Saturday, January 30, 2010

Clueless (and Gutless) In Washington

Enough time has passed after the dramatic events of the Massachusetts Senate race to fill the seat of Ted Kennedy that things are able to return to normal in Washington. Republicans have recovered their ignorance and Democrats have regained their arrogance after the election slap down that almost came a a surprise to both. Both also remain largely clueless as to either the reasons for their defeat or the meaning of their victory; but the message was clear. 

Stop the out of control spending! 

The response by the Senate was to propose a commission to deal with the growing gap in the budget. Proposed by Sen Kent Conrad (D) and Sen Judd Gregg (R) along with twenty-five other sponsors, this commission would consist of eighteen serving legislators and administration officials to look at both taxation and spending as the deficit continues to grow at an alarming rate. The recommendations of this group would then be brought to the floor for a straight up or down vote. The Senate, in a bi-partisan vote, rejected the proposal. 

 The President responded in the State of the Union Address by telling the Congress that he was going to set up just such a commission anyway, only under an executive order saying, "I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans". (Though apparently debt and bankrupt entitlement programs are of less concern in the 'passing on' department.)

The concept is not a new one. Similar commissions have been created in the past to look at the financial crisis of the Social Security System in the early 80's (the Greenspan Commission) and to deal with the necessity of military base closings at the end of the Cold War (Base Realignment and Closure Commission) in four rounds in the 80's and 90's

Their history is one of limited success at best and poor theater at worst. Their creation has over the years however, provided excellent cover for legislators and national leaders unwilling to realistically address critical or politically sensitive issues, especially in regards to the out of control taxation and expansion of the budget. In one of the few truly bi-partisan efforts in government, neither party seems willing to make the tough choices that the country needs. Republicans, once the party of limited government and fiscal responsibility, choose instead to be the party that grows government more slowly. Democrats, who have a history of profligate spending, believe that they are in control of a runaway train that's careening down the tracks these days at an incredible speed. And while both parties will admit that the bridge ahead is out, neither will admit to knowing where the brakes on the train are. 

We don't need the commission proposed by the Senate and now forced upon us by the President. Neither do we need the President's proposed spending freeze, a plan which will barely impact the amount of money flowing from Washington (and which surprisingly enough if passed, will not have any real effect until after the mid-term election). What we need is for the people who have chosen "public service" to perform that function. We need for the members of Congress to look beyond the giant checks that they can bring back to their constituents, the fancy fact-finding trips sponsored by lobbying groups, and the inordinate amount of time that they spend raising money and running for re-election and get a clue as to what is going on in this country. What we need in fact is for these politicians to stop finding ways to keep their jobs and to start doing them instead. Of course all this is merely a pipe dream, for most politicians today are consummate pros.  

They know that doing any of the things that I suggest might have an adverse effect on the careers that they seem to place far above the duties of their office and the public trust that we have given them. I can admire their professional acumen, but I will say that with rare exceptions (and you know who you are Ron Paul) that I consider them both clueless and gutless.

Friday, January 29, 2010

TFP Column: Saving the Ship of State

I know that I was delinquent last week in putting together a column for the Toledo Free Press, but I was feeling a little off of my game and felt that the TFP readership deserves a break from me once in a while besides. I did not want to get them used to doing without me two weeks in a row however, (as allowing such behavior can lead people to the belief that they can do without you all together).

This week's effort has to do with the city's almost $44,000,000 budget deficit. With it's CSI Task Force (gatherings which appear to be even less entertaining than CSI Miami), this group appears to be attempting to bail out the ship of state with a shot glass.

I don't about where you are, but it looks to be a cold weekend here in the Glass City, and I for one plan on attempting to keep warm while catching up on everything going on. (Perhaps it will help assuage the depression brought on by the State of the Union speech).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the Union(s)

The president has now delivered his annual State of the Union address, and for those of us with the intestinal fortitude to listen to it, we now find ourselves in a state of incredulity, disbelief, and almost terminal boredom. In all fairness, this is not entirely the president's fault. Most of those who in recent years have sat in the White House have used this address to a joint session of Congress in an attempt to obscure the real issues of the country with more smoke than I have blown since I began I began enjoying cigars, let alone writing this blog. Mr Obama has merely lived up to (or perhaps down to) the level of rhetoric that we expect from presidents at such events. Add in the minority response and the spin from political operative and pundits on both sides of the aisle and you end up with something best disposed of under strict Hazmat regulations. I will therefore not try to add to the obfuscation by putting my own two cents in. I will however, point out some dirty little secrets that did not come out last night, and will likely never come out in any address to Congress or the public. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers discussed in a recent Heritage Foundation piece speak on it however, and they are very interesting indeed. For those of you unwilling to read the entire article, the highlights are:
  • At a time when overall employment is falling around the country, the number of union employees working for the government at various levels rose by 64,000.
  • At a time when many are concerned about the money provided to auto makers (now largely owned by the government and the unions), we find that three times more union employees work in the Post Office than the auto industry.
  • In fact, 52% of all union workers now work for the government at the local, state, or national level.
  • Union government workers earn an average of $39.83 per hour in wages and benefits, where those in the private sector earn only $27.49 per hour.
  • In recent health care negotiations, union workers were granted exemption until 2017 for taxation on so-called "Cadillac health care plans", while non-union workers with similar plans would begin to pay taxes immediately.
What the article goes on to point out is that when union wages and benefits take too much of the profit from a company, that company will no longer be able to compete and will ultimately lose to its competitors and go out of business (unless its bailed out by the government, of course). When the same thing happens with regards to government union worker, the additional revenue required to meet the requirements of these demands comes from ... us. 

This is not to say that membership in a union automatically demonizes a person, it does not. What it does say however is that it would be a failure of logic not to recognize that Unions have become one of a growing number of self-perpetuating bureaucracies in this country. 

Saying that Government is one of the other great offenders in this category would be an understatement. Putting the two together I fear is not a problem added to itself, but one that is squared instead. If you consider the considerable influence that Unions can therefore have on the government: as a political contributor, as an entity that can quickly put membership on the street to stump for a candidate, and as a part of the greater mechanism of government itself; one cannot help but wonder if the government in general, this Administration in particular (with its close ties to Unions like SEIU), and the professional politicians in Congress of both parties are more concerned with the "State of the Union" or the "State of the Unions".

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Massachusetts Lessons

It has been a long time since the state of Massachusetts had anything to teach the country. The Boston Tea Party, where citizens rebelled against what they believed was unfair taxation by throwing this beverage into the harbor, helped define the Independence movement in America. The first battles of the Revolutionary War were fought there at Lexington and Concord, and became the "shot heard round the world".

The story of the special election to fill position long held by Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy appears to be the latest shot fired in this state. Republican Scott Brown came out of the relative obscurity of the state senate to defeat Democrat state attorney general Martha Coakley in a contest that was long conceded as an easy Democrat victory. With time for sober reflection and dispensing with the party spin by both sides, we can now at least begin to analyze the results of this contest.

There is little doubt that Coakley proved herself to be a poor candidate. She appeared to be lazy in her campaigning, clueless about her constituency, and arrogant in her assumption of victory. Even last minute intervention by such luminaries as former president Bill Clinton and current president Barack Obama could not save her from her own poor performance as a candidate.

Scott Brown on the other hand, proved the opposite. Drawing little attention to being a Republican in what is commonly considered a Democratic state, he was constantly getting his 'small government, limited spending' message out among voters. Running against many of the issues that Ted Kennedy and the President supported, he found a solid coalition of disaffected Democrats, unhappy Independents, and hopeful Republicans to rally behind him.
But looking back now, many ask how voters could support a state legislator who campaigned for national office by decrying passage of government health care after having voted for something similar on a state level. Perhaps instead they should be asking why he and those being served by such a plan would appear to now summarily reject the candidate supporting it.

They ask how such a liberal state could vote for a conservative candidate, not realizing that Independent voters in Massachusetts make up more of the electorate (52%) than Democrats and Republicans combined; and that in a tough economy, even Massachusetts voters can be concerned over high taxes and higher spending.

This shocking upset is thought to have changed the the balance of power in the Senate, and potentially the legislative agenda of the President and Congress going forward; though it has not changed the control that Democrats have currently in both the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. So we must ask ourselves if any lessons were to be learned from this election, and if so, by whom. It appears, regardless of the limited lip service being paid in the last week to now mending their ways, that neither party seems to have done so.

Few Republicans will acknowledge that they are still held with equal disdain by the voters. Saying no to the sweeping and intrusive legislation proposals by the Democrats may make for stirring rhetoric and great sound bites, but coming up with solid alternatives will be required to gain voter confidence and support. It might also be worthwhile for Republicans to recognize the necessity of a return to the fiscally responsible, limited government principles that were once the heart of its platform and are now only to be found in the Tea Party movement (and of course, the Libertarian Party). Being “Democrat-lite” will gain them no support from the growing Independent voter base out there.

As for the Democrats, it may be time for them to realize that this country does not want or need non-stop omnibus legislation on ... anything. It's time to do away with the current crop of 2000+ page bills that few read, no one can possibly understand, and whose size and level of complexity will make them impossible to pay for or enforce. They should also understand that the American people are not a group of children who seek to be taken care of by their 'parents' in Washington DC.

And though he has said otherwise, I have to question whether our President has learned anything. Returning political adviser David Plouffe is already getting the word out that the programs Brown ran against must be passed by Congress, saying that “we need to get back to taking care of the American people ...” .

So while it certainly appears that the instruction that voters wanted gleaned from the choices of “The Bay State” election, was that they were fed up with government trying to take care of them and grossly wasteful spending committed while attempting to do so. Right now few in power appear willing to learn these Massachusetts lessons.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The 2010 Trade In

The city of Toledo's CSI (Citizen's Special Investigation) Task Force met last night for the first time to discuss ways to fix the projected $44 million city budget deficit. A number of things were discussed in order to close this monumental gap ($9 million of which appears to have been carried over from the "balanced budget" of the previous year), including a proposal to put some city owned properties up for sale. 

While I agree with the philosophy that municipalities have no place in the business of business and even less with being a landlord and property owner (other than municipal buildings of course), I am forced to question the timing of this thinking. 

First, putting real estate up any market in the US right now seems counter intuitive, as prices are down across the board. Putting property up for sale in the current Toledo market seems almost counter-intelligent, as the market here is horrible and there is little private money available finance commercial real estate purchases. It is doubtful that the city would be able to recover what they originally paid for such properties, let alone make a profit. 

Second, selling assets to pay for recurring debt is something that most financial advisers will tell you to avoid. Imagine for example that you own a car and would like to trade it in for another. You go to the dealer and negotiate a price, but when it comes time to sign you lease rather than purchase, using your existing car as a down payment to reduce the debt incurred. 

In the short term, you will sign a lease based on a smaller financed amount and have less debt; but in the long term you will have given up a fixed asset and when the lease is over you will have nothing to show for it. So too with this potential asset sale. 

True, selling The Docks, the parking garages, and some of the parkland will close the massive gap between revenue and expenditure that the city is looking at. Next year however, the gap will return, and the assets will be gone forever. While thinking outside of the box is to be applauded by the Mayor and this commission, no real "balanced budget" will be achieved until the city begins to operate like the taxpayers who fund it and they begin to spend only the money that they can expect to have coming in.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Level Playing Field

There has been a lot of talk in recent days about the Supreme Court ruling in the "Citizens United v. The Federal Election Commission" case. By a margin of 5-4, the court decided that provisions that were part of the McCain-Feingold Act were a violation of free speech, and therefore Unconstitutional. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the president responded negatively to the ruling, stating that it "gave a green light to a new stampede of special-interest money in our politics," particularly "big oil, Wall Street banks, health-insurance companies and the other powerful interests" that "drown out the voices of everyday Americans." 

Perhaps he is right that every one of those groups will take advantage of relaxing regulation on political contributions in the upcoming election cycles. On the other hand, he appears to have ignored some other groups that likewise find it worthwhile to contribute to politics. No one can deny the significant amount of money spent by unions in this country to influence government. SEIU contributed significantly to the 2008 Obama campaign and its president Andy Stern is quoted in a Las Vegas Sun article as saying that they contributed some $60.7 million to the Obama campaign. 

Without taking the time to document every one of them, I would likewise feel safe in saying that significant contributions to campaigns and politicians were made by most Unions during the last election cycle. Many then suggest that corporations put such contributions up to a vote of the stockholders, obtaining their permission before supporting a person or program. 

Should then not similar rules apply to the contributions of their labor counterparts, with members rather than union management deciding who or what gets the money and how much? Some will make the case that the 5-4 majority of this decision was split down partisan lines, with justices appointed by Republican presidents supporting the ruling and those appointed by Democratic presidents dissenting. I would say in turn that this should be considered small surprise. 

I would in fact expect that judges appointed by more conservative (and therefore probably Republican) presidents should take a more constructionist view of the Constitution and Bill of Rights than their more liberal counterparts, who might share the view of many progressive thinkers that the Constitution is a living document that should answer more to the times than the language. 

None of this even touches on the ability of the print media, TV, and movies attempting to influence policy through the non-monetary means of positive or negative portrayals of political offices, plot premises that are based on the concept of man-made global disasters, or "documentaries" on subjects that carry the political prejudice of the director, the network, or the movie studio. Where is the hue and cry over legislation to monitor and regulate this potential abuse of freedom of speech?

The truth of the matter is that even with the McCain-Feingold legislation, there was still plenty of money in politics. The Obama Campaign spent more than the Bush and Kerry campaigns combined in the previous election cycle, and since the President did not accept matching government funds, he was not obligated to share contributor lists or amounts in the same way as his competitor was with us. Ignored, and far more important than the influence these groups have in campaign finance however, is what they have in crafting legislation. 

Groups on the left and the right spend far more money attempting to influence (or even write) any legislation that might affect them than they do on candidates. Lawyers keep tort reform from entering the health care discussion, environmental groups get potential sources of oil protected as national parks, and the recent negotiations over Cadillac health care plans that would exempt unions until 2017 are but the latest example of the pressure that unions can bring to bear on legislators. 

Meanwhile agribusiness fights to keep farm subsidies and bio fuel legislation in place, and banks and Wall Street fight to keep their rights to legal gambling with government backed funds. No large organization is innocent of playing the system and many survive only by a combination of legislator coercion and nursing at the government teat. 

It has long been understood that money is speech in this country when it comes to elections. It appears that at least five members of the Supreme Court acknowledge that fact and understand that this freedom is guaranteed in the First Amendment of the Constitution. It also appears that they likewise understand that if the document on which this country's government is to mean anything, that allowing all sides to participate on an equal footing in the process is little more than leveling the playing field.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Modern Culture #1: SyFy Movie Plots

While many of the things that I write could be considered a commentary on modern society, I decided today to add a periodic feature with the above listed title simply to mention ideas that pop into my head (and there is usually plenty of empty space for them to do so). I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. 

I was watching a few movies on the new SyFy channel (Evidently you can't call this the Sci-Fi channel any more since wrestling was added to the network, which I suppose means that the fiction has little to do with science outside of steroid use). After watching a couple of these questionable efforts, I couldn't help but notice some similarities of the plots. 

See if you recognize this one: A group of people are stranded in the woods (or on an island, or in a house). They include at least one attractive woman in tight clothing who is extremely vain and doesn't have much on the ball, one clumsy but humorous male character who is equally shallow and clueless, one smart but ethically challenged character (often a scientist), one handsome man with hidden strengths and leadership abilities, and one woman who is attractive and smart and comes to realize that she enjoys the company of the handsome man. 

Unfortunately, the place that they are trapped in / on has one additional and not particularly attractive feature, that being that there is either a creature of some kind that has decided that human beings are on the menu, or there is an evil human (or human-like creature) who doesn't seem to enjoy having company. 

One by one, the visitors to the location fall victim to the creature or creatures (usually in particularly unattractive and grizzly ways) until only the handsome man and the smart, attractive woman are left. Somehow, in a relatively unexpected way, using only their native intelligence and a lot of luck, they manage to escape and/or kill their nemesis. 

Realizing then that they now care for each other a great deal; they ride, sail, or walk off into the sunset to live the rest of their lives in hopefully in a happier fashion than they were previously able to do, now much wiser than they were before. 

 Come to think of it, this actually sounds surprisingly like one of the plots from wrestling ... or maybe it was one of those reality shows. It kind of makes you wonder which came first ... or more importantly, why you keep watching.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

If I Only Had A Brain

I was listening to some of the music from my past this weekend when I stumbled over the Stephen Bishop version of "If I Only Had A Brain". It's only a short intro to another song, not much over a minute and a half; but his arrangement is sad, funny, and unmistakable all at the same time. In light of the turmoil surrounding some of my most recent efforts, it gave me pause for thought.

Can anyone voice an opinion these days without appearing belligerently partisan any more? Can anyone write or speak with passion on a subject without appearing politically inflammatory? Can anyone stand for firmly principles in today's society without appearing both ignorant and inflexible?

I would like to believe that I am seeking honest debate, but these days I am force to question whether such is the case. It often seems that you cannot offer an opinion without alienating some of those whose opinions you respect (and far too many that you don't). It likewise appears that you cannot cry out against a perceived injustice without receiving a full measure of personal denigration in return.

As for irony, sarcasm, and the humorous use of parody; these particular forms of literary license appear to be completely lost on the general public lately when used on any subject of real importance. As a consequence, anyone attempting their use will quickly find themselves the subject of insults, accusations, and personal attacks on a scale that I will not attempt to describe to you. (Though I suppose that I should be grateful that at least most of the threats offered are verbal rather than physical.)

Don't get me wrong here, I'm not complaining as much as pointing out the state of reasoned debate in the country. This is after all, a path that I have freely chosen in which to express myself, and I am more than willing to reap the harvest of the seeds that I have sown
(or at least most of them). I have to admit however, that these results do give me cause to wonder from time to time about my competence to make such choices.

Perhaps I simply have too thin a skin for the fray, though I would like to believe this not to be the case, especially after the weekly baptism of fire that occurs with such regularity. Perhaps I seek only approval and am unwilling to take criticism, though this too seems unlikely as I am often my own harshest critic (though not necessarily for the same reasons). Perhaps it is simply that I find myself often struggling to come up with the proper stinging rebuke,
the clever riposte, or the perfect stunning retort that many of my betters are oh so capable of. Perhaps it would simply be easier to let the comments and insults stand, and allow the anonymous detractors to have the last word.

Or perhaps the problem is that I simply lack one of the essentials for the struggle. Perhaps this would all be much easier to deal with, to resist, and to effectively answer if
like the scarecrow from Oz, I only had a brain.

(BTW, you may have noticed that I did not put up a post with a link to a column in the Toledo Free Press this week. This was not about the concern that I express in this post; but simple laziness on my part, combined with a wealth of material that Michael Miller had available to him this week.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Quote of the Day

The 'Scott Brown Message' to current members of Congress: 

"Do you remember when we objected to the stimulus packages, a budget with a huge deficit, and health care reform; and you told us our problem was that we don't get it? Well, do you also remember that job in Washington DC that you expected to have after the next election? ... You don't get it." 
- me

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Misreading The Tea Leaves

Results came in early in the special election for Senator in Mass Tuesday, and it appears that Scott Brown won handily by a margin of 52% to 47% and will take over the remainder of the term opened by the death of Sen Ted Kennedy. 

Many Republicans are already congratulating themselves on winning this seat and breaking the one party monopoly that has existed in the Federal government for the last year. Many Democrats have already cast Brown's opponent Martha Coakley under the bus for laziness and running a poor campaign, doing as Republicans did in 2008 and thus seeking a way to spin the loss. They are also already searching for a way to salvage some part of the legislative agenda still before Congress to satisfy their base, while properly positioning themselves for the upcoming 2010 elections. 

Before Republicans dislocate an arm or seek treatment for back bruises and Democrats spin anything too far however, they might want to take a closer look at these results. It's highly probable that this was neither a victory for the Republicans nor a defeat for the Democrats, but in fact simply the Independent voters of MA stepping up to speak their piece. 

According the the numbers in a USA Today story, the breakdown of registered voters in the state shows that Independents make up 51.2%, Democrats 37.1%, Republicans 11.4%, and Libertarians o.3%. One can only interpret this to mean that Brown's margin of victory must have included a significant amount of support by members of the opposing party or those not allied with either major party. 

Scott Brown seems to have understood the need for this, running his campaign on issues and principles rather than party affiliation. If Mr Brown showed any party affiliation in fact, it was with the "Tea Parties". He took their message of smaller government and reduced spending to heart and made their message his own, campaigning against many of the recent massive government programs either recently enacted or currently before Congress. He seemed to understand their righteous anger at both parties, and the politics of "business as usual" in government regardless of which party is in power. 

In spite of the fact that the seat had been assumed by professional political operatives to be a Democratic one, he instead called it both during the campaign and in his acceptance speech Tuesday night, "the people's seat". Unlike the Senator-elect from MA, there are many still out there both inside and outside the Washington DC beltway who have up until now misread the Tea Parties and their potential impact on future elections. They simply do not or cannot comprehend the righteous anger that exists in this country, was all too clearly displayed during Tea Party gatherings this summer, and may be beginning to bear fruit in these recent elections. 

And while it can be argued that there are those participating whose behavior was far from civil and whose message was framed poorly at best, what cannot be argued is that what we are seeing in this movement an attempt once again by angry citizens in this country today to insist on proper representation. Much like the Founding Fathers that they seek to emulate, they have taken to the streets and will not be satisfied until they see government in this country returned to the levels and limits established for it by the Constitution. 

Prior results in Virginia and New Jersey may have given some indication of what is happening, but the near future of politics may well have been clearly displayed in this MA election for those who are willing to see. It cannot be viewed however, in the way that most of the political pundits and operatives traditionally do. 

It's time to see that there are far more voters angry at the direction that this country has taken than either party seems ready to believe or understand. They are fed up with the "business as usual" of politics and affiliation with neither political party will provide protection for them. Neither will they support a candidate from either party who does not share this point of view. Those running for office here in NW Ohio might well take a lesson from Mr Brown's victory. Any politician expecting to be elected or re-elected had best take note of these signs, and not misread the tea leaves.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mass. Election Strategy

Today is the day of the special election in Massachusetts, and I have been struck in recent days by the assumption of an apparent defeat of health care legislation if Scott Brown defeats Martha Coakley for the Senate seat vacated with the death of Ted Kennedy. It is not surprising that Republicans sense that this is their opportunity to break the filibuster-proof stranglehold that Democrats have on the Senate. Rather, it is shock that Democrats seem so willing to concede the death of legislation that the President and they have set so much stock in and worked so hard for. 

Somehow it simply seems incomprehensible that they should be so easily throwing in the towel on an issue that they have been trying to get passed for 20 years, and have never been closer to. Now it's apparent that Martha Coakley has run a feeble campaign at best since winning the Democratic primary. Perhaps she simply assumed, as did most of the rest of the nation, that Senator Kennedy's seat, held by him for some 47 years, was a title that should pass by divine right to the heir selected by his party. Perhaps Scott Brown simply ran a much better campaign than his rival, simultaneously distancing himself from the Washington DC crowd and the Republican party. 

But could this apparent surrender in fact be a savvy last minute strategy (or perhaps the only strategy left) for Coakley and the Democrats to win this election? I believe it is. Why else would such political luminaries of the Democratic party like former President Bill Clinton and current President Barack Obama tie their reputations to an effort considered already lost? 

This apparent concession however, does lend itself to two scenarios: 
1. The Coakley effort succeeds and the Democrats are able to claim that in spite of her poorly run campaign, this vote is a referendum on the President, the health care legislation, and the policies of Barack Obama and the Democratic-led Houses of Congress. The victory of Ms Coakley will be expected to shore up sagging support during final compromises in such health care legislation as many begin re-election campaigns, and empower Democrats to continue to move forward on the agenda outlined in the first year of the president.
 2. The Coakley effort fails and Democrats throw her under the bus, talking about just how poorly her campaign was handled and that perhaps she was not the best person to fill the shoes of a giant like Ted Kennedy. Likewise, they will say that this is a nothing more than a local election and that these are the yammerings of a few disgruntled Independent voters and "Teabaggers". As such, it has nothing to do with the President's agenda or Congress. 

In fact, Democrats must now unite behind the President and its leaders in Congress or face a return to the bad old days of Bush. Either way, rest assured (or as in my case, lay awake all night worrying) that there is in fact a Plan B, Plan C, and Plan Ad Infinitum still waiting in the wings out there for the current legislative agenda regardless of the results of this election. I simply find it more likely that Democrats have once again proved far more clever than Republicans give them credit for, and will use this apparent concession to energize their voters and get them out on voting day in the last days of this special election by threatening dire consequences to the "hope and change" only just begun in this country. 

It is likewise highly improbable that Democratic political operatives across the nation should be able to find nothing in their bag of tricks to turn this situation around and surrender, especially in a state that has traditionally voted Democratic politicians into office. 

As for the Republicans, they had best hope that in their exuberance over the turnaround in the polls in Mass. and the potential of winning of a long held Democrat Senate seat, that they have not once again blinded themselves to the political realities of the situation. They should hope that their but recently hoped for taste of joy be not turned to dust in their mouths by the cardinal sin of complacency by the time that this special election is over. 

(While I was at it, I couldn't help but throw in the "tin foil hat explanation": The Democratic Party, knowing that there was little or no chance to reach a compromise on health care legislation, asks Martha Coakley to take a dive for the team. She loses the election, health care legislation dies by filibuster after Brown takes his seat, and the Democrats get to blame the Republicans for being obstructionists and of abandoning the American people to evil insurance companies at the very beginning of the 2010 election cycle. I know, crazy ...)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Quote of the Day

The free market is innocent. But it's fair to say that crony capitalism created the economic mess. ... What is crony capitalism? It's the economic system in which the marketplace is substantially shaped by a cozy relationship among government, big business and big labor. Under crony capitalism, government bestows a variety of privileges that are simply unattainable in the free market, including import restrictions, bailouts, subsidies and loan guarantees. ... 
- John Stossel

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Haitian Posturing Parade

People are often at the best when things are worst, and the generosity of the American people, as well as those of the rest of the world is once more revealing itself. There are drives going on here locally in Toledo and NW Ohio, more going on everywhere across the state, and countless ones going on across the country and around the world. 

Unfortunately, not everything going on out there contributes to the relief of the Haitian people or to the standing of those making the effort, and I'm not just talking about the inevitable scam artists that will attempt to rip people off during this time of terrible tragedy. The NFL for example, is posturing today, broadcasting "public service" announcements allowing people to donate to the Red Cross by texting a special number on your cell phone. (Don't do it while driving though, or you might get a ticket, and remember that texting charges may apply.) I guess that people watching football wouldn't have the intelligence to know how to donate to the Red Cross or any other charitable organization without the NFL stepping into the middle to explain how. 

They are not alone however, with every good corporate public relations expert in the country attempting to position and posture his organization properly and find a way to jump to the front of the parade as it begins to form. They do so in the hopes of bolstering standing in their respective communities, while hopefully contributing to the actual relief of those doing the suffering. 

Such posturing is not beyond our presidents as well, as a recent announcement would illustrate. President Obama met today with former Presidents Bush and Clinton to announce their own fund raising effort at . This website is designed strictly for the acceptance of money and not material goods. 

Again I ask myself however, why such a site is necessary unless it is to provide an opportunity for power brokers seeking favors from those who still have some influence on politics and policy in this country? I believe that former President Clinton might actually have some standing in any effort on Haiti's behalf, as he is currently the UN special envoy to that country; (I'm not sure why they should need one, but that's a posting for another day.) but I'm not sure that putting his, Bush's or Obama's face on a charitable effort is going to gain extra money from the American people. 

Amazingly, it appears that we are all supposed to applaud such efforts, as politicians finally find a reason to reach across the partisan aisle and join together for a worthy cause. As a Curmudgeon and a skeptic however, I am forced view such endeavors with a more jaded eye. Why do we need former presidents to provide us with the means to do charitable work when such work is already well on its way? Why does the NFL need to take some of the credit for our donations rather than announcing what its own will be? (One from the owners and another from the players union please!) Why should we feel warm and fuzzy feelings about any corporation that lends its name (but far too often, not its money) to the efforts of Americans to come to the aid of others? (and the potential of getting a texting charge for a charitable donation really sets me off ...) 

I believe in the concept of charity and applaud charitable efforts in general. I believe in the notion of nations supplying aid to those in crisis when disasters occur. I believe that the tragedy in Haiti is one of those occasions and hope that all will attempt (as I have) to give something to the effort. I do not believe however, in efforts which appear to be little more than a posturing parade.

Friday, January 15, 2010

TFP Colum: Time To Stop Jump Starting

Another week has come and gone, and once again I have penned an effort for the Toledo Free Press; but while "Time To Stop Jump Starting" is one worthy of at least some consideration, it hardly seems to matter. 

Don Burnard, who I only just met at the recent TFP Christmas Party, offers something far more important than any opinion of mine when he shares his "Lessons From Sarah". Even though fellow columnists for some time, we had only recently met in person, and even though we came from opposite sides of the political spectrum, I found that I liked and admired him. I can only offer the my sympathies to Don and his entire family at this terrible tragedy. They will all be in my thoughts and my prayers.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sometimes You Wonder Why You Do It

As many of you know, I try to regularly write a column for the Toledo Free Press. I attempt to pick the topics for general interest, do any required research, and take great pains of the way the wording of the piece in the hopes of education or inspiration. This was the case with my most recent column, Atlas Shrugs.

Quite frankly this was a much more difficult piece than I normally write. It is a subject that I found of great importance, since I was in fact one of those who considered government employees on the short end of the compensation stick, did feel a modicum of guilt, and was rather dismayed to find out just how wrong I was. It was also challenging in that I quoted a number of facts and figures that must be thoroughly researched for accuracy, fact checked by Lisa Renee Ward at the TFP afterward, and carefully worded in order to make sure that no improper inference is drawn from them.

Imagine then, my consternation when I discovered that rather than commenting on the subject at hand, they were using my work in order to snipe at each other. While I am grateful that anyone is taking the time to read the pieces at all, I have to say that it's a disappointment to find so few of the comments were on topic. It is a further disappointment to find the piece used for personal assaults on each other by those using "screen names" instead of their own. To find my work used in such a way seems to make the effort a waste of the TFP's editorial space.

Tom Pounds and Michael Miller have been very good to me, and I enjoy putting the columns together for the Toledo Free Press and hopefully making an impact on a wider audience than I can in this blog. I have written yet again on a subject that I am likewise passionate about and that I hope will find its way into the pages of the TFP this week. I have to tell you however, that if the the hard work that I put into these columns is to be used as a platform to perpetrate this lack of civility, I may well reconsider such effort.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Grading the President

The president graded himself on his first year in office in December on the Oprah Winfrey show. Though only having completed some eleven of that first twelve months (making this a rather numerically challenged year), the president felt able to properly judge his own job performance (something which is always dangerous to do)

Not surprisingly for a politician of either party or any level of government, President Obama gave himself rather high marks for these first days in office. While not giving himself the highest grade possible, he did however give himself a B+ job performance grade. 

Now personally, I believe that politicians on either side of the aisle grading themselves is the height of efforts in creative fiction (excepting of course when they propose 'spending cuts'). Those holding government office, like the corporate tycoons that they so often vilify, are far too often surrounded by buffers, handlers, and spin masters to insure that only the most glowing of reports reaches the chief's ears. Their view of the world therefore, is one viewed through rose colored glasses. 

So let us instead take a rather more dispassionate look at this almost first year in the presidency of "hope and change". The president promised to end the bi-partisan wrangling in Congress and bring the two parties together. 
I hardly think that what we have seen out of the juvenile delinquents in either house could be even elevated to the level of wrangling. Now in the president's defense, attempting to end the nonsense in Congress right now might be akin to a the job of cat wrangling, but the president did not seem to make a serious attempt to bring Republicans into the picture at any time during this first year, and so is far from ready to assume the title of "The Great Mediator". 

The president promised more transparency in government during his campaign for the office. 
This Administration and Congress seem to have become the master of the closed door meeting and the backroom negotiation. Whether we are talking about the budget, the stimulus plan, or health care reform; it is all done out of view. 

Speaking of health care reform, the president promised often during his campaign that negotiations for health care reform would be open, with a chance for the American people to listen in on the debate on C-Span. 
Not only are these negotiations going on through the bypassing of normal conference committee practices, but as a consequence they are going on behind closed doors and without even one representative of the opposition party participating. 

The president promised that all legislation would be available for reading for at least 72 hours before a being signed. 
It seems that the ink on a bill is seldom dry before the president applies his signature to it. Further, legislative language is seldom known until right before the bills are voted on and the bills are so long that even a speed reader couldn't get through them (let alone understand them) in the time between their release and a vote. 

On the positive side, the president promised to get a Stimulus Package to get the economy jump started and he did. 
On the other hand, he promised that doing so would keep unemployment under 8.5% and it is now above 10%. Perhaps we ought to call that a FAILED as well then. 

The President promised a growth in jobs with the Stimulus Plan and the New Budget and there has indeed been a growth of jobs. 
On the other hand, the majority of the growth in jobs has been in government bureaucratic positions to monitor and regulate the new government controls on the private sectors of the economy. While providing jobs, it likewise provides for an increasing bureaucratic budget burden on the taxpayer and increases the national debt substantially, so perhaps this should get a FAILED as well. 

Now President somehow seemed to have felt that the credits listed above rated him a B+ grade for his first year in office (see what I mean about selective information reaching the boss), but I think that even the most cursory examination of these milestones would seem to imply a grade somewhat lower. He went on in that interview to say that if health care reform passed in 2010, he would raise his grade to an A-. 

In spite of the fact that I am not a teacher (and have not played one on TV) I would dare to say that even if we count this legislation as an "extra credit question" and it did in fact pass, it would fail to raise his marks to the level of passing, let alone the excellence that such a grade would imply. I believe instead that this first year has been a disappointment to both those who hoped for more change in government and those who feel that far too much change has occurred. 

One thing that appears not to have changed however, is the business as usual practices of both Democrats and Republicans. While I think that we have to give the president a lower grade than he gives himself; he should take some solace in the knowledge that he shares inferior marks with members of both parties and both House of Congress. In fact, the only thing that anyone in the federal government might get such a grade for is the Unconstitutional effort on their part.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Signs of the Apocalypse

I am forced to admit that signs of the dark clouds of doom may be appearing on the horizon, and signs of the Apocalypse are becoming visible. Though I try not to be prone to excess (in spite of the fact that one should take moderation in moderation), one can believe little else when you hear:
  • Mark McGuire has admitted to using steroids while playing baseball!
  • Jay Leno may go back to late night TV and Conan O'Brien may leave NBC!
(In the spirit of full faith and disclosure, I have to admit that I have never watch American Idol, but have been a victim of second hand exposure from time to time.) 

I may have to get out the old sandwich board with "The End Is Near" on it.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I believe that every form of innovation in this country should receive recognition. Music, literature, and even movies and television have all had their true artists; and far too often these worthies do not receive their just due. So it is with true humility that I recognize the Toledo Blade for expanding the use of, and attempting to perfect the concept of Repinion

"What in the world", you are probably now asking yourself, "is Repinion?" Quite simply it is a term that I have created to honor the blending of reporting and opinion that the Blade uses in such a way so as to confuse the point where one form of writing ends and the other begins. This practice, in the fast-changing world of the newspaper allows the Blade to extend the editorial process from the first page to the last (I sometimes even wonder about the Obituaries), and advance an agenda on a wide variety of subjects. 

"Now wait," you are probably saying, "the Blade certainly did not invent such practices. They have been going on in the newspaper industry for years." This is true indeed. Newspapers in this country have it seems, often been used as a way to advance an agenda. The Founding Fathers were more than once guilty of penning or having published articles in newspapers that were selective in fact and detrimental to their opponents. 

The Aaron Burr / Alexander Hamilton duel was a prime example of how, directly or indirectly, such things could lead to political defeat, and ultimately to Hamilton's death. The Spanish American War is yet another classic example of how the editorializing of journalism can seek to move public opinion enough to affect even foreign policy. The competing newspaper publishers William Randolf Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer used just such questionable methods in a purely selfish way to increase their circulation (and profits), and to what many historians agree, succeed in driving this country into war; creating the term "yellow journalism" in the process. (It was named for a character in the comic strip Hogan's Alley at the time.) 

The Blade now takes its place in newspaper history by refining the hallowed journalistic practice into a modern art form. It appears these days that the Blade is no longer capable of even recognizing the practice being carried on (or is being disingenuous about its use). Whether they are writing about the United Way constructing a building, the YMCA closing one down, or the Lucas County Republican Party attempting to hold a meeting in one; the Blade now finds itself consistently blending opinionated terminology with inefficient fact checking in order to choose sides in almost every news story that it writes. 

Now the writing of editorials is a long-standing and sacred practice in newspapers (in spite of the fact that one of them as debased itself by letting yours truly occasionally write one). No one should have any argument with the right of the owners and editors of the Blade or any other newspaper to exercise the time honored tradition of expressing an opinion, even if they disagree with it. It would be nice however, and more in keeping with current journalistic practice, if they could manage not let them bleed over into what is supposed to be the fact-based reporting sections of the newspaper. (While I'm at it, it would be nice if they could manage to sign such editorials rather than post them like anonymous comments on a blog). 

A short time ago, Dave Kushma took over at the Blade as their new editor. He appears to be a professional of good standing in his chosen field, if we can judge him by those he has previously worked for and with. It will be interesting in the light of this new blood, to see if the Blade continues to refine and perfect the art of Repinion, perhaps hoping that a prize named after one of its greatest disciples (the Pulitzer) will once more come its way, or learns once again to separate fact from opinion (if not fiction) in the dwindling circulation of their product.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Confusion of a Open Mind

I find myself troubled once more about the things that I think I know about the world. It seems that every time I think I understand something, I am handed another piece of information that makes me reconsider. This doesn't necessarily mean that I will change my mind, but it does mean that I have to spend the time to wrap my head around this new information and decide if it is enough to change my perspective. It seems that no matter how much researching or soul searching we do, we are never going to be able know everything on any given subject. There is simply too much information out there and too many ways to access it. 

How then can we hope to cope with so many different subjects that require our opinion, if not our support or opposition? Some it seems don't trouble themselves enough to have strong beliefs, being content to be merely a passenger on this journey of life. Others feel the need for passionate beliefs; but are content to absorb them from political leaders, the media in all of its forms, or the talking heads (sometimes me included) that seem to be fully capable of the perpetual spouting of strongly held beliefs (or something resembling natural fertilizer). Some few however, are in continual turmoil over the questions of life, expending constant effort in what sometimes seems a pointless attempt to keep up with the world around us. 

I think that I can speak with some authority here, as I have gone through all three stages in my life. Having reached this last one some time back, I find that it's hard not to occasionally long for the bliss of being uncaring and ignorant. It was so much easier to live in that place, heedless of the consequences of doing so. I likewise remember with occasional regret, the ease of accepting the wisdom of 'the experts', strident and persuasive voices spouting sometimes flawed logic that led me down a path like the Pied Pipers that they truly were. 

I recognize however that one can never 'unring the bell' and that once the Pandora's Box of curiousity has been opened, it can never fully be closed again. Once we decide to throw off the crutches of such ignorance and follow our own path, we can never return. Difficult as it may sometimes be, we can only hope to remain curious and open to all of the information around us. 

Though it may be a arduous endeavor, I believe today that it's a truly amazing place to be. I hope that I will be up to the challenge of maintaining both that curiousity and the open mind necessary to take advantage of it. While writing this piece, a quote from an unlikely source popped into my head that seemed to put it all in perspective. As often happens, it was from a movie; in this case "Men In Black": 

"Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow."

Friday, January 8, 2010

TFP Column: Atlas Shrugs

While listening to an interview on Brian Wilson's show on WSPD with Chris Edwards of the CATO Institute, I emailed Brian with a pithy comment. His reply was that it sounded like something worthy of a column

Easily persuaded, I decided to do a little research into the growing burden of the lucrative salary and benefits of government workers on taxpayers. I believe that you will be as shocked as I was to discover what this fastest growing segment of the national workforce is getting, that the rest of us only dream about. The more I read, the more it reminded me of the failure of government portrayed in Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged', hence the homage in the title. 

 Once again however, there is a lot more going on in Toledo that you will only be able to find in the Toledo Free Press. The snow has been falling since Thursday, and it promises to be a cold weekend. I recommend curling up with the TFP and finding out what's going on.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Strange Connections

Sometimes the references of popular culture are simply too good to pass up making fun of. In this case, it was while I was listening to a commercial on the radio (1370 WSPD, no less) today describing a memory training class. The commercial stated that, "memory is a trainable skill ... like riding a bicycle". The relationship that it described (and the potential humorous ramifications of the statement) struck me, so I thought that I would share it with you under the concept that anything can be taken to ridiculous extremes.
  • Memory is a like riding a bicycle.
  • Sex is like riding a bicycle.
  • Therefore according the rules of symbolic logic, memory is a lot like sex.
  • I have ridden a bicycle and remember sex, therefore I may have already completed memory training (though I don't seem to remember it) .
(That last one shouldn't count, but I couldn't resist putting it in.) 

Yep, that clinches it. Things that you least suspect are in fact related.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Presidential Property

The President met with financial leaders around the country some weeks back in a meeting, according to the White House, to discuss ways to help get the country back on track. It was apparently also to make sure that these executives understood that he was unhappy with the salaries and bonuses being handed out in 2009, for as Obama said on “60 Minutes” just before, "I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of, you know, fat-cat bankers on Wall Street.”

Of course many of these banks took government bailout money, so I suppose they should expect some scolding from this newest investor. As stewards of the people's money, the government says that some of that investment is being wasted on executive salaries (and believe me, the federal government is an expert on waste). For them, this apparently becomes a question of ownership.

The banks, strangely enough, believe that their stockholders own these respective companies; and with their boards are allowed to determine the rate of pay for their employees. They do this in the form of employment contracts at all levels from the janitor to the CEO, which are legally binding agreements for salary, bonus, and benefits. Now a contract in any form is ultimately a legal agreement to determine the disposition of property, which is why it is so important. 

The Rights of Property are a fundamental principle upon which this country was founded. They were so important to the Founding Fathers that the phrase "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" in the Declaration of Independence originally read “Property” instead; with Jefferson only grudgingly changing it to insure that slavery was not justified by the document. They understood that the Right to Property was a ultimately Right to Liberty. If an individual cannot own his labors, the reimbursement that he receives for them, and the disposition of such as he sees fit; he owns nothing and cannot be free. 

While I can understand the concern of the President and Pay Czar with regards to what may be excessive executive compensation, I find no power provided them to interfere with this process that trumps those specified rights. Do I object to the salaries and bonus that these people are making ... Yes! I object to them however, no more than I object to the high salary of a baseball player who hits .250 after signing the big money contract, than I do the coach who signs a similar agreement and produces repeated losing seasons, than I do to the actor who commands big bucks for a performance in an inferior movie. I object to anyone who gets paid more than their job performance has earned them, as far too many of us get far less than ours merit. I likewise object to anyone who gets paid a bonus for a failing to perform in a way that enhances the success and profit of their employer.

But my opinion should prove of little consequence when it comes to the rate of compensation for anyone. Neither should this be of any concern to the government. Whether an employee is making too much money is a matter of contract, with the labor of the employee and the level of compensation guaranteed under this legal agreement by both custom and law. The employer has a right (and perhaps even an obligation) to re-negotiate such compensation if it is not justified by the performance of the employee. 

They can also likewise terminate said employee if their performance is found to be unsatisfactory. Under no law existing in this country however, is it the right or obligation of any branch of the government or any member thereof (elected or appointed) to ignore these basic rights of property. 

There is no provision in the Constitution to allow the government to step in and cast aside the concept of a legally binding contract simply because it believes that it knows best what people should be paid. The President apparently believes that government investment trumps all others and makes them the true owners to these companies however. They evidently believe that any use of taxpayer funds creates some form of “higher ownership” of these organizations that must be exercised as compensation control. If this is allowed to continue and the government can dictate compensation for employees after the fact in this country, two things will eventually happen:
  1. The rule of law and the concepts of contracts, property, and liberty will suffer a serious setback in this country (if they haven't already).
  2. The companies forced to follow the dictates of the President and the Pay Czar will find themselves part of what will become the only property that will still matter in this country, Presidential Property.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Flying Commando

In light of the recent Christmas Day attempt to blow up a US airliner (Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam), it would seem only common sense to look at the attached image and believe that this is the answer. If only we could have the Arnold Schwarzenegger character from the film "Commando" either in the cockpit or flying as an Air Marshall no one would dare attempt to take over a plane (after all, he did take a bad guy out on the plane in the movie). Certainly we would all feel much safer knowing the character of John Matrix is somewhere out there insuring that all airline passengers arrive safely at their final destination, regardless of the threat.

Remember the "Good Old Days" (I know I shouldn't use that expression, but I can't think of another that fits.) when the worst that could happen to you on an airplane was a short diversion to Jose Marti International Airport, about nine miles southwest of Havana, Cuba? What could you expect but some dirty bathrooms, bad water, and maybe some good cigars that you weren't allowed to bring home. These days however, the problem is much more serious and much more deadly; not only to the people on the plane, but to those on the ground that they are flying over. The only people who don't seem to understand just how serious and how deadly things are these days are the folks Transportation Security Administration (TSA), whose responsibility it is to keep those very airlines safe here in the US.

I have spoken in the past of these "Barney Fife" characters, often referring to them as the "Wal-Mart greeters" of airline security. I now wish to retract that remark and apologize ... to the Wal-Mart greeters. Nothing could be a greater insult to those who at all times act in a friendly manner to each of the people entering their place of business than to compare them to these hide-bound government rentacops.

Of course I do not limit myself to TSA in handing out such palsied praise for government agencies and bureaucracies. The alphabet soup of NSA, CIA, FBI, USDHS (United States Department of Homeland Security), as well as the minions of the State Department can all take pride once again in proving themselves slightly less able than the "Keystone Kops" in their ability to lose, mishandle, and ignore information vital to performing their function in keeping the citizens of this country safe.

I won't bore you with the details of the story, as many other media sources out there have gone over it ad nauseum by now. I just wanted to talk about the potential evolution of airline travel that lies ahead. If we look back the history of Homeland Security and TSA reaction to terrorist threats, I think that we can at least somewhat accurately deduce what that future will hold.

Terrorists attempted to sneak explosives onto airplanes on laptops, hence laptop computers are required to be run through x-ray machines on their own. They then sought to bring explosive chemicals on, hence the current inability to carry on more than 3 oz of fluid in a given container. The infamous "shoe bomber" attempted to set off an explosive device implanted in the soles of his shoes, hence all shoes must be removed now and run through x-ray machines. Now we are looking at a terrorist who has attempted to smuggle an explosive device in his underwear. Can you imagine the terrifying consequences of this action?

But I have a solution that some of you may now be beginning to see (and perhaps smiling). Yes, as the title of this posting implies, I am suggesting the creation of a security system based on one of the alternate definitions of "Commando" (that of not wearing underwear).

Imagine how much more quickly security lines could move if we just created a special line, or better still an airline, for those who instead of worrying about their mother's advice about wearing clean ones when they traveled simply decided to gamble and forgo potential embarrassment. I move that the only way to get airline travel back on track is to "Fly Commando".