Saturday, February 28, 2009


The recent days have not been a particularly happy time in my extended family, as we lost one of our own this last week. She was taken from us just when that seemed least likely, and at far too young an age. I will not attempt with these few poor words to eulogize Susie here, except to say that she was a beautiful young woman in every way, a loving wife, mother, sister, and cousin; and a true friend to so many in the world. That all of this is beyond question was apparent when you saw the sense of loss in the faces of those of us who gathered this week to celebrate her life.

Perhaps the only ray of sunshine in what was an otherwise cloudy and rainy experience was in fact that gathering together of the family who loved her (and love her still). Beyond question, it is the bond of family in such situations that allows each of us to find a way to go on in spite of our loss. 

It is family that may in fact, give it all meaning. Long distance and long partings are soon forgotten at such times, as long-standing attachments quickly reestablish themselves. Gone are the the miles and the years spent apart, as the memories of times past take each of us back to when we were once much closer together. Old quarrels, their causes now without emotional content, become the sources of amused memory. Shared traumatic experiences of the past now simply become today's humorous anecdotes, shared with a younger generation who has no idea of their parents "shameless past". These shared stories of happy times long past becomes in an instant the source of mirth, memory, and even myth.

Shared as well is the sense of pride in that younger generation whose beginnings we witnessed, whose successes we celebrated and setbacks we commiserated over as they grew and matured, and whose triumphant adulthood we now both share and celebrate. They tell us that in some small way, perhaps we succeeded at least in passing on the lessons of life that our own parents worked so hard to instill in us. (Then again, perhaps we are merely fortunate that our offspring survived the stressful and often overwhelming maturation process in spite of our poor efforts.) Perhaps in fact, we were aided in this effort by those both seen and unseen from our past. Perhaps in the end, it is simply that the bond of family works a special magic that protects each succeeding generation and allows them to become something special, and everything that any of us would have hoped for.

For it is in the end our families (at least if you are as lucky as I am) who love us. It is they who guide and protect us, and they who stand with us in both the happiest and most tragic days of our lives. It is that bond which stands eternal and indomitable against any and all assault from life and the world around us.
They say that you can choose you career, your politics, and your friends; but you can't choose your family. As someone who has on occasion been know to make poor choices, that is perhaps in my case, a fortunate thing. Now I have never been particularly good at telling them so, but I say here to all of you that it becomes increasingly apparent that Someone was looking out for me when He gave me this family; and I thank Him for it. 


Friday, February 27, 2009

The New Budget Revealed...Not

I have been asked to comment on the first Budget proposal of the Obama Administration. What will it do to and for the economy? What will be the long term implications of the deficit spending that it calls for? What will be the meaning of the ending of the tax cuts of the previous Bush Administration? 

Quite frankly, I don't have the time or inclination to go into this in any detail right now, though I am sure that I will try to in the days ahead. While trying to come up with a pithy comment to at least begin the discussion however, I came across the following quote. I believe that not only is it the proper place to begin, but that it probably says it better than I could hope to (damn, I hate when that happens).  

There's always somebody who is paid too much, and taxed too little - and it's always somebody else.  
Cullen Hightower

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Circular Lending & The Economy

Imagine that you are a family facing tough times (not much of a stretch these days, I know). You have some assets, but lately they seem to be equaled or exceeded by the debt load that you carry. Revenue continues to come in, but it seems that it does so at a decreasing rate. You make your payments (at least the minimum); but with a tough economy, you are finding it tough to balance the budget. As a consequence of the increasing burden on your budget, brought on the the continuing struggle of the economy, you find yourself sinking slowly and inexorably into increasing debt. 

Finally, reaching a point where you think that there is nothing you can do and pushed to your last alternative, you proceed to ...
... sign two new credit card applications and proceed to max the suckers out in an attempt to fix your budget problems.

Sounds pretty ridiculous, doesn't it? There is no way in hell that you can hope to balance household budget by putting yourself into even more debt. Increases in the total interest that you will be obligated to pay on the higher balance, higher minimum payments due because of the increase in debt load that you just assumed, and probably higher interest rates for the money that you borrowed (because your credit can't be that good by now) mean that not only will you not recover from the original problem; but that you will now have created a situation that you have no hope of recovering from. 

So maybe you can tell me why that is exactly what our government just proceeded to do. After complaining for the last eight years the impending doom of government deficit was looming like a Sword of Damocles above the country, the only solution that they can discover is to increase the number of weapons hanging above us. Do the expressions "one-armed paper hanger" or "one-legged man in an ass kicking contest" mean anything to you? Now I am not a leading national economist, but I do have some experience with crushing debt. 

I likewise have some experience with the concept of how to balance a checkbook. Perhaps such talent is exactly what's needed in Congress today. Perhaps the experience of spending other people's money in Congress, of passing legislation on spending that have no real impact over those very members of our legislature, of having the ability to print more money when they run out has simply gone to their head (turning it to the consistency of tapioca pudding)

Hey, maybe the answer is that I should put myself in line for the job of Treasury Secretary. Maybe in fact, I could just move in and take over the job. After all, I'm sure that to the unwashed public (you know, us) all Timothy's look alike anyway. ... Nah


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The "Stuck On Stupid" Toledo Dictionary #16

It is once again time to enter yet another term to the SOS "Stuck on Stupid" Dictionary. For those of you unfamiliar with this little example of the lexicographer's art, this tome is a collection of words and terms ostensibly a normal part of the English language which have a special meaning to those of here on the southwest shores of Lake Erie.

  Unlike many of our examples, today's in fact comes from the work of the Lucas County Commissioners:

Living Wage:  

1. An hourly rate of pay for work about to be mandated by Lucas County for all businesses doing work with or for the County, which is higher than that of the wages of most of the taxpayers who will ultimately pay for it. 
 2. A feel good county government pay restriction which helps neither the employee who receives it, the employer who must pay it, nor the County that must ultimately foot the bill for it. 
 3. An hourly rate of pay, as defined by the County, that will provide between $24,252 and $28,413 per year in annual income; a wage which will not be capable of providing a living for a resident in the county when the taxes that will be demanded of them by both the city of Toledo and Lucas County to pay for it are taken into account.

TFP Column: Positive Sides of Negative Thoughts

Sorry I am so late with this link, but my brain is still operating on the Columbian Peso Exchange rate (the hotel cheeseburgers were about $22,500.00, but the fries were included). At any rate, I did manage to pen something while traveling last week, and Mr. Miller saw fit to place it once more in the online edition.

While on the web site, please feel free to go back in time to read some of the prior bits of wit and wisdom (yeah like you believe that) contained in the "Just Blowing Smoke" archive. Better still, take a look at the efforts of Tom Pounds or Michael Miller in the Opinion section, and make sure to keep up with the latest online information in Lisa Renee's Blog It.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Quote of the Day

Sorry folks, but this one was just too good not to share, especially considering the source.

Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.
- Nikita Krushchev

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fairness, It's An AM Problem

As would be expected of the Toledo Blade, long a mouthpiece of liberal ideology, an editorial was published in today's paper on the Fairness Doctrine. They did this, in typical Blade fashion, after publishing a couple of news stories on the subject published in previous editions. 

While the drumbeat continues on the concept that liberal (or progressive if you choose to use a different spin on them) ideas do not seem to get a proper 'airing' on AM talk radio, the focus of the attack in this attempted revival of the doctrine now almost cleverly places the blame on the ownership of radio stations. It's not that Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity nationally, or Fred Lefebvre, Brian Wilson, and Maggie Thurber locally are successfully competing in the market of ideas with their conservative viewpoints. It is that the evil ownership of their local outlet, Clear Channel Radio, is able to stifle competition through its massive ownership of the radio airwaves. 

On the surface, such arguments might hold water, as Clear Channel (according to the 2006 numbers cited in the editorial) owns 1190 radio stations. However, when compared to other forms of media, the argument begins to leak like a sieve. Clear Channel does own an AM radio station in Toledo, but not the only one. Compare this to the Toledo Blade, the only daily newspaper in the city. Extend the comparison further in the newspaper market and we find that the overwhelming number of daily newspapers in the US Market remain in very few hands. 

In fact some 37% of the daily newspapers in US are in the hands of a very few corporate owners in 2005 (and the number continues to grow). More importantly however, 67% of the circulation of daily newspapers resides in the hands of those same corporate owners.* In the intervening years, these numbers have likely increased, as newspapers continued consolidation seeks to reduce its overall production costs. With rare exceptions, all of the corporate voices of these newspaper owners take a more liberal spin on the events of the day. *These numbers come from the reports of the media group 

As for television, There are still only 4 networks on the airwaves with a voice. ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC are the only outlets for television news and opinions for those without cable or satellite channels. Even if we expand this to include cable and satellite channels however, the outlook changes little. MSNBC and the Fox News Channel, whose ownership is already represented on the airwaves, does little to expand the horizon; and even adding in CNN and CNN Headline News adds only one new voice. Here too, only Fox News leans to the right when voicing opinions on television, and while this is hardly a balanced output, little complaint is made (except of course about Fox)

Now we know that the local talk radio station WSPD, is almost constantly at odds with the opinions expressed in the Blade, even often resorting to the use of derogatory terms when citing it. Yet the Blade, as illustrated by the above numbers, sits on the side of the majority voice in media in the US today. Their echoing of the liberal point of view expressed in other newspapers and on both network and cable television is inarguable. 

So once again, it begs the question: Why is AM radio the only form of media whose ownership and content are coming under scrutiny? As happens far too many times in Toledo, I must conclude that it is because any opinions, other than that of the owner and publisher of the Toledo Blade, must be thwarted. 

For another take on the subject of the Blade's editorial, I suggest a posting on the same subject in Thurber's Thoughts

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hola From Columbia

Greetings from the people of Columbia, at least that is what I have been asked to pass on. By the time that I post this Saturday morning, I will have just returned from a five day trip to Bogota, Columbia. There were a couple of things in this short trip south that I couldn't help but notice, and I thought that I would share them with you briefly (mostly because I am exhausted from another 15 hour travel day).  

For those of us in Toledo who are complaining about there not being enough police serving the city and that those out there are not visible, let me tell you that things in Bogota are very different. This city of a little over 3,000,000 people has some 10,000 police officers. As a consequence, I can tell you that the police presence here are very visible. They are on many street corners, at the newspaper where I worked this week, and very much in evidence at the airport; and let me tell you that they and their counterparts in the army are readily apparent to even the most casual observer. 

As someone who is a stranger here in Columbia (and simply strange in most other places), and who does not speak the local language, I must tell you that this highly visible presence of protection was extremely comforting. The second thing that struck me this week was the concern of the Columbian people for us. I cannot tell you how many people who have stopped me to talk to me ask how things were going in the US and what the long-term economy looks like. 

While I expect that there was a self-serving aspect to some part of this questioning, as the US is Columbia's largest trading partner, I sensed a real concern on their part for what might be going on and for the people of the US. They are likewise curious about the feelings of the American people on the massive bailout packages in the US that have been making news all over the world. The only honest answer that I could share with them was our similar concern (and the fact that I was yet to clear US Immigration had nothing to do with it). Quite frankly I don't know of anyone who is sure that our government has done the right thing (though many of us suspect that they have not). I likewise don't know of anyone who knows if it will do any good, or how and when all of this might end.  

While I have to say that I am grateful for my safe return to the US (even Toledo looks pretty good right now), I must again extend my thanks and gratitude to the people that I met and worked with in Bogota. They were universally friendly and helpful to a stranger (and who is stranger than me), who spoke no Spanish and was mostly helpless in trying to get around the city. I have seldom been treated so well in any city in the world.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Blast From The Past

I was all set to write what I believed would be a thoughtful, interesting post combining a couple of thoughts that had been occurring to me in recent days. 

The first was something that I have touched on in the past, the concept that society today is too caught up in instant gratification. From microwave food to downloadable movies, we want what we want when we want it, and we can become downright surly when something gets in the way or interferes with achieving any part of the reward that we desire. 

The second was about increasing influence of the government “nanny state” in our lives. Between the increased societal influence of political correctness, the increasingly litigious society that we have become (suing anyone and everyone over any offense, real or imagined), and the increasing role of mindless government bureaucracy in our lives (deciding everything for us from what kind of power plants we can and will have to what kind of bug spray chemicals we can use … remind me to tell you about DDT someday). 

The third was about the dramatic change in our lives that is about to come about as a part of the passage and signing of the Economic Stimulus Package (I refuse to use the made up name from Congress). Even the small part of what I see on the horizon scares the living crap out of me, and I believe that there is far more out there that I do not yet understand. Just when I was poised to produce this masterpiece of logic, reason, and conservative argument, I came across something from my continuing process of adult education. It describes far better than I could, the storm approaching. I share it with you out of a sense of awe and sadness:  

“The power is absolute, thoughtful of detail, orderly, provident, and gentle. It would resemble parental authority if, father like, it tried to prepare its charges for a man’s life, but on the contrary, it only tries to keep them in perpetual childhood. It likes to see the citizens enjoy themselves, provided that they think of nothing but enjoyment. It gladly works for their happiness but wants to be the sole agent and judge of it. It provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principle concerns, directs their industry, makes rules for their testaments, and divides their inheritances. Why should it not entirely relieve them from the trouble of thinking and all the cares of living.”
 - Alexis de Tocqueville, from his ground-breaking work “Democracy in Americas”, first printed in 1835  

It’s not that I mind being trumped you understand, but to be put in my place the French no less, and by a man who, while undoubtedly a genius, died almost 100 years before I was born is simply mind-numbing. To have to accept the fact that he saw where this country could be going over 170 years ago when oh so few of us see it happening even now is a tragedy that I am having trouble comprehending.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Quote of the Day

The passage of the Economic Stimulus Package by our Legislative Branch on Friday has had me thinking all weekend. I thought that the question that came as a result of that seldom used process would be one that I would throw out for you: 

 If con is the opposite of pro, is Congress the opposite of Progress?

TFP Column: Running Uphill

This week's effort could be considered a rather curious one, trying to find a connection between a classic fable and a government project.  I hope that you enjoy the twisted nature of joining what should be totally disparate things together in "Running Uphill".

Speaking of enjoyment, I'm sure that you will enjoy all the information of a more serious nature in this week's Toledo Free Press

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentines Day ... Humbug

Being a Curmudgeon sometimes carries terrible responsibilities, and one of them is bursting the bubble on the humbug that society often perpetrates on itself. Today's particular bit of nonsense the day's Hallmark Holiday, more commonly known as Valentine's Day.  

Originally known as St Valentine's Day, it was a celebration of the Catholic martyrs born on this day. The holiday was rather confusing however, as the Catholic Church originally recognized eleven St Valentines, only two of whom were given homage on February 14th. It seems even more confusing to me today however (and particularly ironic) that a holiday originally designed to celebrate a Roman Catholic priest (Valentine of Rome) and a Catholic bishop (Valentine of Terni), both of whom were sworn to celibacy, are honored with a day of secular romance.

Others trace the holiday and its rituals to the pagan worship of Juno, the Roman goddess of love and marriage, which seems to make more sense (if you take off the whole Sainthood part). Like many other pagan holidays, it is said that they and their practices were simply co-opted by the early Catholic Church, to be used for their own means on this calendar date. I will not continue to bore you with the history of the holiday through the ages; but will however let you know that it did manage to survive through the Middle Ages and had evolved into the practice of giving cards by the 19th Century, with North America following England in doing so. 

The first commercially mass produced cards in the US were in fact credited to around 1847 in Massachusetts. Of course one of the most famous of St Valentine's Days, was that of 1929 when six members of the George "Bugs" Moran gang and Dr. Reinhardt Schwimmer were gunned down in a Chicago garage in the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre". The primary target, Bugs Moran, managed to be absent from the event and survived many more St. Valentine's Days to die of cancer in 1957. Credit for the "hit" was given to Al Capone and his henchmen, but no one was actually convicted of the crime. Al himself, in a further irony of the holiday, died of cardiac arrest in 1947 likely linked to Syphilis (a sexually transmitted disease) that he had contracted years before.  

Today however, anyone showing up with nothing more than a card (or heaven forbid, a machine gun) in hand will likely receive a chilly reception. Like many other a gift-giving holiday, consumerism has captured the true spirit of the day. Candy, teddy bears, lingerie (pajamas for those of you of a less libidinous inclination), flowers, and dinner are now considered the expected minimum offerings to a loved one. Anyone with true feelings romance on this day however, will cough up the big bucks for jewelry or a car (nothing says love like a new pickup truck, after all)

And once again, we allow the peddlers of the world to turn romance into a the opportunity for obscene profit, while the gullible lover is backed into a corner where the only path to demonstrating true affection is one which leads to considerable debt. Now just to prove that I am not entirely without a heart where this day is concerned (no jokes about conservatives here please), I must point out that I got married for the first time on Valentine's Day. I am sure that there are some cynics out there who might say that I did so, not out of a true sense of romance; but in a devious effort to save myself from having to buy jewelry that year, and from the future burdens of both a Valentines Day and Anniversary present every year after (but who would believe that I could be that clever). 

In the spirit of full faith and disclosure, I will also point out that I admitted to that first marriage date early in my relationship to my 2nd wife, thereby eliminating Valentines Day as a romantic holiday. (She didn't want to celebrate the anniversary of my first marriage, go figure ...) I must also admit that I have been single for the last eight years, reducing the number of romantic holidays that I have been required to celebrate (and the fact that I am getting old and fat can have no bearing on this, I'm sure).

I'm sorry to say that I will be without romantic entanglement again this year on Valentine's Day, but take some consolation in the fact that I will also not be caught up in the mindless consumerism that the day has become. Besides, I consider myself an incurable romantic (you could tell from this posting, right?), and that means that having to limit myself to the expression of affection on a single day would simply be incomprehensible. In fact, I would have to say that anyone who places all of their romantic eggs in this one basket can make no such similar claim. I will go even further and say that any man who only shows that he cares on Valentines Day is no man at all, and any relationship which requires a day to remind two people of the love and affection that they feel for each other is probably doomed already.

I will therefore call out this Hallmark Holiday for what it is, a travesty ill used to celebrate what true romance is all about; and a weak excuse to firm up the bottom lines of candy makers, jewelers and florists. It has therefore become, in my humble opinion, little more than humbug.

On that note, Happy Valentines Day to one and all ...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Off To Foreign Lands Once More

Yes ladies and gentlemen, I am off once again to foreign lands and will be out of the country next week in performance of the assigned duties that earn me a steady paycheck (I know, I too am often amazed that someone is willing to pay me to do anything). Have no fear my friends, for my intention is to continue to produce my normal level of nonsense while working at my assignment in Bogota, Columbia. (I simply have to take the exchange rate into consideration to do so.) In fact, I promise that if there is anything of special interest that occurs there during my travels, I will be sure to do special updates for you.

While the people at the newspaper there treat me very well indeed, they (and my employers) expect to get their money's worth from me in the form of hard work and long hours. Long hours as well, are involved in just getting there, with 12 hours of travel expected in both directions. I therefore ask that you grant me a small excuse for what may be the disjointed, mis-typed, and probably rambling postings that may come out during the upcoming week (and before you ask, no I have no excuse for those you have been getting from me for the last two years).

I also ask that you do what you can to keep Congress from screwing up the country while I am gone, or at least to limit the pace destruction to one no greater than they are operating on this week (which leaves it pretty wide open, if I do say so myself).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Govt. Stimulus Plan As Plumbing Repair?

Being burdened with the ability to connect things with no seeming connection (while simultaneously not recognizing related things in front of my face) makes my life a challenge from time to time. Many times I am simply not able to put something in its proper place unless I can get a picture in my head to tie it to.
For the last few weeks, I have been struggling for a way to understand the Economic Stimulus Packages, though perhaps the fact that their initials are ESP has been throwing me off. Now I have a real problem with many of the things in these ESP's:
  • The original one bailed out the banks to help the markets, but the banks are still in trouble and the market is still in the tank
  • Most if the package has nothing to do with economic stimulus
  • The package will place my children and grandchildren in tax servitude to the government for their entire lives
  • Too many of the jobs that it provides are jobs in government bureaucracy
  • It is putting in place needless massive spending programs which will become a permanent part of the budget
  • It includes a medical records & review program that I categorically object to
  • Overall there is more pork in this program than there is in Iowa
Last night I was finally able to find a picture in my head that describes what Congress has done to me with this package. (now try to stick with me on this):

For some strange reason, Congress knocks on my door and asks to use the bathroom, citing an overwhelming problem that must be addressed immediately. For some even stranger reason, I exhibit a terrible lack of judgment and let Congress into my home to do so. 

In the same way that they have been doing to all of us for years, they go in there and take a crap on a Biblical scale. Completing the paperwork they flush, but the toilet clogs. Attempting to rectify the problem in the only way that they know how, they flush again, and the water rises in the bowl. Not accepting that doing the same thing twice has failed to achieve the originally desired goal, they flush again and again, now spilling water and waste all over the place. Having then achieved as much damage as they possibly can, they exit the bathroom and my home. 

With barely muttered "thanks" on the way out, they go on their merry way, leaving me to deal as best I can with what's been left behind.

Welcome to my world ...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

It's Not Fair!

Having long fought the battle against the revival of The Fairness Doctrine I am finally throwing in the crying towel. At last convinced of the error of my ways, I now believe that the implementation of something like The Fairness Doctrine is absolutely essential to creating the level playing field so long missing from political discussion in this country.

Now for those of you unfamiliar with this principle (something highly unlikely if you have been reading this blog for any length of time), the FCC created the Fairness Doctrine in 1949. Believing that the public airwaves are owned by the government, it created a policy designed to insure that media outlets, which it considered public trustees, provided fair and balanced coverage to the most important issues of the day. The Fairness Doctrine was thrown out by the Supreme Court in 1987 however, mostly because it was not properly mandated by Congress. Congress hastened to correct that fact, but their efforts were vetoed by then President Reagan.

So now you can understand how I, and anyone with a lick of common sense, has to believe in the concept of a return to fairness in media. Of course if we're going to do it, I want it for all forms of media and not just applied to the radio airwaves.
  • I want conservatively slanted network news broadcasts after each of the liberal ones that I am forced to listen to each evening on either ABC, NBC, or CBS as a balance.
  • I would likewise want conservative commentary on MSNBC, CNN, and CNN Headline News to balance the liberal voices who hold sway there. (and for those of you who think that the same thing should be done to Fox then, I'm with you...)
  • I would like balance for the liberal bias in newspapers both in the editorial section and the news section (Let's not kid ourselves, they slant far too many stories to make their point.)
  • I want NPR forced to carry an equal number of conservative voices or taxpayer dollars diverted to an NPR-like network to provide a balancing voice for it.
  • I would like conservative voices in Time, Newsweek, and the rest of the so-called "news magazines"; as well as in the scientific magazines which also seem to take a radically liberal editorial perspective.
  • I would like movie studios whose subliminal messages in plots preach everything from the evils of smoking to the dangers of global warming to be forced to produce an equal number of movies with a conservative message.
And I want all the pomp and circumstance for the process that Senators such a Stabenow are demanding (and not just because her husband is a major promoter and an owner of liberal talk radio networks).
  • I want hearings with the owners of major networks (both broadcast and cable) and the heads of movie studios drug in to be pilloried while they try to explain the imbalance of the past, what their sorry excuse might be for years of abuse of fairness, and what their plans are to change that.
  • I want publishers and editors about drug screaming and kicking before a committee to explain the liberal bias that they have long pushed on their readers while betraying the tenets of honest journalism, and I want them viciously castigated and demonized for these past sins.
Only then will we have the level playing field that liberals in both Houses of Congress have been demanding for years. Only then will the issues of the day be given the balanced coverage that they deserve. Only then will the facts and truth be properly served by all of our media outlets.

As for today, there is little doubt of how the situation stands: "It's Not Fair!" 


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Question of the Day

If the police arrest a mime, do they tell him that he has the right to remain silent?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

TFP Column: Their fair share

I have been once again graced with the printing of a column in the Toledo Free Press, with this week's offering being a comment on taxation and the Obama Administration's cabinet appointees entitled "Their fair share".  

While a decent enough effort, it pales this week with that of the oft-mentioned Michael Miller, editor in chief of the TFP. If his column "Will and Grace" does not touch your heart, you simply don't have one. Lisa Renee has renewed her efforts in the online edition in recent weeks, and her column "Blog It" covers blogging and money this week.

But there's a lot worth the effort in this weekend's TFP, so make sure you pick up a copy or at least read it online.

SCHIP Update

For those of you cigar smokers who have not been following the SCHIP bill State (or more accurately, Socialist) Health Insurance Program, our president called together a rather hastily gathered group and quickly signed the final bill passed by Congress. 

Having found enough traitors to sign on to this massive step on the path to socialism and national health care, and desperately needing a victory in a week that his seen his Cabinet nominations going up in flames, our fearless leader signed legislation that has rather dramatically increased the taxation rate on hand rolled, premium cigars. In fact, he has increased that rate of taxation from approximately $.04 per cigar to approximately $.42 per cigar. Calling this "only the first step", in meeting his campaign promise of getting health coverage for every American (you know, the nationalized health care that we have been rejecting since the first Clinton Administration), the president lauded the efforts of Congress in quickly acting in the interests of the children of America. 

Even with this first step however, the numbers appear to tell us that President Obama will need another 23 million smokers over the next four years to reach the revenue levels required for a balanced budget on this program (at a time when there is money in the stimulus package to reduce the number of smokers in this country). What will happen if this additional tax or the efforts put forward by the stimulus package causes more people to stop smoking no one has yet explained, but perhaps the president will address this in his next press conference on health in the US.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The American President II?

I was thinking about a quote from the movie, "The American President". This 1995 film directed by Rob Reiner and starring Michael Douglas in the title role has a memorable speech near the end that I have quoted in this blog before. I would to share another portion of that wisdom with you here now:  

"We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections." 

 I was struck by this because it what we were talking about here was a liberal actor, starring in a movie by a liberal director, and playing a liberal president decrying the attack made on him by a conservative candidate for the office. In real life, it turned out to be the exactly opposite however. The strength of the speech and the message of the movie was not lost on the liberals who made it and the party which they support. 

The Democratic Party ran an exceptionally adroit campaign not against candidate John McCain, who was his own worst enemy; but against the last eight years of George Bush and the Republicans. They did a very effective job of making us afraid of what was happening in the stock market, the banking industry, and the overall economy in the US. They also had us terrified of the international situation, whether we were looking at the ongoing military situation in the Middle East or the ever present potential of flare ups in places like North Korea. They followed the format of the speech quoted above as well in telling you who to blame for it, George Bush and the Republicans. 

The banking crisis was not caused by Chris Dodd and Barney Frank and the committees that they were in charge of that were supposed to do oversight on Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the rest of the banking industry. The seemingly endless battle against Al Qaeda is not because Bill Clinton and a weak-willed Congress let the man slip through their fingers. No, the fault for everything wrong in world today was George Bush and the Republicans.  

Don't get me wrong here, I am not the former president's biggest fan, nor am I much of a fan of the Republicans, who I believe have betrayed their conservative ideals some years back. I do not believe however that either the former president or the Republican party is the bane of peace in the world, the destroyer of the US economy, or the anti-Christ.  

Unfortunately for the current administration however, the movie ended soon after the speech. What the movie never had a chance to talk about or lay out a plan for was what happens after this strategy works. Having used the "American President Strategy" to win elected office, what do you do next? Having spent the last two years making people afraid of what's going on in the world, how do you calm them down from the panic that you've created? Having blamed the policies of the opposition for everything wrong in the world, how do you seek bi-partisan support for your own policies? Having successfully executed this strategy to gain office, how do you now govern?  

Perhaps Rob Reiner can make "The American President II" and help the Obama Administration out.


Thursday, February 5, 2009

SCHIP, Only The Beginning

SCHIP, the State Children's Health Insurance Program was passed by the House today 290-135. It will provide expansion of the an existing program that was twice vetoed by former president Bush. 

It seems highly unlikely that President Obama will follow in his predecessor's footsteps, and highly likely therefore that this will be signed into law. Once in effect, an estimated 4 million additional children will become eligible for the program, financed by some $35 billion in additional tobacco taxes (approximately a $.62 per pack increase), bringing the total for the program up to $73 billion. The age of children eligible will increase to age 30, with income levels for families eligible for the program growing to a limit of 300% of the poverty level.

A fair amount of gloating will be going on over the next few days and weeks as another blow is struck against the evils of the tobacco companies and those who partake of this filthy little habit, while likewise celebrating a victory for the health of children everywhere. 

Over time however, a bit of reality may set in. This tax will undoubtedly encourage a great many of those previously portrayed evil smokers to finally give up their nasty little habit (they'll be prying my last cigar from my cold, dead fingers), which will undoubtedly reduce the projected revenue to fund this program. Underfunded and now needing a new bunch of behavior to modify (and therefore a new group to tax), this program will no doubt be seeking another group's behavior to demonize and penalize.  

So while all of you nannies out there are sitting over pate and martinis, enjoying the discomfort caused to the smokers of the world, you should keep a close watch over your own shoulder. There is little doubt that either the consumption of alcohol or of unhealthy foods is high on someone else's list for future behavior modification. Steak, french fries, or candy bars may soon face the same fate as tobacco does now. 

Whether you enjoy a Bud or a Bushmills, a porterhouse or a Butterfinger, you may find yourself in someone sights. While this latest round of taxes as behavior modification didn't happen to cut into your dirty little habit this time, it soon will.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Brain Drain

There has been a lot of discussion this last year about the "Brain Drain" going on in Toledo. For quite a while, I thought that there was no truth to this assumption, and that all of the discussion was nothing but nonsense (and I believe that my expertise in nonsense is easily verifiable and cannot be called into question). I have to admit however, that recent events are causing my thinking on the subject to change, and that I feel that I am beginning to see some of this brain drain lately. 

  The final numbers for the city of Toledo's budget are almost completely gathered together for the fiscal year of 2008. They are supposed to show a balanced budget as submitted by the Mayor and passed by the City Council according to the Toledo City Charter. Unfortunately, those latest numbers show that the city will end up at least $16 million in the red for 2008. That means on top of $8 million that had to be pulled from the 2009 Capital Improvement Budget (the last time that they can do this under the Ohio Revised Code) when the numbers were released just a couple of weeks ago, it looks like we will have to find another $8 million more to patch the gaping hole in 2008. 

We have been told that our only hope might be to empty the "rainy day" fund of the just over $6 million that it holds and try to find another $2 million from ... well we just don't know that yet, do we. We do have a statement the Mayor's Chief of Staff however, that we might have to "inflate" the revenue numbers to make the whole thing balance. (In the real world, they call this "cooking the books", and you go to jail for doing it.)  

The city likewise claims that the budget for 2009 is also a balanced one. Of course we recognize in hearing this statement that it is made by the same discredited bunch of people who made the same statement last year at this time about the 2008 budget. It should also be recognized that it was made by this group of maleficent miscreants before they appropriated money out of the 2009 CIP budget to fill the holes in 2008. 

Now having heard a prominent city official admit when backed into a corner that it might be necessary 'fix' the numbers to achieve the desired result, one would naturally call into question how truthful the information in that budget actually is. Apparently, the members of City Council do not yet do so. As I have commented before and in various places, the Toledo city budget appears to be a work of poorly written creative fiction. The plot is rather shallow, with far too little relationship to the reality of the situation that it pretends to portray. It contains more than a few villains and close to 300,000 victims, which tends to make it confusing at best. The ending is unsatisfying, with it seems only the bad guys left standing. 

While that end should be easily discernible from the clues in the plot, it turns out that even the author(s) don't seem to know what it is, even after they write it. I believe that it has been edited either by or under the auspices of our favorite absentee landlord, and is printed and distributed by a publishing house that is all but bankrupt. 

The saddest part of this story however is the blind, innocent satisfaction on the part of those for whom the story was written (City Council). Perhaps it is simply that the affliction that I once wrote off has affected more than ever I realized. While those who compile the numbers, those who assemble them into reports, and those who compile those numbers into a budget are likely guilty of fabrication on the verge of criminal fraud; those who year after year have accepted this fairy story as fact must be guilty of something entirely different. 

It could be simple political pandering or favor trading. It could be complicity to commit fraud on the people who voted them into office. My hope however, is that they are simply victims of the scourge that is apparently sweeping Toledo like the plague, the dreaded "Brain Drain".