Friday, November 30, 2012

But Wait! I've Got a Mandate

It is frustrating when someone chooses not to work within the expectations for effective problem solving.  When instead, he chooses to make up the facts, not be forthright with the people he works for, and instead turns to those who he thinks he has to please and curry favor with, making outlandish promises and blaming his failures on others.
But this is what I’ve got to deal with, from time to time, at work.  Fortunately our government is in much more reasonable hands.

Monday, November 26, 2012


There are just so many things happening that come as non-total surprises that I am not sure what to do about them.
What started as an Arab spring has now, apparently, turned into Strongman fall, as the Egyptian President, Mohamed Morsi, consolidates power and decrees the courts and the legislation are no longer necessary.  Of course this has sparked considerable debate in the media as first one side says this was to be expected and the other, more progressive, side says it will all work itself out and President Morsi will return power to the people any time now.  For a nation that has only known one party (dictatorial) rule since President Abdul Nasser I tend to be just a wee bit skeptical on the President’s plan for a free and democratic society.
On the health care front, I find it terribly amusing (or tragic) that colleges are now starting to restructure the faculties hours for adjunct professors and administrative staffs so they don’t have to pay for their health benefits.  This will quite possibly have significant economic impacts on those affected and for those people I feel truly sorry, but the irony of having the liberal colleges argue so strongly for the need for universal health care and then take advantage of the loop holes to keep their overhead down and the profits up is down right funny.  (BTW I know most are not-for-profit, but do you really think they plan to lower tuition because of cost savings?)
As we slowly bumble towards that fiscal cliff thing, I would expect to see significant tax increases next year as the existing rates are allowed to lapse through political in-fighting, I wonder how the President will spin that?  Apparently the top 1% pay something like 40% of all income taxes paid in the US.  I still like the idea of a flat tax, but that has about as much chance as a snowball surviving in that place all politicians must end up in the after life.
Apparently we have determined that Military Working Dogs suffer from posttraumatic stress.  Hopefully we will take better care of them than we do so many of our human veterans, and we won’t see them sleeping on the street and begging for handouts.
There seems to be yet another controversy with the judges on American Idol.  Do people really care about this, to the point all the networks are compelled to report on it?  Really?
And finally, I guess it is time for the Rolling Stones to gather some moss.  – Just say’n.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Start with the Idea of Right and Wrong

Recently a friend and I exchanged some thoughts on the Hostess Company bankruptcy.  He noted that bankruptcy seems to be used more frequently as a tool by corporations who want to walk away from a negotiated deal.  When I asked what alternative he would propose, his answer was “start with the idea of right and wrong.”
I’ve been thinking about that statement, and how easy it is to suggest, but perhaps how impossible it would be to achieve, especially if we expect to hold corporations, or individuals to such a standard then don’t we need a common understanding of what is right or what is wrong?
So what is right? (I focus only on right for if we can define it then wrong would be its opposite.)  For some they look to the bible for guidance.  At one time we were principally a Judeo-Christian nation and would look to the Old Testament and draw on the commandments as a basis for the beginning of a common understanding.  From it we also take what is known as the golden rule as described in Matthew 7:12 “Treat others the way you would have them treat you: this sums up the law and the prophets.”  But not everyone believes or accepts the Judeo-Christian theology; there are those who actively reject the teachings of the Church, and view those who believe in its teachings as superstitious fools. So for them their basis of determination of right must be different.
I will admit to a limited, and that is being kind, understanding of the teachings of Islam, but I do know it forms both the moral and legal basis for the societies it dominates.  This link provides a good synopsis for those interested in a better understanding.  One of the things I take from the article is that the expectations for behavior under Shari’ah law are not the same as we have in Western culture.  What I couldn’t find was a simple definition of right.  I am left with the impression that just as in the west, many look to their Mullah’s to interpret Allah’s word into the daily expectations of their lives.  That suggests to me that right is flavored by the personality and opinion of the teacher and if so, cannot be uniquely common across Islam.
How about Buddhism?  Buddhism Beliefs, describes 18 foundational beliefs, but as close as I come to understanding definition of right is in the description of Karma, where it is good to be good, but again I don’t know the religion well enough to know if there is a singular understanding of what is good and therefore right?
I talk about the various theologies only to show that there is not a universal definition of right to be found in religion, and even if there were, could that form the basis for doing what is right in the United States?  Based on the concerns of our founding fathers that if one church were to gain favored status – as in the Church of England, or the Catholic domination of much of Europe, then the freedom of our citizens to worship, as they believe best, or not to worship at all, would be lost.  As in any doctrine, there are various understandings, but the one that seems to withstand the test of time can be traced back to President Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association.  This is the original draft; I have emphasized the key line.  The final letter removed the word eternal.
To messers Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.
Gentlemen The affectionate sentiments of esteem & approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful & zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, and, in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more & more pleasing. Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;" thus building a wall of eternal separation between Church & State. Congress thus inhibited from acts respecting religion, and the Executive authorised only to execute their acts, I have refrained from prescribing even those occasional performances of devotion, practiced indeed by the Executive of another nation as the legal head of its church, but subject here, as religious exercises only to the voluntary regulations and discipline of each respective sect, [Jefferson first wrote: "confining myself therefore to the duties of my station, which are merely temporal, be assured that your religious rights shall never be infringed by any act of mine and that." These lines he crossed out and then wrote: "concurring with"; having crossed out these two words, he wrote: "Adhering to this great act of national legislation in behalf of the rights of conscience"; next he crossed out these words and wrote: "Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience I shall see with friendly dispositions the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced that he has no natural rights in opposition to his social duties."] I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & the Danbury Baptist [your religious] association assurances of my high respect & esteem. Th Jefferson                        Jan. 1. 1802.
So we as a nation cannot apply church teaching to the governing of our society. But, in the United States we are a nation of laws and those laws, and the courts application of those laws, are the only thing we have to insure justice.  Unfortunately, justice is not the same as right. 
I know what I believe to be right or wrong, but I am not so arrogant to think everyone agrees with me, or even that my understanding is completely correct.  I know that others operate with different value sets, and the twin ideas of honor and responsibility have wide variance in the general population.  So how do we address the issue of corporations declaring bankruptcy, paying the executives huge bonuses, and dumping employee pensions on the Government? 
For many the simple answer would be to write a law to require that executive bonuses be forfeit, but how do you write a law that would not create more problems than it solves?  For example, didn’t we write a law to protect employee pensions for companies that were in bankruptcy and now we see companies shedding those pensions to the government, and the money those employees paid into their retirement funds are lost.  Didn’t we write a law that said everyone should be eligible for a mortgage, whether or not they could afford it, and didn’t that law ultimately lead to a crash in the housing bubble?  Didn’t we write a law that said our payments into social security should go into a LOCKBOX and the government should care for that money and disperse it to those who’ve paid in upon their retirement, and for years Congress has taken from that mythical lockbox to fund the more immediate desires?  The one constant I do see is that every time the federal government gets involved in social engineering something new gets screwed up, and one more tentacle of the government is created.
At the end of the day, I still don’t have an answer for how we solve the human problems of greed, and selfishness, or what we should do when a company, through irresponsible management, diminishing revenue, worker protest, or other market forces can no longer pay its bills.  I don’t see a way to end the possibilities of individual savings being wiped out when those funds are invested in stocks and bonds that carry an inherent risk of loss through company failure.  But I am certainly open to suggestions if someone could show me a way to change the nature of man without taking away my freedom.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Do the Math, Please

The union leadership and the media are making a point that if the Hostess brands CEO and senior leadership hadn’t taken their $1.75 million dollar bonuses and used the money on bakers salaries then there wouldn’t have been a strike and the company wouldn’t be shuddering its doors, if in fact they do since it appears that they are entering into mediation.
While the leadership does exhibit an exceptional degree of poor timing and arrogance, does anyone really think it would have made one iota’s difference to the outcome?  Lets run the numbers and see what we come up with.  To do this, I will make a simple assumption that the bonus would be spread equally among all employees.  The latest estimate I saw was 18,500 employees so if each is a full time employee working a 40 hour week/50 weeks a year, that would mean they worked 37,000,000 hours last year.  That means the $1,750,000 works out to a little less than $.05/hour pay raise. 
Let’s try another angle.  I am going to assume the bakers make up half the total employment, and only the bakers get the raise.  That comes to a little over $.09/hour or $3.78/week.  So essentially, if the management did the decent thing, in the eyes of the media, and gave up the bonus the bakers get a small raise, but the fundamental problems of profit and loss still remain, and simple things like paying for mandated health care, employee pensions, and taxes haven’t been figured into any of these equations.
On the bright side we tax payers will now likely become responsible for the pension plans, but we won’t be paying them at the same rate the bakers and teamsters were expecting as a part of their labor contracts.
So who wins here?

Friday, November 16, 2012

What an Interesting Week

Well, here we are heading into the weekend and I would like to reflect on the headlines for just a moment.
Of course last week the President accepted the resignation of the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, David Petraeus, for an extra marital affair.  As the facts continue to unfold the story reads like something out of a Hollywood screen writers imagination.  In the course of it a Marine 4-star, General John Allen, is dragged into the story because of the thousands of e-mails he exchanged with a nearly bankrupt socialite who had unrestricted access to MacDill AFB, and apparently has dined at the White House a time or two.  As a result, his intended appointment as the NATO commander and European Command commander is put on hold.
The President holds a press conference to talk about recent events and he can’t talk about the resignation because of the on-going investigation, but he can call out Senator John McCain who wants to question Ambassador Rice for her role in what has now been recognized as a concerted smoke screen about the Benghazi incidents of 9/11.  So what was the President’s defense?  Don’t pick on a poor helpless Ambassador to the UN, she was just saying what we told her to say, if you have a problem come talk with me!  As I see it, the basic premise here is its not nice to pick on a poor woman, and since she is a woman she shouldn’t be expected to really know what’s going on anyway.
David Petraeus talks to Congress and the word from them is the CIA knew immediately it was not some demonstration run amok, but then how do you square that with the White House talking points?  He didn’t seem to know.  By the way, I wouldn’t feel too sorry for General Petraeus over loss of the CIA gig.  His retirement pay is in the neighborhood of $13,525/month, and he should easily supplement this with consulting services that will likely clear him another $10,000/month in round numbers.  In a year or two he’ll be eligible for Social Security, and thanks to the recent election that should be safe and sound forever.
Whoa, lets not forget about Generals Ward and Ham, the past and current recently relieved AFRICOM commanders.  The Secretary of Defense just allowed General Ward to retire as a Lieutenant General, and General David Rodriguez is replacing General Ham after less than one year in Command.  For those without scorecards General Ward was under investigation for misuse of government funds, and accepting gifts from Contractors his command was doing business with.  He owes you and I $82,000 in restitution as part of his retirement package, which if I calculated correctly will be in the neighborhood of $12,000/month.
Almost dropping off the radar is the sexual assault charges against Brigadier General Jeffry Sinclair, whose wife wrote an interesting defense in Washington Post, When the strains of war lead to infidelity.  We are all victims of this terrible long war.
With so many Generals in the news it’s no wonder the major networks can’t seem to find time to provide any details about the continuing delays in the Court-martial of Major Nidal Hasan who killed 13 innocent people in Fort Hood in 2009.  Since CNN doesn’t see the need to let you know what is going on, here is a quick update.  He is fighting a delaying tactic, using his beard, the one he grew after he killed everyone, as a reason for appeal his trial since the court ruled he must appear in uniform and clean shaven.
Finally on a tragic note, Hostess Twinkie’s, Wonder Bread, Cupcakes, Zingers, heck all Hostess brands are no more.  I understand the Twinkie commodity market has gone through the roof with boxes going for hundreds of dollars on e-bay.  My hat is off to the unionized Bakers.  I guess you showed Hostess who is  boss!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Minimum Wage

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 was signed into law on Saturday, June 25, 1938, nine days after Congress adjourned.  It banned oppressive child labor and set a minimum hourly wage of 25 cents an hour and a maximum workweek of 44 hours.  Before signing the law President Roosevelt said:  “Do not let any calamity-howling executive with an income of $1,000 a day, … tell you… that a wage of $11 a week is going to have a disastrous effect on all American industry.”[1]  There is an interesting history in the Department of Labor web site.  The story was written in 1978, but it is amazing to see the same arguments made by today’s administration as President Roosevelt made, the language is just a little courser today.
Well here we are 74 years later and the debate about minimum wage still rages on.  At the time of the act the minimum wage covered a small portion of the total workforce.  Over the intervening years it has become the law for all employment. 
So, now in retrospect, looking at the decline in the manufacturing industries of the US, the textile mills, the steel mills, the furniture industry, glass, garment, automobile and countless others -- the question is does having a minimum wage have a disastrous effect on American Industry, or is minimum wage just the most public of the government rules that drive industry and in turn our economy elsewhere?
As someone pointed out, you really are not able to survive on a minimum wage, and if the minimum were raised to a living wage what would the impact be on employment?  I used to believe that minimum wage was something akin to an apprenticeship.  A business would hire you at minimum until you were trained and demonstrated your ability to perform, then you could expect increased compensation.  In today’s work place I wonder if that holds true anymore?
As small business struggles under the increasing burden of new government regulations, reporting, oversight and mandates, will part time employment and minimum wage jobs become the new normal for the average worker in a service industry like banking, retail and food service?

[1] Franklin Roosevelt, Public Papers and Address, Vol. VII (New York, Random House, 1937), p.392.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...