Comp time, overtime and the MCSWMD

I really wish the Herald-Times would actually research and think about what happens in local government before writing an editorial about it. Not only would that be more informative to the H-T readership but it would also be more fair to local government officials. Such is the case with the editorial board’s uninformed statement about compensatory time off in the September 22 editorial.

In addition to accrued Paid Time Off that was paid when he left the agency, the executive director of the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District had accumulated 54.75 hours of comp time for hours worked above 40 hours in a week. The Herald-Times wrote “So many problems accompany ‘comp time’ that government should stay as far away from it as possible.”

That is a simplistic overreaction. If managed properly, compensatory time (even at 1.5 hours per hour worked) is less expensive than overtime because it requires no extra money from the employer – just additional time off for the employee. In fact, that has been one of the concerns about comp time, because of worries that employees will not get the added money owed them for extra work and will be forced to take time off instead. The problem comes when someone is allowed to accumulate a lot of comp time, because that creates a liability for the MCSWMD – and the taxpayers.

For the MCSWMD, comp time was clearly a better deal than overtime in this case. (For the employer, if not the employee.) Had the former executive director been paid overtime instead of hour-for-hour comp time, he would have been paid 82.13 hours instead of 54.75 hours. For those who are mathematically challenged, 82.13 is bigger than 54.75 and will cost more.

The problem for MCSWMD is not that comp time was allowed. In fact, the 54 hours of comp time was a only 19% of the 290 hours of paid time off. While some PTO accrual is wise (especially in the event of something like an unexpected serious illness) the question should be how much PTO and comp time should be allowed to be accrued. If the payout of over $9,000 for accrued hours is a problem, then the problem is the implementation of the policy, not the policy itself. No policy is going to be perfect if it is not implemented well.

Reminder

Let’s not forget that Donald Trump used government as a Mafia enforcer to muscle people of of their property. He is a thief and a thug. We don’t need someone like him in the White House. We might as well elect Barack Obama to a third term. I will believe Trump is sincere when he gives back everything he stole – with interest.

I will never vote for Donald Trump.

Peter Shumlin’s editorial is typical hysteria

Note: I submitted this to the New York Times last week.

Gov. Peter Shumlin’s editorial is typical of the hysteria that has fueled the War on Drugs for two generations – the same hysteria that leads to aggressive paramilitary police tactics such as dropping a flash bang grenade into an 18 month old baby’s crib and maiming him for life.

First, Gov. Shumlin claims are false, and therefore should have not been printed by the New York Times. Pediatricians already have the authority to prescribe OxyContin to children in severe pain. The FDA decision did not “legalize” the practice. What the FDA actually did was provide guidelines for the use of the drug. Whether Gov. Shumlin was uninformed or dishonest, he has proven himself to be unfit for office by spreading falsehoods.

Furthermore, describing opioid painkillers as “poison” is unnecessary hyperbole that is unworthy of the nation’s newspaper of record, much less one of the nation’s 50 governors. Opioid painkillers are not poison. Someone can poison himself by abusing them, but the drug itself can be invaluable to people suffering severe pain.

I know if (God forbid) my young sons were in severe pain, I would want all options on the table, while carefully considering the benefits and risks of those options. As a father, I should have that choice.

Instead of listening to the fearmongering of bloviating politicians like Gov. Shumlin, Americans should trust the pediatricians who are treating children that may need powerful pain relief. Let the doctors practice medicine, and the meddling politicians need to mind their own business.

That digital clock is not a black-or-white issue

Social media has lit up with discussion of a 14 year old Arab teenager arrested after bringing a homemade digital clock to school to show off his skills to his teachers. He was arrested and accused of making a bomb threat. So this is obviously racism and persecution of Arabs, right? If this young man had blond hair and blue eyes and his name was John Smith, nothing would have happened to him. But because he is an Arab named Ahmed Mohamed (and his family is Muslim!) he is the target of racist, bigoted cops and school officials.

Not so fast. This story is a lot more nuanced than that.

First of all, go do a Google image search take a look at the clock online. It does look like a number of suitcase bombs we have all seen in movies and video games. It was not a bomb, nor was it presented as such. But in the post-Columbine era, schools do need to take reasonable precautions when a teenage boy brings something like that to school. Just to be on the safe side, the school did need to intervene and raise questions.

There was absolutely non legitimate justification for the police to arrest Mohamed, though. The digital clock may have reminded school officials of a suitcase bomb, but it was not a bomb and was never presented as a bomb. It was a homemade digital clock. The intelligent thing to do would be to confiscate it, give it to the boy’s parents at the end of the school day, and tell Mohamed not to bring it back to school. Arresting him was an absurd overreaction that should result in strict scrutiny of the police officers and possible disciplinary action.

Mohamed did nothing wrong, but what he did was unwise. That said, how many of us have NOT done things that were unwise when we were 14 years old?

A bigger culprit here is not racism or bigotry, but absurd “zero tolerance” policies that are better described as “zero intelligence” policies. Far too many young people (as young as elementary school students) have been caught by these “zero intelligence” policies that ban discernment in favor of a strict enforcement of rules even when it does not make sense. Hopefully Mohamed’s case will be the spark we need to eliminate this foolishness once and for all.

Religious tests

Quick lesson on the Constitution:

“No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

Source: Archives.gov.

This is a restriction on government, not a restriction on voters or a restriction on what people are allowed to say.

The government may not implement a religious test as a matter of law, but voters can vote for or against a candidate for office for whatever reason they want.

Therefore, the argument that anyone is acting an an unconstitutional manner by saying he would not support a Muslim for President is completely wrong.

When does religion trump the law?

The Kim Davis case has been made out to be very simplistic by both sides of the same-sex marriage debate, but it is actually much more complicated and deserves to be thought about much more carefully than a #DoYourJob hashtag in a 140 character Twitter post.

Last week, a letter to the editor attacked a Democratic county clerk in Kentucky for refusing to approve marriage licenses for same sex couples.The author closed his letter with the statement “Religion is important. But it does not trump the law.” In my comment, I asked: Does that mean you would condemn Corrie Ten Boom?

Predictably, Leftists became outraged by my question. But the Leftists who are outraged miss the entire point. What I was doing was testing the principle that “religion does not trump the law.” So if that is the principle, does the author believe Corrie Ten Boom was wrong to hide Jews from the Nazis? Remember, I am not the one who laid out that principle. The LTTE author did. I am testing to see if he really believes it.

Here’s the problem with the argument the author makes: It is way too simplistic. Religion does not trump the law, and religion does trump the law. That is the point of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed by Bill Clinton in the 1990’s. To require someone to violate their religious convictions, the government has to show a compelling state interest that cannot be accomplished by other means. This does not mean that the government may never pass or enforce a law that violates religious principles, only that it faces strict scrutiny when doing so.

In some cases, people have been prosecuted and executed for “obeying the law,” such as when soldiers commit war crimes. Saying they were “just following lawful orders” does not mean they did not commit a crime.

No, I am not saying Kim Davis is the moral equivalent of Corrie Ten Boom. And yes, I admit that I used an extreme example. But I used an extreme example to make a point: That there is a line where someone can use his religion to justify disobeying the law. Once we establish that there is a line, we then begin the hard work of determining where to draw that line – sometimes on a case-by-case basis. That is not the easy way out, so it is understandable why people would prefer Twitter hashtags to difficult philosophical questions.

When religion can be a legitimate reason to disobey the law (legally or philosophically) and when it cannot be used as a reason to disobey the law requires a much more complex and sophisticated thought process than simply making the state into a deity in and of itself. Because when you say “obey the law” above and beyond anything else, then you place the civil magistrate above God, and make the government into a god.

Republicans must not nominate Donald Trump!

Note: I sent this letter to the Indianapolis Star last week.

When Donald Trump was asked about partial-birth abortion in 1999, the very first words that came out of his mouth were “I am very pro-choice.” It has been a while since partial-birth abortion has been discussed nationally, so many may not know what the procedure involves. Here is a refresher: The baby (in the second or third trimester of pregnancy” is delivered feet-first until only the head remains in the birth canal. The abortionist stabs the baby in the head, sucks out the brain and crushes the skull.

Trump has recently claimed to have converted to a pro-life viewpoint, just in time to run for President as a Republican. Does anyone actually believe that his “conversion” is genuine?

Trump supported the abominable Kelo vs. City of New London decision in 2005, in which the Supreme Court literally rewrote the Constitution’s protections of our private property rights. Thanks to SCOTUS (supported by Trump) the government can now forcibly confiscate your home and give it to a private developer. Trump, of course, has used government to take people’s property so he can build on the ground where his victims’ homes used to be. No wonder he opposes private property rights.

Trump is not a conservative. And given the thousands upon thousands of dollars he has donated to Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, Trump cannot make a credible claim to being a Republican either. Republicans need to wake up. Do not nominate this man to lead our party in 2016.

West Third speed bumps representative of poor planning

The streets of Bloomington are city property, maintained by taxpayers. That means those streets belong to all of us, not just a favored few. It is too bad that five of nine city council members did not agree with that when they voted to install additional “traffic calming” devices on West Third Street – a street already covered by bump-outs that severely restrict traffic flow on a public street. The bump-outs would be more accurately called traffic impeding devices. I took pictures of the “traffic calming” devices in 2012 and posted them online. I re-posted them on Facebook on September 13.

It is understandable why people who live in the neighborhood would want the bump-outs installed, and why they would want to re-direct traffic to other streets. They have a First Amendment right to petition government for redress of grievances, and the city council should take them seriously. But the councilors are to look out for the interests of the entire city, not the narrow interests of one politically favored neighborhood.

The West Third traffic impeding devices are a microcosm of a backwards attitude in city government when it comes to public infrastructure and moving traffic. The goal of street design should be to move traffic in an efficient and safe manner. The goal should not be to funnel traffic onto other streets to give a political favor to a specific group of people. The traffic impeding devices on South Lincoln Street are another example of this backwards mentality.

This was a bad decision by the city council and should be reversed. If you have a subscription to Herald-Times Online, you can see more on this issue here and here and here and here and here and here.

Oxycontin for children?

One of the tragic things about the War on Drugs is how drug warriors are increasingly intimidating doctors who are trying to relieve their patients as they suffer in agonizing pain. (See here and here and here for more.) It should be pointed out, of course, that the doctors treating severe pain know a lot more about medicine, the specific needs of their patients and the real risks of opioid painkillers than the politicians do.

We should be skeptical of grandstanding politicians like Joe Manchin (a Democratic U.S. Senator from West Virginia) as he loudly denounces the Food and Drug Administration for providing guidelines for OxyContin prescriptions that doctors all over the country already have the legal authority to provide to pediatric patients

Opioid painkiller abuse is a serious problem. But whatever problems one may have with the manufacturer of OxyContin or other opioids, the decision for a prescription is ultimately made by the doctor caring for the child and that child’s family – not the pharmaceutical company. As long as the doctor is competent and ethical, we should leave the choice of medical care up to him without being micromanaged by the federal government or bullied by law enforcement. If one of my sons was suffering from horrible pain, I would want every option on the table to provide relief while responsibly managing the risks the painkillers carry.

Bloviating politicians aside, this was a medically sound and compassionate decision by the FDA. While Congress is wise to conduct oversight, the self-aggrandizing pronouncements of career politicians like Joe Manchin do little to address real drug abuse while potentially doing serious harm to children suffering from pain. I trust the doctors all across this land as to what medicine is appropriate far more than I trust the U.S. Senate.