Already, those conventions are a thing of the past!


Kevin Drum, the IRS and Super Safety Dog: Did the IRS blow a lot of bucks on an Anaheim conference?

Kevin Drum says the price of the gathering wasn’t all that bad. We have our own two cents to throw in. But first:

The caterwauling has been general about this very bad conduct. In this morning’s New York Times, Jonathan Weisman notes an intriguing fact—these deeply disturbing events are already a thing of the past:
WEISMAN (6/5/13): The Internal Revenue Service spent $4.1 million on a single conference in Southern California in 2010, paying top dollar for hotel rooms, $27,500 for a keynote speaker and tens of thousands of dollars for gifts to the 2,600 people who attended, according to a newly released Treasury Department audit.

But the audit also shows that such expenditures fell sharply when the Obama White House clamped down on travel and conferences as budgets tightened and a scandal erupted over how much the General Services Administration had spent on conferences. I.R.S. spending on such meetings fell to $4.8 million in the 2012 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, from $37.5 million in fiscal 2010.
As of last year, these events were already a thing of the past. Just see how often that fact gets mentioned on Fox as the public gets disinformed.

Back to Drum, who says that the price of that Anaheim conference wasn’t really that bad. He speaks as someone who has planned such outings, which are quite common in the corporate world.

Having performed at many such conferences, we’ve had a somewhat similar reaction to the recent caterwauling.

As Drum notes, corporate groups have staff get-togethers all the time. They pay for speakers and entertainers. They buy large blocks of rooms in good hotels.

In terms of staff productivity, this may or may not be a useful idea. But it’s done all the time.

We’ve been especially struck by the caterwauling about those infernal videotapes. Here’s why:

For years, we worked four or five days a year for a large public utility, making humorous tapes about safety concerns. For a few years, we were the voice of Super Safety Dog, a cocker spaniel with a cape who served as the visual star of these videotapes, which were played at company gatherings.

At some point, the utility switched the format. After that, we would conduct humorous interviews with company employees of various kinds, talking about the various ways you can break your leg on the job.

This always seemed kind of silly to us. Beyond that, we were struck by the expense. We were paid a per diem fee, which wasn’t large but wasn’t small. Several employees from the utility’s video department would be along for the day, which would be followed by a day of editing.

One time, we flew to New Orleans to make a tape. Can't remember why!

Our attitude changed over time. We came to be impressed by the amount of effort this company spent trying to make sure that its employees didn’t get hurt. This was partly a matter of liability, of course. But a lot of people put a lot of time and effort into the project.

We also performed at several conferences for this utility. One was held at a fancy hotel! Another involved Cal Ripken. We'll guess a fee was involved.

CNN has been clowning around, playing those IRS videos. We always cringed a bit at the safety videos we made, but by all accounts, employees liked seeing themselves being interviewed. They were regular people who went out each day to do demanding jobs. They liked seeing good-natured, humorous tapes in which they were the stars, with their quips put on display.

“No people are uninteresting,” Yevtushenko said. He hadn’t seen the clowning clowns clowning on CNN.

The start of that poem: Here’s the start of that poem by Yevtushenko:

No people are uninteresting.
Their fate is like the chronicle of planets.

Nothing in them in not particular,
and planet is dissimilar from planet.

And if a man lived in obscurity
making his friends in that obscurity
obscurity is not uninteresting.

To each his world is private
and in that world one excellent minute.

And in that world one tragic minute
These are private...
There’s more. We recommend it.


  1. Bob clearly doesn't understand that, since public employees are PUBLIC employees, they must be treated like drones, like the soulless automatons in the famous Apple commercial:

    They are to march, grim faced and grey, to their meetings, where they are harangued by some thundering overseer, and then they must march, grimly and soullessly, back to their desks, where they are fair game for ridicule by all, because they are, after all, PUBLIC employees, and as such, apt targets for the shapeless anger that has consumed our society as things slowly decline. Don't go after the rich, the people who are greedily sucking the future out of our country, because they have power and influence, and power and influence must be respected. Instead, attack PUBLIC employees, who can't fight back, making them perfect targets for a soft, cowardly society. In short, how dare Bob expect PUBLIC employees to be treated like private employees. They must both be better than private employees, in that we expect them to perform to the same standards without the same quality of workplace education and entertainment, and worse than private employees, because if they aren't worse, the endless ridicule to which they are subject just might turn out to be misplaced.

  2. Til: Excellent post. My reaction to all the pearl-clutching about the IRS and its jack-booted thugs is exactly the same as yours.
    I find it especially ironic that the 'moving to the head of the line' for Tea Party groups was in response to their applications for TAX-FREE STATUS. From one perspective, it could be argued that the IRS was doing them a great favor by getting to their applications quickly. Unless they were in fact running a big con and hoping to put a fast one by the govt.