Tuesday, July 3, 2012
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Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's .....
If you're old enough to complete that sentence, pay heed. Those of you of the younger set better listen up, too.
The Supreme Court, in a decision even more controversial than the law itself, ruled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare, is constitutional.
Liberals were elated, claiming victory for the incumbent administration in a pivotal election year.
Conservatives cried treason, as Chief Justice Roberts switched sides at the last moment to cast the deciding vote. Yet the wording used in his opinion may prove to bolster the cause of those opposed to this legislation.
The decision itself was confusing. But would you expect anything less from 2,200+ page of legislation that lawmakers were urged to "pass before you can know what's in it?"
At issue at the Supreme Court level was whether this Act was constitutional under the commerce clause. What is the commerce clause?
Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution states that the United States Congress shall have power "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." In dispute is exactly what range of powers Congress has to this end. When does "regulate" become "mandate?" Is it merely their right to prevent detrimental practices or can they force individuals to do something they choose to avoid?
Roberts ruled: (italics included)
"Construing the Commerce Clause to permit Congress to regulate individuals precisely because they are doing nothing would open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority. Congress already possesses expansive power to regulate what people do. Upholding the Affordable Care Act under the Commerce Clause would give Congress the same license to regulate what people do not do. The Framers knew the difference between doing something and doing nothing. They gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not to compel it. Ignoring that distinction would undermine the principle that the Federal Government is a government of limited and enumerated powers. The individual mandate thus cannot be sustained under Congress's power to 'regulate Commerce.'"
In other words, his controversial decision actually limited the power of Congress to compel citizens to do something. Expect this to be the centerpiece of judicial rulings far into the future. But...
Roberts swing vote upheld this Act as being constitutional since Congress has taxing authority. And when our elected officials took the time to unravel all 2,200+ pages, after the Act was hastily passed, it became clear that this mandate was truly a tax.
In fact, 21 new taxes are embedded in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. There's something here for everyone, no matter which tax bracket you may fall. Some of the highlights include:
This is what riles both Democrats and Republicans alike. The cost is high, particularly with such a fragile economy. There is no such thing as a free lunch, nor free healthcare.
We won't go into the Act's provisions here. Both the benefits and detriments have been widely-publicized. But we will discuss alternatives. Tune in next week.
2 Bedrooms, 2 Bath, 1 Ghost
The townhouse was getting crowded. So we found the perfect fixer-upper for our young, growing family.
The 200+ year-old Victorian in Glassboro was in the midst of being remodeled when a job relocation forced the family to move out of the area. What luck! My husband's expertise was home remodeling. The previous owners had already bought most of the materials. All we needed to do was figure out the jigsaw puzzle. They left no plans to follow.
It was a grueling 30-days, working every night on our project, heading there directly from our day jobs. But we had a deadline to meet. As the house was unoccupied, we needed a Certificate of Occupancy from the Borough before we could move in. And we had already sold the townhouse.
Inspection day arrived. We were ready. Structurally, at least. Everything was in place to be granted the coveted Certificate.
What we weren't ready for was the inspector's words to us. "Guess you know the history of this house?" he asked.
We intended to research its history. A house of this age was sure to hold some interesting stories. After we were moved in. Our deadline didn't allow time for such extravagance.
"Don't have to look too far. Go to the library and ask for a book called Ghosts in the Valley. There's a whole chapter on this house." he continued to tell us.
Stunned at first, I waited for him to leave before I broke down in tears. All the strange sounds and unexplained events suddenly made sense. I knew there was truth to his words. Our dream house held many nightmares.
There are a lot of good reasons to learn the history of a house. Besides ghosts.
Stories of those who lived there throughout the years add an aura to the environment. You may want to see a previous design to restore the home historically. Or you may use its history as a selling point in a tight market. George Washington spent a lot of time in the area.
So how do you go about learning the history of your house?
Start at the local municipal government office. You'll find information such as construction dates, square footage, building materials and perhaps even the architect's name.
Find out if your street name was changed over time. You won't get thrown off track if records suddenly cease at a point after its construction date.
Public libraries and historical societies may hold documents of property ownership, including tax records. Research census records, old newspapers and historic photographs.
Before the Internet, people used phone books to find someone's name, address and phone number. Before phone books there were city directories. Go back as far as you can find available resources.
The county records' office may allow you to perform a chain of title search that will allow you to track the property back to when it was first built.
Talk to the neighbors, particularly those that have lived in the area for a while. But stories and legends tend to blur over time. So use their tales as a starting point and not as fact.
The holy grail of home research is original blueprints and photographs. These may not have survived over time. But you may uncover some really neat photos in the process of searching.
Whatever history you uncover is certain to add to your home's character. Even if it doesn't include ghosts.
This year Independence Day falls smack dab in the middle of the week, rendering much of Wall Street a ghost town as would-be traders head to the beach. And it is not just the traders, as Americans everywhere head for vacation - further enticed by the triple digit temperatures much of the country has been experiencing. Commuters know this effect well, as traffic is noticeably light this week. There just isn't much business going on in the U.S. this week...
Yet we live in a technologically enhanced world, whereby work can be conducted from virtually any location, and in many cases more efficiently - away from the office "noise." It must be with satisfaction that the pharmaceutical executive conducts his late afternoon conference call with division heads from the ferry to Martha's Vineyard - allowing him to arrive soon enough to catch dinner with the family at their favorite eatery in Edgartown.
Or the stock trader who studies the P/E ratios of two comparable companies while using the WiFi aboard a US Airways A320 - off to see Mom for the long holiday weekend in the Midwest.
Worker productivity is becoming a state of mind more than a state of location. Those that adapt to this new trend can certainly lead more productive lives, both professionally and personally. Those that resist, will likely be displaced.
So how do we best leverage all this technology for greater productivity? Four habits to adopt:
Plan the commute: Too little planning occurs in a real time world. Think about the best channel to use for the upcoming task. If you want to sneak out of the office early, grab that long boring regulatory white paper you need to read - and read it on the train ride home. Set aside tasks suited for specific channels. For example, you may cleanup your voicemail each day on the drive home (hands free of course). Or perhaps you make calls to the west coast division during the evening commute, taking advantage of the time difference. The bottom line: Don't waste commute time. There are tasks that can be accomplished safely during this historically and notoriously unproductive period.
Learn the channels: By now you should be familiar with the most common communication channels; phone, email, internet access, voicemail and text. Adopt them all. Adapt to them all. And take the time to learn how to use them. You should be able to access all the channels from a modern day smartphone. If you don't know how to use a certain channel, take the time to learn. I have a colleague who instantly returns a phone call every time he receives a text. When I asked him why, he stated didn't know how to respond to a text. This went on for years - the epitome of intellectual laziness.
Select the channel carefully: It may be possible to avoid a ten minute phone call with a ten second text. Downloading your email to your laptop and reading it during your long flight is a productive use of time during a time period whereby noise levels and the chronic lack of connectivity severely limit the tasks that can be accomplished. There are times when a face-to-face meeting is crucial. But these instances are the exception, not the rule. Try to avoid unnecessary trips for communications that can be conducted electronically. As Skype, Tango and other video technologies further advance, it will be interesting to see how such channel utilization is optimized.
Be innovative: I have a friend who got a six month work assignment that involved a two hour commute - each way. Rather than treat it as drudgery, he learned Spanish via audio tapes. And fairly fluently. This is just an example of how to best utilize your time. So the next time your flight is delayed for three hours, don't moan and groan. Grasp the opportunity to clean up the contact lists on your computer and smartphone. Or better yet, "sync them to the cloud" so they all stay in sync automatically...
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