Let Them Eat Watermelon! Congress and the Many Crises

Oil crisis! Food crisis! Mortgage crisis! Healthcare crisis! Watch Nightly News these days and it's Nothing But Crisis. And what are our elected officials in Washington doing about it? A whole lot of nothing. A lot of talk, precious few results. Today, the American people are struggling with tough decisions, like whether to spend their shrinking earnings on the mortgage or health insurance or food. Meanwhile Congress is hunkered down under a nice dry roof, on full stomachs, with full medical and dental, and apparently unable to make tough decisions. Instead it's going for the easy options, the low-hanging legislative fruit as it were, like declaring Watermelon Month.

That's right, all these crises to deal with and their message seems to be: Let them eat watermelon! For many Americans aged 50 to 65 the cost of health insurance now exceeds the median monthly mortgage payment and its time to promote fruit? I mean, no offense to farmers who grow them, or the lovely Watermelon Queen, but is the following really the kind of stuff we want to pay our politicians for?
"Whereas watermelon has been a nutritious summer favorite from generation to generation; Whereas it is important to educate citizens of the United States regarding the health benefits of watermelon and other fruits and vegetables; and Whereas July would be an appropriate month to establish as National Watermelon Month: Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that there should be established a National Watermelon Month to recognize the health benefits of watermelon and the importance of watermelon to the agriculture industry of the United States."

At least we know at whom we should be spitting the seeds come Summer recess (and it won't be the Watermelon Queen).

The Price of Voting Rights

The fact that you need money to vote has always been democracy's dirty little secret, from the early experiments in England to the great experiment in these United States.

Over the centuries people with few means have had to pry concessions from those with many; the vote was extended from male landowners of a certain class, with a certain size of landholding, to all landowners, to all males regardless of wealth, to all men and women of a certain race, and so on.

Until yesterday's Supreme Court decision on Indiana's photo ID requirement, the direction was pretty much all one way, to encompass more and more members of society. Now it seems the tide is turning. Now you must be able to get your hands on enough money to obtain a photo ID or you can't vote.

The state of Indiana is providing free photo ID cards you say? But they are not making house calls. Read the Secretary of State's web site and you will see it is no easy matter to get one of these cards if you have no car and no phone (let alone access to the web site). There are people in every state for whom getting to the Bureau of Motor Vehicle is a major challenge. After all, why have neighborhood polling places if a precondition of voting is the ability to get out of the neighborhood? Any politician or Supreme Court judge who thinks getting a photo ID is no burden is out of touch.

Wachovia Gets Fined: Yikes or no yikes?

News of a big fine levied against Wachovia may, or may not, satisfy those who lost money thanks to the bank turning a blind eye to activity other banks said was clearly fraudulent (as blogged here a while back).

The word 'Yikes' is in play here because of its use in a Wachovia email that came to light. Here's how the NYT reported it:

“YIKES!!!!” wrote one Wachovia executive in 2005, warning colleagues that an account used by telemarketers had drawn 4,500 complaints. “DOUBLE YIKES!!!!” But Wachovia continued processing fraudulent transactions for that account and others."

Why? Because the fraudsters paid, presumably with money stolen from victims, huge fees to Wachovia so that the money would keep flowing. And you thought the sub-prime mortgage market was the only thing your bank's cupidity was screwing up.

Navy Needs Information Security Staff: But HR web site is down

If the world economy is headed downhill as fast as some pundits claim, a job with the US federal government might be a safer option than trusting one's future to free enterprise. Or so I was musing this morning when I decided to peruse usajobs.gov.

I found numerous Department of the Navy openings for something labeled "Information Technology Specialist (Security)." These openings were spread across the country so there was bound to be one nearby. And the listing suggest some urgency: "This notice is issued under the direct-hire authority to recruit new talent to occupations for which Department of the Navy has a severe shortage of candidates or a critical hiring need. As such, this notice is targeted to qualified United States citizens who are not current permanent Federal employees."

Bingo! I'm a citizen. There's a critical hiring need OR severe shortage of candidates, let's check it out. I was told to visit https://chart.donhr.navy.mil/. I boldly clicked and, well, nothing. Turns out that server has been off the grid for the past three hours and counting.

Okay, it's a Saturday and these are government jobs. Maybe Information Technology Specialists don't work weekends. I can dig that. So I decided to do a little more digging. What could I expect to earn in one of these jobs? Oh let's say, roughly, something between about $28,862 and oh, how about in the region of around $152,670 per year. That's about as useful as a prospective employer answering "Money" when a job applicant asks "What does the job pay?"

In the private sector a good IT security specialist can earn $150K. But it is hard to imagine a n IT security job starting at $29K (that's less than $14 an hour). So the government has an employment web site that urgently seeks information security specialists who could start at a pay level most people with the necessary skills would rate as "not worth it," rising to an upper pay level that is a whopping 5X the low end, applications for which cannot be accepted right now because the server is down.

People used to ask themselves "Who's running this country?" The question now seems to be "Is anyone running this country?"