Don’t Come To Work Tomorrow. You Are “Non-Essential”

As a result of the possible (probable?) government shutdown, I learned this morning that the various agencies, including the military, are reviewing their work force to determine who will be furloughed and who will continue to work.  “Essential” workers will continue to work and “non-essential” workers will be furloughed.  What?  Non-essential employees?  How do you say “bloated government?”  Why do agencies have non-essential workers?  Who are these people and what does it do to their self esteem to be told “you don’t need to come to work tomorrow.  You are “non-essential”?  (What jobs do they have?  Non-essential in charge of filing staple guns?)  Imagine approaching your company CEO, your firm’s managing partner or the owner of the small business where you work and asking for approval to hire a non-essential employee for your department or office.  You explain the person is not necessary to the performance of the operations of the company or department and the non-essential will be provided with benefits and a salary in the tens of thousands of dollars.  Will you be rewarded for your clear thinking and societal concerns for the unemployed, or will you be asked to join the ranks of the non-essentials?

If  the government had to get along with only essential employees, how much lower might the cost of government be?  If we weren’t paying non-essential workers, what would the unemployment figures be?  Which is worse, higher unemployment or higher governmental costs?  ( I know, we have to pay unemployment benefits to the unemployed non-essential worker, etc. and we have their self esteem to worry about.  But, is an unemployment check harder on self esteem than working in a non-essential job?)  If a non-essential were not hired by the government would he or she figure out how to become an employed essential in the private sector?  Would lower taxes be derived from not paying non-essential persons?  Would tax savings result in more consumer spending, which would create more essential jobs in the private sector?  Would some of the out of work non-essentials use their ingenuity and innovate new products and services creating more essential jobs?  These Econ 101 arguments simplify the continual debate among economists.  But, not unlike the argument against deficit spending which says that the government should balance its budget and quit (at least reduce) deficit spending as we have to do in our homes and private businesses, sometimes simplified versions of the economic dilemma makes good common sense.

Maybe, like sequestering turned out to be not such a terrible thing, shutting down the government for awhile may not be so terrible either.  After all, the essential jobs will continue to be performed and, apparently, only the non-essential frills will be postponed.

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A Fan Of Francona

On Wednesday, the Cleveland Indians play in the wild card playoff game. Before that happens, I want to throw a few kudos at Tribe manager Terry Francona.

I’ve been tremendously impressed by Francona this year, and not just because he managed the team to the post-season.  When you hear him interviewed he gives thoughtful answers, rather than the mindless twaddle that tends to come from the mouths of every other coach in professional sports.  He’s amazingly humble and quick to give credit to others, both players and team management.  He never seems to rip his players, or get too excited or too depressed about the team’s last game or series.  He’s got just about the perfect temperament for a high-profile job that requires a unique basket of skills.

I can’t speak to Francona’s managing abilities from a technical standpoint.  I don’t know whether he pinch-hits at the optimum times, or calls for the hit-and-run when it’s warranted, or positions his fielders properly — although the Indians’ unexpected success this season suggests to me that Francona has a pretty good head for inside baseball.  What impresses me more is his interpersonal skills.  He seems to be an uncommonly shrewd judge of people, and particularly how to motivate them and raise their spirits.  He has taken a bunch of players that no one else wanted and welded them into a unit that improbably won 92 games, including its last 10 games of the year.  He stuck with players like Jason Giambi when fans were calling for their heads — and they ultimately delivered.  He and his coaching staff have made a pitching staff of cast-offs and retreads into an extremely strong unit that really carried the team to the playoffs.

Too often in professional sports, coaches and managers are judged on their last game, and if their team loses the season is viewed as a failure.  That’s not fair, and I hope that doesn’t happen to Francona.  He has done a fantastic job in the manager’s seat this year, and I hope every Tribe fans recognizes that — no matter what happens in the playoffs — Cleveland is lucky to have him.

In The Grip Of Shutdown Sameness

It’s been about six months since our last government crisis, so I guess we’re due.

This latest crisis arises — surprise! — from the inability of the Republicans and the Democrats, of the House of Representatives on one hand and the Senate and the President on the other, to agree on a short-term funding bill to keep the government operating.  If the parties do not come up with a way forward by midnight tonight, there will be a partial governmental shutdown.

Of course, the inability to agree on a continuing resolution is only the immediate cause of this latest “crisis.”  The issues cut much deeper.  From spending, to taxes, to the Affordable Care Act, to a host of other issues, our two political parties have fundamental differences of opinion about what government should do and its role in our everyday lives.

I’m not going to write today, however, about those policy differences.  It’s all been written before, by countless people, and there really isn’t anything fresh or compelling to be said.  I would simply point out to our political leaders that, when you constantly lurch from one “crisis” to another, the state of “crisis” eventually becomes the norm.  We’ve gone through the brinksmanship and the dire warnings again and again, and we’re still here.  Sequestration took effect . . . and the sun rose the next day.  After a while, the constant cries of wolf fall on deaf ears.

If this latest “crisis” provokes a partial government shutdown, how many Americans will even care?  They’ll find refuge in the final episodes of Breaking Bad, or the baseball playoffs, or something else of more immediate interest and impact on their lives.  Sadly, our political leaders may actually have let the country drift to the point where most people don’t even give a crap that our government is totally dysfunctional.

Welcome, Brownie!

Today the Cleveland Browns introduced a new, live-action mascot.  He is “Brownie, the Elf.”

IMG_5012A little elf has been a part of the Browns for as long as I can remember.  He’s usually pictured holding a football, wearing elfin shoes and an elfin hat and a self-satisfied smile on his face.  I’ve always like the little pointy-eared elf.  For a time, years ago, there was an effort to put the elf on the Browns helmets, but they decided to stick with the classic, plain orange helmets instead.

When the Browns came back into the NFL, and marketing requirements dictated that they have a mascot, they surprisingly did not go with the elf.  Instead, picking up on the “Dawgs” persona first developed during the ’80s, they introduced a large, upright dog wearing a uniform.  His name is “Chomps.”  I think Chomps sucks.  He’s a generic, fuzzy mascot that could be the mascot for virtually any major or minor league team.

So, I was happy when I saw “Brownie, the Elf” today.  And, not coincidentally, the Browns actually played like a football team today.  It was a pleasure to sit in a cheering stadium and watch the Browns grind down the Cincinnati Bengals on a 90-yard drive in the fourth quarter to put the game away.  It’s one of the best games the Browns have played against a quality opponent in years.  Even the presence of Chomps didn’t ruin the day.

I’m giving the credit for today’s win to the team, of course, but also to Brownie, the Elf.  The more the Browns get back to their roots, the better off they will be.

Big Fly

Autumn is flu shot season, and football season, and allergy season.  It is also — regrettably — big fly season.

IMG_4980We try to keep our doors shut during the summer months.  But somehow, some way, crafty houseflies get inside.  And then, usually, we don’t see them for a while.  They flit around at night, doing whatever vile things flies do.  They also must consume some kind of special housefly growth tonic, because by the time fall comes you’re being dive-bombed by houseflies the size of golf balls that buzz like chainsaws.  You hear the distinctive buzz and out of the corner of your eye you see that large, hairy black object flying straight at you and you duck and swat at the repulsive creatures.

Why does autumn seem to infuse flies with such recklessness?  Are they simply feeling indestructible because they have grown to brobdingnagian proportions.  Or, as I suspect, do they realize that the end is near, and they might as well take one shot at annoying the humans they’ve been avoiding for weeks?  When you’re huge, why not live large?

Because we all know how the story ends — with gigantic, granddaddy flies dead as doornails, curled up on the floor or on the windowsill above the kitchen sink, to be retrieved with a tissue and a feeling of utter disgust and tossed in the trash or the toilet.  It’s a meek ending for a big fly.

Night Game

IMG_4986Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer is a big fan of playing football at night, under the lights.  It’s not hard to understand why.

When the sun goes down and the lights come on, the atmosphere becomes more charged.  The fans — fueled, in many instances, by ample alcohol consumption at tailgates — are seriously into the game and ready to scream.  Playing at night just seems cooler.  When you add in a flyover and fireworks launched from the top of the south scoreboard, as Ohio State did in its game against Wisconsin last night, you create an atmosphere that is designed to appeal to kids, and particularly the recruits who are trying to decide where to take their athletic talents.

Last night was a great atmosphere, and the Buckeyes won over a good Wisconsin team, 31-24.  As Buckeyes fans left the Horseshoe after 11 p.m., they could be happy with the result — but also confident that they would be seeing Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis, who created his own fireworks with 10 catches and more than 200 yards gained, in their fevered dreams.  Thank God that kid is a senior!

 

Sy Hersh Speaks Out

Seymour Hersh won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam War.  Ever since, he’s been the scourge of presidents and press officers, not afraid to speak his mind about America, journalists, and politicians.  He’s an equal opportunity gadfly who launches withering criticism at Republican and Democrat alike.

Recently Hersh put reporters and the Obama Administration in his gun sights.  According to a report in the Guardian newspaper, Hersh ripped American journalists, chiding them for their timidity, their refusal to challenge the story lines put out by the Obama Administration, and their willingness to temper their reporting to support the President.  He said that the Obama Administration story about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden is “one big lie, not one word of it is true,” and argued that journalists aren’t investigating the shifting depictions of the event as they should.  He called reporters “pathetic” and “more than obsequious” for their unwillingness to challenge the President, and he claims the Obama Administration “lies systematically.”  He singled out the New York Times and said the newspaper spends “so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would.”

Hersh — like me — is a big believer in real journalism and reporters who ferret out the truth and let the chips fall where they may.  He thinks, however, that the existing managers of newspapers and network news bureaus will never return to the days of “shoe leather” reporting, where reporters find sources and stories rather than waiting in briefing rooms for press officers to give them handouts.  Hersh recommends firing 90 percent of newspaper editors and promoting new editors who can’t be controlled, closing network news bureaus, and starting over.

It’s interesting to hear a journalistic icon like Seymour Hersh speak out about the state of American reporting.  Newspapers are worried about why their circulation is falling, falling, falling.  Maybe if they stopped “carrying water” for politicians and started really reporting on what is actually happening, readers would return.