Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sequestration Derp

Only in Washington can the specter of reducing federal spending by 1% - or perhaps, more accurately, reducing the rate of growth by 1-2% - be treated as the end of days and only with a grossly uninformed public can this type of deception work.   Politicians shifting facts in order to shape their agendas is hardly news but sequestration has ratcheted the derp level to weapons grade.    
The same president who initially suggested and, later signed, the sequester agreement is now busily campaigning against it, largely because campaigning is all he knows.  Predictably on cue, the alleged cuts are branded as “devastating”, “extreme”, and a host of other scare words that include dire warnings of children eating old people in the streets, week-long waits at airport security lines, and no new cheetahs as the National Zoo.  (The last is actually part of the discussion.)  Who knew that when Hillary raised the “phone call at 3 AM” question that time of day would be the independent variable? 
On the other side, the same House Speaker who proclaimed that he “got 98% of what I wanted” in the sequester agreement is now couching it terms that make one think its impact on defense will mean North Korea taking over Hawaii by next week with the rest of the republic to be ravaged by Islamic hordes a few days after that.  But this is what political gamesmanship will get you.  Boehner and the Repubs surprised Obama by agreeing to the sequester because they thought Romney would win and the deal could effectively be scuttled. 
Let’s put the whole thing in context – federal spending is guided by an evil called baseline budgeting which presumes an annual increase in spending regardless of circumstances.  So when the planned 8% rate of growth is held to 6%, the political class claims a 2% cut.  It’s like your boss deciding that your 5% raise will only be 3% and you complaining of a salary reduction. 
Sequester or not, the feds are going to spend more this year than last; no one outside of DC confuses this with an actual cut.  Ergo, the president’s perpetual campaign remains in motion, spreading its message of fear that the very thing he once championed will now usher in a parade of horribles.  Meanwhile, the Obama dogwashing committee is impervious to fact, even turning on one-time favored son Bob Woodward.  In our modern politics-as-religion world, the only thing worse than a heretic is an apostate; how dare Woodward act like a reporter instead of a stenographer. 
When federal spending is close to 4-trillion dollars a year, close to half of it with borrowed money, and the prospect of reducing that rate of growth by 85-billion causes heads to spin, one conclusion is that tinfoil has become the nation’s default headgear.   And even if spending were being cut by 1-2%, pretending that it signals the collapse of empire is delusion at an exponential level. 
Consider how many Americans have managed to trudge on despite income stagnation if not outright reduction over the past several years.  Yet, govt pretends that it is sacrosanct in that regard.  Even its unholy trinity of waste, fraud, and abuse is absent from this discussion as if talk of controlling spending renders all three of those concerns moot, that not a single nickel of federal spending is unnecessary and that to believe otherwise is unpatriotic and probably insane. 
Predictably, the partisans have circled their respective wagons and are dutifully blaming each other for something both sides agreed to do, something neither side spent much time discussing during the 2012 campaign.  Then again, neither Team Red nor Team Blue has much of an interest in actually cutting spending; the Reds like to talk about cuts and the Blues have never met a dollar of someone else’s money that could not be spent.  And the debt marches on. 
Perhaps just as predictably, this too shall pass, much like the fiscal cliff before it.  The problem, of course, will not be solved largely because both sides refuse to meaningfully acknowledge that it exists and that resolving it means there can be no sacred cows.  Instead, look for a continuation of the sacred bull that always surfaces when the topic of spending comes up, because DC knows it can get away with that.  How else do you explain a proposed $2-million dollar cut from the proposed $20-million dollar budget of an agency that no longer exists?  

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Self-indulgent pricks: Meet the new America

Harsh?  Maybe.  Untrue?  Hardly.  What the 2012 election made clear, and what subsequent events have confirmed, is that a special kind of cognitive dissonance has infected the body politic on two fronts: 1) the notion that the players can stay the same, but somehow, magical change will occur and 2) that cutting is well and good so long as it does not affect me. 

The dissonance is augmented by confirmation bias, where people tune in to news and information sources that will confirm their pre-existing beliefs.  It's what allows Obama supporters to cheerlead when the President in 2011 vowed to veto efforts to block sequestration and also cheerlead today when he proclaims the sequester as equivalent to the end of days.  On the other side, the same Repubs whose majority through 2006 ushered in all manner of new and higher spending suddenly found fiscal religion when the next POTUS, not a Repub, continued that trend. 

The nation is mired in debt, the economy is stagnant at best, dependency keeps growing, but the pretense out of DC is that cutting a single dime of federal spending will mean children in the streets eating old people and the nation being taken over by radical jihadists.  And this is being said by people whom we elected.  Makes you wonder who is more stupid, them or us.

The intellectual dishonesty in this argument is that no one is really discussing cuts as you, me, and the dictionary would define them; no, in DC cuts mean reductions in the rate of growth.  Therefore, if your employer planned to give you a ten-thousand dollars raise but because of some circumstance was only able to give you eight-thousand, in DC-speak your salary was actually cut.  Yup, that's what I said; when the increase is less than anticipated, that amounts to a cut among the elected class.

We have a system that is unsustainable.  Gimmicks like the payroll tax holiday are just that, gimmicks, and should be called that.  In a normal free society, a watchdog press would do that.  But we don't have a watchdog media,we have an activist media more intent on propagating its point of view than in calling bullshit on stupidity.  And so, here we are. 

In the abstract, people love the concept of change but in the concrete, they want it to only apply to other people.  No one is willing to give up their free pony, not even if they subconsciously realize that the pony will be taken away by necessity at some point.  We have benefits with built-in disincentives to regaining self-sufficiency, we have people who will get more out of certain programs than they ever put in but they see no problem with that, and we have an increasingly lazy populace that believes govt always knows best, despite ample evidence to the contrary. 

Self-indulgent pricks.  It's who we have become.  It's who we shown every sign of remaining for a long time. It's not the mark of a republic that values liberty, self-reliance, or limited govt.  It's embarrassing. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A middle schooler? Really?

Every now and then, someone who you think would know better says something so ridiculous that it's all you can do to keep the car between the lines.  Especially when what is said is coming through your car radio during afternoon rush traffic.  On a North Carolina radio station today, and which one or who said it immaterial, a guest remarked that business leaders looking for the next big thing would do well to talk to a middle-schooler since, apparently, that age group is filled with sages of the future.

The guest's rationale was that young people are marinated in technology from such a young age that surely any new development would be somehow related to the wired world.  Maybe, but we're also the country that is graduating an alarming number of high school students who spend their first year of college taking remedial work.  They did so well in math and English the first time that they are paying for the privilege of doing it again.  I'm not so sure my company's next great path is going to be outlined by someone who can barely conjugate a verb, or knows what conjugate even means, let alone by a person whose next great challenge is going to be dealing with teenage skin. 

Look, I am fascinated by the young's comfort around new gadgets and widgets, but let's be honest:  gadgets and widgets are all they know.  It's like previous generations being able to manage hand tools.  And before this sounds like one of those old fart rants about the yoots, it's not.  Kids are products of their environment and part of that environment is a school system that is largely failing them, a system that, curiously enough, is run by us, people who should know better. 

Earlier this month, Ben Carson spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast about how his mother instilled in him and his brother a love of reading.  What kid reads anymore?  At least, what kid reads an actual book that has to do with something other than vampires, witches, or romantic fantasies?  JK Rowling had a great idea in creating the Harry Potter series of books as a means for encouraging children to, well, pick up books.  Then came the Twilight series.  But is anyone reading anything of substance?  A history book?  A biography? Even a non-fiction book that does not involve the supernatural? 

The biggest hole of all in the radio guest's summation was ignoring how critical thinking is missing from much of society, the adults included, to be sure.  People talk to each other, in large part, with talking points they don't always understand themselves, gathered from news outlets that confirm their existing biases.  If the parents can't be bothered to have their dogma challenged, it's a bit presumptuous to think a 12-year old is going to. 

The future will hold things you and I can only imagine, and probably some things that we can't.  A few of those will be developed and designed by someone who is 12 today.  But before then, a good deal of other innovation is going to come by people who see a problem in search of an answer and a market niche in search of filling.  And not to be too hard on the guest, but there really is more to life than technology.  The tools make many things more convenient, but they are not the alpha and omega of life.  Instead of worrying about how to appeal to middle-school children, entrepreneurs might want to focus on people who have disposable income, people whose businesses could benefit from whatever new comes along, and people whose lives will be somehow improved from innovation.  Let the middle-school kids be middle-school kids.  And encourage them to think.  Preferably for themselves. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Complicating the simple

Modern-day political discourse very closely resembles religion:  each side is so firmly rooted its dogma that, by definition, it must treat all other belief systems are heresy.  Just look at what happens - whenever someone with an R or D next to his/her name lays out an idea, someone else from the other side predictably comes forth to tells not just how horrible the idea is, but to also question the motives and character of the person making it.  As a result, substantive discussion or debate is neutered before it can even start.

It's easy, and perhaps satisfying, to pretend that "the other side" is responsible for all that it wrong with the country but that misses a larger point.  There may a difference in degrees of responsibility but the malicious truth is that both sides have built a system that caters to the excesses of each.  Consider this thing called sequestration - the two parties both have their sacred cows and each treats that cutting either defense or the social welfare system by a nickel will wreak untold havoc on the populace.  In simplest terms, that's bullshit. 

We have a systemic problem, rooted in something very few folks - and this probably includes me - fully understand:  baseline budgeting.  This gimmick, and that's it is, automatically raises the federal budget for no greater reason than the turn of the calendar.  Doesn't matter what inflation is, doesn't matter if a program is great or useless, doesn't matter if the world has started spinning in the opposite direction.  It is THE commandment of Washington - thou shalt increase the budget of each and every federal agency each and every year.  Usually, by somewhere between four and eight percent. 

Does your salary go up by that amount every year?  Do you even expect your expenses to go up by that figure every year?  So, we have one more example of one set of rules for the elected class and a second set for the rest of us.  Only problem is, we get to pay for the rules of the elected.  Baseline budgeting is the reason why one party accuses the other of "draconian cuts" whenever it is suggested that instead of an 8% increase, perhaps Program X should only be raised by 3%.  Lost in the discussion is that either methodology increases spending.

One of my favorite savings is foreseeable consequences are not unintended.  Read it again.  In simpler terms, when you know what the outcome is going to be, it is reasonable to conclude that outcome was intentional.  And it is now fair to say that our current fiscal predicament is, in fact, intentional.  Spending at the federal level has ALWAYS gone up but the strength of the US economy has usually been able to sustain it.  The economy's steady, if not predictable, growth has absolved the Congress and most presidents of any sense of ownership or responsibility.  Why set priorities and why maintain some semblance of budgetary balance when there are no repercussions for failing to do so? 

A debt of 16 trillion dollars does not differentiate between Red and Blue; it makes no distinction between conservative and liberal; it sees no difference between gender, race, ethnicity, or orientation.  At some point, it might be worthwhile to notice the elephant - this monstrosity of a debt affects us all.  So, what is the elected class going to do about it?  To date, not a hell of a lot beyond the usual finger-pointing, selective use of numbers, and gamesmanship that has led so many to drop out of the voting public.  When you think about it, it is a crime of sorts that barely half the population participates in presidential elections and far less takes part in state and local races.  

Folks, there is a problem out there and its name is the political class that claims to want to work on our behalf.  If these folks worked in our companies, we would long ago have fired them.  And yet, these people ARE on our payroll and we keep re-electing the vast majority.  It is we the people who have created this cluster, in large part because we have found it very comfortable to let govt take care of so many details we should be taking care of individually, in our communities, and through civic groups.  Ironically, we have a govt that exactly mirrors those who elect it - massive debt, little tolerance for innovation, and the desire to blame someone else rather than to be accountable.  Want to see the problem?  Look in the mirror.

Friday, February 8, 2013

If you can't laugh at this.....

Seems the nation has lost its collective sense of humor judging by a couple of incidents in the news recently.  First, Senator John McCain drew charges of racism for a quip regarding Iran's claim of having sent a monkey into space.  McCain wondered if the monkey was not, in fact, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Cue the church of the aggrieved and offended - even a fellow member of Congress called McCain's remark racist. 

When it is beyond the pale to make a joke about a man who has repeatedly denied the Holocaust, routinely refers to Jews in the most vile terms, and fantasizes about Israel's destruction, then nothing can ever be said about anyone, no matter who true or appropriate, no matter how loathsome the subject, nothing.  Have we become so pecksniffian as to take offense at everything, even those things that should be offended from time to time? 

The second example comes from the education system, whose self-righteousness meter is calibrated at a nuclear level.  A second grader in Colorado was suspended for pretending to throw a grenade at imaginary monsters on the playground.  Pretending.  On the playground.  At imaginary monsters.  And these are the people many of you trust your children to on a daily basis.  If pretending is now tantamount to terrorism, the theater arts are in for a rude awakening.  Unless, of course, their targets are white males, particularly of the Southern variety, and the point is to paint said targets as wife-beater-wearing, gun-totin, gap-toothed hayseeds. 

We are beyond political correctness at this point; we have moved into social paralysis, where anything said about anyone at anytime is subject to purposeful misinterpretation.  This week, CNN's Don Lemon opined in almost sympathetic terms about the wanted killer and how the suspect's actions, at least prior to his killing people, are practically acceptable given the black community's experience with cops.  That a cartoon style gaffer's hook did not come from off-set and yank Lemon out of sight is hardly unbelievable. 

A commentator opined that perhaps Lemon's new boss, Jeff Zucker, had that bit of broadcast stupidity and would have a chat with his anchor.  Not likely and for two reasons:  1) it is entirely possible that Zucker believes the same thing Lemon does, that cops always have it in for minorities and that any skepticism of law enforcement on their part is justified.  But I think 2) is more likely:  Zucker, a balding, middle-aged white man, would not dare challenge Lemon as the former knows nothing of "the black experience" and to call out obvious stupidity would be akin to a racist remark in itself. 

This is where we have come people, from PC police to thought police, a near-Orwellian experience where offense is taken whether intended or not, where apologies are demanded, where the victim industry rides herd over everything from Tweeter feeds to Victoria's Secret advertisements.  You heard about the Vicky's Secrets flap, right?  Oh, yeah; a model wore an Indian headdress and the pious lost their minds.  Because every company uses its models to purposely insult entire groups.  It's madness and it is not going to slow down.  And when you have lost the ability to laugh at yourself or anything else, no matter how much truth lies behind a joke or quip, an important part of the social fabric has unraveled, and people withdraw from one another a little bit more.  

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Chicken Sandwiches and Jackboots

The recent dust-up over comments by the CEO of Chick-fil-A on gay marriage have provided a good test case regarding the type society we are vs. the type society some would wish us to be.  Liberals constantly crow about "tolerance" and "diversity", but their walk almost never keeps pace with their talk.  After Truett Cathy surprised absolutely no one who knows anything about him by saying he believes marriage to be defined as one man/one woman, the left went into high hysteria with a few mayors suggested that Chick-fil-A not even look at their cities for possible expansion.  That those mayors can be supported by anyone should be frightening, but in this age of speech codes, it isn't. 

Last I checked, Cathy had a Constitutional right to his opinion.  There is no corresponding right that forces me to agree with him, nor is there one that inoculates him from potential backlash.  In this case, 'backlash' means anyone offended by his remarks can stop buying Chick-fil-A's products.  In a free society, it does not - or should not - mean that elected officials get to use veiled threats of govt action in order to force businesses into ideological compliance.  If a city has the legal authority to stop a business from building because its CEO opposes gay marriage, then nothing can stop another city from similar sanctions against a CEO who, say, opposes abortion or favors gun control.  And, that's the thing about the left.

Liberals believe that diversity is a group of folks who look different but march in ideological lockstep, and tolerance is everyone agreeing with even the stupidest ideas.  Wrong on both counts.  Diversity means accepting that individuals are different and and will have varying opinions on a range of topics.  Tolerance means understanding that not everyone has to agree with you and that a person having a different viewpoint is not inherently evil or motivated by sinister forces.  It just means that person has his/her own opinion.

We get into (potentially) serious trouble when govt believes that its role is mandating thought and what the mayors of Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco, among others, are doing is exactly that.  Each has said that Chick-fil-A may not be allowed to build in their cities because some elected official - that would be a person who works for us - does not like what a CEO believes.  To call this a slippery slope insults the term; it is a steep precipice that can only produce bad results.

There are some in this country, okay there are many, who hate the concept of individual liberty or of individual anything, for that matter.  They would prefer that we become a Borg-like collective where everyone is assigned a specific set of thoughts and then does what our betters dictate.  That sort of approach has been tried in numerous places, always with bad outcomes.  Liberty means the freedom to think and act for yourself, and to understate that statements can have consequences.  Some folks may boycott Chick-fil-A just as surely as folks who agree with Cathy may double down on doing business with the chain.  That is how a free society works.   

Friday, July 13, 2012

This is how you beat age discrimination

In this current state of normal - and sorry, I refuse to call it the new normal because nothing lasts forever - there are some economic realities to be faced.  One of them is, seasoned workers stand a very good chance of being screwed, sometimes because of self-defeating reasons and sometimes because of misperception.

The biggest self-defeating reason is the most obvious - economics.  Less experienced people command lower salaries.  Why self-defeating?  If you run an organization, new hires are essentially learning on your watch, quite possibly learning enough so that they can shop themselves to a higher bidder.  There is nothing wrong with inexperienced people; I used to be one.  But, you can't run a place on their backs.  They need people to learn from, people whose roles they can move into at some point.  Conversely, the older worker will also learn from younger counterparts, but that is another topic. 

Areas of misperception are going to be more common and they are infinitely more maddening:
  • "You are overqualified."  While that may be true, you are not applying for such a job in order to show off.  It may be that you've been in your boss' shoes and you found the view unpleasant.  Or, it could be that you want to dial down your level of responsibility.  Or, you want to focus on a specific task(s) without also having to supervise/internalize the drama of subordinates.  But your best means of overcoming that objection is this:  "I have had your position and I understand the demands and pressures you face.  I can help you with some of them and you can be certain I will not add to them." 
  • "Are you sure you won't be bored?"  The plain fact is that not every job is a thrill a minute, but jobs exist for one purpose - there is work to be done.  Presumably, you will be busy.  Focus on the skills required for the job and the tasks that are entailed in it.  "The mark of a well-run organization is when the routine things are done routinely.  Every place has its things that, while maybe not exciting, are nonetheless critical to the overall function.  I like contributing to success and a big part of success is so-called little things; this is where my experience really comes to the fore.  I have seen what happens when details are addressed and when they are not." 
  • "The workplace has changed."  Pardon the expression, but no shit.  If you are a Boomer, your entire existence has been about change.  You remember when research meant going to the library, using the Dewey Decimal System to track down reference material, and then typing the finished work.  Maybe even on a manual typewriter.  If you know the words "pica" and "elite", you know what I am talking about.  The tools have been changing your entire career and each time, you acclimated.  Here's the bottom line answer to that objection:  "Communicating with people is about ideas, not about the means through which ideas are transmitted.  People can learn gadgets quickly; it takes a lot longer to learn to think.  (Besides, all of these tools that your generation takes for granted?  My generation invented most of them.")  
The part in parentheses is simple:  Mark Zuckerberg came up with Facebook, but that's just an application.  It was the prior generation that invented the operating system on which the app runs.  Of course, that last part goes down a lot better if said with a smile on your face; you are applying for a job, after all, not seeking to make enemies.  There is nothing wrong being firm about the fact that every convenience that your kids take for granted was invented by the generation or two that came before it.  

Tough economic times have made for a much competitive workplace.  Graduate schools have enrolled a goodly number of older students who find that their experience alone is not enough.  And, it is difficult to blame organizations.  When hundreds of people apply for an opening, there is no way a human is going to sift through every resume.  So, screening parameters are designed to cull the resume herd; "Masters" is one of the words used to narrow the field of prospects.

You cannot change your age but you don't have to run away from it either.  Experience matters, perhaps more so today than in fatter times.  But be aware; you are going to face one or more of the bullet items if you are of a certain age and on the job hunt.  Be ready with answers.