Saturday, October 30, 2010

Lady Gaga Course Offered at USC

We have been hearing about tight budgets, higher tuition, and lower state funding for our universities.  Fortunately such limitations have not prevented the offering of such non-essential courses as Lady Gaga and the Sociology of the Fame  to be taught by sociology professor Mathieu Deflem who has traveled the world to see 29 of the pop star's concerts.  You can read more details in The State here.

I wonder if this is the only fluff in the curriculum.

Democrat Congressman Retires, Sees the Light

I have suggested in previous postings that "we the people" have plenty of money to help those who really need it if our representatives in Washington didn't insist on helping everybody, whether they need it or not, with monthly Social Security checks, universal Medicare, and, now, health insurance of some kind for everybody.  One reader suggested that surely I was going to "walk the talk" and turn down any such assistance from the government.  Well, no, I'm going to play by the rules established as well as I can and as I always have and would be foolish to turn down benefits for which I have been taxed over the past 45 years.  Doing so would be of no help to our federal fiscal mess since any such failure on the part of a scattered handful of individual citizens to claim promised benefits would simply give government more to spend elsewhere.

In today's WSJ there is an article by columnist John Fund summarizing his interview with retiring Washington State Democrat congressman Brian Baird.  Baird has served six terms and is retiring and not taking the revolving door into lobbying so feels free to speak his mind.  Even though he faithfully and consistently voted with Nancy Pelosi, it turns out he actually agrees with me!  Here is a quote published in the article from his new book, Character, Politics, and Responsibility 
"I would eliminate the concept of entitlements and move to needs-based social insurance.  The key is both to promote personal responsibility while lowering expenditures by not promising or giving money or other benefits to those who don't need it."  
So, where was all that wisdom during his twelve years in congress?  The article didn't say specifically whether he voted to send ALL Social Security recipients $250 to make up for the lack of a cost of living boost in their checks as a result of the cost of living not going up.  Nor did it say whether he voted to send every Medicare recipient in the so-called drug "donut hole" $250 whether they needed it or not.  But I bet he did.

Hopefully all the re-elected Democrats will order and read Congressman Baird's book over the holidays, although it is way too late to shift the focus back from entitlement to personal responsibility without a lot of pain and suffering.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Brooks' Recovery Plan for the President

I love David Brooks’ column in the New York Times today.  He lays out a plan for President Obama which includes changing his personal philosophy, changing his approach to government, changing the way he deals with opposition, and developing a new set of skills.  Well, if he does all that, maybe I can support him in 2012.

Read the Brooks column here and see what you think.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Repairing Homes/Restoring Hope"

The title above is the brief description on the Home Works of America website of what the organization does. I’d like to add a third, “Creating Opportunities for Service.” It is difficult to put a value on the opportunity, in these days of focus on helping primarily by fundraising with runs, walks, silent auctions, galas, bake sales, etc., to use one’s time, hands, tools, and meager skills to directly help someone, face to face, who is much less fortunate and whose path the helper would otherwise be extremely unlikely to cross. That opportunity is especially valuable for teens who can learn how fortunate they are, how some others live, how to practice such charity on a routine basis, and perhaps even some skills. The fact that such activities bring hope to elderly homeowners burdened with deteriorating homes and meager resources is a close second in value. As far as the actual home repairs go, while certainly appreciated by the home owners, I sometimes have the uncharitable thought that it is the potential heirs of the homeowners who benefit most.

October 23, 2010, was a Columbia, SC, “October Blitz” day with a few hundred volunteers involved in repairs of sixteen homes, adding to the approximately 1,600 homes repaired since the 1996 founding of the organization. It was my privilege to be involved in one of those, and I want to make a nomination for the simplest repair made during the day that created an opportunity for volunteers, brought hope to a homeowner, and will remain in place for a long time as a reminder to the homeowner of folks who care.

When we previewed Mrs. B’s home, it seemed obvious that, in addition to soffit and fascia repairs and a paint job on her home, her yard needed some major cleanup. There was a dirty and rickety old homemade wooden table sitting by a big tree in the back yard, and we volunteered to dismantle it and put it in the trash pile. She said, “Oh, no. Just leave that alone. I set my laundry basket on it when I am hanging out my laundry.”


I said, “OK, but we will try to fix it up a bit and maybe put a coat of paint on it.” Since we were repairing and painting trim around her little brick home she has lived in since 1965, and since at least three other homes were getting new roofs that day, the repair and painting of this rickety table was not a big deal in the overall picture. But, we knew we were going to have about 40 volunteers there including 25 students from the University of South Carolina, and we knew it was going to be a challenge to keep everybody meaningfully occupied. So we were in search of definable and meaningful tasks.

When the students showed up, three or four volunteered to work on the table. We gave them a power screwdriver, some wood screws, a piece of plywood for a new top, some primer, a can of brown exterior latex semi gloss, some brushes, and a few words of general instructions about how to strengthen the table, put a new top on it, and give it a paint job that would stand up to the elements. They enthusiastically pitched in and, a few hours later, this is what the table looked like.


I bet those students learned some skills, will remember that project for a long time, and will be ready to pitch in next time such an opportunity comes along. And I bet that every time Mrs. B. sets her laundry basket on that table she will remember the students with thanksgiving. And it was such a simple thing.

By the way, another group of students renewed her lawn furniture which also had been identified early on as candidates for the scrap pile.  This is what the furniture looked like when they got through scraping and brushing and scrubbing and painting.


So, if you have been thinking you don't have the skills for Home Works activities, think again.  Lots of folks need your help.

"Repairing Homes/Restoring Hope/Creating Opportunities for Service"

Friday, October 22, 2010

On the Other Hand… “News” Reporting

A front page headline in today’s (10/22) WSJ, print version, declares, “Campaign’s Big Spender: Public-Employees’ Union Now Leads All Groups in Independent Election Outlays.” At the other end of the political spectrum, a 10/22 NYT on-line version “Top Story” declares, “Top Companies Aid Chamber of Commerce in Policy Fights.” Of course these “policy fights” have to do primarily with campaign funding also.

Both statements are true so I guess, for the editors, it’s just a question of what you want to emphasize and who your target readers are. Or maybe it’s a question of whether you want to tell the whole truth or not.

In the NYT story on The Chamber of Commerce, there are several statements that imply sinister backroom activities aimed at influencing what goes on in Washington. Go figure! And, here’s a flash: They reveal that the biggest and most profitable companies donate most of the money! The only occurrence of the word, “union” is about a “union-backed group” filing a complaint with the IRS about the Chamber of Commerce.

The WSJ article, on the other hand, does provide some context by including a graphic presentation of major campaign spenders. According to them, a union, The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is the single biggest spender at $87.5M. The US Chamber of Commerce is in second place at $75M. Third place goes to related conservative organizations American Crossroads and Crossroads GOP ($65M). Fourth and fifth places go to the Service Employees International Union ($44M) and the National Education Association ($40M) respectively. It’s pretty amazing that a group of underpaid teachers kick in more than half what all those wealthy corporations are able to come up with.

I would have to give the WSJ the “fair and balanced” award on this one. The NYT could at least have pointed out that Chamber of Commerce spending is greatly exceeded by union spending.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Inheritances and What to Do With Them

There is an entertaining article by Nora Ephron in the latest New Yorker Magazine about the mental gymnastics she went through when it was rumored that she was to share in a possibly large inheritance from an estranged uncle. The rumored total grew and shrank in her imagination and was mentally spent and saved as the uncle became ill and died and the will was probated, all in anticipation of what turned out to be a very good but somewhat surprising result. I recommend the article.

It made me think of President Obama’s frequent use of the inheritance metaphor for the situation he has found himself in. Just Google “Obama inherited” and you get lots of hits that are references to the president saying something like, “I inherited this ________ from the previous administration.”

Here’s a chart that casts a little light on the current federal spending and deficit issue, one of the inheritances. It is federal government quarterly receipts and expenditures (seasonally adjusted and annualized) and deficits for fiscal years 2000 through the first two quarters of 2010. Since the fiscal year begins on October 1, President Bush actually took office at the end of the first quarter of FY2001 and left office at the end of the first quarter of FY2009.

Of course receipts are down, not because of the "Bush tax cuts," but because incomes and profits and capital gains are down and capital losses are up and tax bills have therefore been reduced. And spending is up because of stimulus and tarp piled on top of lack of restraint in other government spending. It seems obvious that if revenues are down because incomes are down, demanding more of those reduced incomes by increasing tax rates would be a pretty good example of the wrong thing to do.

The chart also shows that, in spite of the infamous "Bush tax cuts," federal revenues were growing faster than expenses during his administration from mid 2003, the end of the dot com bust (which he inherited, I guess, but never mentioned as far as I remember), until mid 2007, the start of the real estate bust. What is not clear is how much the real estate bubble had to do with that narrowing of the deficit, but I would guess that sort of an economic boom, real or not, would explain most of it. One thing we are pretty sure of is that the Republicans were not the ones who championed the no-money-down sub-prime mortgages that made it possible for everybody to own a dumpy little house, whether they had the resources to make the payments and maintain the property or not, while creating a giant house of cards for all of us collectively (good progressive word).

Of course we will never know what course a different administration, probably led by Hillary Clinton, might have taken beginning with the second quarter of 2009, but we can be pretty sure that no one else would have out-spent the current group and that the choices made since January 2009 cannot be blamed on any inheritances from previous administrations.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pushy Atheists and Weak Christians

Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

       - G. K. Chesterton

What made me think of that Chesterton quote was an article, Atheists Debate How Pushy to Be, in the October 16 New York Times. The article reported on an early October Los Angeles Council for Secular Humanism conference of folks opposed to religion. Well-known heroes of the group are Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Bill Maher. During the conference, such deep questions as, “How publicly scornful of religion should we be?” were dealt with. There was also discussion on “alternative ethical systems” that do not depend on any deity. There was tension and discord. Humanists interested in seeking common ground with religious people were accused of being “accomodationists” while the most militant atheists were tagged “confrontationalists.” It almost sounds like a meeting of a group of “religious” folks! (I think that is actually what they are.)

Of course skeptics get much of their energy and inspiration from religious folks such as Rev. Ronald Allen who, in an attack on homosexuality, offered us this challenge in a Letter to the Editor of The State Newspaper yesterday: “Think about it: If any word in the Bible is wrong, then every word in the Bible would be suspect, and the Bible would not be the word of God. But God cannot be wrong, and his word cannot be wrong, whether we like what it teaches or not.” I just can’t help wondering if persons who take such simplistic views of the Bible are reading it carefully and paying close attention to the words. I wonder if they are reading it looking for confirmation of what they already believe and completely missing or ignoring anything that challenges them because there are some deep, mysterious, apparently conflicting, and difficult-to-understand words in the Bible.  And such statements as Rev. Allen's make great fodder for the critics and encourage them to be even more pushy.

But back to the work of the LA anti-religion conference. Of course it is quite easy to have a system of ethics without any reference to God or religion. Any group of people can get together and decide what rules they will live by and what the consequences of breaking the rules will be. But, they, like many Christians, would be missing entirely the point that Christianity is not about rules and ethics. Christianity is about dying to oneself and giving up everything to be one with Jesus in loving service to others. If you missed that, go back and read the New Testament again and then join me in confession and penance. If all Christians really lived as Jesus calls us to live, it would take all the wind out of the sails of the atheists, humanists, and skeptics.  It would be a permanent fix for many of the world's problems. Shame on us for not doing just that.

I know this is a bit different from my normal political themes, but just blame it on The New York Times from whence the idea came.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I Like Dick Cheney; We Have Some Things in Common

I like Dick Cheney and hope he can recover from his current health problems and continue as a patriotic public servant, loving father and husband, and generous benefactor. I am struck by some interesting parallels in our youths. He is about 20 months older than I but may have been a little less focused because he dropped out of Yale for a year as I was doggedly proceeding toward my degree at Vanderbilt in the standard four years.

We both got married in September, 1964, and have recently celebrated our 46th wedding anniversaries. The Cheney's first daughter and our first son were both born in 1966, and we both just missed being drafted in the early days of the Vietnam War due to student deferments, automatic deferral of married men, and then with 3-A classifications which were available for men with dependent children or dependent parents. I didn’t go to college or get married or have a son in order to avoid the draft, and I doubt that Dick Cheney did either, though he has been accused of that. I think we both had much better reasons for what we did.

In those days, reaching age 26 put an end to eligibility for the draft. He got there in 1967 and I in 1968. By that time, the war was a big problem and had doomed the presidency of Lyndon Johnson who had insisted that the country could afford both “guns and butter” and who chose not to run for re-election in 1968. A lottery was instituted for the draft in 1969 and my brother born in 1950 along with a few million others of similar ages faced a much more serious problem and much greater likelihood of being drafted than Dick Cheney and I had. The draft ended in 1973, and the United States has operated with a volunteer force since then.

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia: Only about 10% of all persons now living in the United States, men over 55 who would have reached age 18 before the draft ended, have ever faced the possibility of military draft. For those 300M or so who have never and hopefully will never see a Selective Service System Notice of Classification, here is what that scary little piece of paper looked like, front and back.


I’ve never regretted missing military service and think I would have made a terrible soldier in battle. But I would have done it if called. Dick Cheney would have done it if called also, and I bet he would have made a much better soldier than I. (I could segue here to making fun of his hunting accident, but I’m not going to. Lots of comedians and pundits and political enemies made hay with this near tragic accident, but I bet Dick Cheney lost a lot of sleep over it.) I recall a discussion with two good friends slightly older than I who had served in the military trying to tell me how great it was and what I had missed. I asked, tongue in cheek, what war they had fought in and of course they confessed that they hadn’t gone to war. I agree that the military can provide excellent discipline, mental, physical, skill, and job training, but as General Sherman said, “War is Hell.”

But back to Dick Cheney. He has a solid record of faithful and patriotic public service for most of his working years in Congress and under four presidents. He has loved and supported his family. He and his wife have apparently have been very generous with their incomes. In 2005 the Cheney’s had income of several million dollars due to exercise of stock options he had accumulated over time, but 78% of the money went to charity and an additional 6% to income tax. There’s no evidence that piling up personal wealth is a priority for the Cheney’s. I hope he stays healthy and happy for many years and tells us his own story in his own words. Publication of his autobiography was announced in June of 2009 and targeted for release in the spring of 2011.

Here are some links to supporting information for the above.

Book Announcement

Mrs. Cheney Interviews Mr. Cheney

2005 Tax Returns

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gold Price Update

Well at least we know now why the price of gold has been going up so much the past few months.  Anytime a bunch of people with lots of money start buying something at the same time, the price is bound to rise.  If only they would just let us know ahead of time what they plan to do!  Story here.

Mourning Manufacturing in America

President Ronald Reagan, almost always optimistic and upbeat, had a political ad called, Morning in America. Now there is a new ad by a group of “friends and fans of Reagan” called “Mourning in America.” Kathleen Parker had a recent column about the ad. 

One valid reason for mourning, in my opinion, is the decline of our manufacturing capability and the jobs and education and discipline it has traditionally offered to “we the people.” I could write a lot about the educations new high school and college graduates, all still “wet behind the ears,” got after coming to work for my former employer, Eastman Chemical Company, as they learned their jobs and participated in the broad array of company training available in everything from maintenance to operations to chemistry and statistics and management. And they were all transferrable skills that improved the job opportunities of the employees anywhere.  I just don't believe that training to work in a "call center" or to handle medical insurance claims has as much value.

Of course there is some exaggeration and careful data selection going on by those who discuss the manufacturing issue.  A friend sent a link to an article which paints a very dark but not completely accurate picture of the deindustrialization of America. I'm pretty concerned about the trends, but I was not able to find the word "productivity" anywhere in this article although productivity improvements account for a significant part of the reduction in manufacturing jobs. I blogged earlier on the decline in manufacturing employment and presented quite a bit of data on the productivity issue. However, I didn’t present any data on manufacturing as a percent of GDP and would like to correct that omission here.

Plotting manufacturing, durable and non-durable goods as a percent of GDP gives a better picture of trends in manufacturing’s place in our economy. It’s down consistently and significantly for non-durables (though not since 2000), probably lots of textiles/clothing in this category, but, aside from the current, hopefully temporary, downturn, pretty constant for durable goods. Of course what we would like to see as productivity improves is increasing production rather than declining employment.

The rules for categorizing goods as “durable” and “non-durable” are somewhat flexible. Everybody knows that bricks are durable and soft drinks are non-durable. But the general guideline of whether something lasts three years or more puts the suits I had made while living in Asia and still wear on the rare occasion I need one clearly in the “durable” category although all clothing and textiles are automatically classified as “non-durable.” I’ve got socks and underwear older than three years!

Another criterion for “durable” could be something that just tends to last forever if taken care of and finally has to be destroyed for government incentives as automobiles were a year ago in the “Cash for Clunkers” program. They are trying that now with large appliances, another “durable” good, but I don’t think it’s working as well. People just don’t get as excited about borrowing money for a new refrigerator as for a new car. I think the categorizing of products is somewhat subjective, but as long as it remains constant from year to year the trends above should be valid.

I heard Jack Welch, former GE CEO, in a forum shortly after he sold the GE small appliance businesses (durable or non-durable?) to a European company, Phillips, explaining that it was a "no-brainer." Now it has been announced that they are also exiting the large appliance business (definitely durable). I'm sure both moves are right from the corporate standpoint, but part of the equation that drives such decisions is the US tax treatment of domestic corporations vs. that of other countries.

California has apparently been driving manufacturing out of the state. We need to make sure we don’t drive it out of the country. Maybe we will get lucky and see an American company buy the GE large appliance business, but last year they sold their plastics business to a Saudi company for $11B. That doesn’t necessarily mean loss of American jobs, but it does mean loss of American control (unless we get in so much trouble that we get a Hugo Chavez in charge). Here’s one thing for sure: It may be more fun to trade stocks, borrow money, google, text, tweet, network, etc., than to learn and do the hard work of manufacturing competitively, but whether we can compete or not, we had better make sure we maintain the manufacturing capability and capacity needed for national security.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Inflation's Not the Problem (For Education and Health Care Costs)

The Key Club at Maryville High School in the late 1950’s was a service club with a goal of 100 service projects to be completed each year in order to be a candidate for awards at the Key Club International level. The pace had been established two years before my presidency by future Tennessee Governor and Senator, Lamar Alexander, and those of us who followed had no choice but to try to keep up the pace. It was a valuable leadership and management education experience.



Yes, that is yours truly, holding the Key Club Car Wash sign, probably in the fall of 1959.  Where are you going to get a good car wash for a dollar? And I think you can tell from the quality of that sign that we took the task seriously and were determined to do a super job. The local bus line owner had loaned us the high pressure spray machine and detergent he used to keep the buses clean. As I recall, the sign was painted on some cardboard from a refrigerator carton and had a wooden frame to keep it rigid and upright.

It is always interesting to see documentation like this of past prices. I don’t have the documentation, but, as I recall, tuition at Vanderbilt University where I enrolled a few months later was $450 per semester with total annual cost for tuition, books, room, and board around $2,000/yr. Now, in 2010, the total is about $57,000 a year. Well, that seems to have gone up a lot more than car washes, doesn’t it, because you can still get a pretty good car wash for less than $10?

The change in the Consumer Price Index  from 1959 to 2010 predicts prices 7.3 times as high now as then which would put student car washes at about $7.30, probably pretty close to reality, or Vandy costs at about $14,500/yr, a long way from $57,000. Something has clearly gone out of whack on the cost of higher education, and I bet it has something to do with tax money being pumped in for loans and grants and scholarships. I’ve blogged on this before, putting forth the quite reasonable opinion that money pumped in to a business by anybody other than the purchasers of the output artificially drives up prices. It’s happened in dramatic fashion in higher education, housing, and health care. We would have been better off if Congress had decided to subsidize car washes. We’d be paying $30 to get a bunch of kids to wash the car but would be able to send our grandkids to spend a year at Vandy for less than $15,000.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Thoughts on the Upcoming Elections

Thinking about the upcoming elections in The USA, I believe I would be embarrassed to be a member of congress if whether I had a D or an R after my name predetermined my position on issues. It would be like being a member of the Bloods or Crips or some other gang, loyalty demanded and promised. I know there are a few Democrats with BDD (Blue Dog Democrat) penciled in after their names and a few Republicans who cannot be depended on for conservative purity, but what a great thing it would be if every single senator and representative took time to look at and discuss data and studies available and helped write and then read the bills they vote on instead of being safely pledged to Reid/Pelosi/Clyburn/ or to Boehner/McConnell and just trying to crucify each other. We shouldn't really care whether the Republican Party or the Democratic Party dominates in the election. We should care about whether we elect thoughtful and intelligent people who put the best interests of the nation above the petty concerns of their most vocal supporters, contributors, and government dependents and above the interests of any ideologues, including those who are thoughtlessly anti-business or anti-government.

Basic mathematical relationships and economic principles hold true whatever one's ideology. Hopefully both Democrats and Republicans who survive this election cycle will recognize and acknowledge that and do a little independent thinking and study before they cast their votes over the next two years. Such a change could provide a few surprises and help us get rid of this destructive, media-promoted, Red State/Blue State, Winner/Loser, All or Nothing Mentality which is squashing intelligent conversation about important issues and replacing it with name calling and demonizing attack ads. Even the president seems to be openly appealing to only a segment of the population rather than trying to serve and speak to all concerning the overall welfare and prosperity of this great nation.

Of course such improvement is just a dream since we have a largely uneducated public to whom the politicians are targeting their messages in their efforts to win, and the rewards for winning are great. It all comes back to what is being taught and emphasized in the homes and the schools, doesn't it?

And speaking of anti-business ideologues, pay attention to Hugo Chavez. It seems to me that with Chavez nationalizing industries in Venezuela and converting large swaths of the citizenry from private industry to government employees even as the Castros announce the firing of 1,000,000 employees of the Cuban government-owned and operated businesses, a mass migration from Cuba to Venezuela of those who prefer the socialist approach might be a good strategy. With a 30% inflation rate there should be plenty of money to go around in Venezuela, and such a move could "right size" the Cuban private sector which the Castros are trying to get off the ground and enable them to open up a promising American tourist industry to bring some prosperity to the island.

Friday, October 1, 2010

That Regrettable Ruling Mentality: CNN Lets Cat Out of Bag

In my working years I always volunteered to write up summaries and minutes and reports of meetings and projects and activities because I was always more comfortable with what I wrote than with what others wrote.  I think there is no such thing as completely objective reporting so, if there was to be any slant, I preferred it to be mine.  (Now you know why I started blogging.) And that makes me wonder exactly who is writing the laws being passed by congress and the "rules" derived from them and what their slant is. 

July 20 I published Repeal Health Care Reform? Not a Chance!, which included a rough count of the open ended provisions in The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that included the words, “The Secretary shall…” or "The Secretary may..."  I found those phrases, apparently licenses to establish enforceable rules and regulations in the Executive Branch of government, ~1,500 times in that legislation.

I think we have limited information about who wrote the bill, but we are pretty sure that few if any congress persons who voted on it had any part in writing it or even read it. We do know that the legislation set the general direction for many things to be spelled out later because of that ominous power-granting phrase. And we know that those details are being written now by somebody, somewhere. How do we know? We heard it on CNN Sunday afternoon in this conversation between Ali Velshi and Christina Romans. Transcripts, including the bad grammar and incomplete sentences, are available here.

VELSHI:

This week, folks, mark the sixth anniversary, the six-month anniversary, half a year anniversary, of health care reform. Some big changes to your health insurance came into effect this past week. Here is a breakdown of some of the changes that you're going to see.


Number one, insurance coverage is expanded for adult dependents up to the age of 26. Children up to the age of 19 no longer denied coverage for pre-existing conditions. All new plans must cover preventive services like mammograms, and colonoscopies for free. Insurers are prohibited from rescinding coverage.


And forget the politics, Christine, are we on the right track with health care?
ROMANS:
It is the law of the land, Ali. There are a lot of conservatives who say you're not on the right track and they are going to use it politically heading into the fall to say that they would like to repeal this.


But this is the law of the land. You have people writing these rules as we speak. Big rules are going to change how we receive healthcare in this country these things take a long time. But writing them they are moving forward, you can imagine some of the things that are happening.


Right now, this weekend, is when some of these first provisions really go into effect. There is still a lot more to be rolled out.
It probably doesn’t come across in this written transcript, but Ms. Romans sounded happy and excited.

So, here is my question: Are these “BIG RULES” that Ms. Romans says are currently being written laws? Or are they just rules? And is there any difference? And, if they are laws, why are they being written by unknown persons in the Executive Branch, or perhaps by lobbyists, or maybe interns, presumably under the direction of the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the new un-confirmed head of Medicare, Dr. Donald Berwick?  To whose approval are they subject?

We may be facing a similar onslaught of new “big rules” from the recently appointed but un-confirmed White House Czar for the recently signed Consumer Financial Protection Law, Ms. Elizabeth Warren, a White House "adviser" who is charged with responsibility for “getting this agency off the ground.” Not that Congressional oversight with current membership would have much value, but these cases of concentration of so much power over large segments of our economy in the Executive Branch of government are not good practices in my opinion and are probably not consistent with the separation of powers prescribed by or the personal freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.

OK, I know that in spite of its volume there is not enough detail in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to actually manage its implementation.  I'd just feel better if, instead of "rules," the HHS employees and lobbyists were designing detailed processes and procedures for efficient and effective implementation of the law with the goal of providing the maximum benefit to the nation as a whole at the lowest possible cost and that the processes and procedures are subject to the approval of Congress.  We don't need any promotion of any Executive branch ruling mentality.