Who’s a Cutie Wootie Smootiekins? You Are.

March 30, 2010

At the dadblog:



It’s Our Own Damned Fault

March 21, 2010

No industry in this country ever gained federal regulation without earning the privilege.

From medicine to food to financial services and occupational safety, the federal government has never been the farsighted central planner of socialism myths. Quite to the contrary, Congress and administrations react very late in the game and, most often, with draconian responses to challenges that could have been addressed more cheaply and effectively many years prior.

And so it is with health care reform, the latest in a long line of missed opportunities to solve problems thoughtfully and incrementally and—dare I say it—together.

The bill approved tonight is terribly flawed and overreaching. If we’re honest with ourselves, we will admit we don’t really know which parts are truly beneficial and which exceed our mortal capacity to heal. We all know what we fear, or what we hope, but none of us really knows what will happen.

We certainly do not know whether the failures of this bill will be greater or smaller than the failures of the current system. We do not know whether the bill will save more lives, increase the deficit more, reduce individual freedom or simply shift arbitrary decisions from insurance company bureaucrats to government agency bureaucrats.

What we do know is that we, as individuals and voters, have failed once again. We, The People of the United States, have failed to form a more perfect union.

We, the Democrats, have failed to insist that our leaders follow their own Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm. We, the Democrats, have failed to convince our representatives to take a slower and more iterative approach to a challenge that has been decades in the making. We, the Democrats, have failed to address the reasonable and sensible concerns of millions of Americans worried about the true cost—not merely the price—of access.

We, the Republicans, have failed to insist that our leaders present a cohesive, clear plan to the American people—not only in response to a Democratic blunderbuss of 2009-10, but earlier, in 2001 or 2002 or 2003 or in any year in which the Republican Party controlled both the White House and Congress. We, the Republicans, have failed to address the global economic disadvantage of U.S. businesses that must compete with foreign firms unburdened by individual health care costs. We, the Republicans, have failed to keep our promise as the pro-life party, focusing solely on unborn lives and hardly at all on those who already walk this earth.

And We, the People of the United States, have failed to insist on clarity and candor from our leaders. Instead, we have chosen to complain and deflect, responding most fervently to the sound bites and fighting words that comprise the red meat of discourse in the Coliseum we call American politics.

We, The People, have failed to elect candidates who tell us the truth, who offer candor over slogans, and who promise no benefits without a certainty of payment. We’ll give these people our praise, but not our votes.

Left or Right. Republican or Democrat. We, the People, will blame or laud, attack or defend. But we have also followed our own pattern of denial and delay. Congress is no different from all of us.

We, the People, have failed to fund our retirement plans and postponed our exercise programs and rescheduled our weight loss plans until the day after tomorrow. Like Congress and presidential administrations, we procrastinate, ignore and delay until a crisis occurs. Then they, and we, point fingers at everyone but ourselves.

We don’t know whether health care reform will be as destructive as many fear, or the salvation that many seek. It will be decades before we can compare its full impact with the system as it stands today. What we do know is that these issues could have been addressed earlier, at lower cost, with less total impact on our economy and our lives.

If We, the People, were doing our job.

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ytlayoLoyalty Goes Both Ways

March 19, 2010

I was a big fan of United Airlines, once. Hometown airline, friendly skies, better planes than all those DC9s (Yeah, they’re called MD80s, but they’re really DC9s.) American was flying.

Then came the bankruptcy and I stayed loyal. Flew at least 25,000 miles per year, never complained when they ran out of my meal choice—back when there were meals—or my preferred seat wasn’t available or they had to gate-check my bag. When we sold our company and the new owner wanted us to use American, I found ways to keep on flying United.

And after the bankruptcy, when my favorite airline was back on its wings, what thanks did I get for sticking with them through thick and thin?

Um, how to put this in the nicest possible terms…..oh, yeah….nothing.

No free tickets. No pile of bonus miles. No free drinks in coach. No reward for keeping the faith while United was asking passengers to refill the beverage carts and sealing wing cracks with Krazy Glue. (Yes, Mr. litigator, I know it wasn’t really Krazy Glue, but that sounds funnier than Elmer’s.)

As a result, I started splitting my miles between United and American, maintaining 25k status on both for most of the past decade. Except last year, of course, which was a terrible year for racking up miles. I didn’t qualify for premium status on either airline in 2009.

United dumped me from the Premier list for the first time in almost forever. American renewed my unearned Gold status and won my loyalty for this year, and next, and the one beyond….

Loyalty is mostly a one-way street in the business world, which makes it a lot like life, and that creates all kinds of opportunities for companies during the current recession. Years from now, we’ll be reading about the ones that figured it out, marveling at their success.

Here’s a preview. Somebody is keeping track of the customers who are staying loyal this year and making plans to give them a reward when rewards are affordable again. Whatever the reward, the company that reciprocates for customer loyalty will be the exception, not the rule.

Whether it’s banks and credit card companies assessing new fees, airlines billing for previously included (meals, pillows, checked bags, aisle seats, air, toilets) amenities, hotels tacking mandatory resort fees onto room charges or private clubs adding special assessments, the business world today is teeming with schemes to skim extra bucks into the till.

Tough times call for desperate measures, or so it seems. However, now that the economy is turning—yeah, really it is—where will the rewards go?

This isn’t just a question for businesses, of course. Whether it’s a volunteer group or a charity, a family challenge or a friend in crisis, the situation is the same.

When times are tough, business owners and vendors and clients and friends all put the arm on each other, chanting the mantra that we’re all in this together. When times get better, only a few will remember that pledge, and profit from it.

Make a list. There’s somebody you’ve been leaning on during the recent unpleasantness. When things get better, you’re likely to forget about it. They won’t.

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There Oughtn’t Be a Law

March 12, 2010

I nearly clipped the SUV in the left lane as I shifted my Big & Tasty into my left hand and reached into the bag‘o’fries with my right. I corrected quickly, although some lettuce dropped out of the sandwich and I had to take my eyes off the road for a while to find where it landed.

But at least I wasn’t texting. That would have been illegal.

Let’s see, now….I think I can still drive with the newspaper folded over the top of the steering wheel, checking the sports (Cubs lose, Bears remix the Shuffle) pages. And I can still put on eyeliner and lipstick, which is an inalienable right.

I can talk on my cell phone, if I use a hands-free device, but I’m not sure if I’m allowed to hold it in my hand at the same time. I can look at the display on my radio and GPS, and I think I can also look at my phone, as long as I’m not texting. I can push buttons to dial, but not to type, because they are clearly different buttons.

And, of course, I can drive under the influence of Wendy’s.

Am I the only one who thinks legislatures should be limited to no more than ten laws per year or required to meet every third year instead of annually?

The longer you run a machine, the more it produces. The longer you run a faulty machine, the more it produces junk. Junkies abound in both parties, as Democrats AND Republicans race to enact legal solutions to pet issues.

Existing laws against reckless driving should pretty much cover it all, including the tragic deaths that result from all kinds of recklessness, from alcohol to pot to Burger King and Twitter. Apparently, it’s not enough, though, which leads to all kinds of additions and special laws that inevitably leave out a specific issue that will lead, after one more death, to yet another law.

Here’s the imbalance: The smartest legislator cannot possibly imagine how many dumb things people can come up with in their spare time. We can run after them forever with laws and regulations, but we will never catch them.

And just as I was afraid I wouldn’t have a great close for this post, my friend Larry Clark sends a report about a woman in the Florida Keys who crashed her 1995 Ford Thunderbird into another car as she attempted to shave her, um, er, well, uh….bikini area.

I can’t wait to see the statute they’ll come up with to deal with this threat. I hope it covers both shaving AND waxing, or else someone’s getting off on a technicality very, very soon.

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How to Save America: Step V

March 7, 2010

In which our intrepid social commentator boils down all the challenges facing our great nation into a relative handful of simple—but not simplistic—solutions.


Let’s say you were running a company and you wanted to keep your employees motivated–assuming you still had any employees–but cash wasn’t exactly plentiful. How would you give workers an extra $1,000 per year, along with six more weeks of vacation, without spending a dime?


In an information-based society, millions of jobs can be moved from the office building to the family room with no loss of productivity. Whether it’s writing, customer service calls, research, marketing or dozens of other business tasks, the location of the phone, fax and keyboard make little difference.

Telecommuting, however, offers a great benefit to all.

First, let’s consider the employee who commutes an hour each day—30 minutes each way—and pays $5 per day for a bus ride. Over a year (50 weeks plus vacation) that person will spend 250 unproductive hours going to and from the office and spend $1,250 (after taxes) for the privilege of commuting. In a big city, bump that up to two hours per day and $35 with parking for a total of 500 hours per year and $8,750 out of pocket.

Shorten the commute to 50 feet, from the bedroom to the den, and give the worker an extra 6-12 work weeks of free time. Put $8,000 back in their pockets, after tax, and it’s the equivalent of a $12,000 raise.

For the employer, telecommuting reduces office space requirements, makes the company more attractive to applicants and builds reputation. There’s little added cost when doing work from home, as cable modems and phone lines often include flat rates for essentially unlimited service. Consumers also avoid some of the charges added to business accounts, which can reduce total costs even when home service is partly subsidized by the company.

For societal benefits, where do we begin? Fewer commuters mean fewer cars on the road, a smaller carbon footprint and fewer hours wasted in traffic. When the roads are emptier, commercial vehicles can meet their schedules more consistently, reducing costs for carriers, shippers and the economy as a whole. The trade deficit drops with oil imports and we can stop financing Osama’s family.

Speaking of families, people working at home can coordinate schedules and child care better in two-income households, so absenteeism can be reduced.

Yes, there will be casualties. Commercial office buildings and restaurants in business centers will see some decline. Restaurants near residential areas might see an increase. Communications services providers might see heavier use by consumers who telecommute and lose some revenue from businesses that off-source the work.

Overall, though, the benefits are huge, so huge that it can be confounding that the pace of workplace distribution hasn’t been much faster.

As is often the case when dealing with people, inertia is the culprit.
Business practice evolved from work done at home to work done in factories, to centralized office environments, and that’s just the way things are.

Telecommuting is vastly overdue, even if there are some risks. When employers can sweeten their total compensation packages by $1,000-10,000 and 500-1,000 hours for each telecommuting employee, the whole concept looks like a risk worth taking.

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Dammit, I’m Not Homeless

March 1, 2010

My house didn’t burn down last year, but I’m not complaining about it to State Farm. Last April, I had surgery for a tumor that turned out to be nothing, but I’m not griping that I don’t have pancreatic cancer.

Maybe I’m just too forgiving about dodging a bullet. At least it seems that way, now that we have people complaining that no tsunami hit Hawaii in the wake–literally–of an 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile.

How do we explain the fact that hundreds, possibly thousands, of people are upset with the agencies that track such things for issuing an alert without delivering on the threat?

Like a tornado warning, a tsunami alert indicates the risk of a massively destructive wall of water is high and cautionary steps should be taken. It’s an alert, not a promise.

Still, many people seem to think they are owed some calamitous personal loss in exchange for paying attention to the tsunami alert. Otherwise, what’s the point?

My house is still standing, dammit. I want a refund.