The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘equality’


Whether you feel a lot safer because we are now requiring rodeo clowns to attend “sensitivity training,” I want to admit that when I heard this I breathed a sign of relief. Of course, I first thought this applied to all clowns – so I thought that when Congress and the president returned from their vacations, this included them as well.  Well, one small step for America – but it could have been much greater.  By the way, I understand that the instructor is going to be Bill Maher with Vice President Joe Biden on standby as a sub.

I do not disagree with the premise that there is a lot of sensitivity training that needs to be done in America.  Little things like helping an elderly person with her groceries or actually allowing pedestrians the right of way used to be things that we did regularly.  We didn’t need to go to a special classroom for this training – because our classrooms were to be found all throughout the country.  We called them our homes.

Not every home had the perfect environment and our parents didn’t always make the best decisions.  But if I had to choose between having mom and dad tell me what to do or having government do that, I would opt for listening to my parents.  I think most people would.

So now we come to the state of California and its recent provision that will allow transgendered students, beginning in kindergarten through high school, the ability to use either the boys or girls bathrooms; to play sports on either the boys or girls teams; and to use either the boys or girls locker rooms – depending on which side of their personality they felt was dominant – irrespective of their genitalia.

When I was a kid, the assistant superintendent in our apartment building was a man by the name of Willie.  He was a really nice guy – but there was something about him it was hard not to notice.  He had a condition which caused large growths that literally covered his entire face and were also visible on large portions of his arms.

I remember trying very hard not to notice this “deformity” but it was pretty tough.  On more than one occasion I remember reprimanding several of the other kids in the building after they made a disparaging remark about Willie’s condition.  It just wasn’t acceptable behavior to make fun of him – at least it wasn’t to my mind because of the way my parents raised me.

And as a kid, I thought to myself how lucky I was that I didn’t have Willie’s condition.  I could only imagine how he was treated by people who met him.  I could picture that he must have endured thousands of involuntary stares and each one of those must have hurt.  And there was nothing that he could do other than to go on with his life in the best way he could.

I’ve never met another person with Willie’s condition – and I’m not even sure that it has a medical name – although I suspect it does.  There were no special accommodations made by our society for Willie – no special programs and no special assistance.   Like all of us, he had to make his way just as those of us who did not have his condition.  Perhaps we should have done something more for him.

But on the other hand, I also wonder how Willie would have reacted had he received some special “consideration.”  I say that because a black friend who got a promotion in his Fortune 500 company confided that he wasn’t sure whether he got that out of merit or because his company needed to have more minorities in mid-level management positions.

But back to California.  I have to admit that I don’t know anyone who identifies him/herself as transgendered.  I can only imagine how confusing that must be.  Nor do I know the approximate percentage of our population who view themselves that way.  But I suspect that the number must be nearly miniscule – perhaps a fraction of one percent of our population.  That doesn’t mean that we should disregard that small segment of our population.

But in creating legislation which attempts to assist transgendered students, we should also be cognizant of the fact that we are infringing on the rights and sensibilities of the 99% of students who are clear on their sexual identity.  A reasonable person has to question whether this is a productive way to try to address this question.

Common sense would suggest otherwise.


Several friends and acquaintances have made the decision to try to elect the President for yet another four years.  Although none of them has been able to identify a specific item in President Obama’s first four years making him worthy of reassignment as CIC, it happens that all of these folks are women and their reason for voting for him has to do with “women’s issues”.

So I began thinking about this.  Several of them have identified pay inequality in the workplace as something that they feel would be better addressed by the incumbent than by a President Romney.  On this point I agree – not that Obama would do a better job handling it – but that differentiating payment and offering women lower wages for performing the same work is unethical, immoral – and most importantly, just plain stupid.

If you’ve ever worked in an office environment you know that the every office has a “grapevine”.  In fact, the intelligent manager, realizing this, will use the grapevine to transmit information she wants disseminated without the need to write memos or hold staff meetings.  And, of course, one of the items that is always on the grapevine’s agenda is, “How much are you making?”

Paying different amounts to people who perform the same job, whether it is because of gender, age or race, is just plain bad business and will always engender bitterness, jealousy and (in today’s age) lawsuits.  Mitt Romney, as a businessman, knows this and if those who admire (or are envious) of his success really think about it, he would most likely not have pursued that sort of policy in his personal endeavors – or he wouldn’t have gotten where he did.

On the other hand, the President has never held a real job (although arguably being President of the United States is one) – but if so, this is his first.

Another item under the category of “women’s issues” which my friends described is accessibility to various preventative medical tests such as mammograms and cervical examinations.

On this subject, I couldn’t possibly agree more.  Preventive diagnostic tests would greatly reduce the number of female medical conditions which we often do not address until we need to employ radical approaches to treatment.  (The same thing applies to men, by the way).

Once again, as with the case of discriminatory pay, common sense dictates that an enlightened populace would actively campaign for just exactly that sort of early detection.  But then again, common sense would also dictate that we would each of us make an effort to do everything in our power to ensure our personal well-being.  The explosion in cardiovascular disease and diabetes suggests that is simply not the case for the average American.

If we are ever to rein in the burgeoning costs of our “disease maintenance system” we must begin by starting to educate our children on the importance of a good diet and proper exercise so that they do not succumb to the same illnesses in the same quantities as their parents.  The explosion in the obesity levels of young children suggests that we have not seriously, or at least not effectively, addressed this matter, notwithstanding the 2,600 pages of the Affordable Care Act.

I believe, setting aside any of the allegations about Mr. Romney’s personal disdain for the average Joe or Jane, as a businessman he is far more likely to develop cost-effective common sense ways to rein in the skyrocketing cost of healthcare.  And irrespective of the media’s portrayal of him, if for no other reason than that it makes sound business sense, is much more likely than the incumbent to develop positive solutions which not only save costs but save lives.

Then, of course, we have the question of whether women should be allowed to get birth control pills as part of their coverage under medical insurance contracts.  In the interest of equality, I think that if that is the case, then men should equally be allowed to charge the cost of prophylactics to those same insurers.  I mean, fair is fair, after all.

I have never quite understood why our sisters even want to expose themselves to the risks inherent in birth control medicines.  Virtually all of them have side effects and some have been taken off the market for the danger they posed.  Yaz and Yazmin come to mind as recent examples  Wanting to expose yourself voluntarily to that sort of risk is beyond my understanding.  But McDonald’s has tens of thousands of outlets throughout the world, serving some of the most unhealthful food that humankind has yet invented – and they all seem to be doing quite well.  So it’s obvious that people hold different opinions.

While I would advocate that the best birth control available to members of either sex is, “Just Say No,” there are some of us who have found ourselves in a weak moment and offering birth control pills is a far better alternative to having an abortion.

If we do decide to be really equal and allow men the same latitude as our women, then I have a solution (no this is not facetious) about how we could make condoms acceptable even to those who hold a religious belief that this is interfering with God’s plan and the purpose of sexual engagement.  In fact, I think I could make what would be a theologically sound argument supporting my idea.

All we have to do is make prophylactics that have one or two of the tiniest pinholes in them.  This would allow those really aggressive sperm that happen to be in the right place during intercourse to escape their encasement.  Then, if it were God’s plan that the couple should conceive, they would be able to go out and swim and do their duty.  If we consider a God who can divide the Red Sea, getting some of these little guys out to fulfill their mission should be a matter of little difficulty.

Considering the obviously superior genetic material of a sperm that could overcome the obstacles involved in this challenging environment, we might, as a by-product, even elevate the quality of the offspring so conceived, thus improving the gene pool.  That would be something we could all welcome.

Of course, with this whole issue of birth control, as with the question of abortion, we are dealing with an inherent inequality.  More female children than male are conceived, so we are preventing a disproportionate number of girls from being born than boys.

Again on the issue of equality, statistically there are proportionately more female and minority embryos that are aborted than Caucasian male children.  I am sure that the reasons for this are numerous and beyond the scope of this post.  But it should give a person who is considering the question of “women’s issues” pause, why this should be and how their support of a woman’s “right to choose” impacts the disproportionate number of female embryos that meet an untimely end.

There are countries in which “gendercide” is routine and common.  We think of those countries as primitive and not yet ready to enter the 19th century, let alone the 21st.  Their attitude on the worthlessness of women has not advanced much, if at all, from countries who in ancient history viewed a female child’s birth as an unwelcome event and set the newborn out to be devoured by wild animals.  In those more compassionate societies, the girl would merely be sold into a life of prostitution or servitude.

In view of the historical evidence and what is happening today, I have to believe that Mr. Romney’s business acumen must be in direct conflict with his social views and moral beliefs.  His position on the “right to life” makes bad economic sense – and the President’s “Pro-Choice” posture makes good sense (possibly the only thing about the President’s economic policies which does).

Consider the cost of an abortion versus the cost of raising a child.  There is simply no question that getting rid of an unwanted fetus is far more cost-efficient than bringing a child to term; then having to feed and clothe this infant; getting her ready to enter an already over-crowded and under-productive school system; and since a greater number of our poor than our middle class or wealthy choose the abortion option, having to spend taxpayers’ money to support this child, adding further to the out of control costs of our badly broken welfare programs.

Clearly, abortion is the economically sensible option.  And I cannot but wonder why a heartless, out-of-touch businessman like Mitt Romney doesn’t automatically gravitate to it – unless it’s a matter of conscience.

On the other hand, my friends glowingly endorse a President who advocates a policy which wreaks the most havoc on the unborn of minorities and female babies and consider him to be a man who is in touch with the people.

Perhaps he is.  And perhaps that says something about those who support him – that is, that he directly reflects their own attitudes.

Equality sounds like a good thing.  I’m in favor of it.  Of course, the fact that I’m here writing this and you’re there reading it means that we aren’t two of its victims.


Well, I did it.  I broke my nearly two year long dry spell and went to see a movie this afternoon.  The last film I saw in a theater was “The King’s Speech.”  That was in November, 2010.  Today I saw, “2016: Obama’s America”.  That is to say that in our theater six other people and I saw it at the “early bird showing”.

The multi-screen theater lobby didn’t seem to be exceptionally crowded.  Well, we’re back to school and it is the day after a holiday.  Or perhaps it was the price of a ticket.  They have gone in less than two years from $5.00 to $7.50 – a fifty percent increase – while we’re told that “real” inflation has crept up by less than four percent in that same time period.  Someone’s making out like bandits.  I’m frankly surprised that we don’t have an OTMT movement (Occupy The Movie Theaters) in full swing.

As I walked to find my theater I passed the concession stand which occupied nearly the size of a small football field.  As I was early I paused to view the bill of fare which was advertised on the large overhead display.  “Hot dog – $6.00;” “Super-sized soda – $4.50;” “Large popcorn – $5.00 (butter $1.00 extra).”  No wonder there was a sign in the lobby, “All food brought in must be consumed before going to your movie theater.”  Junk food elevated to the cost of a gourmet meal.  I’m amazed that even the 1% of the wealthiest Americans can afford this sort of “entertainment.”

I passed on the concession stand and hoped that when I made the turn into the arcade of theaters that the smell of popcorn and hot dogs would dissipate.  They did.

So I found a comfortable space in the theater – being the third of the seven of us to arrive and greeted my two fellow movie-goers who had seated themselves a few rows behind me.  We were already into the announcements (not to be confused with the previews) which were, in essence, mostly advertisements.

However, I was drawn to the fact that there were, in a ten minute period, three separate requests that the patrons should turn off their cell phones.  As I had left mine home, this proved easy for me.  Yes, three separate requests.  Apparently, that is the number necessary to get the attention of those in the audience.

Among our group of seven viewers I am pleased to report that not a single cell phone rang during the course of the movie.  Apparently, repeated requests work – or the fact that we all appeared to be well past our thirties might have had something to do with it.

Then came the previews.  I will admit that one of them about parents trying to wrest control of the public schools from the hands of those in school administration piqued my interest and I may go see it if I can remember it’s name when it is released.  And Hollywood is doing the thirty-sixth remake of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” I presume with more skin evident than in it’s predecessors.  I’ll pass on that.  A few more trailers were shown but I admit that I was able to ignore them.  And then, finally – the lights dimmed and we were treated to the feature which we had paid to see.

There was a reason that I went to see “2016: Obama’s America.”  Every review I read of the film in the Main Stream Media panned it.  Naturally, I thought that sufficient enough reason to take a look.

Writer and director Dinesh D’Souza presented an interesting documentary.  He traces the President’s Marxist-leaning philosophies back to the polygamous, alcoholic father who abandoned him and his mother – almost in an effort to gain paternal recognition and acceptance from a man whom he idealized “in absentia.”

What surprised me was that one of those who had a great deal of influence on President Obama was someone I knew in New York as a child and who is now a Professor of Law at Harvard University, Roberto Mangabeira Unger.  He has also been active in Brazilian politics and ran twice for the Presidency of that country.

Interestingly, Roberto has a background that is not dissimilar to President Obama’s in that his father, who as I recall was a lawyer, died quite young and unexpectedly, leaving him and his sister to be raised by their mother.  It was either in fourth or fifth grade that she decided to return to her native Brazil and pulled her children out of the private schools they attended, leaving New York and their beautiful Park Avenue co-operative behind.  Since then Roberto has been a champion for wealth re-distribution as the only way to achieve an equitable society.  (Does this ring a bell for any of you).

D’Souza makes an interesting case for why it is that Barrack Obama makes the decisions that he makes – based on those with whom he has associated throughout his life.  There is no question – at least based on the evidence that is presented in this documentary – that the President feels comfortable with the philosophies of those with either a socialist or communist approach in their world view.  Frankly, that is more disturbing than if he were merely incompetent which was the view that I held previously.

It is always difficult, if not impossible, to make an absolute case about the psyche and motivations of a person – even if that person is us.  To accomplish that for another individual is certainly challenging – if not downright impossible.  If it were not so, psychoanalysis would not need nearly so many practitioners.

But D’Souza does advance some excellent – if rather chilling points.  To be honest, I prefer my own thesis that President Obama is simply incompetent because it is the more sanguine of the two.  If D’Souza is right, who knew that going to see a movie could reveal what a dangerous person we have chosen to seat at the helm of the American ship of state?


I believe it is a fair statement that none of us likes to pay taxes – whatever form they take.  If you’re lucky enough in this economy to have a job, you find that when your paycheck is handed over to you it is significantly lower than the amount that you grossed that pay period.  That’s part of the problem with making money.  In fact there are four problems with money, all of which relate to the imposition of paying taxes.

1) You make it and they tax it (Income Tax, FICA Tax, Medicare Tax, State Income Tax).

2) You spend it and they tax it (Sales & Use Taxes).

3) You save it and they tax it (Income Tax, Dividend Tax {already taxed once to the company in which you hold a few shares of stock}).

4) You die and they tax it (Inheritance Tax).

Now while in the world of Presidential ads the focus is on who is paying income taxes and at what rate, we ignore one very important fact.  That conversation is lost on almost fifty percent of the population who pay nothing in Federal Income Tax.

But there is another form of taxation which affects virtually all of us – whether we are working for a living, retired and spending our savings or are on welfare.  That is the issue of state and local Sales and Use Taxes.

Just for purposes of definition a sales tax is imposed in forty-six states on purchases of goods and in some case services which are purchased within and delivered in that state.  Use tax is a tax that the state looks to collect  for goods, which if they were purchased in the state, would be subject to the sales tax.  But in the case of a use tax, the vendor operates outside the state and delivers its product to a purchaser within the state.

Even though the vendor does not collect a sales tax, a use tax in the equivalent amount is supposed to be paid by the purchaser.  The system of collection depends on the honesty of the purchaser to report his purchases and pay the appropriate tax.  Probably ninety-nine percent of this tax goes uncollected from individual purchasers.

So those of us who have ever purchased anything from Amazon or any other vendor who have not charged our state’s sales tax should examine our conscience before we cast aspersions on those who we feel are not paying their fair share.  Did we comply with the law and report these purchases to our state’s governing tax authorities?

We generally refer to our Federal Income Tax Code as a “progressive” tax system – in that higher income is taxed at a higher rate.  By contrast, the imposition of a sales tax is, by its nature a regressive tax system because it uniformly charges the same rate to all purchasers irrespective of income level or ability to pay.

We know that the proportion of their income that the poor pay in sales tax is significantly higher than the amount the well-to-do pay.  And the worst form of this discriminatory tax is that it is borne by the poor who live in states where food intended to be used at home is taxed.

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia either have never imposed a sales tax on food purchased for home consumption or have abandoned it.  Interestingly, two states closely associated with President Obama, Hawaii and Illinois both tax food.  This tax on food is the most regressive and discriminatory tax on the books because it most adversely affects the poor which includes a significant portion of the black and Hispanic communities.

With all the talk about “tax equity” on a Federal level, I cannot help but wonder why the President, during his tenure as an Illinois State Senator never addressed this question, never proposed a repeal of this tax, never did anything that would have benefited his constituents.  Is this the caring, understanding President that former President Clinton is now championing – the “man with a plan,” as the ad states?

I happen to like former President Clinton.  How could you not like a man who during his impeachment trial based his defense on the definition of the word “is”?  I mean that shows chutzpah to the nth degree.

I only wish the current resident of the White House had as much moxie.  He didn’t when he represented my Chicago district while in the Illinois Senate.  We never heard so much as a peep from him when he represented the people of the State of Illinois in the U. S. Senate.  And as President – if what we’ve seen over the last four years is a plan, I would suggest that based on all the economic evidence, it is a plan to fail.


My physician in Chicago, Dr. Sherman and I had a long-term relationship until his retirement.  He ran a practice in which he knew his patients and never seemed to be overly interested in expanding his business.  His staff consisted of one nurse – a woman who happened to be Mrs. Sherman.

When I called for an appointment, there was no menu to get through to reach the right party.  Either Dr. Sherman or his wife took the call.  I could hear them turning the pages of the appointment book to find a time that was good for both of us.

All his patients had his home telephone number in case of an emergency.  I used it one time in the thirty years I saw him when I had an extremely bad case of the flu.  Dr. Sherman decided that I needed to see him right away – so he made a house call.

Dr. Sherman treated adults and he treated children.  And most of all, he treated his patients with compassion and respect.  After an appointment he always took time to sit down with me to find out how my life was going.  These conversations inevitably concluded with the statement, “I hope I don’t see you until next year for your physical – unless it’s at the symphony.”  I knew he meant that.

Hippocrates would have been proud of Dr. Sherman and other professionals like him.

Are there any Dr. Shermans left today in the practice of medicine?  If so they are well camouflaged.  Today the practice has taken on all the characteristics of our technological age and incorporated some of the worst elements of factory farming as well.

The personal relationship between the physician and patient has been replaced by the more highly efficient bar code where the individual is simply numerically identified as one of the herd, milling about the overcrowded stall.

With the lack of interpersonal relationships between physician and patient, it is easy to see how the following situation might occur.

A 23 year-old  man in Philadelphia was denied a heart transplant.  Although he is a good candidate for the procedure, the reason he was declined was because he is autistic and has other psychiatric issues.  In making the determination to reject his application, reasons that were cited included the possibility of steroidal interference with his general health.  Steroids are necessary in order to maximize the patient’s ability to accept the new organ.

There are, perhaps, better candidates for a heart transplant than this young man.  And there is a shortage of hearts and other organs which are available for that purpose.  But it’s difficult to avoid wondering about the procedures and the people who will make these determinations for all of us should Obamacare survive and go into effect.

Under the Affordable Care Act, seven as yet unnamed bureaucrats will effectively be in charge of our dispensation of medicine.  If that doesn’t frighten you it should.  Simply look at how well bureaucracy has bungled most matters with which it has been entrusted.  It’s been that way since Joseph invented the concept in ancient Egypt.

What is most disturbing to me is that when you have an impersonal bureaucracy viewing the general public as merely components which make up a herd, it is not a difficult step to begin to decide that perhaps that herd should be culled and the weak sacrificed for “the greater good.”

With no personal relationship with the victims it’s not too hard to arrive at that view, if you think of them merely as statistics – a mindset not much different from that held by the mass shooters we hear so much about of late.

If you believe that could never happen in America you are wrong.  It has happened.  It was called the Tuskegee syphilis experiment  (also known as the Public Health Service syphilis study).  If you want more details on how 600 impoverished black sharecroppers went untreated for their disease so that we could analyze its progression, you will find it at this link to the Wikipedia article.

It doesn’t take a particularly fertile imagination to question that if this one experiment has made its way to the light of exposure, are there others about which we have never heard?  And if so, how many and who are those who were victimized?

The greater good is a nice phrase.  But the good or ill that any society does must always be measured by the way it treats it’s least important member.

We must always be mindful that if we stand by silently as another group is selected as the sacrificial lambs, we have opened the door to a shift in attitude or policy and we may be the next group of sheep on the way to the slaughter house.  Both ethics and common sense suggest that we should oppose any such policy or program with all our might and strength.

Dr. Sherman passed away several years ago at the age of 87.  I suspect there are few left who are like him – physicians who have a true sense of compassion and a relationship with their patients.  People whose lives embodied the very essence of medical ethics.  Their passing is a great loss for all of us.


We got to the dog park early this morning and I decided to back into the parking space rather than pull in front first.  (We all need a little variety in our lives).  So, of course the rear of my car was at the sidewalk.

Gracie and I puttered around for about forty-five minutes and hob-nobbed with the other people and critters that had come out for their morning constitutional.  But it began to get hot very quickly and we decided to go home.

When we got back to the car a woman was standing and reading the bumper stickers I had placed on it.  I said, “Good morning” to her and as I opened the door for Gracie to get in she looked at me and said, “Why do you hate President Obama?”

I responded, “I don’t hate the President or anybody else.  I simply believe that his policies are bad for the country and for the American people.”

The woman, who was white said, “The way we have treated black people in this country is a national disgrace.  You should know that.  And Romney belongs to a kooky cult religion.”

She had now introduced the two topics that I was taught as a child not to discuss, politics and religion.  It was getting warmer by the minute and I didn’t want to leave Gracie in the car even with the windows rolled down.  I knew this would have been a long and fruitless conversation if I pursued it, so I simply said, “That’s the thing about America that makes this a great country.  We are all free to express our opinions.  Thank you for sharing yours with me.”

I got in the car and we went home.

I learned something from this brief exchange.  Apparently some people actually do read bumper stickers.  And I also learned that there is an assumption of guilt on the part of many that they would be committing an act of racism if they were to vote against the President.  They will find every possible excuse to justify their decision to return the worst President since Jimmy Carter back to the White House for a second term.

Through my life I have heard many jokes – more than a few of which were racist and demeaning.  The repertoire poked fun at blacks, Jews, Catholics, Poles, Italians and gays among other groups.

All such jokes rely on an underlying assumption that there is some specific characteristic about the target group which exists universally among all members of that group.  An example would be that all gay men have limp wrists and lisp when they talk as they flit around the room in an effeminate manner.  Or that black people are shiftless and lazy and not as bright as white people or Orientals.

The late Rock Hudson was the fantasy idol of women throughout America who viewed him as the soul of masculinity and desirability – only to be shocked to learn that he was gay.

Oprah Winfrey started from very humble beginnings to become one of the wealthiest and most influential women in the world.  She did it through hard work and personal effort.

So we know that, just citing these two examples among many, the stereotypes are wrong.  But those who like to pigeon-hole people into convenient slots so that they have a nice orderly and limited view of the world will continue to hang on to their false assumptions rather than be confused by the facts.

And that brings me back to my thoughts on my morning conversation with the lady at the park.  Her argument was that not voting for President Obama is an act of racism.  I would argue the exact opposite.  Voting for an  ineffective person simply because of race merely serves to confirm the old stereotypes that underlie jokes about blacks – that they are shiftless and lazy and not as bright as white people or Orientals.

Then there was the second point this lady made about Governor Romney’s faith – that it was a “kooky cult.”  I am not sure how she defines either of those words, but I do know that when Christianity had its beginnings it also was viewed as a cult.

I am not intimately familiar with the underlying faith to which Mormons hold but I do have a few neighbors who are members of LDS.  They are dedicated to their faith and have raised their children to be polite and thoughtful of others.  If that’s the result of being raised in a cult, we would do well to have more cultists on planet earth.

There will probably always be people who cast their ballot based solely on the race of the individual running for election.  That is, in my view, such a poor way to make a decision – but we often make poor decisions.  I hope never to have developed the narrowness of mind to become a member of that group.

Had the President truly guided us out of the recession and had he inspired confidence through his statesmanship he could have had the greatest legacy in the world.  He could have forever buried jokes about black people.  And had that occurred I would probably vote for him this November.  But his record in office is abysmal and I don’t see how it is likely to improve with an additional four more years.

As to Governor Romney, he wouldn’t have been my first choice as a nominee.  That has nothing to do with his religion.  But to my mind, he is clearly the better choice and, barring a life-changing event, will receive my vote this fall.

Until the election when I need some levity I just think back to the Carter administration.  It was a bad time economically, just as today, but at least we had the President’s brother around for amusement.  And, of course, we had “Billy Beer.”

After four years of that we realized that the “joke was on us.”


After many years in several businesses I have come to a conclusion.

If you are very big, government regulators will probably leave you alone realizing that you have a staff or can purchase one to defend you from their investigations.

If you are very small, you don’t have to worry about government intrusion because there’s no headline potential for them to try to make themselves look good and no one really cares if they uncover something.

It’s those companies in the middle (which is most of small American business) which are the prime targets for regulators.  They are too small to be able to defend themselves, and generally cave in whether they are guilty or not of an infraction because it is less expensive, yet the regulators can come back to their bosses and say, “Look what we’ve done.  We got ‘em.”

Of course, every business starts out small – perhaps the owner and a spouse or one or two partners.  The goal is to become the next Google.  But in order to get to there from here, it will spend most of its time in the middle ground and is the prime target for government regulators.

I’m sure that I’m not the only person who understands this reality and I believe, at least in part, this is one of the reasons that the economy is not recovering as in past recessions.  Who wants to take the risk of starting a business with the gloom and doom of excessive and uninformed government regulation hanging over your head?

I believe that even the most strident supporters of regulatory government will agree that the current American climate promotes the concept of letting “government save us from ourselves”.  Those who ascribe to that concept have probably never owned their own company.  Rather than deal with theory, allow me to offer you an encounter I had with government regulators and how it all turned out.

Our temporary help office in Phoenix discovered that there was very little call for clerical help – the specialty of our home office in Chicago – but learned that there was a niche for temporary workers in the area.  These were people who worked in banquet service.

After getting off to a difficult start we began making a name for ourselves and ultimately were being asked to provide employees at the convention center and at various of the resorts and hotels in the area.  We were on our way.  We were the premiere provider of these workers in Phoenix.  We were now big enough to be “noticed”.

A typical assignment might include as few as three or four servers, bartenders, bus personnel to as many as fifty for the larger events.  We interviewed extensively, advertising regularly and relying on word-of-mouth referrals.  We also accepted applications from people who walked into our office from the street.

Half my staff spent the day interviewing new applicants – and the other half spent the day finding people whom we had hired to fill our assignments.  We developed a rudimentary computer program in which each applicant’s skill-set was input.

Because of the transient nature of the employees with whom we were working, we soon realized that trying to track down people to assign to new openings was very inefficient (phones not answered or disconnected), so we instructed all our candidates and temporary employees that they needed either to call or stop in every day to let us know that they were available for work.

This was clearly noted on an instruction sheet which each applicant was given after their interview.  Because of the large concentration of Hispanics in the Phoenix area, it was written both in English and Spanish.

Our computer program was setup so that when an applicant called in, he or she went to the top of the list of the group who had that skill-set.  Then, when we received a new assignment, my staff merely pulled up the list of people with that particular skill and beginning at the top started calling until we had a sufficient number of people to meet the client’s requirements.

One day I received a call from the manager of the Phoenix office.  She had received a letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which contained a complaint from one of the people whom we had interviewed who alleged that he was being discriminated against.  Despite his having made an application with us for temporary employment, we had never sent him out on an assignment.  That part of the allegation was true – we had never put him out on a job.

I asked my manager why we had never sent this man (a college student at a community college) out on an assignment.  I thought it might be that he didn’t have the skills necessary for our assignments.  She replied, “Despite the fact that we instruct everyone to call in every day, we never heard back from him after the initial interview.  In fact, after I got the letter, I called the number on his application and found that it was disconnected.”  (This was well before the advent of cell phones).  And because he never called, he never made it to the list of available candidates.

Fortunately, one of the features that was part of the program was documentation of each and every time a person called – so we did have a record of this to present to the four EEOC investigators who were going to look into this allegation.  Feeling confident that we had ample evidence of our “innocence”, we arranged a time to meet and I flew to Phoenix.

At our meeting we presented our computer printout of this and five other people’s records.  They had all applied for work at approximately the same time.  The complainant’s record was brief – containing only his name and contact information.  The other applicants who had been on many assignments had records that went on for ten or more pages.  They had followed our instructions – he had not.  I was confident that this would put the matter to rest – until the team leader asked me the following question.

“Can you prove that this individual didn’t call in – or that you merely didn’t record his calls in your computer system?”  My stomach suddenly started churning – violently.  It is almost impossible to prove a negative.

I responded, “Why would we want to do that?”

She replied with the lascivious grin of those with little authority who plans to push it beyond reasonable bounds, “That’s why we’re here.”  And they were there – on and off for two and one half years.

Of course, the EEOC did offer me an option after our first meeting.  Rather than go through an investigation I could merely pay a fine of $7,500 for the privilege of being innocent of wrongdoing and they would go away.  (I believe in the non-governmental world that is called “extortion”).  I politely declined the EEOC’s generosity.

So the investigation went on and on and on – sometimes with regularly scheduled visits and sometimes with surprise ones.  They sat in our office and saw how we worked.  They went through our original paper applications and reviewed our computer program.  And they came to a conclusion.  We were INNOCENT.

Between hiring employment attorneys to defend us during this process and the loss of productivity on the part of my staff when they pulled and photocopied records for the EEOC and entertained them during their visits, I figured that this episode cost my small business in the neighborhood of $50,000 during this period.

Yes, we were in the temporary help business.  I just never thought that I would be employing  four government workers part time for thirty months – and at my own expense.

There is a great deal of talk about the decline of the middle class by members of OWS and others and some of these allegations are true.  Without a doubt, small businesses have been more responsible for allowing people to enter this group than anything else in the history of this country.

If government makes being in a small business so difficult and expensive, few will choose this as a path to financial success and all of us will be the worse off  because of that.

I have offered one example of how life and business and government regulation really work.  Many others could be cited.


If you found the recent post, “How To File Your Taxes” amusing, then you will want to turn your attention to this article from Yahoo News.  By the time I came to White House Spokeswoman Amy Brundage’s comments about “high standards,” I had to reach for a tissue to wipe my eyes.  I’m just not sure if those were tears of laughter or anger. 

But I guess if you think about it long and hard enough, it’s probably President Bush’s fault.



If you had your choice of accepting a similar position with Eastman Kodak or Apple, Inc., which company would you choose to work for? (To help make your decision easier, after 130 years in business Eastman Kodak filed for bankruptcy a few days ago).

Eastman Kodak will soon release their remaining employees to join the mass of the unemployed already in the marketplace. The reason is that their management did not have the vision to adapt to the technological changes which have occurred in the world of photography. They were failures.

Apple on the other hand has innovated products that resonate with consumers and has experienced exceptional growth. They will no doubt hire more people from the ranks of the unemployed, thus reducing the stress on the economy. They are successes.

Well, Tuesday was the day we found out how successful one of the Republican presidential aspirants, Mitt Romney has been. According to his tax returns, Mr. Romney has done very well – having reported approximately twenty million dollars in income during each of the last two years. That puts him in an earnings class shared by a very few – including some Hollywood and professional sports celebrities.

Good for Mr. Romney. I love a success story. It leaves me with a warm and fuzzy feeling that if I only apply myself I too might one day be one of those stories. (Perhaps as a child I read too many books by Horatio Alger, Jr.).

But now the flak begins – and into the fray enters Warren Buffett – stage left. Although his attack was directed at Congress over the inequities in all sixty-two thousand pages of the Internal Revenue Code and not at candidate Romney, the casual observer – with the help of the media – will find this distinction minor.

Let’s be clear – when expressed in terms of the effective fourteen percent of his income that Mr. Romney paid, that number seems low (Mr. Buffett’s point being that millionaires should pay a higher percentage of their income for the common good). When expressed as a payment to the Internal Revenue Service of nearly six million dollars – that number takes on a different meaning.

We have talked about tax reform in this country for decades – the result being that we have merely added pages and chapters to the IRC and reformed or deleted very little. I enjoyed reading “War and Peace” – but it finally came to an end.

As we saw from the confirmation hearings for Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, when you have a code that is so complicated that the person who now heads up the Internal Revenue Service cannot understand it and “misfiles” his own return – how are the rest of us supposed to cope with it?

The tragedy is that the Congress will not do anything substantive – this being an election year and all. Which means we will kick the can of tax reform down the road for yet another year. Our elected officials have perfected this technique to the point that it is a science. (I refer you to the last thirty years during which we have failed to enact a real energy policy).

Given that likelihood, I would like to offer Mr. Buffett a suggestion that may, in the short term, help ease his conscience and angst. If he feels that he is being under-taxed – let him “donate” an amount that he believes is appropriate to bring his percentage of payment up to the level that he thinks is equitable. (There is no provision in the tax code to prevent him or anyone else from doing so).

If Mr. Buffett sets that example, I promise to throw in a few extra bucks myself this April 15th.

The power to tax is the power to destroy.”

– Chief Justice John Marshall




The Fairly Intelligent Fly”


A large spider in an old house built a beautiful web in which to catch flies. Every time a fly landed on the web and was entangled in it the spider devoured him, so that when another fly came along he would think the web was a safe and quiet place in which to rest. One day a fairly intelligent fly buzzed around above the web so long without lighting that the spider appeared and said, “Come on down.” But the fly was too clever for him and said, “I never light where I don’t see other flies and I don’t see any other flies in your house.” So he flew away until he came to a place where there were a great many other flies. He was about to settle down among them when a bee buzzed up and said, “Hold it, stupid, that’s flypaper. All those flies are trapped.” “Don’t be silly,” said the fly, “they’re dancing.” So he settled down and became stuck to the flypaper with all the other flies.

Moral: There is no safety in numbers, or in anything else.

-James Thurber

Fables For Our Time”

When I first read this story many years ago, I immediately thought of a lecture that mom would deliver if I wanted to do something that was childishly stupid. (I provided her ample opportunity to pull out her oratory skills and deliver her polemic). The lecture was brief.

If your friends all jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge would you want to do that?”

Point taken – score one for mom. The fact that everyone in my peer group was doing something was not sufficient validation that I should also engage in the activity. As children we have a desire to “fit in” and be a part of the group. To our young minds, there is security in doing something that we know everyone else is doing.

But we grow up, hopefully. We begin understanding that even if the majority of people act in a certain way that doesn’t mean that behavior is right – or at least right for us. If we give up our right to hold on to our individuality, we have given up our life.

When the television show, “The Outer Limits” was in its second incarnation, I remember one episode in particular. (Sorry, I don’t remember the episode’s title).

The story dealt with a young boy and his family who lived in the egalitarian society into which the world had evolved. It was an idyllic place – everyone being equal and all. The young man came to the attention of the state because he really didn’t fit into this utopian world. There were reports that he far outdistanced his schoolmates in his intelligence. This, of course, was disruptive to a world in which everyone was – or were supposed to be – equal.

So the state administered a test to the young man to determine if he was brighter than the norm that the state had established. The test was administered after he had been given a drug so that he had to answer the questions truthfully and to the best of his ability.

Sadly for the young man, the test proved that his level of intelligence far exceeded the level the state had determined was acceptable. As a result, the state did its duty on behalf of all its citizens – and euthanized him.

Imagine a world that had not been touched by the likes of Leonardo daVinci, Emily Dickinson, Galileo, Alfred Hitchcock, Einstein, Mother Teresa, Elias Howe, Marie Curie, Steve Jobs – well the list goes on and on. People who took a different tack, defied the norm and who changed the world. Imagine a world in which their creativity and vision were repressed or destroyed. Imagine the world of George Orwell’s, “1984.”

Although it is currently the “politically correct” view to proclaim everyone’s equality, there is something important that we should remember.

The individuality that is lost may be your own.


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