Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Irony of Profit

It seems as though I am constantly confronted in the news by the fact that ordinary Americans are outraged by the profits that banks and health insurance companies are attempting to make at someone's expense. I am told by these paid teleprompter readers, pundits, and others of those 'in the know' that this outrage has to do with the greed that these people show in attempting to make money for themselves or their companies at the expense of just plain ordinary folks. I am likewise told that this is not something that the American people are in any way interested in seeing occur in this world. 

Imagine my surprise then, when I see what these same ordinary Americans are watching on TV for entertainment. It is nothing more (or less) than people attempting to do the very same thing that they find so wrong in these corporations. One has to do no more than visit the current crop of reality television shows to see that this is so. "American Pickers" tells the story of two guys who scour the country to find bits of memorabilia that they can buy cheap (obviously in a greedy attempt to take things from ordinary Americans) and sell them at a profit. "Ax Wars" portrays a plucky group of lumbermen who cut down trees in remote parts of the country only to sell them to lumber mills at a profit. (This show carries the additionally disgusting message of lionizing those raping Mother Nature to feed evil corporations.) "Pawn Wars" shows us a family business (and a rather dysfunctional family at that) buying treasures from other families now down on their luck, only to be able to later turn them around and sell them at a profit

And these are just the shows on every week on The History Channel, a network whose original purpose was ostensibly to provide information, education, and entertainment relating to the subject contained in its title. The Arts and Entertainment Network has its contributions as well with "Dog the Bounty Hunter" glorifying a person who hunts men for profit and "Billy the Exterminator" who kills pests for profit. The Bravo Network takes this to the next level (down) by simply making shows about people who cut hair, model, or just live in New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, or Orange County; apparently for nothing more than money. The Entertainment Channel finally hits a societal bottom with a plethora of shows about people who live for little other money and the notoriety that it brings (and manage to make even more of a profit by doing so)

Obviously all of these networks and all of these shows wouldn't be on the air (even on cable) if there wasn't some group of people out there watching them. Their numbers would not be increasing each and every new television season unless these networks were similarly making a profit by broadcasting them. 

And while I certainly don't have all of the answers here (a shock, I know), the question in my mind then becomes whether the American people are actually against the concept of anyone making a profit, or have we merely allowed an elite intelligentsia (who all seem to be doing pretty well financially) to attempt to dictate such standards to us. In the end, little of it may qualify as actual entertainment as far as I am concerned, but there is little doubt that there is a great deal of irony these days in the making of a profit.

The State of Newspaper Reporting

Normally when I complain about reporting in a newspaper these days, it's something from the editorial section of the local daily here in Toledo. Some of those complaints also have to do with the bleeding of editorial into news in the product that it produces. 

Today's beef however, has to do with the print product that this company would like us all to keep purchasing vs. the online edition that we get for free, and with the information delivered by wire services (in this case, the Associated Press). Now you would expect that as a consequence of being a paying customer, that reading the print edition would provide more and better information. You would be wrong.  

In a critical story (at least to those of us who used to play hockey), information was provided on the semi-finals of Olympic men's hockey. In the game between Finland and the US, the red white and blue handily defeated the Fins, and the story in the online edition of the sports section was accurately titled "US routs Finland 6-1, will play for hockey gold". The headline was a fortunate one, as nowhere in an Associated Press story of over 20 paragraphs on the game was the final score actually mentioned. 

Unfortunately for me, I read the print edition first this morning where the headline "Americans rout Finland, now face Canada" was the headline instead. This lead to half a page of reading without being given the final score of the game. I was only successful in discovering it by adding up goals on a paragraph by paragraph basis, and verifying my rather poor math by searching through the sports box scores. 

There is something sad about the fact that newspaper headlines these days don't give you a full snapshot of the story. There is something truly tragic in the fact that the Associated Press, once a highly respected and competent wire service can write an entire story about a sporting event without realizing the importance of reporting the score of it.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Health Care Compromise Meeting

(after rest and additional coherent thought) I did not watch the coverage of the health care compromise meeting held yesterday between the President and member of both house of Congress (one should never watch the sausage being made). I did read a number of the summaries of this meeting however, as well as watching some clips pulled from the sessions and the roundtable discussions of political pundits attempting to spin the meeting one way or the other. 

I have come to my own conclusion on these sessions after digesting all of this information and thought that it might be worth sharing. The version of compromise that the President and Democrats are proposing to Republicans seems to boil down to this, "You must compromise your legitimately held principles, or we will compromise your virtue." 

This is the essence of the reconciliation process in Congress, and the Republicans have used it more in the past than the Democrats. The process of the Thursday meeting however was additionally marred by the Democrats leaking the fact that they were looking at the reconciliation process days before the meeting was held, seeming to indicate that it was far from their intent. The gathering was likewise held up as little more than poor theater and sham politics as both sides postured before the cameras (somehow it seems impossible to keep politicians from overacting when cameras are running)

The president managed to solidify his position as "Abuser In Chief" by monopolizing the conversation that he had called in order to listen, and by slapping down opponents during a meeting designed to foster bi-partisan support. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, author of the 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy', "Ah, this is obviously some strange usage of the word Compromise that I wasn't previously aware of."

TFP Column: The Utility of Education

It's Friday once again, and that means it's time for another Toledo Free Press. That won't be the case for long however, as yesterday Publisher Tom Pounds and Editor-in-Chief Miller Miller made the announcement that the TFP will expand to two issues per week with a Wednesday "Star" edition. The TFP Plan also calls for an expanding circulation area that will include Bowling Green. 

As for my own work this week, I have penned an initial take on the Toledo Public School ballot initiative for a .75% income tax called The Utility of Education. There is not a lot of information out there as to the consequences to the district if the tax is not passed, there is enough out there to make this situation worth looking at. 

Though spring is supposed to be near, this weekend promises cold and snow here in Toledo. I don't know about you, but I plan to spend my time keeping warm, and some time keeping up with things going on in NW Ohio with the Toledo Free Press.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Apology Not Accepted

I was struck yesterday by the appearance of Akio Toyoda at a meeting the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. It was not that he offered the expected apology over the recent safety issues that his company's products have experienced, which genuine or not was simply good corporate theater. Instead, I was struck by the fact that this hearing was being held in a Congressional committee purportedly dedicated to government oversight and reform, and the sheer gall of members of Congress for thinking that they had the stature to hold such hearings. 

Was it not the failure of Congressional oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that contributed greatly to the bursting housing bubble? Was it not the failure of Congressional oversight in the banking industry that allowed this bubble to expand into a banking crisis requiring a massive bailout? Was it not a failure of Congressional reform and oversight that allowed the Federal Reserve to live in an unnatural relationship with major banks and brokerage houses of this country, largely causing the escalation of the current financial crisis? Was it not a failure of Congressional oversight that has allowed the Social Security and Medicare to become bankrupt in all but name? Was it not a failure of Congressional oversight and reform that allows the deficit to spiral out of control, forcing Congress to recently raise the debt ceiling yet again? (An effort that they admit will be but a stop gap measure ...) 

Where do these politicians get the brass ones to call anyone in front of the cameras to perform in a rather poorly acted version of the Spanish Inquisition? How can they who have failed in their own tasks so grandly and consistently ask anyone to submit to questioning that is little more than a public pillory? How can members of this group that has so greatly placed the safety of every man, woman, and child in this country at risk attempt to show righteous indignation over the apparent lapse of one company to serve the needs of its customers? 

There is a difference between Toyota and Congress in such lapses however. With Toyota, they are not only willing to admit past their mistakes, but their record of pride and dedication can lead to no other conclusion than that they will resolve the issues recently come to light to everyone's satisfaction. 

With Congress however, there is no admission of guilt for failure forthcoming, nor any real possibility that they will do anything substantive to address the issues (mostly of their own creation) that lie before them. I am therefore more than willing to accept the apology that Mr. Toyoda has generously offered. As for Congress, even if they ever do finally offer an apology (Olympic hockey finals being played in Hell has a better chance), it will not be accepted.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Party of One ...

I watched a number of the speeches from the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last weekend on C-SPAN (yes, people do actually watch this channel), and was pleased by a number of the concepts and sentiments expressed. One of the things that particularly struck me was that while it was assumed that these principles are more in line with the Republican Party than with the Democrats, neither of these parties is allowed to call the resurgent conservative movement their own. The Tea Parties likewise seem to be successfully resisting the siren song of those desiring them to become the most conservative and vocal part of the Republican Party. Even Libertarians, who epitomize truly conservative thought by an organized political party (and sometimes it's a stretch to use organized when speaking about Libertarians), do not get ownership rights to this movement. 

It occurred to me while processing all of this information that in fact many more candidates than ever more are running for office without seeking the approval, support, or funding of the two major political parties. The concept of the truly Independent candidate is becoming as much the rule as the exception in politics today. Now the argument made against these independent candidates is that without party affiliation, they will find their battle to achieve office more difficult. 

So what! 

Achieving elected office is a pretty good gig these days and no well paying job is easy to get. Why shouldn't they have to work hard for it? We are told that funding will become much harder to find for such campaigns, since they don't have the traditional support afforded to candidates of the two major parties. I find these comments rather disingenuous, since they usually come from people representing those two major parties, and often by the very same people who decry the overabundance of money in politics. 

We are likewise told that un-allied neophytes to political office will be much more likely to fall under the sway of evil lobbyists. It seems to me however, that our "experienced, professional politicians" have done an admirable job of falling prey to the mesmerism of these bottom feeding drones, so I see little to concern me and absolutely no proof that the situation will become worse. We are told that only through bi-partisan compromise between the two major parties can government steer the country on its proper course. 

Well the Democratic and Republican parties have been around for well over 100 years, and the most cursory examination the course they have charted for the country looks like the zig-zag sailed by a vessel attempting to navigate waters under open submarine warfare. (Come to think of it, this course also seems like one we would see under the control of drunken sailors, the same comparison we often use when discussing their spending habits.) Besides, I haven't noticed a lot of bi-partisan compromise going on lately, regardless of which major party is in power, so why should my support be based on such a concern. 

We are finally told that if such people are elected to office, that they will be able to accomplish little while in office. It is said that without party allies, they will not be able to advance an agenda. My response to this is, "What's wrong with that?" It's not like I approve of much of what either major party in government has been accomplishing lately. 

Perhaps if politicians were able to accomplish less for a while (or nothing at all for that matter), the country would be better served. The bottom line here is that in a country governed by a representative republic (which is what we are, not a democracy) citizens elect from among themselves people to serve the interests of their constituents and not that of a national political party. 

The current state of the republic in this country often seems to have gone terribly wrong however by putting party loyalty ahead of constituent loyalty. I therefore have no problem at all with the current crop of Independent candidates, and in fact welcome their entrance into the political process. If this is the only we can get back to having elected officials truly representing the interests that they are supposed to be, then I believe that more of us should embrace these Parties of One.

Monday, February 22, 2010

An Unexpected Honor


I was informed yesterday by Michael Miller, editor-in-chief of the Toledo Free Press, that they had put my name in nomination for the State of Ohio Society of Professional Journalist Award for "Best Political Commentary". According to Mr. Miller, this nomination is for "unflinching dissection of local political issues". (In point of fact there is no flinching involved, merely a bit of nervous twitching from time to time.)

Of course the TFP has submitted nominations for other award categories, including a couple for Michael Miller himself. It and he have previously won awards from this prestigious organization of Ohio journalists.

I will be amazed more than I was by the nomination itself if I should find myself among the finalists later this year, but I would be lying if I didn't say that I was gratified by the nomination, humbled by such consideration of my efforts, and hopeful in spite of the overwhelming odds against me.

And I will not let it go without saying that I am extremely grateful to Michael both for putting my efforts forward and for the unflagging help and support that he has given me.

You know, this may be in fact one of those rare instances when being nominated is enough. (Though I would certainly not object to making it to the next round of judging.)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hello Ipad, Goodbye Gutenberg

Almost everyone still knows these days that Johannes Gutenberg is the person credited with first using movable type, thus creating the first technological revolution in printing (and putting some Irish monks out of the business of copying). And while movable type is no longer used in the printing process today, mechanical printing presses are still the primary means of obtaining written material (books and newspapers) in the world today. 

Those days may finally be numbered however, with the introduction of Ipad. For those of you who have been living in a cave in the wilderness for the last couple of weeks, Ipad is the latest in a string of technology innovations from Cupertino, CA based Apple. Ipad is certainly not the first electronic reading device. We already have a Sony version, the Barnes and Noble 'nook', and of course the Amazon 'Kindle' to name just a few. In addition, we have the ability today to download written material to computers and cell phones. Apple however, looks to take this to the next level. 

Steve Jobs and the folks at Apple have taken this unit beyond being a simple reading device and turned it into a communication device. They bring to the table a size, ease of operation and wireless ability that may finally put the printed page into the realm of the dodo bird. In addition, the device is certainly capable of taking the place of the Ipod for music downloads, and with high resolution and wireless capabilities could easily someday fulfill the functions of the current generation of web-surfing phones as well. Purchasing books for this unit will continue to be easy enough (and much less expensive), and the Ipad should also be able to easily download a daily newspaper. 

Its 8-1/2 x 11" size should make it even easier to read for commuters than the traditional tabloid and broadsheet products, and it will likewise be easier than the Berliner format (a much smaller broadsheet size) that the newspaper industry has been investing in for the last couple of years. 

For those of us whose careers have been tied to the printed page, it appears that the predictions of our imminent demise are finally beginning to come true. As time goes on and costs go down (something that always happens in technology), it appears likely that paper and ink have finally met their match. And while the printing press will certainly not disappear overnight, the increasing pace of the march of technology is certainly beginning to tell us that we must finally say "hello to Ipad, and goodbye to Mr Gutenberg".

Friday, February 19, 2010

TFP Column: Political Position Confusion

The weekend is upon us yet again, and with it comes another of my efforts for the Toledo Free Press. In this week's column, "Political Position Confusion", I take a look at the high stakes game of Professional Politics and how confusing player identification is becoming. 

I know that it wasn't always this way, as those in the legislature in colonial days performed what was known at the time as "citizen service". These days however, it appears to be both a sport ... no difference than baseball, football, or hockey; and a giant corporation, with a management ladder to climb. Like both professional sports and big business, politicians can earn substantial rewards if they can only make it into 'The Bigs". At any rate, I hope you enjoy it. 

There is once more a lot going on in the city of Toledo this week, and the Toledo Free Press is probably your best opportunity to catch up on it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Teaparty Terrorist Spin

2/19/10 As predicted, it appears that it did not require the full 24 hours for a major media outlet to connect the dots in their game book. And while the article in Time Magazine does not directly say that the Tea Party movement is responsible, it is hard to draw any other conclusion from the reference that Newsbusters likewise points out. 

 An obviously trouble individual just committed an act of desperation in Austin, Texas. Joe Stack, a software engineer, set fire to his house before crashing a Piper Cherokee into the IRS building. He also left a rant at (which has since been removed) in which he apparently railed against former president George W Bush, his failing business, the healthcare system, and his tax problems. 

I wonder however, how long it will be before someone in the media will find a way to make a connection between this obviously disturbed man and the Tea Party movement in this country. (irony on) After all, anyone protesting taxes, especially anyone who commits an act of despicable and senseless violence must in fact be a part of the movement that protests the level of spending and taxation in this country, a movement which the mainstream media manages to demonize and denigrate at every available opportunity. (irony off) 

It's still very early in this story and the investigation leading into its details continues, but mark my words that the need to spin the story in this way will hit the media (and some of the blog crazies) before 24 hours has gone by.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


You often hear the expression SS,DD (Same Shit, Different Day). In Toledo yesterday, we saw the local political equivalent SS, DG. I say this because on Tuesday we saw Mayor Bell make a rather dramatic change in his proposed budget , pulling the request before City Council that he had been floating for ballot issue to increase to the city income tax, but leaving in place some other rather interesting proposals in order to reach a balanced budget by the March 31st deadline. 

Some of these were no surprise. An expected request for the unions in the city to begin picking up more of the costs for pension and medical plans was certainly no surprise, nor was a delay in the reduction of the recycling fee (trash tax, for those who are still following this in the courts). Also on the list to bring things back into the black were previously discussed plans for a proposed "Event Tax", which would add $1 to tickets for events (as yet undefined) held in the city and the elimination of Festival Fee Waivers.

The city's attempt to sell some of its real estate assets was also mentioned; though in an interview on WSPD with Brian Wilson and Fred Lefebvre, the mayor and city officials admitted that some of these properties may be difficult to move in the current economy (especially the Erie Street Market). The new and intriguing part of the plan was the proposal to eliminate the 100% reciprocity for those living in the city of Toledo, but working outside of it. This very recent addition was particularly interesting because when the former mayor (who will remain nameless) brought up the exact same proposal in the waning days of his reign, he was immediately scorned and derided for it by City Council, voters, and media alike. Undeterred by the negative response (something I suppose that he had long since become used to), he continued to push this proposal forward at every opportunity, right up to his last day in office. He even suggested that the new mayor would be forced to consider it in order to bring the city budget back into line. 

Somehow however, the overwhelmingly negative response that this proposal was met with only a few months ago seems to have escaped notice when it was announced Tuesday. Somehow everyone seemed to have forgotten the hue and cry that this would chase residents out of the city, destroy the already fragile relationship with the city's neighbors, and ultimately lead to a net revenue decrease for the city. 

Perhaps it's only that Council has not had the time to react to this last minute change in plans. Perhaps with time, strenuous rejection of this proposal will find its way into the media and public voice once again. Perhaps this is simply the last chuckle that the former mayor will get to have at the taxpayer's expense. Without attempting to make any judgment on the merits of such plans, it is easy enough to see that whatever else that this is however, it certainly gives the impression that it is a simple case of Same Shit, Different Guy

Maggie Thurber has a slightly different take on this (and her usual excellent analysis) that is well worth reading if you are interested.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Quotes of the Day

It being a Monday, not normally a day for me to post, I decided to pull a couple of bits from the Higgins "Bag of Wisdom" (or nonsense, depending on your point of view)

My closet contains more skeletons than most medical schools. It has become such a problem that I often have trouble hanging up my clothes. 

I find it both infuriating and ironic that God can curse me with a level of talent that does not allow me to do as well as I would like, the things I would so love to be able to; and bless me with the intelligence to recognize it.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Valentine's Day

It's the weekend of Valentine's Day, and once again we celebrate a religious holiday with pagan practices. For Valentine's Day was once "St. Valentine's Day", and celebrated either Bishop Valentine of Terni or Valentine of Rome; both of whom were martyred in Rome. Neither of these Catholic saints, by the way, had anything to do with romance (though priests of these early days of the Catholic Church were under no forced law of celibacy)

As often happens with such religious holidays however, we've managed pervert it into a bit of commercial nonsense with the premise that nothing says love like cards, flowers, chocolate, jewelry, and cars. I have nothing against any of these things, but question their relationship to the original religious premise, or the display of love for that matter. One might even point out that the smell of flowers or the taste of chocolate are but chemical substitutes for some of the physical responses of the emotion. 

I blame Hallmark for the hype and the cards for this day (in spite of the fact that I know that the practice began long before they were around). As for the practice of handing out precious metal and jewel creations, it seems a bit mercenary to me; and I'm sorry, but the whole automobile thing is just way over the top. 

This is not to say that I haven't been guilty of many of the rites involved with this annual event. In the hope of currying favor, I too arranged for dinners out and sent tokens of esteem to the women in my life (though in my defense, I also sent tokens of esteem for no reason at all in similar and often better received attempts). I even managed to get married on a Valentine's Day in my dim and distant past. (Pretty savvy when you think about it, managing to combine the mandatory gifts for two days into one.) 

There are still women in my life that I appreciate on this day, though none that I am gifting to. For these days I must share these ladies with someone else (hey, get your mind out of the gutter and let me explain). These women include (but are not limited to) my mother whose love has always been a constant, my sisters who have put up with me longer than almost anyone else, my daughter who suffers under the looming genetic burden of her relationship to me, and my granddaughters who hold so much promise in spite of (or perhaps because of) their limited contact. 

There a likewise other women in my life, past and present, that I will remember on this holiday with affection. Two of them I once called wife and probably deserved far more and better of me than either got in time, attention, and the gifts that I once gave. Some of them were and are only friends, but have added a measure of beauty and grace to my life that I'm sure that I never deserved. 

And though none of them will be receiving deliveries this weekend (perhaps out of fear of the reactions of their various boyfriends, fiances, and husbands), they should know that they will all be in my thoughts. For it is often only in the company of such lovely creatures that men can ever hope to find their better selves. (Awww ...) To them and to all of the ladies reading this, and in spite of my rather jaded view of the practices of the occasion (Curmudgeon, remember), my wish for you is a Happy Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

TFP Column: The Courage of One's Convictions

With the permission of editor-in-chief Michael Miller, I got to have a little fun with this week's effort for the Toledo Free Press. 

You see, for many weeks I have been noticing that the tone of comments on editorials written for this publication (and not just my own) have met with increasingly hostile and anonymous comment. I have written here before about what I find to be a rather cowardly form debate, but never to so wide an audience, so this was my opportunity to applaud the efforts of fellow columnists (whether I agree with their opinions or not), while putting in proper perspective what I feel are those of some of their supporters and detractors alike. 

If all holds true to form, I suspect that this rather incendiary effort will inspire some lively discussion at best and a measure of sophomoric attack on yours truly at worst. If not, at least I have managed to fire a shot across the bows of some of these shadow dwellers, whose arguments seem to amount to little more than those of a petulant child saying: "You're a doo-doo head!" 

With all of the political nonsense surrounding the Lucas County Republican Party and the impending tax efforts of the City and the Toledo Public Schools, there is plenty of good reading in this week's TFP, and little better way to spend what promises to be a cold and miserable weekend in NW Ohio.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Government Trickle Down Effect

As the May ballot process swings into high gear, two of those depending on the support of taxpayers are lining up to put additional taxes on the ballot. Whether we are talking about the City of Toledo or the Toledo Public Schools (TPS), the claim is that they simply no longer have the money to make ends meet. 

While I believe that many of us suspect that their claims are less than genuine, let's set that aside for now. The interesting thing to me is the economics involved with the request. The city rightly claims that there are streets to be paved and plowed, fires to put out, and crimes that its citizens need to be protected from. Unfortunately, they take a legitimate observation and abstract the flawed result from it that the only way to balance the books is to extract more from the citizens. 

TPS likewise rightly claims that the children of Toledo need to be educated. And in spite of the fact that the number residents, and therefore the students that it serves appear to be going down, the money required to educate these young people continues to increase. TPS further correctly claims that the state is no longer supporting education at the level that it once did in the past. (They might further claim that the state is still funding education in violation of a court order, but that's for another day.) The flaw in their reasoning is much like that of city, that this or any other revenue shortfall must be made up from local residents regardless of the service provided or the numbers requiring it. 

The state in turn, claims that it is suffering under increasing unfunded mandates from the federal government and has a debt problem of its own. And while it is not currently making a request for additional funding directly, it has passed legislation to delay impending state income tax cuts and stabilize their own revenue levels (which is pretty much the same thing)

The federal government has just passed legislation to increase its debt ceiling by $1.9 trillion, which I think speaks for itself. And in spite of the fact that some tax cuts passed during the Bush Administration are set to expire and will not be renewed (which would qualify as a tax increase), there seems little doubt that this will hardly slow the increase of the federal budget shortfall. The federal government would be in even more trouble in balancing its books, but has found some solace in its ability print money at an alarming rate. 

The amazing thing about all of this is that the federal government is certainly not taxing us less than they have in recent years. In spite of this however, there appears to be less money to share with the state. The state in turn has not significantly lowered their own tax rate, and yet they appear to have less to share with the cities and with the local school districts. Neither the city nor the school district have lowered their taxation demands, but they too are unable to make ends meet. 

I have often been told by both the media and Democratic politicians that the concept of "trickle down economics" from the Reagan years were in large part a failure in spite of their bringing the economy back from the very brink of disaster that the Carter Administration left it in. We were told that giving more money back to the people thorough tax cuts was in no way capable to stimulating the production of revenue for either the government or the people paying the taxes.  

Government however, appears to be more impressive in reproducing the this trickle down effect. The process in which Government allows not money, but increased levels of taxation trickle down is proving particularly effective. Unfortunately for the government and for us however, the result appears to allow not only increasing taxation, but increasing debt to trickle down to the state and local levels.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Super Bowl Victory Means More To New Orleans?

New Orleans won the Super Bowl on Sunday (congratulations by the way), and the victory will mean more than just an NFL championship for the Saints ... Of course it did! It will mean that Drew Brees and perhaps others of the players will receive lucrative endorsement contracts. It will mean that the NFL, owner Tom Benson, and the players will make some money on t-shirts, hats, and replica jersey sales. It will mean that Archie Manning, who was drafted by the Saints in 1971 and played with them for ten years will be both happy that his former team has finally won the ultimate prize, and sad that they had to beat a team quarterbacked by his son to do it. 

Unlike what has been posited by many in the media however, it will not mean all that much to the city of New Orleans itself. Oh sure, it will allow the citizens to feel good about themselves for something that 'they' didn't accomplish; and perhaps (at least according to bleeding hearts trying to find a story to sell) that is all that's important. It will not however, change the fact that New Orleans still has the highest per capita murder rate in the country. It won't change the fact that it's municipal government has taken corruption to a level seldom seen in this country. It won't change the fact that vast stretches of the city are still uninhabitable. It certainly won't change the fact that most of the city is still below sea level and as a consequence is likely to suffer damage again in the next hurricane-caused flood. 

This is not as much an indictment of New Orleans, a city that I have visited more than once and truly enjoyed regardless of its flaws (or maybe because of them). It is an indictment however of those only content when seeking the deeper meaning of even such things as a football game, or any who think that the world continues to owe them something because once a bad thing happened to them. I understand that hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. I would like to believe that I have concept of the devastation that it created for its residents and some sympathy for the plight of those living there. 

I likewise understand that billions of dollars have already been expended in an effort to provide succor, support, and rebuilding efforts for the area. I also understand that this is not the only area of the country that has faced disaster in recent history. Cedar Rapids, Iowa suffered an equally devastating flood, upper Michigan faced a category five storm (only it was a blizzard), and the parts of southern California that weren't burned away in brush fires seem to be sliding down the side of a hill in a wave of mud. Why is it that only New Orleans is deserving of deeper meaning, a positive message, and an additional wave of sympathy? 

And while I understand that the mainstream media would like to make far more of these stories of greater meaning in their evil search for something to stop their own hemmoraging profits, no part of this sporting competition has anything to do with making any part of the New Orleans situation any better. I wish therefore, that they would stop trying to tell me that this was more than just another sports championship game. I believe that that residents of New Orleans are better than this and that most have already moved on with their lives. I believe also that they are justifiably proud of the Saints winning the Super Bowl, after being in the NFL for forty-one years. 

Those of you who will not be content until you can find a greater meaning from Super Bowl XLIV however, might take a message often given to the players on the field during the game. When you get hit hard and it hurts like hell ... get up, dust yourself off, rub a little dirt on the wounds, and get back into the game.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Does A Temporary Tax Mean a Temporary Deficit?

Mayor Bell wants the voters to know that the temporary .25 increase in the city income tax he is proposing to close the $44 million city budge gap will end in 2012, at least according to the language in the proposed legislation. He is quoted in today's Toledo Blade as saying, "When I say temporary, I mean temporary". 

 I believe that Mayor is a decent person and probably believes what he says here. I am not so sure that the ever growing level of budget shortfalls will be over by December 31, 2012 as touted however. While I see some honest effort at nibbling on the edges of the city's problem, there is nothing that I can see that makes a sweeping change to local government to reduce the sizable amount of difference between revenue and spending that appears annually in Toledo. 

One time real estate sales might help this year, though property values seem to indicate that in many cases the city will barely recover money still owed on such property. Selling the parking garages, which appears to be the city's largest asset, has been pointed out to be much more complicated (and less profitable) by Lisa Renee in Glass City Jungle

The bottom line with such an approach however is that these properties are one time sales. Once their recovered value has entered onto the city's ledger, they are gone forever. The debt that the city incurs is a returning problem, and if they solve this year's by these sales there is no provision for that which will undoubtedly occur next year or the year after. 

Other revenue sources such as the red light cameras and trash fees appear to be equally problematic. Maggie Thurber does a great job of showing the current proposed thuggery of the city regarding red light camera revenues (as well as a returning ballot effort to ban this potential source), and the trash fee situation is still making its way through the courts. 

What we know from history however, is that the city's predilection for spending more than its revenue allows is anything but temporary. As a consequence, it is probably naive at best and disingenuous at worst to assume that the proposed temporary tax increase would in fact be one.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Conventional Thinking

This weekend, they are holding the first Tea Party convention down in Nashville. The 600 delegates attending undoubtedly see this as the next step in the evolutionary process of this movement, and one that will take it (and perhaps them) to the next level of political influence. I am not so certain. 

For while this may be the opportunity to guide this exciting vehicle of change in the politics of this country into the future, it might just as easily prove to be a carjacking. Take for example, the $549 registration fee for delegates to the convention, and some of the pretty steep room rates at the swank (I have stayed there and I know) Gaylord Opryland Hotel. Take a closer look at its high profile speakers, some of which have since canceled. 

Consider if you will, the steak and lobster on the menu this evening for their keynote dinner. These trappings seem hardly in keeping with the grassroots nature of the Tea Party movement. Consider as well, that squabbling has already broken out between two disputing groups over control of this first convention (and perhaps the money that might be made from it). For in fact, this convention is being run by a for profit corporation, the Tea Party Nation. This all reminds me of one of the old classic black and white movie plots in which the ability to move people of an actor or musician is subverted by a greedy movie or music business. 

Oh it all starts off innocently enough with someone possessing the raw talent of an unknown and the power of an idea. By the time that it finally hits the big time however, it has been taken over by the agents, the professional handlers, and the money people. Much of what was pure and good in the original concept (or person) is lost in the desperate scramble of greedy power brokers to cash in on something 'too good to miss'. 

Since the Massachusetts election, it is apparent that those whose profession is the pursuit and use of political power have finally noticed the new talent on the field of play. Having previously written off much of the Tea Party movement as little more than disaffected malcontents with no prestige; they now recognize it as a potentially powerful, but mostly amateur undertaking that could easily be directed by the right 'leader'. 

And while I cannot read into the minds of the delegates attending this weekend, I wonder how many realize the tremendous danger that exists to co-opt their message and principles and subvert the Tea Party movement into the very thing that they despise. I wonder if they can see these vultures of power circling this first gathering and waiting for a opportunity to feed. 

The principles that the Tea Party movement of today are trying to emulate are for the most part those of the Founding Fathers, and are therefore to be praised. If they are not careful however, this movement could easily become the tool of the very 'business as usual politics' of today that they now seek to end. If they are not constantly on their guard, I fear that they could easily fall prey to Conventional Thinking.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010



It appears that you will have to wait for the column in the TFP, as space considerations in this week's publication got it bumped. I have been assured that will be both in print and online next week however, allowing for some unintended and unneeded anticipation.
I have been writing columns for the TFP for some time now, and one of the toughest things that I have had to learn is that once you turn in an opinion piece in, you have to live with others making comment upon it. I am far from unwilling to have my arguments debated, though I sometimes find the form that these comments take a bit of a disappointment to say the least.

This week, with the cooperation and assistance of its editor-in-chief Michael Miller, I am attempting something new. I will be linking to this posting from my latest effort for the TFP instead of the other way around, so as talk a little bit about the tone of discussion in that publication recently, and to provide for some of its readers some insight into the convictions that I hold near and dear.
In doing so I hope to give those who believe that they agree with me a better understanding of why they might, and those who appear to disagree with me a better reason to do so.

I will post a link to the TFP Column as a follow up as soon as it is available.

  • I believe in the necessity of government, though I believe that the least amount of government that we can get by on is the best for all concerned.
  • I believe that it is the responsibility of citizens to pay for such government to provide for police, fire, and military protection; but not for one that wishes to speculate in the real estate market or compete with and own private businesses.
  • I believe in the Constitution of the United States exactly as written. I believe that not only does this document properly and superbly limit the scope and power of government, but that it does so without the need to be interpreted as a “living document”; since the ability to adapt or change it when necessary is provided in the process to amend it.
  • I believe that new legislation should be put to the Constitutional test before passage. While it is the purview of the Supreme Court to decide the Constitutionality of legislation, Congress at least checking to see if such legislation is within their purview would simply be fulfilling the oath of office that they take.
  • I believe in the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, and that the federal government has violated and subverted the rights of people and states that were insured under it.
  • I believe that the Seventeenth Amendment is wrong and should be repealed. When we moved away from the appointment of Senators by state legislatures to the popular vote; we subverted a protection provided to us by the Founders in the legislative branch of government, robbed the individual states of their power to make at least one legislative house answerable to them, and began the creation of the current political party gridlock that many of us so detest.
  • I believe that the process of governing in this country is currently subverted by the “two party system” which places higher value on party loyalty than on loyalty to the electorate, or to personal and fiscal responsibility.
  • I believe that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans hold exclusive province to the answers to this nation's problems, and that the continuing focus on party politics distracts us and them from finding those answers.
  • I believe that pensions for members of Congress and many other elected officials should be abolished. It was never the design of the Founding Fathers to create an oligarchy of professional politicians, and in the absence of workable term limits for these offices the best way to get back to citizen service in government is to force them back into the private sector to provide for their own futures.
  • I believe that far too much of the legislative and regulatory power in government resides in the hands of faceless bureaucrats, neither elected by nor responsible to the people; whose only goal is to gather more power and funding to their respective fiefdoms.
  • I believe that it is not the province of government to support the arts, subsidize businesses, crops, or forms of media; nor do I believe that it is possible for it to create jobs. Instead it is the responsibility of government to provide an environment conducive to the such support, subsidizing or creation by the private sector.
  • I believe that anyone who thinks that we live today in a free market economy is fooling themselves, and that many of the problems that we see with John Stossel rightly calls the “crony capitalism” in the US are a direct result of the poor attempts by the government to manage something far too large and complex for even experts to control, let alone politicians.
  • I believe that the current tax code is confusing and confiscatory and cannot be repaired, but must instead be scrapped and rewritten from scratch.
  • I believe that I know better what to do with my money than government at any level; and that if allowed to keep more of it I would: stimulate the economy, provide support for those less fortunate than myself, and perhaps even save enough to provide for my own medical care and retirement.
This is certainly not the complete list ladies and gentlemen, but it should be enough of one to give you an idea of where I am coming from. I hope that they provide some insight, some reason for discussion, or at least some entertainment; and will look forward to what I expect will be a lively dialogue of them.