The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘regulation’

DODGING A BULLET

As I write this it’s early morning PST on the winter solstice, December 21, 2012.  From a personal standpoint I view this as Gracie’s sixth birthday rather than the Mayan Apocalypse.

Of course, I guess whatever the Mayans had in mind – if they indeed had anything in mind – still has the rest of the day to play out and we won’t really be safe until it’s turned December 22nd everywhere on the globe.  That is assuming that the predicted date was computed correctly.

Did those making the calculations adjust from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, as one example where we might have gone wrong?  Did we start our computation using the correct day – there’s another possibility.  But I know with certainty, that there is something definite about December 21st.  In the western Church’s calendar, it is the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle.

Whether or not you’re religious, you probably have heard of him through the phrase, “Doubting Thomas.”  He was the disciple who, when told of Christ’s Resurrection didn’t believe it was true.

“Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”    John 20:25 (KJV)

Thomas was one of those whom we might describe as an empiricist.  He lacked faith and needed to see for himself – and I guess in a certain sense, I have to join with his philosophical view as it comes in our rush to craft yet another law which will further control our lives.

A week after the tragedy in Newtown, CT we are busily working in Washington to fix our problem of violence by restricting gun ownership and the type of weapons that Americans may own.  As a non-owner of weaponry, this is a theoretical event for me – nonetheless I think it is an important one for all of us, because it speaks to our allowing emotion rather than reason to drive our actions.  And I have said repeatedly in these posts that when emotion prevails it is often closely followed by chaos.

If we could pass a law which would eliminate murder in our society I would be the first in line to support it.  Oh, wait, we already have one.  “Thou shall not kill.”  We as a species have been consistently ignoring that since God handed it to Moses on Mt. Sinai.  We have simply found better, faster and more lethal ways to disregard it. 

We have celebrated a culture of violence, exposing our children to all that is vulgar and brutal in our video games and in our movie theaters and on our televisions – and we wonder why children and young adults commit the types of atrocities that Adam Lanza perpetrated on the citizens of a small town in Connecticut.

We have abandoned the two parent family with a spiraling birth rate among unwed mothers and justify that because some of our Hollywood celebrities and sports heroes don’t bother with that staid old institution called marriage.  If it’s good enough for them whom we idolize, why shouldn’t it be just as good for us?

When those of us who object to their behavior as being unprincipled go to watch a movie in which they star or a professional sports game in which they play, we have sullied ourselves and undermined our own right to criticize all that is wrong in our society.  Because we have endorsed the problem and not acted to implement the solution.  And that solution is really quite simple. 

Like Caesar’s wife, each of us needs to accept accountability for her or his actions and try, as best we can, to be mindful that we should always be “above reproach.”  At the very least, we should be thinking about our actions, both as to how they effect our own lives as well as the lives of others with whom we share a place in society. There’s been a lot of “doing” in our society but not a whole lot of thinking.

We have geared our lives to revolve around which pop-culture activities will provide the greatest immediate sensual gratification and we run with that one.  No further value need be inherent in it other than “it pleasures me now.” 

Perhaps that was what ran through Adam Lanza’s mind when he murdered those children, his mother and the other adults in Newtown, CT.  “If it feels good, just do it.”

The cries of outrage are being heard all around the country and all around the globe over Newtown.  And those cries should be heard because they are the sound of pain and anguish.  Pain is the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong. 

But passing another law regulating guns will not silence the rifles or the assault weapons or the pistols.  Those weapons do not fire themselves.  It takes us to pick them up and use them.

If we continue to ignore the narrow path of decency and morality and stay on our present course, in some small but very real way, each of us was that deranged person in Newtown, CT.  And each of us helped pulled the trigger.

JE M’APPELLE, GRACIE

Barring implementation of the Mayan Doomsday prophesy, December 21st will be Gracie’s sixth birthday.  Just in case, I am hosting an “End of the World” party tonight for some friends from the dog park at a local Italian eatery.  There should be plenty of leftovers which is good because Gracie and I both like pasta.

I chose the venue for a specific reason.  I am trying to broaden Gracie’s horizons and cultural experience by feeding her more foreign foods these days.  If Mom was right and, “You are what you eat,” it seems reasonable to me to believe that if you eat foreign  it is only a short while until you can “speak” foreign.  And that’s a good thing if you happen to go to Montreal, Canada.

Life for our neighbors to the north must indeed be halcyon these days.  Hockey is in season (when isn’t it?) and their budget is probably more balanced than ours.  No waves of unanticipated immigration seem to be invading their country and people there still work for a living.  And if they have a serious illness, for the time being they just come to the U. S. for treatment.

So what else is there for legislators in Canada to do?  Well, in that beautiful walled city of Montreal, the City Council has unearthed a serious issue which they have addressed.  It is the subject of non-bilingual dogs who, with their companion people, frequent that city’s dog parks.

The sages on the Montreal City Council have passed an ordinance which requires that dogs understand commands in both French and English if they are to continue to use dog park facilities.  No doubt this will create a new business opportunity for those who write the series of books which will now include a new title, “Bi-Lingual Dog Commands For Dummies.”  I am going to see if I can pre-order a copy of this just in case Gracie and I decide to take a drive to Montreal this spring.

Now that the members of the Montreal City Council have cleared their plates of their pressing business, perhaps they can lend us a hand here in the U. S. A.  If they would oblige, perhaps they would take the short trip to Washington and assist the parties involved in their negotiations over our “fiscal cliff” divide. 

It seems that those involved are speaking two different languages.

Happy Birthday, Gracie!

002

GREAT MINDS THINK ALIKE

I was thinking about auto insurance the other day – specifically mine.  The impetus was that I had just heard that commercial from Allstate which tells us that they will send safe drivers a check for every six months they go accident free.  While I don’t know how much Allstate charges in their premiums to pay for this rebate, it got me thinking.

Since I’ve been with my insurer for quite a few years and have never had either an accident or received a ticket (for over twenty-five years), I thought I would be what I presume most insurance companies consider a safe driver.  I was getting ready to call to find out, given my spotless history, whether the rate I was currently paying couldn’t be negotiated down.  Just then the mail truck pulled up and my letter carrier dropped my daily dose of catalogues and a few first class items.  One of those was my auto insurance renewal packet.

There I was thinking about my auto insurer and they were thinking about me.  Hence the title for this post.

When I returned from the mail box I opened this which contained quite a few sheets of paper – twelve to be exact describing both my policy coverage, my premium costs and my new insurance identification cards, effective mid-January.  (As one of the “discounts” I receive is for having a paperless account with my insurer, I can only imagine what I would get if I had the old send it in the mail on paper type of policy).

You can imagine my surprise, poised as I was to advance my argument that I should actually be getting a discount beyond all those I now receive because of my driving record, when I saw that my insurance premium had not only not remained at the same level as during the past several years – it had increased by 30%.

So I picked up the telephone and called my insurer.  First, there was the eleven digit phone number; then there was selecting “2” because I was an existing customer; next I got to key in my eight digit policy number; then I got to verify that I still knew my birthdate – so I typed those six digits in; then, since there were probably others of their customers who shared my birthday, it was the last four digits of my SSN.  Finally, the computer system figured that I was both who I said and knew who I was and it then transferred me to “the next available customer service representative.”  Ten minutes later.

The nice young lady asked how she could help me and rather than mince words, I asked her how I could get my insurance premiums below the level that I had been paying, let alone lower than their currently quoted rate.  (I guess this was the first time the question had been posed to her as there was a noticeable lull in her end of the conversation).

So she reviewed my “case” to make sure that the quote was right and that I was being credited for all the “discounts” for which I qualified.

Let’s see – I had an EFT Discount; Home Owner’s Discount; Online Quote Discount (which means I dealt with the company directly and they were able to stiff an agent out of a commission); Continuous Insurance Discount; the Platinum Three Year Safe Driving Discount (I guess any time period beyond that is outside the realm of their imagination or experience); Five-Year Accident Free Discount (“Ditto”); Airbag Discount and “Snapshot” Discount (the program in which a driver installs a device in their car and the insurer monitors their driving habits.  I had gotten the maximum 25% discount they allowed as part of this program).

So I had all these discounts and a 30% premium increase.  It just didn’t add up to me so I asked her the reason for the increase.  What had I done to offend them or cause them to lose sleepless nights over my driving?

The answer I received was that they had experienced “a significant increase in their claims and were passing those costs along to all their customers.”

My first, almost involuntary response was, “Well why don’t you send those customers who are responsible for this increase the bill for it and leave those of us who are faultless drivers and whose premiums represent 99% profit to you alone?”  Perhaps it’s just me but I thought that seemed reasonable.

At least I was vindicated that nothing I had done or left undone was the cause of this increase.  Although that was small satisfaction.

Well, of course, I knew when I made this call that I was dealing with a person who has less authority than the computer system that generates these premium notices.  But once in awhile, it is nice to firmly (but politely) express your opinion to the representative of a company that will collect hundreds of thousands of dollars from you over the course of your lifetime – if you let them.

So I explained that I was sorry to consider terminating our relationship – but I was going to shop around for another company which could provide me with the same coverage, identification cards and a lower premium.  And I hung up.

As I was thinking about this afterward a thought suddenly occurred to me.  Was an increase in the number of vehicular accidents really the reason for this raise in premium rates?  Or was it something else.

After a little investigation, I discovered that the number of car accidents in Clark County, NV is actually down by 9.2% in the six month period ending June 30th compared with the same period last year.  (This was the most current data I could locate), and would have been data that my insurer used since, appropriately, insurance rates are based on locale.  So the answer I got from my insurer’s representative was completely bogus.  I do not blame her for answering that way as I’m sure that she was instructed to do so by her superiors.

That leaves only two other answers that I could think of which would explain the premium increase.

First, the company wants to make more money and is raising premiums to accomplish that goal.  Okay, I can understand that.  I can also understand that is not the answer you would want to give your clients if you hoped to retain them.

Second, and I say this realizing that this is speculation on my part – is Obamacare.  We know that mid-sized and large companies across the country are trying to find ways to cope with the costs inherent in this bill.  Some are reducing employee work hours to avoid having to pay for their health insurance or the head count penalty tax if they do not provide it.

We also know that for those employers who are left with a large workforce that their health insurance premiums are going to see a massive increase.  This might give you an idea of how the cost of health insurance is exploding.  Social Security recipients will be getting a 1.7% increase in benefits and a 5.0% increase in the cost of their Medicare Part “B” premiums next month.  And the increase in Part “B” is scheduled to go up an additional 20% over the 2013 rates in 2014.

Any reasonable businessman is going to try to find a way to maximize profits.  That will take either the form of charging more for their products and services or reducing costs.  And when you have a cost that is as mind-boggling as Obamacare, one way to defray that expense is to pass it along to customers.  And I suspect that is the real reason that I got my 30% premium increase renewal notice.

If my assumptions are correct, this is not a tax on the super-wealthy or the moderately well-off.  Rather, it is a tax that everyone who drives a vehicle will pay.  It is a hidden tax under the guise of being a premium increase.

There is one bit of irony in the whole thing.  The Chairman of the Board of my soon to be former insurance company is Mr. Peter B. Lewis.  He has been one of the largest financial contributors to President Obama and has long been involved with a cadre of liberal-minded thinkers who share the President’s view of reshaping America into a socialist paradise.

And you might ask the name of this company.  It is “Progressive” Insurance.

THE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS

When Voltaire wrote “Candide” he produced one of the greatest satires ever committed to paper by any author of any nationality at any time.  (As I wrote that sentence, my “spellcheck” immediately flagged this title as a possible misspelling so I guess the programmers behind Windows Live Writer are not familiar with the work.   This oversight makes a sad statement about the breadth of what we in the United States euphemistically call education).

If you are not familiar with the work, Voltaire, one of the great thinkers of the “Age of Enlightenment” broadly attacks the institutions of his day.  Those include both religion and government, among others.  The protagonist in the book which bears his name begins life with an optimistic view of the world but begins to encounter the reality which is our mortal existence – experiencing one misfortune after another.

The book is Voltaire’s caustic response in rebuttal to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’ conclusion in his earlier work, “Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil”, that this is “The Best of all Possible Worlds.”  Empirical observation leads Voltaire to conclude that nothing could be further from the truth.

Leibniz struggled to find an explanation for the existence of evil.  He came from a devout Lutheran background.  How then, did one explain the allowance of a “good God” to permit the existence of so much that was foul and offensive to the Creator?

Voltaire, himself a deist although not affiliated with any particular religion, made the statement, “If there were no God, it would have been necessary to invent him.”  Those who are atheists believe, of course, that is exactly what happened.

It is probably fair to say that those of us living at any time in history believe that things were better way back when.  As we move along the time curve linearly we have an ever-widening time framework to which we may point in defense of that assertion.  In the mid-eighteenth century when “Candide” was written, religion still held a powerful sway in Europe and throughout much of the rest of the world.

But let us consider the growing irrelevance of religion to many Americans.  This is, perhaps with the notable exception of Islam, a development which is hardly unique to us but seems to be a growing trend worldwide.  Science seems to be doing its job in debunking “the old myths” quite nicely.

Well, where are we in the absence of God?  How do we behave when there is no Supreme Being to judge us for our deeds and our misdeeds?  What is there to hold us accountable for our actions?  Why should we not do everything to gorge ourselves on activities that we consider pleasurable, without worrying about the consequences or concerning ourselves about those whom we might hurt in the process of satisfying our lusts?

Not surprisingly, the answer to those questions is that we are where we are today.

In the absence of “Divine law” we have attempted to fill the gap of accountability with law made by man.  But mankind is obviously flawed, motivated more by self-interest than fairness and it is so with those who pass laws to which we are, at least in theory, bound.

Laws, whether of Divine or human construction are inherently punitive.  I do not know of one law on the books which rewards people for good behavior.  And, of course, there are those, realizing that unlike a Divine being who is omniscient and omnipotent and never let’s anything go unnoticed, human governments are far less capable of punishing offenders, so they consciously engage in unlawful behavior believing they can get away with it.  Often they are right.

When the Founding Fathers addressed the subject of religion in our Constitution, specifying that we were free either to accept or reject it in whatever form it might take, they did so with a reason.  At the same time they proclaimed that all men had a right to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”, they also recognized that old Christian religious principle that men had the power of “free will”.  Only within a society which maintains the rights of the individual above those of the state can people truly be free.

I believe a compelling argument can be advanced which suggests that by condemning our religious beliefs to the trash pile of irrelevancy we have replaced God with Mammon and entrusted ourselves and our children to rulers whose only interest is their own agenda – and that in ever increasing amounts.

At one point, we looked to God to save us from calamities – even those we had brought on ourselves.  Those of us who were Americans, whether we believed in a Supreme Being or not, still had the Constitution to which we could turn and which helped us sleep comfortably at night.

But the continuing erosion of the Constitution has now threatened the security of even the most ardent atheist who believes in individual freedom.  And it should not surprise anyone that our government, in order for it to seize all authority to itself, has turned to attacking the one remaining thing in its way which still influences some men’s lives and their actions – their religious faith.

There is no clearer example than the penalty imposed on religious institutions which do not comply with the terms of the Affordable Care Act although those requirements are in direct conflict with their tenets.  This administration has little concern about and no respect for the concept of “Separation of Church and State” – which makes it a new theocracy under the head of a very mortal President and an equally mortal and moribund Congress.

Now those who are atheists may shout – “At last.  We’ve thrown over old demon mythology and religion.  Reason has triumphed.”  But I would contend that atheism, as much as Christianity or Buddhism or Judaism or Islam is itself a religion.  It’s merely one without a head.

In the absence of religion, we have an ever growing, ever more encroaching College of Cardinals and a Pontiff whom we call by political names.  And if it is true that, “Power corrupts”, we are hastening to the day when the corruption will be absolute – in this or any possible world.

THE SYSTEM

A panhandler was walking down the street hoping to collect some money so that he could find a flop for the night – and if he got really lucky have enough to buy a little Ripple to lull himself to sleep.  He approached a very well dressed man in his mid-thirties with his usual line, “Buddy, could you spare an old drunk a little change?”

The man looked at the panhandler and said, “My friend, you’re wasting your time trying to raise money this way.”

The panhandler cocked his head with interest.

“Do you know what the building is that you’re standing in front of?  It’s The Ford Foundation.  Their whole business is giving away hundreds of millions of dollars a year.  And I’ll bet if you even get one person to give you one dollar on any given day, you think that you’ve struck it rich.  My advice to you, sir is to go inside and see if they will give you a donation.”

The panhandler thanked the man for his advice and went into the building where he was greeted by a receptionist.

“May I help you, sir?”

“I’m here to see if you would consider making me a donation.”

“Would that be a private donation or a public donation?”, the receptionist asked.

The panhandler responded, “Uh, I guess that it would be a private donation.”

“And, sir, would this be a large donation or a small donation?”

The panhandler thought for a minute and responded, “Oh, by your standards this would be a very small donation.”

“Well, fine,” the receptionist said.  “Small private donations are handled in Room 205.  Just take the escalator to the second floor and you’ll see the room on your left.”

So the panhandler followed her instructions and arrived at Room 205.  He opened the door and while he was looking around the room he was surprised to see that it was totally devoid of furniture and people.  In his confusion, he let go of the door knob and the door swung shut and locked so that he was standing in the empty room with nowhere to go.

Several minutes went by and two rather burly young men entered the room, hoisted the panhandler off the ground, one holding him under each arm, carried him down the backstairs and threw him out the rear door to the building into the alley.  In the process, the panhandler hit his head against a telephone pole and lost consciousness for a few minutes.

When he recovered, he stood up, shook himself off and returned to the street where he happened to encounter the man who had advised him to go into The Ford Foundation.

“Hey, my friend,” the man said, greeting the panhandler.  “Did you try my advice to get some money from The Ford Foundation?”

“Yes, sir I did.”

“Well, how did it go?”

“Uh, not so good.  But, you know I was really impressed.  Boy, do they have a system.

The simple reason that Obama collected more votes than Romney is this.  The most radical elements of the Democratic party have been working for years to put in place a “system” for recruiting new voters, recruiting candidates who meet their liberal social agenda, targeting specific state offices – particularly the Secretaries of State since they are the ones who control the local election process, and doing a highly effective job of turning out the vote for the elections themselves.

If the consequences weren’t so dire, I would congratulate them.  Instead, I look at a successful playbook which should be emulated by those who still hope to live in an America the Free.

In retrospect, the evolution of this “system” has been on-going for at least a decade.  The fact that Obama won with such a small plurality speaks less to those who, despite the fact that they know three-quarters of what he says are lies and the other quarter are half truths and still voted to him, than it does to those who, because of matters of principle, decided to opt out from the election, thus handing him his victory – and America another nail in the coffin.

If those who are contributors to the GOP and those who have positions of authority within the party are wise, they will begin now to start planning a strategy for 2014 and beyond.  They will begin identifying candidates who understand that the Constitution is our governing document and will honestly uphold it.  They will begin educational grass roots movements to recruit new members to the party.  And, unwittingly, they will have a great deal of help in this from President Obama.

The economic consequences of going off the fiscal cliff might be horrendous – but there is really no need for Obama to compromise on this issue.  If, as some suggest, his agenda is the ultimate destruction of the American ship of state, in retaliation for his view of us as a “colonial power”, then all he has to do is, much the same as he has done, which is to say, nothing.  He then can blame the ensuing disaster on the Republican House.  And since it’s getting a little late to blame everything on President Bush, they would seem a convenient scapegoat.

Now that he has a second term tucked away and nothing further to run for, there is nothing more for him to do than to advance his ideology – or the one that has been fed to him all his life by others on the extreme left.  That would include the complete takeover by government of the healthcare system, a more radical attempt at wealth redistribution and a significant reduction of the freedoms guaranteed the citizenry in the Constitution.

Perhaps, when, and I say when rather than if, those start being felt by the general population, even those who worked and voted for him, will begin to feel the weight of the government’s heel on their necks.  And we will have a new base for rebuilding a better and stronger opposition party – one which has returned systematically to the roots and principles on which it was founded and under which the nation prospered.

THERE OUGHTA BE A LAW

When I was growing up, a cartoon appeared in one of the evening New York newspapers entitled, “There Oughta Be A Law.”  It was a one panel piece which depicted some of the stupid things that people do.  Perhaps I should substitute the term “nonsensical” for the word stupid.

The cartoon ran for quite a few years.  Apparently there is no limit to the goofy stuff of which mankind is capable.

Some of the idiotic things in which these people engage are caused by those who seem to live there lives by using as little of their gray matter as they possibly can.  Most of their activities merely inflict disaster on themselves.  But, occasionally, they take their ineptitude into the public sphere where they have the ability to impact any innocent citizen who has the misfortune of being in their presence.  An obvious example is people who drive drunk or use cell phones or text while driving.

To protect ourselves from these people how does our society respond?  Our answer, as in the cartoon is, “There oughta be a law.”  And we do just that – we pass laws and hope that will solve the specific problem addressed in the legislation.

Certainly, until such point that each of us is innately a good citizen, a caring person, a responsible individual, (that day is far in the future), we will need laws so that those who are irresponsible may be punished when they infringe on the rights of their fellow citizens.  But those need to be good laws – laws which truly offer deterrence to misbehavior.  Merely passing a law does not, in and of itself, resolve the behavior we are trying to discourage.

Allow me to offer a simple example.

We all wish that disease did not exist.  I have never met anyone who felt otherwise.  If someone in Congress were to propose a law banishing disease from the United States, I am sure that it would pass unanimously in both houses and would be swiftly signed into law by the President.  Would disease miraculously disappear as a result of this enactment?  Of course not.

The first two years of President Obama’s administration produced two laws, The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and Dodd/Frank (intended to make sure that we never again faced a similar banking crisis to the one we endured).  Both laws, as they have been presented to voters seem, on the surface, to be good things.

I come from the K.I.S.S. school of management (Keep It Simple Stupid).  Both of these laws exceed two thousand pages – hardly what anyone would consider to be simple.  In fact, they are so complex that to date no one, including those who voted to adopt them, knows what they actually contain and for what they provide.

Why are these two laws so important?  Because, if you listen to the voices of small businessmen, not understanding their implications is the primary reason that they have been reluctant to hire new workers.  And that is the reason that our economy is still sputtering along at a 1.3% growth rate rather than the 4.0% rate that President Obama predicted as a result of his stimulus plans.

Should this matter to any of us?  Well it certainly matters to those who are still actively seeking work and continue to be unemployed.  And to those of us who are fortunate to have a job it matters because it is one of the primary reasons that our national debt load (what each man, woman and child owes) now exceeds $200,000 per person.

I have no doubt that these laws were passed with the best of intentions.  Nevertheless, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

This entire concept might be lost on the average person – particularly if he or she does not own their own business.  So let me offer an example of how laws can affect real people.

Many years ago in Chicago I was approached by a gentlemen whom I knew from the neighborhood.  Pete was a real estate agent, but his interest was less in selling houses than in trying to develop run-down properties and turn them to productive use.

One such property housed several small retail stores but the major tenant was a package liquor store.  Together with a number of merchants who operated their businesses in a part of Hyde Park known as Harper Court, which was directly behind this row of buildings, we were able to buy this property.

The buildings had become rundown and the liquor store was a haven for people who would panhandle outside it from anyone walking by – hoping to collect enough change to buy a cold quart of beer or a pint of alcohol.

The constant presence of these people, sometimes they were very aggressive and would follow a possible donor down the street until the person gave in and “contributed,” meant that the police spent a lot of their time patrolling the area and asking these people to move along.  Robberies near this property were frequent.

When we acquired the property the package liquor store’s lease was six months from expiration.  We chose not to renew it.  We performed all the maintenance which had been deferred, spruced up the outside and found a new anchor tenant to rent the space which the liquor store formerly had occupied.  It was an upscale restaurant which became one of the more popular, nicer places to eat in the neighborhood.  The neighborhood saw a significant improvement in terms of appearance and safety and the investors got a decent return on the capital which we had risked.

With that background, when Pete came to me with another real estate venture, I was naturally interested.  But this project was significantly bigger in scope and size.

Hyde Park had a fairly high percentage of the elderly – so many so that a number of residents coined the phrase to describe it as, “The Florida of the North.”  While there was one “old age home” in the neighborhood, run by the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, it was small and insufficient to accommodate all the elderly who lived alone and would benefit from being in a more closely-supervised environment should they take an unexpected fall or experience a medical emergency.

Pete knew that there was a large apartment building for sale in east Hyde Park.  It needed extensive renovation and work to bring it back to its former standards.  But it would have been an ideal place to situate a retirement home/skilled nursing care facility.  This was a big project and so Pete presented it to those of us who had invested in his first project, as well as a number of new potential investors.

Pete had, as in the first case, done his homework.  He had prepared detailed financial projections for the cost of acquisition and renovation and had secured a guarantee of financing from the Hyde Park Bank.  We were enthusiastic about the project.  Most of us knew elderly people who lived alone and we saw the need for this kind of facility.  There was only one possible fly in the ointment.

The building was sixteen stories tall and had two stairwells servicing its two sections.  It had been constructed in the 1940’s with the solid materials with which buildings at that time were built – real lath and plaster rather than the plasterboard which is used today and the water was delivered to each apartment by copper pipes, not PVC.  It was a rock solid building but needed a new roof and tuck pointing – both very extensive items, the cost of which Pete had incorporated in his analysis.

The fly in the ointment was that the risers in the stairwells did not meet the current city standards for retirement/nursing homes.  They were 1/8” too high.  In order for us to obtain licensing to operate that sort of facility, we would have to rip out 32 flights of stairs and replace them with stairwells that met code.  Despite the involvement of community leaders, all testifying that this project would be a tremendous asset to the neighborhood and would be a great benefit to our many elderly citizens, the city administrator who had responsibility for oversight remained inflexible.  “The law is the law.”

The cost of redoing the stairwells made the project impossible to accomplish.  The building we had hoped to acquire continued to deteriorate to the point where it was an eyesore and it was twenty years before the Episcopal Church replaced “The Church Home” with a new, modern and larger facility when a motel which had fallen into disrepair was purchased and demolished by them.

Think about what was lost through bureaucratic astigmatism.

This could have been a home where 280 of our elderly neighbors would have received first rate care and attention which was denied to them; renovating the building would have meant giving six months’ work to roofers, tuck pointers, plasterers and painters, carpenters and mechanics – all of whom would have been union workers; and we never hired the staff of 60 permanent people who would have overseen the care of the residents and provided for their comfort.

Now think about the illogic of requiring that we gut the stairwells and rebuild them.  The stairwells in a high rise are designed for emergency use.  Most of us would prefer taking the elevator either to climbing or descending 16 flights of stairs unless we absolutely had no other choice.

Because the building was well-constructed, it was unlikely that, should a fire occur, it would spread uncontrolled, requiring the evacuation of the entire building.  But let’s say that were required.  Would a 90 year old with a walker, be any better or worse off with stairs that were 1/8” lower than the ones which had been constructed when the building was erected?

There are laws which we pass that are so complex that they have a negative impact until their specifics are clear.  There are other laws which are so specific that they have a negative impact despite their original good intentions – such as the city ordinance regarding the height of stair risers.

If we feel that “there oughta be a law,” we should be certain that the ones we pass are good ones.  Otherwise, we may wind up getting far more than that for which we bargained.

UNFIT TO SERVE

Every employer makes determinations about people.  Should I hire this person or that one – or hold off hiring anyone and try to redistribute the job’s responsibilities to those already on staff – or should I just do it myself?  These are real questions that real business people face regularly.

The process is, by its nature, essentially discriminatory.  We might require a Master’s degree which discriminates against those who are high school dropouts.  We might believe the job requires at least five years of related work experience – which discriminates against those who are freshly graduated.  This sort of discrimination is allowed by Federal law because it focuses on what are called BFOQ’s (Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications).

On the other hand, discriminating against applicants on the basis of gender, race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or Vietnam War status is a prohibited practice and a violation of that same law.  That is because we believe these attributes have no bearing on whether a person will be able to perform his or her job duties.

These are the rules which regulate privately-owned businesses, from IBM to the little mom and pop diner.  They are also the rules that clog our system with law suits brought on behalf of those who think they have been victims of illegal discrimination – much to the benefit of trial lawyers who specialize in these sort of suits.  Having said that, there is a need to oversee the activities of short-sighted employers who harbor prejudices, whatever the form that it takes.

But when it comes to those who serve in Congress, there are only two requirements, which are that they conform to the eligibility requirements set forth in the Constitution and that they receive a plurality of votes from those who live in their district or state.  Sadly, that may not be enough.

A person of conscience should, as in the case of former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, realize that her physical health, as a result of being shot,  was insufficient to allow her to discharge her duties to her constituents.  She resigned her office.  I applaud her for her courage in putting those she represents first and herself second.  That is an attribute of a stateswoman and I hope she experiences a complete recovery.

The House of Representatives has procedures for censuring those who are charged and convicted of ethical violations.  I am not sure if the procedure allows for a convicted congressman’s expulsion – or if that is left to the voters in his district at the next election.

But what happens in the case of a congressman who is physically impaired – as was Congresswoman Giffords, or mentally so.  To the best of my knowledge, there is no procedure other than the way in which that congressman wishes to handle the issue.

The reason I bring up this matter is the physical and mental condition of Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. who has been on a “leave of absence” since May and is currently being treated for depression and bi-polar disorder at the Mayo Clinic.  I am particularly interested in this situation because I lived in the Congressional District from which Rep. Jackson was first elected in 1994.

By way of context, remember Presidential-candidate Sen. George McGovern’s 1972 effort to attain the White House.  Sen. Thomas Eagleton was his original choice for Vice-President but was dropped from the ticket when it was revealed that he suffered from depression.

Let me say that I wish  Rep. Jackson every good wish for a complete and full recovery.  I don’t know enough about these conditions to know if that is a possibility.  I certainly hope it is.

But until that occurs, I would call on him to be a statesman and resign his office in the interest of allowing someone who is, at this time, better physically and mentally able to represent his constituents.

America faces serious challenges – the most serious I remember during my lifetime.  We need everyone in every elected office to be a person who is healthy both physically and especially mentally in order to address these challenges.

No one but those who are running for election truly knows if he meets that standard – or if they are unfit to serve.

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