some well-deserved rest, and we’ll talk more about context soon.

Take care,
Marvin Disgruntled
Loyal Supporter - Effective Federal Income Tax Rate: 0.00%

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Large Points

There is a great Curb Your Enthusiasm episode from Season 7 in which Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David discuss the proliferation of the phrase, “Having said that.”  They point out correctly that the phrase “Having said that” can be translated to mean “I am about to contradict what I just said seconds ago.”  Curb is one of the best shows on television.  Having said that, it is an acquired taste, not for everyone.   

Let’s practice:  “I believe the Nationals have a great chance to win the World Series in 2012.  Now, having said that, they face an uphill climb against several teams with more post-season experience.” 

See what I did there?  One little phrase allowed me to take both sides of an argument, thereby covering my bases for all eventualities.  Regardless of the outcome of the playoffs for the Nationals, I can argue that I was right.  It’s a handy little phrase, and there are others like it.

My current phrase of choice around the house is “In any event.”  I place these three words in front of any sentence to draw my children back into a discussion.  My kids, like yours and everyone else’s, love to change the subject when the topic veers too close to household chores, homework assignments, or an attack on their general sense of entitlement.  “In any event” makes it clear to them that I am ignoring any attempts to distract me and avoid the conversation at hand.

Here’s how it works:

Me:  This weekend we need to clean the bathrooms and scrub the kitchen floor.
Kids:  Hey, did you see that the neighbor bought a new car?  By the way, my hand hurts.
Me:  In any event, we’ll start first thing Saturday morning.

In this example, “in any event” can be loosely translated to read “I will pretend you weren’t speaking and we will remain on the topic of chores until your ears bleed”, or something like that.

I am finding that as the presidential campaign heats up, the political intelligentsia (I know, oxymoron) has been pushing a new phrase that has deeper meaning just below the surface:

“….but the large point still stands…”

This simple little comeback conveys to the listener that “While my initial statement is misleading or false and cannot be defended, I am right regardless.”  “But the larger point still stands” is a bit easier to say and doesn’t on its face give you the sense that your arguments are being ignored.

Here’s an example of this phrase in action:

Fox and Friends had a report Thursday morning on “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” a strangely popular holiday destined to inspire a series of associated greeting cards at a Hallmark outlet near you. The Obama campaign celebrated, tongue firmly in cheek, by tweeting a picture of the president posing in the Oval Office with a pirate. “Arrr you in?” read the tweet.  See?  The President is not a robot.  He’s someone you’d like to have a beer with.  Pretty harmless fun from the campaign, and another attempt to humanize the candidate prior to the election.  The Romney folks should be paying attention.

Instead of the Romney campaign trying to mimic the lighthearted approach of the frontrunner, his morning campaign press conference (aka Fox and Friends) instead featured this headline across the screen: 


 “This pirate got a sit-down in the Oval Office yesterday,” Fox and Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade said on-air.  “So much for the Middle East peace (which Romney admits in his 47% video is so impossible anyway that he will not even try during his term if elected). The White House doesn’t even have time to meet with Israel, but the president got a private sit-down with a pirate yesterday in the Oval Office.  Sorry, Bibi,” Steve Doocy added.

Clearly Doocy has no time for fact checkers, but they could have helped him out in this instance.  The photo in question was taken in May 2009 as part of a joke used at the White House Correspondents’ dinner.  Not to single out Fox and Friends, Romney’s other campaign arm, the Drudge Report, filed the same story.  You can be certain that Sarah Palin saw this photo and thought, “There he goes again, palling around with high seas terrorists in the Oval Office.  ARRGGHHH!!”

The Fox and Drudge headlines allude to Obama reportedly denying Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to meet during the United Nations General Assembly. The White House version, admittedly weak, is that scheduling conflicts prevented the face-to-face meeting.  Whether they instead spoke on the phone, etc. is not clear.  The point of the Fox story is unambiguous.  Obama is not committed to the security of Israel, and he is too busy having fun and campaigning to focus on our national problems, including a potential nuclear armed Iran.  And we have the photo to prove it.

Except the vehicle used to advance this argument is unrelated to the President’s current schedule.

Fox and Friends’ Twitter account later admitted that the photo was not exactly breaking news, but offered no on-air correction.  Without question, the defense from Fox and Friends is simple – “…but the larger point remains…”  I say that if the underlying facts are false when you are making your point, then the larger point does not remain.

Paul Ryan is using the same comeback to defend Romney’s “inarticulate” words to donors in May about how 47% of our citizens believe they are “victims” and out looking for free health care, free food and free housing.  Yes, Romney was “inarticulate” (just what we’re looking for in a Commander in Chief), “…but the larger point remains.”

Let me be honest with you.  No, it doesn’t.  When you make stuff up, the “larger point” should not remain.

Uh oh, “let me be honest with you” is another one that means a lie is coming next!  Except in this case, of course, because my larger point remains.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Finally Legal

Today marks the 21st anniversary of my marriage.  Our marriage is now of legal drinking age, so here’s a toast to us.

Like most marriages, we consider ourselves a couple…a couple of survivors.  First we overcame the immoral influence of Bert and Ernie living together, and then we lived through the Will and Grace years.  Most recently, the destabilizing effects of the DADT repeal on our unit cohesion caused challenges, but we are still standing as one.  We fought back and never allowed the threat of legalized gay marriage to weaken our heterosexual union.

In our case, I guess the GOP was wrong.  Our institution remains intact despite the cultural headwinds.

As a married couple in America 2012, we are becoming outliers at the tender age of 21.  The institution of marriage has lost some popularity over the years.  According to the Pew Research Center as of 2010, only 51% of adults in this country are married.  The other 49% is on or hanging out in the bar at Applebees playing online trivia games with strangers.  Such is the nature of long-term relationship hunting in modern America.  “Text me if you think I’m cute.”

The marriage rate for the 18-29 age group has fallen from 59 percent in 1960 to 20 percent today. People are marrying later in life these days, mostly because it’s harder to find a mate when you’re 30 and living in your parent’s basement, waiting tables and keeping one step ahead of the student loan shark bill collectors.    Today the average groom is 29 years old, which coincidentally was my age at our wedding in 1991.  I guess I was average before my time.  Many of you, including my bride, are nodding your heads in agreement.   

Fewer adults are married for a number of reasons, some cultural and some economic.  Murphy Brown made single motherhood fashionable.  Cohabitation does not carry the same stigma it once did.  Reality TV remade the image of unmarried parents to be chic and a symbol of wealth.  Kim Kardashian sets the bar high, as does Tom Cruise.  They seemed so certain of their love at one time that to see it all fall apart makes everyone question their own relationships.  They turned marriage into sport and not everyone is as athletic in that endeavor as they are.  They make jumping the broom look easy, and undoing their mistakes even easier. 

Economics plays a large role in the trend.  More people are delaying the big wedding because of the Great Recession.  The Great Recession means fewer people feel economically stable and ready to take on the responsibilities of marriage and family.  Of course, Obama supporters blame this trend on George Bush, and GOP supporters blame this on Obama secret pan to destroy the American family.  There must be a video of his secret planning meetings on YouTube…

There are tax benefits to marriage and filing joint returns, so the government does encourage permanent contractual hook ups.  Families are the engine of economic growth!  Those that follow the gyrations of politics recognize this part of the tax code as right wing social engineering, something Newt Gingrich is against and maybe Mitt Romney too, but ask him tomorrow.  His position might have changed.  Despite the tax advantage of marriage, the numbers continue to decline. 

There are significant tax advantages to having children, so much so that the more you have, the bigger the federal income tax break.  In fact, if you are poor, divorced and have too many kids, you could find yourself amongst the irresponsible moochers in the 47% Club.  We all wish that Mitt Romney could teach you personal responsibility, but he admits that he can’t.  Again, this can be blamed on right wing social engineering so it’s ironic that GOP tax policies actually have helped increase membership in the 47%.  Rest easy, though.  Soon Mitt will raise taxes on the poor so they can have ‘skin in the game’.  You may not be able to afford the shirt off your back, but surely we can get some skin off your back if we scrape hard enough.

But marriage is more than tax policy and texting.  It’s much more.

For us, it means kids.  We have 3 beautiful and healthy ones, and we’ll know if they are smart by the time interim grades are released in November. They fill up our days and they fill up our hearts.  They simultaneously empty our bank accounts, but that’s the result of left wing social engineering.  We need to be sure that they are given everything they ever ask for so their self-esteem is protected. 

It’s been a helluva road but one helluva ride.  That’s describes life too, but we’ve found it’s better and smoother with a competent co-pilot who will occasionally navigate, occasionally let us know when we’ve made a wrong turn, and occasionally help us stay alert during the long trip.  Marriage is becoming the road not taken in America, but 21 years later, I can say that I took the right turn on September 21, 1991.  We have miles to go before we sleep and miles to go before we sleep and I’m not tired.

So happy anniversary to us.  We are doing our part to help the nation during these challenging economic times.  Marriage is good for the GDP**, and we are contributing as best we can.  Dinner and a movie. 


** GDP = Global Domestic Peace

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Costume Decision 2012

Halloween is a time when we all enjoy a good scare, and what could be scarier than the fall Presidential election season.  When the weather turns cold and the leaves change colors, creatures like blood sucking politicos and zombie campaign surrogates come out of the darkness through our TV sets to spook us with tales of death panels and fiscal cliffs.  On Halloween, the scares are contrived.  When the election is upon us, the fears may be real.  By the morning of November 7th, we will either all be forced to endure a slow march towards a socialist dictatorship led by the anti-Christ, or we will be forced to watch the Magician of Massachusetts turn back the hands of time on 50 years of social progress.  Boo!

Politics and Halloween have much in common.  Both offer good excuses to pretend we are something we are not.  Both involve going door to door asking for things to which we are not entitled.  Both are multi-billion dollar industries.  Both have pumpkin heads in common.  Both can be fun as long as you don’t take them too seriously.

This Halloween, political monsters across the country are looking for a competitive edge for their candidates and for their costumes.  I can’t help them with their candidates who may speak “inarticulately”, but I can offer some suggestions on this year’s hottest costumes:

Scary Costumes:  Conservatives will favor the Obama costume this year as the best option to scare their neighbors.  This is the 4th year in a row that the Obama costume tops the list on Fright Night for Republican partygoers.  Add a 6 foot scythe to unambiguously associate fear and death with Obama. 

Liberals will understandably counter with the scary Mitt Romney costume, albeit with a twist.  The liberal version of the Mitt costume will feature a face on the front and back of the mask.  Spice up the look by carrying a copy of Mitt’s Michigan birth certificate.  Funny AND scary! 

Scary, but Not Recommended:  Gentlemen looking to meet a nice girl at the local Halloween bash should shy away from the infamous Rep. Todd Akin costume this year.  While you may see the humor in impersonating a man who believes that pregnancy is impossible as a result of forcible rape, the ladies may not appreciate your wry sense of humor.

Sexy Costumes:  Every Halloween, the sexy costumes are top sellers for good reason.  84% of likely voters prefer sex, and 68% of those like the idea of incorporating some kind of mask.  For the conservative man, the Paul Ryan get-up is the pro choice.  Throw in a vintage Santorum sweater vest, and the ladies will know your faith is strong and your pectorals are divine. 

Liberal ladies, nothing says ‘available’ this Halloween like a Sandra Fluke ensemble.  The men will testify to your fortitude while you ‘re being called a slut, all in good fun of course.  Throw on a pair of Tina Fey glasses if you’re feeling sassy. 

Anthony Weiner costumes are so 2011.

Funny Costumes:  There are several conservatives out there with a sense of humor, and for you, we have several madcap selections.  For starters, consider the Newt Gingrich as Astronaut costume.  Stuff a few pillows under your shirt to expand your profile and wear a fishbowl on your head or perhaps a halo of stars and planets.  Enlist some friends and have your own moon colonists bar crawl. 

Liberals are encouraged to dress like the Timman from The Wizard of Oz and add a Romney mask to complete the look.  Your progressive friends will get the joke – two characters without a heart in one costume.  For a more nuanced choice, you could invent your own version of Mitt Romney as a Latino (watch his 47% video to get the joke).

No one will know who you are but you’ll feel clever Costumes – Conservatives can give their friends a fright when they arrive at the big costume party dressed as Saul Alinsky, complete with worker gray shirt, fedora and round Commie spectacles.   Liberal ladies, scare their party guests with a custom Ayn Rand mask and convince your date to don the John Galt look.  No one will have any idea what your costume represents, but you’ll have a great conversation starter.

Just Spitballing Here Costumes – Dress up as this campaign season’s biggest star: SuperPAC Man.  This costume requires a little imagination and even less expense.  Throw a white sheet over your head, cut out 2 eye holes, and voila!  You are a Pacman.  Now eat the truth and you're a SuperPAC Man.

Wrap yourself in a piece of cylindrical card stock held up by some suspenders, write Pepsi on the front, add a giant straw and go out as a 20 oz. soda.  Tell your friends that next year, you’ll be banned.

Seamus breaking out of his cage is a can’t miss laugh riot.  Consider going as an empty chair.  It’s easier to pull off than you might think.  Go as Bibi Netinyahu  with a toy bus on your head.

Wear your regular clothes but grab every girl you meet.  Why?  You’re the Invisible Hand of the free market.  Want to go out with me?

Finally, there is always the old standby – a ghost.  That’s right, George Bush or Jimmy Carter.  Both are haunting the current candidates, right?