The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘bureaucracy’ Category

THE IRS BASEBALL TEAM

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At the IRS there’s a new catch phrase going around.  It is, “That’s my story – and it’s subject to change or revision at a moment’s notice.”

Setting aside whether it disturbs you that the IRS may have targeted a particular group with a particular political viewpoint, which it should irrespective of your own political perspective, all Americans should be troubled that any organization that has the power to seize your bank accounts, your home and your life savings simply hasn’t the ability to maintain its own records which it is required to do by Federal law – but expects all taxpayers to maintain documentation of the statements they make on their tax returns for seven year

Let’s recap the Congressional investigation into whether the IRS targeted conservative groups, denying or holding up a determination on whether they were entitled to tax exempt status for periods of up to two years.

First, when this news broke we were told that this was a “boneheaded decision” (that comment courtesy of President Obama) which originated from and was restricted to the Cincinnati, OH IRS office.

Second, we found that the order to pay “special attention” to conservative groups actually began in Washington, at IRS headquarters and one mid-upper level IRS bureaucrat, Lois Lerner was at the center of this.

Third, Lois Lerner is subpoenaed to testify and pleads her Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, not a normal procedure taken by someone who has nothing to hide.

Fourth, Chairman Issa’s committee requests copies of Lois Lerner’s emails from IRS Commissioner John Koskinen who replies that it might take one to two years to get this information together.  That is testimony that he delivers before the committee under oath.

Fifth, Koskinen returns to testify to the committee and testifies that Lois Lerner’s hard drive “crashed” and that many of the requested emails were irretrievably “lost.”  Co-incidentally, a number of other IRS employees’ hard drives similarly “crashed” at the same time – people with whom Ms. Lerner would regularly have communicated.

Sixth, the Director of the National Archives testifies before the committee that under Federal law, the IRS was supposed to have furnished his office with all written communications and failure to do so was a violation of Federal law.

Seventh, Koskinen testifies that Lois Lerner’s hard drive was “destroyed” and there would be no way for him to provide the subpoenaed emails.

Eighth, Koskinen testifies that “backup tapes” which might hold the emails exist and that the hard drive which was “destroyed” actually still exists and merely was “scratched” rather than being destroyed.  It is possible that there might be data on it which could be recovered.

That brings us up to date – for the moment.  Apparently, the IRS’ story is subject to change without notice.

With all the different stories that IRS has told thus far, it is not surprising that nearly three out of four Americans believe that Congress should continue its investigation of this agency.  Perhaps the remaining twenty-five percent of us think this is either a waste of time or money and the IRS plays no part in their lives – so why bother?  Well, they’re not only uninformed but they’re wrong.

As you may know, Obamacare affects everyone in the country and many of its provisions fall under the purview of the IRS.  Yes, they’re the folks who are supposed to determine that you might be entitled to a “subsidy” for your insurance premium and they’re the people who are supposed to penalize you if you don’t comply with the law by buying health insurance.  Given their level of either incompetency or downright dishonesty in discussing the Lerner emails, that doesn’t give me a warm and fuzzy feeling about them – not that I had one before now.

Several years ago before I began taking Gracie to the dog park I used to walk her in my neighborhood.  Occasionally I would run in to one man on the next block whom I would greet with a friendly, “Hello, how are you today?” never to receive a response from him.  This happened many times and I wondered if there were something that I had inadvertently done to offend him or perhaps he just didn’t like dogs.  So I mentioned this to a neighbor who lived across the street from this man and his family.  She told me, “Don’t take it personally.  He isn’t very friendly.  And he works for the IRS.”

I hadn’t thought about this man for several years – until the “phony IRS scandal” emerged.  I can’t conclude that the agency engaged in any wrongdoing – but there is that smell to that what with all their changing stories and obfuscation.  It’s a little like living next door to a Limburger cheese factory.  You don’t have to go inside to know that it’s there.

So it occurred to me, what if this man’s immediate next door neighbor and he had a minor disagreement which they couldn’t resolve amicably?  And what if he were a petty person who decided to take things in his own hands?  Well, he knows his neighbor’s name and address and it should prove no difficulty to pull up his social security number and, if his position allowed him, what if he decided to “retaliate” by having his neighbor’s returns audited?  Sounds unlikely, right?  Except that’s precisely what has happened to several individuals involved in Tea Party groups who applied for exemption with the IRS.

The best resolution to this question would be instituting a simple tax code that everyone could understand and with which compliance would be easy – thus eliminating a need for the IRS, or at the least a great reduction in both its size and the scope of its authority.  That’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

The second best option is to find out what really happened at the IRS and, if there is illegality and political profiling, make sure that those who were involved get incarcerated and take steps to make certain  that the agency gets the oversight so that they don’t pursue the same policies in the future.  I have only a moderate hope that happens.

The third best option, and probably the most likely one, is that the agency is truly so internally messed up that they are more than likely to leave us alone through sheer incompetence.  Based on the billions of dollars of bogus refunds IRS pays out, this seems to be the most likely case.

One can only wonder if anyone at the IRS including their commissioner has either a handle on the situation or, if he does, plans to reform the agency.  There doesn’t seem to be much evidence to point to that conclusion.  As for the rest of us, we can amuse ourselves with the classic Abbott and Costello routine and ask ourselves, when it comes to the IRS, “Who’s on first?”

WHINERS

If you’ve been reading this blog for some time you may remember that for a six month period of time I took leave of my executive search business to work as the manager of the fulfillment center for a record company in which I was an investor.  The first responsibility of this assignment was recruiting one hundred individuals who would process orders that we received through our advertising efforts.

While I was comfortable with the interviewing and hiring process from my search business, I realized that there would be a challenge hiring this many people.  These were full time jobs – but they only were going to last for the first quarter of the following year since we did eighty percent of our business in that time period.  Most people either wanted a full time permanent job or were interested in working for only a few days a week.  As a result I realized that although these were relatively low skilled jobs, I would have to offer more than the going wage in order to fill all the openings.

At the time, the minimum wage was $2.60 per hour.  I began hiring people at a rate of $4.50 an hour and after the first wave of applicants were interviewed, I still had sixty openings between the two shifts we were to be open for business.  I continued to advertise and in order to entice additional workers, raised the wages they were offered to $5.00 per hour.  That still left me with thirty open positions.  Finally I hired ten more people at $5.50 per hour.  To fill the remaining openings, I contacted an agency that assisted people who wanted to work but were wheelchair handicapped.  They were able to refer twenty of their clients who accepted positions with us at that final higher rate of pay.

January came and we were, as we expected, extremely busy.  I worked both shifts and moved into a local hotel so that I could oversee the facility’s activities, returning home only for one day after the end of the second Saturday shift.  I continued that until we started gearing down in April.

Several weeks after our busy period began, my assistant informed me that one of the new employees had asked to speak with me.  She showed her into my office.  I asked her how things were going and was pleased that she seemed to enjoy the work.  However, she did have a question.

If you’ve ever worked in an office environment then you know that the matter of who is making how much is information that employees ferret out from one another in no time.  That was what had happened in this woman’s case and was the reason she had requested to see me.

As it turned out, she was one of the few employees who had been hired at the highest rate – and she had discovered that many of her co-workers who were hired before she signed on were earning a lesser amount.  She had come in to let me know that she felt that was “wrong.”

I explained how I had begun hiring at one rate and the people who had accepted employment at that rate apparently felt that salary was fair or they would not have accepted the position.  I certainly had no ability to coerce them into taking the position – that came about as a voluntary decision on their part.

This woman went on to say that, “she didn’t feel it was right that she was making more money than others for doing the same work they were doing.”  We went back and forth on this for about ten minutes and I could see that I was making no headway in changing her opinion.  So I said, “You know, I can appreciate what you’re saying and I certainly don’t want to create an atmosphere where any of my employees feels uncomfortable.  In order to resolve this, would you feel better about working here if I reduced your hourly rate from $5.50 to $4.50 per hour?”  She responded that would not be something she wanted and she went back to work.  I never heard anything more about wages from this employee.

Perhaps this employee was just ahead of her time.  Like so many people of her mindset, she had the highest ideals and wanted justice for all – until it affected her personally.  If she is still alive today, I’m sure she would applaud a decision by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights requiring that a high school in Canton, Michigan remove the bleachers that parents installed on the boys baseball field because they are of a “higher standard” than the bleachers in the girls softball field.  This came about after an anonymous complaint alerted the Feds to this horrific situation.

The fact that the material and labor for the bleachers was paid for and contributed by parents did not matter to the DOE.  They were consumed with the lack of parity between the two fields and the fact that the girls field was not as nice as the boys field after it was renovated.  I can’t help wonder if it were the girls parents who had installed new bleachers and someone had filed an anonymous complaint about the boys field whether they would have taken the same action.  But that is a matter of nothing more than conjecture.  As is the question of why the parents of girls on the softball team, were they similarly offended, didn’t make the same effort to upgrade their children’s playing field.

We live in an age, encouraged through government fiat, of finger pointing.  Rather than attempt to find ways that we can improve our own situation, we waste our time looking at those who have more than we have and shout, “unfair.”  Somehow we look at tearing down others and feel empowered if we can find a government agency who will make their lives difficult and perhaps precipitate their downfall.  That is incredibly pathetic.

By the way, if you remember back to those last twenty employees who were handicapped, when I hired them I realized that it would be difficult if not impossible for them to work for me because there were, at the time, no handicapped accessible facility requirements that were mandated and the way our warehouse was constructed, they would have had no access.  I did find a solution for this issue.

I was able to find a steel ramp which we put in place when their bus arrived and removed when they were all inside.  We repeated the process when they left after their shift ended.  I didn’t need a government regulation to figure this out – just common sense.

But the truth of the matter is that if I wanted to hire these people today, I’m sure that the federal government would not accept my very workable solution and would have prevented me from hiring them – and most likely would have demanded that until I retrofitted the entire entrance I would have to shut down – thus eliminating the positions not only of our handicapped employees but all my other employees as well.

To paraphrase an old expression, “Whiners never quit.”  But in today’s climate and culture, there is no dearth of government bureaucrats willing to listen to their complaints.  America, what a country.

THE AMERICAN KLEPTOCRACY

The discontent with Washington is at fever pitch throughout the country.  The opprobrium falls almost equally on members of both parties – as it should.  With small, yet significant differences, those whom we elect to positions of power have created for themselves an environment which is privileged, at the expense of those who elected them to their posts.

In part this is the fault of our Founding Fathers.  They had an inherent sense that service in government would be motivated by a sincere motivation for service to the nation.  They viewed those who volunteered for this service would do so at great personal cost to themselves.  Therefore, they reasonably assumed that a person would serve in office for only a limited time and then return to his normal profession.  Based on this rationale, they neglected nor did they see a need to include any provision for term limits in our Constitution.

When we speak of Washington we used to think that referred to the power brokers who occupied only the White House and the Congress.  We looked at them and hoped that our third branch of government, the Supreme Court would correct any imbalances which might evolve between the other two branches.  But the way the court has been structured one lone, unelected Justice has as much, if not more power, than those who are elected by the people by casting a decisive swing vote in issues which has the effect of making law for decades into the future.

Similarly, the Washington establishment has gone on to include many more than those elected by the people.  The bureaucracy created by lawmakers and presidents has become one of the largest employers in the country.  It operates with its own set of rules and regulations for self-administration which make them unaccountable to the taxpayers as they are the court of their peers and never rule against themselves when delivering a verdict.  It is virtually impossible for a Federal employee to get fired, even if the cause for their removal is obvious to anyone with common sense.  That has only gotten worse with the unionization of growing numbers of these bureaucrats.

When you consider the amount of the nation’s wealth that is self-appropriated by the political establishment and its minions, I believe that we should replace our word “bureaucracy” in describing them with the more apt term, “kleptocracy,” defined as, “A form of political and government corruption where the government exists to increase the personal wealth and political power of its officials and the ruling class at the expense of the wider population, often with pretense of honest service.”  If that doesn’t describe our present situation, then what does?

Perhaps you may not consider creating regulations so that people can have jobs enforcing those regulations as theft, but I do.

Perhaps you may not consider handing out sweetheart deals to political contributors as theft, but I do.

Perhaps you may not consider wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on ridiculous studies that have no possible value as theft, but I do.

Perhaps you may not consider benefits packages which are far superior to those available in the private sector and having the taxpayer fund them as theft, but I do.

Whether or not you’ve ever heard the word before, I bet you can say kleptocracy.  And I know you can say Washington, D. C.

FORM AND SUBSTANCE (MY MORNING AT THE IRS)

Once upon a time in America before there was such a thing as “e-filing” and people actually had jobs, we were consigned to self-report our annual financial activity to the IRS using plain old paper.  Those were dark, primitive days indeed.  With only a month to go until the Ides of April, I reflected back on those barbaric days and remembered an experience I had with that tax collection agency.

For once I decided to be proactive. I was not going to wait for the booklet to arrive in the mail. I was going to get the forms I needed to file my income tax return and get it done before midnight on April 14th.  Despite the blustery winter weather I was not going to be deterred.  I was on a mission.

As I prepared to leave the office I realized that I might be able to provide a benefit to my like-minded employees. So I explained that I was headed to the IRS to pick up tax forms and would be happy to get any that my employees needed. Several people spoke up and said that they would appreciate my doing that for them.

When the list was compiled, there were 7 different forms (and Instruction Books) and a total of 37 copies that were required. I headed out on a snowy early March day to the IRS office at 230 S. Dearborn Street in Chicago.

In  the IRS’ lobby there was a large sign that indicated forms were available on the 17th floor. I went to the elevator, my list in my pocket.  Exiting the elevator – another large sign had an arrow directing me to the room where forms were available. I followed the arrow and went into the room.  Much to my surprise and delight, other than the two IRS employees who were behind the counter, I was the only person there.

I went up to the counter and pulled the list from my pocket. I waited patiently as the two employees discussed their dates over the weekend.  I waited politely at the counter – figuring that one of them would eventually deign to assist me.  After five minutes, the female IRS employee came over to the counter and said, “Can I hep you?”

I said, “Yes, please. I would like to get the forms and instruction booklets on this list.” I gave my handwritten list to her.

“Do you has a number?”

“A number?,” I asked.

“Yes. I can’t hep you unless you has a number.”  She pointed to the entrance of the room where by the side of the door I saw a rack of hard plastic numbers hanging on the wall– the kind you used to see in a butcher shop or bakery.

I said, “No, I don’t have a number but I’ll go get one.”

I came back with a number (1) and when I returned to the counter this woman looked at me as though I were new to the room.

“Do you has a number?”

“I do.”

She looked at the electronic display above the plastic cards and called, “Number 1.”  I handed her my number and my list.  She pressed the button under the counter to advance the number to “2”.

As she turned from me she took perhaps three steps and then returned to the counter.

She said, “I can’t fill this order.”

Thinking that the forms had not yet been printed I said, “When do you expect to get the forms in your office?”

She said, “We got the forms. But you only allowed to get five different forms and a total of 25 copies on one day.”

In a perverse way this made sense to me. I could see how it would be inconvenient if a person came in to get a large number of forms – thus holding up everyone else. But since I was the only customer I was willing to have her fill the first 25 items on the list and then wait in line, take another number and wait my turn for the rest.  I explained my plan and asked if that would be okay.

“No. You kin only get a total of 25 copies of the forms per day.”

My usual gentility and patience started to fade dramatically. So I said, “What if you fill the first 25 items on my list. I then go back to my office and ask my 71 year old secretary to walk a mile and a half in the cold and hand you the list to get the remaining forms. Would you give them to her?”

“Yep.”

“Now don’t you think that’s a little silly?,” I asked.

I don’t know if I struck a chord with her over my 71 year old secretary or what exactly motivated this woman, but without answering me, she turned away with my list and about 10 minutes later returned with my complete order.  Plus I got a bonus.  In addition to all the forms that I had requested she provided three additional ones. They were entitled, “FORMS TO REQUEST FORMS.”

I used to be critical of former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s failure to pay his own taxes correctly. I mean, after all, he was the head of the Federal agency that has the IRS within its domain.

But as I thought back on this situation I realized that Sec. Geithner was probably innocent of any fraudulent activity.  The reason he failed to complete his return properly was – HE COULDN’T GET THE FORMS!

HAPPY DAZE

One of the classic television programs which first aired in 1974 and ran for eleven seasons was “Happy Days.”  What a wonderful image of the America of the 1950’s and 1960’s.  The show explored the day to day lives of the Cunninghams, a typical middle class Milwaukee family and was upbeat, entertaining and extremely popular.

The members of the family were mom, dad, older brother, Richie and younger sister Joanie.  Some of the regulars were Richie’s two best friends and, of course, “the Fonz,” a high school dropout and greaser played by Henry Winkler who, in retirement, is now hawking reverse mortgages.

What a great show.  It was  fairly typical of the output of the time.  This was truly family entertainment – no oversight group needed to rate this or many of the other television programs which were aired on our few channels.  The entire family could watch this program without our parents’ being concerned that there might be violence, cursing, nudity or suggestive commercials.

My father could relate to the hard working Howard Cunningham who made his living as the proprietor of a hardware store.  In those days specialty stores such as his were the norm – places where you not only could buy what was necessary to complete your project but, if you were a little uncertain how to proceed building a birdhouse you could look to the store staff to help you out and give you directions.  We had not yet invented stores the size of football fields where the uninitiated can spend hours trying to find the aisle that has what they need or make the mistake of trying to track down an employee, all of whom seem to go on break together.

Mr. Cunningham did not have to deal with OSHA or any of the other alphabet agencies which had not yet been invented to tell him that the blades for his jigsaws were easily accessible to your average 16 year old and therefore he needed to build a glass, locked case for them so that the little tykes couldn’t accidentally slit their wrists.  No, he had only his common sense and his desire to build his business as a guide for how he laid out the merchandise in his store.

We might have been uninformed in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s but we weren’t complete dunderheads.  Even back then, those of us who were in elementary school were taught the facts about climate change.  I remember distinctly hearing from Mrs. Bounds, my third grade teacher, that it gets cold in the winter and gets warm in the summer.  At least it did in New York.  We did not attribute this to man’s interference with Mother Nature’s work.  She explained to us that the Earth followed an elliptical orbit and sometimes our planet was closer to the sun than at other times which accounted for the variance in temperatures.  Little did I suspect it was all those Nash Ramblers running around which were responsible for mucking up the works.

This evening in the esteemed halls of the United States Senate, a number of those august and most bloviating Democrat members will hold an “all-nighter” to raise the public’s awareness of the gravity of the climate change “issue.”  Personally, I believe that reruns of “Petticoat Junction” will probably command a broader and more informed audience than those busy speechifying.

But I wonder if those stalwarts of climate change are aware that just yesterday we once again resumed Daylight Saving Time – which, at least in theory is supposed to save energy.  (According to a number of studies it also has the unintended side-effect of causing an increase in the number of accidents by altering people’s sleep patterns).

So to the floor of the Senate will come those champions to talk about their favorite subject.  (Actually, almost anything but Obamacare, the IRS or Benghazi is currently on the list of favorite subjects).  But don’t they realize that if their theory is correct, they, in the very act of holding this consortium of the witless, will themselves be contributors to the very problem they rail against?  I mean after all, the lights in the Capitol which would normally be turned off will be on for this event.

Of course, there is a solution.  Let the senators hold their marathon in the dark – which is a comfortable and familiar place from which a good portion of their ideas already come.

LIBERTARIAN SIMPLICITY

Let me begin with a premise.  If a challenge exists, finding the most complex solution to it is probably not an effective response.  As evidence of this theory, let me offer the ACA legislation, more affectionately known (but no longer by Democrats) as Obamacare.

Much has been made of the fact that Obamacare is over 2400 pages long.  Now all of us recognize that’s a lot of trees that died for this legislation.  Put another way, the original act contains over 400,000 words.  That’s nearly the equivalent of the novel “War and Peace” in the original Russian.  Of course, Tolstoy had the cleverness to incorporate a plot in his epic work – something that Obamacare clearly lacks.

But let’s continue our analysis of this law.  You may remember the physics concept that, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  Apparently that principle does not apply to legislation.

With a law as pithy as Obamacare someone has to decipher what it means and explain it to the legislators who passed it without bothering to read its contents.  Hence those in charge of administering it and writing regulations for it have, thus far, used up nearly 12 million of our perfect good English words that would have preferred to be out golfing with the president instead.  That is, by the way, twice the number of words in the Internal Revenue Code.  No wonder the IRS isn’t answering taxpayers’ question on the proper tax filing procedures.  Apparently, one of the BFOQ’s of working at IRS is not having a Certificate of Completion for the Evelyn Wood speed reading program.

Without a doubt the subject of Obamacare goes far beyond law and deeply into the innards of partisan politics.  Democrats accuse anyone who opposes it of being heartless, money grubbing and racist.  There is a bit of wavering on this subject by the Democrat senators who are up for re-election who voted for it and find that the results, thus far, have not been either what they or the president promised their constituents.  Republicans, smelling blood in the streets, have naturally stooped to conquer, citing instances of the disaster the law has brought on the populace.  They have a great deal of material from which to choose.  Meanwhile, the people whom the law was theoretically intended to help – the uninsured – have adopted a rather ho hum view of the law with less than one percent of them bothering to enroll through the end of January.  Perhaps their lack of enthusiasm and participation is that either they do not want to have health insurance or simply cannot afford it.

Without debating the merits or lack of them of the law and setting aside partisan politics, this provides an excellent example of the libertarian concept, “That government is best which governs least.”  Even some proponents of the law have admitted that it’s unveiling has been far worse than they anticipated.  One could include the president in that group since he has amended it twenty-eight times by the use of his mighty pen.  But this does raise a serious question – all politics aside.

I realize there are those who truly believe that government is the answer to all our problems – and others who believe that it is the root cause of most of them.  I consider myself to be somewhere in the middle of those two views, probably leaning more to the latter.  But whatever your political stripe or your view on the role of government, the rollout of Obamacare should give any rational person reason to pause.

By now we all know that the president repeatedly made promises about Obamacare which were patently untrue.  Whether he was ignorant of the truth or purposefully lied in order to sell the program is only moderately relevant.  If he were ignorant – he failed in his responsibility as chief executive and, if he were working in the private sector would have been fired.  If he were working in the private sector and lied to his shareholders (the American people in this case), he would have been removed from office.

Now health insurance is something which we are all mandated to own by the law and which any rational person hopes never to need to use.  Obviously, some of those who have insurance will find a reason to utilize it and others not.  So this issue only affects all of us on a theoretical basis.  But what if there were a crisis that affected everyone – a failure in the nationwide power grid, for example.  Given the track record of this administration, is there anyone who would feel confident that this government would be able to handle that crisis effectively?

Fortunately, I have a simple solution for the problems that Obamacare has encountered or created.

The president made it clear that, “He has a pen and a phone.”  (I guess that’s the original Obama phone).  So all he has to do is sign an executive order outlawing disease, accidents and genetic defects.  We will no longer have to fret about the uninsured since everyone will be healthy and the money we are spending repairing the website and expanding the bureaucracy to administer the law could be used to feed the hungry or clothe the poor.

You know, this simplicity thing, combined with the power of the pen has got a lot to commend it.  I think I’ll turn my attention next to Putin, Kim jung-un, and President Assad.  The sky’s the limit.  Well, at least if we don’t run out of ink.

SANTA’S WORKSHOP

It was nearly quitting time a few days after Christmas when the door knocker at Santa’s Workshop began sounding.  As he was the nearest of the elves, Godwin walked to the front of the factory, hopped up on a little stool and then on to the stepladder by the door.  When he reached the top rung, he swung open the peep hole and saw the snow blowing fiercely outside.  He was used to that – but what surprised him were all the tanks and other vehicles and the large assembly of men and soldiers who were outside the door.

“May I help you,?” Godwin asked.

A man held up a badge which said, ‘Federal Bureaucracy of Interrogation.  Godwin had never seen one of these before.

“We’re here to see one S. Claus,” the man said.

“Just a minute, sir,” Godwin said.  And he closed the peep hole and quickly scrambled down the ladder.

When he got to the bottom he turned to face the workshop, put his hands around his mouth and yelled, “Santa.  We have visitors.”

Santa was in his office.  He had just finished setting up the “Naughty and Nice” book for the next season.  He grabbed the book and put it on the shelf space which had been reserved for it, next to all the other ones that he had inscribed in years past.  He pulled back from the desk, walked through the workshop and went to the front door.

When he opened the door the agent at the front of the entourage without greeting barged through the door and shoved his badge in Santa’s face.

“Special agent N. Quisitor.  Are you S. Claus?”

Santa, a little startled at the man’s rudeness replied, “I’m Santa Claus.  May I help you?”

“Please, gentlemen.  Come in from the cold.”  And the group waiting outside the door came into the warm workshop, stomping the snow from their boots.

“We’re here because there are some serious problems which have been raised by your operation.  In fact calling them problems is an understatement.  I have a list of violations, an extensive list for which you must answer.”

“Violations of what,?” Santa asked.

“Federal regulations,” Special Agent N. Quisitor replied.

“I can’t imagine anything that we’ve done anything wrong, “ Santa replied.  “What exactly are these violations?”

“Well, to start with, we have no record of your filing any tax returns.  That means that you are not only in violation of the IRC as a non-filer but you have not paid over the FICA tax you are withholding from your employees’ paychecks, nor have you paid your employer’s share of that tax.  And we have no record of your having paid any unemployment insurance for your employees.”

“Well, that’s easy to understand.  You see, sir we don’t pay the elves any salary.  They work for the simple joy of it and receive their room and board in return.  And we don’t make any profit at this business.  We do this simply for the joy of being able to provide presents for the children all around the world.”

A look of shock came over N. Quisitor’s face.  He responded, “Well, in addition to your failure to file the appropriate returns you are also in violation of the Federal Minimum Wage law.  In fact, you’re probably also in violation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which abolished slavery.  Your elves are little more than indentured servants.”

“Indeed,” said Santa.  “Nothing could be further from the truth.  Feel free to ask any of the elves if they are held against their will.  They all share my joy at the work we do and if any of them wanted to leave he is free to do so at any time.  But if you speak with them, you’ll find they have all been with me for centuries and are happy to be here.”

“Then there’s the matter of your violating OSHA requirements that you provide ramp accessible access to your facilities for your vertically challenged and otherwise physically handicapped employees.  You will admit that your elf employees have a height issue, wouldn’t you?  I suspect that you haven’t properly retrofitted your lavatories to accommodate them either.”

N. Quisitor went on.  “Then there’s the issue that there are only male elves here in your workshop.  That is a clear violation of the EEOC requirement that employment be offered irrespective of gender.”

“Well, you see,” said Santa, “the lady elves are all at home taking care of their children.  They are busy rearing them, feeding them and they also are the teachers in Elf School.”

“And what is the curriculum in your so-called ‘Elf School’?   Do you use the Common Core which is now mandatory in all grammar schools?”

“No.  We teach the same thing that we have taught for centuries – toy making,  Since that’s what we do here, that’s what the young elves need to learn.”

“Well, that’s a violation of Article XIII of the ‘Universal Mandatory Education Act’.  You will be held accountable for this gross deficiency and violation of the law.”

“Now, on to the allegation that you have been depositing coal in certain of the stockings which people hang.  Is that true?”

“Well, sadly it is true.  You see, I would rather that no one get any coal but unfortunately … ,” which was as much as Santa could say before Special Agent N. Quisitor cut him off.

“Aha.  You realize that you are in violation of EPA regulation  27399 – Section 124 Paragraph 9.  “The use of coal or making trade in coal whether anthracite or bituminous is hereby prohibited as it is responsible for pollution and global warming.  Are you admitting that you are violating this regulation?  Furthermore, I noticed as we came in that there is a herd of reindeer outside your facility.  Are those yours?”

“Well of course they are.  There’s Prancer and Dancer…”  N. Quisitor interrupted the jolly old man and said, “You realize that reindeer in their droppings produce methane gas – a further violation of EPA regulations – and are one of the  contributing factors to the melting of the polar ice caps.  On these EPA charges alone you have a lot of explaining to do.  I hope you have a good lawyer.”

“Last but not least, it’s our understanding that you make your delivery of these toys by hitching the reindeer to your sleigh, flying around the world.  However, the FAA has no record of your ever having filed a flight plan with them.  Do you realize how you are endangering the public safety by conducting unauthorized flights, potentially compromising the well-ordered routes which licensed airlines fly?”

“Well, you know I’ve been doing this for decades – in fact long before there were airplanes.  And in all that time there’s never been an accident – not one.”

“Mr. Claus.  You’ve been very lucky – but you, sir are an accident waiting to happen.  Get your coat and come with us.”

And they took Santa Claus away – in handcuffs.  And in their hearts they knew they had done the right thing – making the world safer for bureaucracy.

SILK PURSES AND SOWS’ EARS

Today the president cranked up the road show which we are warned will continue daily for the next three weeks to tout the virtues of Obamacare.  He used a tried and true formula that direct mail marketeers have employed for decades.  Perhaps you’ve received some literature from them in the past.

If you have you’ll recognize the shtick.  On very inexpensive paper you will be solicited to explore the wonderful new system that the mailer has discovered which is guaranteed to turn your humble financial life into that of an affluent nabob.  The “system” is guaranteed and fool-proof.  If you only remit the modest sum of $8.95 which includes the shipping charge, you will soon have delivered to you the secret of how to become wealthy almost overnight.

Naturally, in order to convince you to part with this modest sum of money, not only does the discoverer of this remarkable system share with you the story of his personal success, he includes the testimonials of a variety of earlier subscribers who attest to their own new found wealth as they employed the system they received.  These testimonials bear their abbreviated names, such as Sharon L. – Daytona, FL or Larry C. – Indianapolis, IN.

If you are still doubtful, thinking to yourself, “Why would anyone give away this key to riches for such a modest price,?” the author has an answer.  You see he has already made more money than he can ever spend, now has four houses on both coasts with a Rolls Royce in the driveway of each and two chateaux overseas and it is because he is so grateful for his good fortune that he wants to share his wealth creating system with other, less fortunate souls.  Of course, that begs the question, “Why didn’t you just send me the book for free instead of sending me an ad for it?”

Once again, there is an answer in the material.  You see the author does not want to “Cast his pearls before swine,” and your modest “investment” is merely an expression of both your commitment and your good faith, proving that you are the kind of person who will actually utilize and deserves to be blessed by this remarkable discovery.

I couldn’t help but think of these many mail solicitations that I have received over the years as I listened to the president today.  The presentation, replete with testimonials about people who have benefitted from Obamacare lacked as much credibility as any of the “get-rich-quick” schemes that I have been offered.  Which is not to say that there are not people who will indeed benefit from the law – and that is a good thing.  But the honest question which everyone, irrespective of party affiliation should be asking is, “At what price?”

Anytime a law is enacted it affects people.  That is, in fact, the reason for creating it in the first place.  And the more sweeping the law, naturally the more people who are affected by it.  Obamacare is as sweeping a law as has been passed for perhaps close to a century.  Therefore, we should not be surprised that millions are being affected – and at this point in time, it is fair to say that those effects have predominantly been perverse.

The stated goal of this program is to “insure every American” – yet we know that by the administration’s own admission, they still expect that 30 million will remain uninsured.  So if that is the fundamental premise and reason for implementation, it is flawed from the beginning.

In part because of the inadequacy of the website, fewer enrollees have signed up than are necessary for this plan to work (hence today’s dog and pony show – to tout the “improvements” and get the gullible to sign on).  What the president omitted from his presentation is that for every person signing up for Obamacare, fifty have already lost their coverage due to Obamacare – and more of those cancellations, far more, can be expected next year.

But this attempt to sell America on Obamacare focuses only on one side of a multi-faceted issue.  It emphasizes the importance of getting insurance but it fails to address the question of “What do you do with it once you have it?”

More and more we are hearing from the medical community that they simply will not honor or participate in this program.  So, in essence, you now have a wonderful magic card and a plan booklet that is unusable.  Most of us would not consider that to be a benefit – especially when you realize that you were forced to buy this product of dubious value.

The president likes to make comparisons between Obamacare and its problems and the glitches that Apple has had with various product releases.  It seems to me that there is a fundamental flaw in that argument – or maybe two.

The first is that within a short period of time and at minimal cost, Apple fixed its problems.  The same cannot be said of Obamacare the law or Obamacare the website.

The second is that by simply letting the public know when the latest iPhone is going to be released, people in the droves queue up at their local Apple store to be one of the first to buy it.  Obamacare – not so much.

It is, in a world of “change” and “moving on” perhaps arcane to mention an old adage which I first heard from my Grandmother.  And though it may be old-fashioned and trite, it’s still true.

“You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

SHOP ‘TIL YOU DROP–DEAD

So in case you survived Black Friday and missed it, today is Cyber Monday.  This morning bright and early I logged into my Amazon account.  Alas, there were no special deals on either the Brita water filter replacements or Gracie’s Greenies Canine Dental Chews that I was prepared to purchase.  Nevertheless, I needed both items and within five minutes I had completed my purchase and received an email confirmation for my order.  Now that’s efficiency at its finest.

Fresh from this experience I decided to try www.healthcare.gov to see how “new and improved” the site was.  One of the issues which I had not seen and hoped to find in the latest iteration of the site was to be able to look at specific plans and find out whether my doctor was a participating physician.  I was, in essence, planning on doing some comparative shopping.  But I found that when I was referred to the Nevada Health Link, that information was still not available.

There was, however, a reassuring message on that web page that suggested that if I wanted to speak with a person and “have all my questions answered” I could call the toll free number and get the information I wanted.  As speaking with a person was my preference anyway, I decided to pursue that avenue.

So I called the toll free number, listened to the prompts and looked forward to hearing a friendly, helpful voice on the other end.  When I hit the third prompt, “If you have any other questions,” I immediately was thanked by the robotic voice and told that “my call would be answered in the order in which it was received and that my expected wait time was 43 minutes.”  As that was more time than I hoped to spend on hold I decided to try again later.

I made some oatmeal, went in the backyard and gave Gracie her morning treats while I ate my breakfast.  Charlie the mockingbird stopped by and I set out some food for him and watched him enjoy his meal and then entertain us with his singing.

About an hour had passed and I decided to try my call again.  On this second attempt I was informed that my wait time had increased to an hour and forty-seven minutes.  Years ago I had surgery to correct a bunion.  That entire procedure took less time than my prospective wait time just to get information.  And I sincerely wonder whether the person I might finally reach could actually answer my questions.

Being a persistent sort I will try again.  Perhaps midnight will be a time that offers a shorter wait period.  But I’m not certain that the phones are manned 24/7 so I might find that I’m asked to call back during normal business hours – which will put me right back where I was this morning.  Only time will tell.  But if I want to get the information it seems to me that with only three weeks to enroll in a plan or face a penalty, the wait times are likely to get worse as we approach that deadline.

But I couldn’t help thinking that instead of shopping for health insurance I might consider looking into prepaid funeral arrangements.  With all the difficulty facing the consumer who is mandated to buy health insurance, I’ll bet those who offer those services are probably ramping up their phone banks to accommodate those prospects who are tired of being put on terminal hold in their effort to comply with Obamacare.

DENIAL, DELAY, DA DEMOCRATS

You have to say one thing about the late Richard J. Daley, Mayor of Chicago.  He was a colorful man.  (By that I refer to his speech rather than his skin tone).  Whether you were one of his supporters or one of his detractors, I think it was clear to all of us who lived under his reign that despite his heavy-handedness he truly loved Chicago and wanted to transform it into the greatest city in America.

Perhaps President Obama, as a legatee of the realm of King Richard I, has taken some lessons from the wisdom that the Mayor imparted to us during the years.  This comes to mind as the House holds hearings on the glitch-filled disaster that is the President’s Obamacare website which was rolled out three weeks ago.

“Look at our Lord’s disciples.  One denied Him; one doubted Him; one betrayed Him.  If our Lord couldn’t have perfection, how are you going to have it in [city] government?” – Mayor Richard J. Daley

How, indeed?  And at the core of that question is that if we should not expect functionality, let alone perfection, why would any rational person believe that turning over one-sixth of the national economy and our right to life to a cadre of bureaucrats who have proven, time and again, that they are inept, unaccountable and unconcerned about those things which concern its subjects?  I use the term subjects rather than citizens because that is the way that this imperious administration views the American people.

Right now the focus that the Congress is bringing to bear is on the only marginally functioning government healthcare web site.  The second portion of the investigation is centered on who should be held accountable for what now appears may amount to a one Billion dollar “glitch” when and if it is able to be repaired.

It would be unfair to say that conservatives are not taking a certain amount of glee at this massive screw up.  I know I am – other than for the fact that it is costing you, me and everyone else about $300 per person – money I would choose, if given the opportunity, to deploy on things other than a poorly designed website – like a donation to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital which charges none of its patients for treatment and actually delivers outstanding healthcare, specializing in pediatric medicine.

The first step in fixing any problem is admitting that the problem exists.  Every twelve step program is based on this fundamental truth.  And that might be the biggest impediment to repairing the website – if it is indeed reparable.  During the first days after the website’s not-so-grand opening, perhaps out of ignorance and perhaps out of denial, those who support Obamacare had a number of explanations for the site’s issues.

During the first few days, it is understandable that the source of the problem had not yet been identified.  But after several weeks, it is clear that the excuses which were offered were simply not the cause of the issues which surfaced.  To suggest that the site was experiencing difficulties because there was “too much traffic” is laughable since the goal of enrolling seven million people in the first wave would require that the number of visitors exceeded the amount of traffic the site actually received.

So, still in denial, a variety of other excuses were set out.  One of those was that there was insufficient time to get the product out.  The explanation for this argument was that the administration didn’t really have the full three and one half years to accomplish the setup for the website since the law was passed..  That is because the GOP had refused to allocate funds to set up the website and HHS had to raid various of its accounts in order to pay the vendors.  I would suggest that any government agency which can come up with over $600 million by looking in its couch cushions is overly-generously funded.  But that’s Washington.

Finally, only because the flaws in the software are apparent to your average five year old, the admission has come out that there are significant problems with this rollout and they need to be fixed.  How long that might take depends on whether the entire system has to be scrapped or whether it can be repaired.  At this point, the jury is out on that question.  But what is clear is that whichever path is followed, there is going to be a significant time lapse until people can actually get on the site and sign up as they are mandated to do by Obamacare.

This has caused five Democrat senators and five Democrat congressmen whose seats are vulnerable in next year’s election, to come forward and suggest that the mandate requiring individual coverage be delayed for some period of time.  The proposals vary in length – partly predicated on the length of time it will take to fix the website which at this point is an unknown.

Wait a minute.  Do you remember the partial government shutdown which recently ended?  Do you remember how the Tea Party and Republicans in general were excoriated as “terrorists” and “hostage takers”?  Do you remember the bill that they sent to the Senate to fund the entire government if the individual mandate were delayed – a bill which Senate Majority “Leader” Harry Reid refused to allow the membership of the Senate even to consider?

Perhaps the key to why we are where we are, not just with Obamacare but with a lackluster economy, over-regulation, the spiraling decrease in the middle class, the over-bloated and over budget federal bureaucracy, the NSA’s snooping and spying on our closest allies, can be found in another pithy quote from the late Mayor Daley – a quote that the president no doubt embraces.

“We as Democrats have no apologies to make to anyone.”

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