Thursday, March 31, 2016

Job 101

Want a sure fire task that will amuse and frustrate you all at the same time? Look at your job description. I looked at mine recently and had a broad range of reactions as I was reminded what it covered and what it didn’t cover compared to the reality of day to day working and producing results. One of the things that the Great Recession did was consolidate positions so that many jobs have elasticity so a lot of traditional descriptions don't matter much. There is a huge breadth of deliverables for each role in companies and organizations. Then there’s always the all-encompassing “other duties as assigned” that give employers a wide berth in adjusting the job on the fly. Even in this environment, however there are instances of people just not doing what they’ve been hired to do. It’s infuriating.

People who may not have a white collar gig or a formal outline of their role still have expectations of what they're supposed to do for work. I think of how many times I’ve gone by a construction site on the roadway where I see 10 people standing about and one poor schlub doing the actual work. “Unions” I tend to mutter in ignorance and frustration. For all I know they are following a very careful infrastructure for reasons that I don’t know. Even in that instance there's order in how things are done.

There seems to be a trend in this area. The U.S. Senate has declared President Obama not just a lame duck but an invalid President. The institution won’t do its job and "advise and consent" on a nominee to the Supreme Court. They won’t even meet with him stating that the American people need to hold an election first. 

Of course there was an election in 2012 and even though it didn’t go the way I or others might have wanted it was a valid election. Following that logic, what do we do with the 34 senators who are up for election this round? I guess they’re not doing anything until the electorate weighs in as well? Useless! This is no way to run the asylum. Why not just lock the front door, turn out the lights for the next 9 or 10 months and not pay any of them (senators, staff, custodians, etc.) until the next round are sworn in and agree to do what they were hired to do. Or Obama should make a recess appointment since the Senate is defacto acting as if they aren't in session. Let the 8 justices on the Supreme Court rule on adding a 9th. Whatever the solution: the electorate must assign a consequence and send a message to those not doing their job. I think the expression Mr. Trump uses is: you’re fired.

The refusal to do their job isn’t relegated to the Grand Old Party. The Attorney General of North Carolina (a Democrat) announced on 3/29 that he won’t defend the law that the legislature passed and the governor signed. It's an anti-gay law that sets back the state by decades in terms of social progress. As a member and activist of the LGBT community, my initial personal reaction is “yea!” But then I look at it from the other perspective. It feels somewhat akin (but not exactly parallel) to a County Clerk in Kentucky who wouldn’t issue marriage licenses that she thought were illegal. She was wrong not to do her job just as the AG is wrong not to do his.

The Attorney General could have outsourced the defense of the law to a third party firm if he couldn’t find a way to do it himself or have his office do it. The best thing for the misguided hateful North Carolina law is for it to be ruled unconstitutional, invalid and an affront. The only way that happens is through a lawful process within the justice system. Not defending it allows the law to stay in place. It may be good politics but it’s terrible policy and encourages others to follow the example.

One of the core functions of the Attorney General is to represent and defend the government of the state. What if people just started deciding which laws they wanted to follow and which they didn’t? Which institutions to listen to and which not? It's bad enough that in Alabama the Chief Justice there still thinks that there’s a legitimate same-sex marriage ban in place because he claims the Supreme Court ruling doesn’t apply to his state. It's not just crazy: it's illegal. Do we really need more people flaunting the law? 

The United States of America – any country really – is built on a basic premise of law and order. There is an infrastructure in place and a process to create law and to challenge law. And when the law is created, challenged and decided upon it is incumbent on the people to follow it. There's lots of dumb laws, but so be it, we have lots of dumb legislators. Without such a structure anarchy is inevitable. U.S. politics is moving towards mob rule – mix in a little anarchy and those post-apocalyptic movies Hollywood produces will quickly be reality shows.

People need to do their jobs - or quit or be fired. For those of us who may not like the result or the way something’s done then our job is to (a) suck it up and deal with it and then (b) vote. Gumming up the works might feel good in the moment, but it will only cause more pain along the way.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Revolutionary Idea

I moved out of home into the dorms (at the school my Dad taught at) in 10th grade. I’ve largely lived away from home since then. For over 20 years I’ve lived alone --- not counting furry folks (non-human.) More recently I’ve been happily adjusting to life with a partner, including sharing space (at least the times we’re on the same coast). Being on my own is great, but being with my soul mate is fantastic. It’s a great melding that creates interdependence, not one of us being either independent or dependent totally. It got me to wondering if that’s a model that could work in politics as well?

There has been some hyperventilating in social media, the press and indeed the public at large at the idea of a President Donald J. Trump. One town in Canada set up a website encouraging Americans to come to Cape Breton if Trump wins. The site has gotten millions of hits. That’s definitely the “leave home and don’t look back” model.

Moving away isn’t always possible. Moving home sometimes is. The Huffington Post reports that nearly 1 in 3 millennials (18-31) live at home because of declining employment, rising college costs and declines in marriage. That’s 21.6 million people who have found it made more sense to live at home with their parents than forge out on their own. It doesn’t work for everybody or every generation.

Last week hundreds of people celebrated the 240th anniversary of Evacuation Day. The holiday commemorates the withdrawal of British forces from Boston on March 17, 1776 at the start of the Revolutionary War. That was the one where the thirteen colonies declared their independence from Great Britain. It took until 1783 for the war to end and America’s sovereignty to be recognized.

Independence built this country not just as an idea but as a way of existing. Maybe it’s time to rethink that whole idea. Maybe it’s time to come under Her Majesty’s umbrella once again.

America has its fair share of anglophiles – people who adore the Mother Country. Part of that is the monarchy. The New York Times ran a story “Why Do Americans Love the British Royal Family?” The summation states: “Part of this enduring obsession, surely, has to do with curiosity about the path not taken, the what-ifs and might-have-beens. But it also reflects the perseverance of an older emotional and highly ceremonial bond between the monarch and his or her subjects, a bond that applied even to those colonists who settled on lands far removed from Hampton Court and Kew Palaces. In 1776, Americans may have been fed up with royal politics, but most were anything but tired of royal pomp and circumstance.”

Of course the English don’t want America. They don’t seem to even want to be part of the European Union that they originally joined in 1973. There’s a referendum scheduled for June 23, 2016 and the battle is fierce as to whether to stay in or go solo. Polls shows the public nearly evenly split.

It’s like the millennial who moves back home only to have their parents looking at going off to the seashore by themselves.

Having the US return to her British roots is an amusing concept but not based in any real personal or political desire to see it happen. Instead it represents a metaphor that reflects my own living situation: it’s time for more interdependence and not just being independent or dependent. In other words: can’t we figure out our differences in a productive way? That’s not a great sound-byte in today’s political discourse, but it’s a good policy and approach. Revolutionary indeed.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

15 minutes or an hour?

Andy Warhol said: “in the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” That was nearly 50 years ago. Is it the future yet? Some have had their moments of fame and then some. Some will never get it. It does seem that many are hankering for it, myself included in my own hybrid way of wanting the benefits of visibility without the hassle of recognition. The quote has morphed so that ‘world-famous’ now equates with celebrity. “Celebrity is fame and public attention in the media” whereas being famous has more to do with skill and accomplishment. 2016 is not the first election cycle where the issue of celebrity has overtaken the issues themselves.

In 1960 John Kennedy and Richard Nixon made history with the first ever televised debates. Many claim that those who watched the debate on TV thought Kennedy won  because he was tanned, rested and relaxed in front of the camera while Nixon was tired, had no make up on and had not fully recovered from a hospital stay the week prior. There were four more debates and Nixon performed significantly better – but the mythology remains that Kennedy won the election because of that debate which launched the age of television in politics.

Communicating effectively to the electorate has always been vital. Whether it was in written form of from the back of trains moving town to town or ink stained parchment proclaiming positions in the 1700's. The People have always wanted to experience their leaders up close and personal. Television and the Internet have amplified and simplified that desire.

In 2008 Barack Obama took the nation by surprise – overtaking the presumptive nominee Hilary Clinton and drawing crowds by the tens of thousands. Stadiums were filled to hear his message of "hope" and "change." The NewYork Times wrote in 2008 “A Case for Cool” about how it was important and valuable to have a candidate who was able to convey their confidence and joy at campaigning. “Obama, usually planted in front of banners advertising ‘hope’ or ‘change,’ seems lithe and a little detached, cool in a varsity-letter kind of way; McCain, his expression funeral as he discourses on the latest developments in Georgia, appears to find running for president about as fun as a colonoscopy.”

The McCain camp even tried to belittle the freshman Senator with an ad campaign about being a celebrity and not being serious candidate for the most important job in the world with a video designed to undermine the popularity Obama was amassing. It didn’t work in 2008 and it didn’t work in 2012 when Mitt Romney aired a similar ad. 

The 2016 election has a different sort of celebrity – Donald J. Trump. His campaign started where he was paying people $50 a head to be in the audience. Today tens of thousands of people are filling stadiums and millions are watching everything he says and does on television and on Twitter, the 140-character social media platform.

How did that happen? The Wall Street Journal reported that CNN in the first three months after Trump announced in 2015 received more than twice the coverage than Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz. Not to be outdone, Media Matters reports that Fox News gave the billionaire eight times the coverage than Cruz. The Washington Post reports on a Pew Research Center analysis where Trump received more coverage on the network news channels than all Democratic candidates combined. The New York Times just reported that the value of all of the free media was worth $1.9 billion

Celebrity begets celebrity. If you’re a celebrity you’re going to draw additional media attention which then raises the profile and draws further people and supporters to the campaign. Bashing celebrity didn’t work in 1960, 2008 or 2012 and it won’t work in 2016. Celebrity exists because of somebody’s popularity with the public. It may be great for ratings and revenue, but its impact on the country is not great.

President Kennedy had a very divisive time in his years in office. Nearly all of the major accomplishments that have been credited to him were actually implemented by Johnson after Kennedy’s assassination. 

President Obama likewise has a had a very difficult path with his signature legislative victory in health insurance occurring on a straight party-line vote in a lame duck session days before the balance of power was to change. The 4 congressional sessions during his administration have been some of the least productive in American history.

A President Trump would face a similar level of legislative gridlock – both Republican and Democrat. The policies he has outlined that seem to be resonating with the masses do not neatly fit within either major party’s own platform. So there'll be push back. More than that, though, the celebrity culture may have a huge impact on the electorate but the evidence shows it has very little on Congress. 

Trump’s 15 minutes of fame could extend to an hour. Maybe it's time to Spring Forward and look at electing something other than a celebrity.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Regulation not sexy

I’m not a prude. There are limits, however, to what I think is an appropriate use of sexual innuendo. Justice Potter Stewart described obscenity most directly: “I’ll know it when I see it.” That’s the great thing about America – the structure of the Constitution and the three branches of government are designed so that one person’s objection doesn’t immediately become the baseline for everybody else. That, however, is being chipped away – especially in California which is leading the way.

In 2012 Los Angeles voters approved Measure B which “requires the use of condoms in all vaginal and anal sex scenes in pornography productions filmed in Los Angeles County, California. The measure also requires porn production companies to obtain a health permit prior to production and to post the permit and a notice to performers regarding condom use during production.”

The main argument came from AIDS Healthcare Foundation which claimed that “"thousands of performers have been infected with thousands of STDs.” Opponents claimed that sex workers were actually healthier and safer than the general population due to their awareness of the issues, commitment to a healthy work environment and it was up to the producers and on-set personnel to make sure that everything is safe.

Vivid Entertainment – one of the largest producers of adult films (gay and non-gay) – immediately moved their operations outside of Los Angeles county – to other counties in California and also to Las Vegas. In the first year film permits for pornographic films went down 95% and caused a significant economic impact throughout the region with fewer support staff, crew, etc. being hired. The content didn't change. The films didn’t disappear. They just moved, infuriating backers of the measure.

A statewide measure was then introduced to mitigate companies moving (short or longer distances away) and to have a consistency state-wide. AB1576 also included a provision that criminalized violators – so that an adult film actor could be sent to jail for having sex without a condom. The law criminalized a law abiding act in a legal business because some don't like pornography and others who want to tell the experts how to run their company.

California’s Division of Occupational Safety & Health rejected the regulations recently (2/18/16). The opposition won saying: “For the consumer, there’s not going to be the fantasy, there’s not going to be the artistic vision and the expression of sexual freedom. It’s going to be hazmat suits.”

The damage has been done. Millions of dollars moved out of Los Angeles county and may be moving out of California. Perhaps the 'prudes' won this round, but has the lesson been learned? Nope.

California is poised to become the first state to regulate models. Yes, California - home of pretty people, movie stars and wannabe movie starts - is setting rules for models. Under the proposed regulation “modeling agencies would be licensed by the state and could be fined for hiring models who don’t have a doctor’s note saying they’re healthy.”

Sex workers should have a safe and healthy environment to work in. Models should have a safe and healthy environment to work in. So should office workers, athletes and really any type of employee. Unions exist to protect workers. Let them do their job. Government does not need to be dictating the appropriate weight of a model. What about plus size models? Will the government ban them as well as under-weight models?  Regulation isn’t sexy and government should be more prudish in trying to manage every business and every person's lifestyle.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Mad as Hell

I’m mad as hell. Just like Howard Beale in “Network” who screamed the catch phrase forty years ago – there’s a lot to be mad at. I’m mad as hell that: 
  • The economy isn’t as strong as it could be and millions of people are out of work and underemployed.
  • That the U.S. is now $19 trillion in debt and growing at half-a-trillion per year because government can't spend what it brings in.
  • Medical care is so outrageously expensive.
  • Obamacare is thought of as healthcare rather than an insurance program.
  • Congress can’t find a way of compromising and voters re-elect their representatives at a rate in excess of 95%.
  • Social Security is going to be bankrupt by the time I am eligible.
  • Senators have preemptively declared that no nominee to the Supreme Court from the President will even be considered.
  • Government in Flint, MI poisoned its people in the name of efficiency.
  • Al Jazeera America is going off the air – leaving viewers with no options for unbiased reporting on television.
  • Airline travel is so difficult and uncomfortable.
  • Every major weather event now has a name.
  • President Obama maintains a personal kill list – serving as judge, jury and executioner on his own.
  • The Fourth Amendment is considered quaint instead of an established right.
  • The Pentagon has never passed an audit. Ever. In its entire history. In fact, it can't even balance its books with billions of dollars disappearing each year.
  • The Second Amendment is considered sacrosanct when common sense protocols ("well regulated") would save lives.
  • Wars are started and waged without Congressional approval as required.
  • Police shoot people of color first at an alarming rate and won't use other methods available to them.
  • The First Amendment is undermined by an Administration that jails journalists as ‘traitors’ for doing their jobs.
  • The NSA continues to gather and monitor data from everyday people (worldwide now) but has shown an inability to use that data to stop terrorist attacks.
  • Agent Carter is already over for the year.
  • The Democratic leading candidate makes Mitt Romney look like a model of consistency with her flip-flops, misrepresentations and fabrications on a range of issues.
  • The GOP’s #2 candidate for President prays for and attended rallies that support the extermination of LGBT people.
  • The Anglican Communion is punishing the Episcopal Church for letting LGBT people marry.
  • The media reports the delegate count for the Democrats as if the Super Delegates already have cast their votes (which doesn’t happen until July) giving the illusion that Hilary Clinton is the defacto candidate when its still a horse-race with Bernie Sanders.
  • Social media is filled with meme’s and half-truths and rants from people on all sides who should know better and who have stooped to the same low level of those they're criticizing.
  • Voters have to jump through hurdles to exercise their duty as citizens, especially if they are not wealthy and white.
  • Transgender people are being killed at a record rate across the U.S..
  • There are 28 lobbyists to each elected representative in Washington DC (over 15,000).
  • The GOP’s leading candidate is an egocentric maniac with no plans, plenty of hyperbole and encourages violence while espousing a level of hate speech that would not be allowed on most college campuses today.

And the list can go on and on. There's a lot to be mad about. It’s this last one where I can’t even blame the candidate Trump totally anymore. What I’m really mad at is that my fellow citizens, my fellow Americans, my fellow humans are so paralyzed by  fear, misinformation and a lack of faith in our system of government that Donald J. Trump is seen as the savior and is now the leading candidate for the nomination for President for the Republican party. This has happened because people are voting for him. It’s not the leadership of the GOP, it’s not the media, it’s voters making a deliberate choice. It’s them that I’m not just mad at – I’m disappointed in.

Will the world go to hell and a hand-basket with a President Trump? No. The Constitution is strong enough to survive him. And, frankly, if there’s anything that Mitch McConnell has demonstrated in the past eight years it’s a case study in how to undermine a popularly elected President from getting anything done that he wants to. Don’t get me wrong: it’d be embarrassing, horrible, dangerous and devastating…but it would not be the end of the world as we know it.

We need to recognize the anger that I have and that others have. We need to realize that we aren't all going to get our way. Years of therapy have shown me that is not effective to meet that anger with more anger a-la-Trump (or even Sanders) but instead acknowledge it and find ways to build a path towards reconciliation and understanding. And it starts with each of us today with those whom we disagree with.