Saturday, July 31, 2010

Congressional (Dis)Approval

Recent polling data shows that the American people are not particularly happy with the current crop of elected representatives supposedly serving them in Congress. Of course this might have something to do with the fact that Congress turned a deaf ear to the greater part of the American public during the health care debate, and that even now after its passage we find support for health care reform hovering at about 38%. 

With the subsequent passage of a financial reform package that was going to curb the excesses of Wall Street and protect John Q Public from evil banking institutions, we now see that few of Mr. Public's extended family (about 32.8%) believes that the country is going in the right direction. But certainly the recent exhibition of a serious hearing disability from Congress can't be the only reason that voters are so disgusted. 

Perhaps then, it's disappointment felt when promises by the current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (who might still have some questions of her own to answer about the use of military aircraft) to end some if not all of the corruption committed by law makers were less than fulfilled. Yes, we saw lawmakers from Louisiana to Nebraska showing just how ugly the legislative process can be while attempting to secure special privilege for their respective districts during debate and negotiation for final vote counts. (R) Scott Brown has proved equally disappointing, sweeping in on a tide of Conservative votes in Massachusetts only to show himself far less principled than promised (though he was taking Sen. Kennedy's seat after all) by casting votes with the Democrats that he campaigned against. 

But it wasn't merely the so-called "sausage making" of legislation that has cast a pall over Congressional credibility, but the corruption as well. We barely had time to forget the $90,000 found in (D) Rep. William Jefferson's freezer (and apparently the over $470,000 that he funneled into shell companies under his family's control), when we were confronted recently with the potential lapses of judgment by (D) Rep. Charles Rangel. Rangel, the former head of the House Ways and Means Committee (the Committee that writes tax laws) has been cited for 13 potential ethics violations for everything from misusing four rent control apartments to not declaring income and assets properly to Congress or the IRS. 

But such behavior is not limited to the House of Representatives, nor is it limited to Democrats. Republicans have had their share of offenders over the years and as a consequence have no claims to sainthood. While Rangel is the latest poster child for corruption in the national legislature, he is far from the only member operating under questionable circumstances. And while many are asking how Congress can let him remain in their midst, few are asking how someone on a Congressional salary can afford the rent on four apartments in NYC, a vacation home in the Dominican Republic, and bank accounts totaling some $500,000. 

Fewer still realize that if he manages to resign from office, he will undoubtedly be able to keep a Congressional pension that should land him about $150,000 per year and a medical retirement program that would be the envy of any of us. Those of us looking however, do not see Rangel as exceptional. 

Far too many enter Congress claiming to want to 'serve the people' and find themselves millionaires by the time of their eventual departure. Far too many then leave lucrative government service to enter even more lucrative government lobbying or media punditry. The few that choose to forgo such 2nd career windfalls still manage to make the rounds on the paid speaking circuit, get lucrative contracts to write their memoirs, and live in quiet luxury after performing a job that the Founding Fathers considered no more than a temporary position. 

The Founders it seems, had an expectation that after serving their country for a time, legislators would return to the private sector and to 'honest labor'; and would support themselves and their families through their own efforts. I expect that they would be shocked to find Washington DC (named after a politician who retired after 8 years of service to the nation, and without a pension by the way) populated by 'professional politicians' living off of the largess of the American taxpayer. 

The pursuit of power has always been dangerous to both the ruling elite and the ruled, and this appears to be especially so with today's 'public servants'. In fact, one cannot help but feel that for many of those in Congress, their public service turns out to be little more than self-service; with the office providing ample opportunity for greed, graft, and self-gratification (could it be merely coincidence that the House chamber is semi-circular). It should therefore be no real surprise that as yet another election cycle approaches, we now seem to hold those in office with relative disdain. Polling data compiled by Real Clear Politics in fact shows the average for Congressional approval hovering around 21%. 

I suspect however, that this number is even higher than it should be and as the fateful day approaches, that voters will show even less approbation to those running for office this year. I fear that many of our legislators are like to receive a considerable amount of (dis)approval.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Rules of Laws

The courts are attempting to rule on the Department of Justice lawsuit against the Arizona immigration law in the days leading up to its implementation on July 29th. This is but the first of many challenges that have been filed against this state legislation by both the government and by interested parties around the country, and one would expect that state lawyers will not soon see relief from their labors for some time to come. 

What seems to have become lost in the debate on this particular piece of legislation however is the concept that this country is one which follows "The Rule of Law". Now this concept, for those who have never bothered to consider its implications, simply means that neither the position of individuals or of governments shall be held to be above the laws of the land. The concept was posited at least as early as the days of the Greeks, and by no lesser an individual than Aristotle. 

During Medieval times, the concept was identified with the Code of Justinian from the Holy Roman Empire and the signing of the English Magna Carta in 1215. And even though the latter at least, did not provide the protections to the common man that many seem to think, it did at least provide some relief to barons from the abuses of a monarch. 

Later still, James Madison, the father of our Constitution spoke of the rule in Federalist 57, saying that a legislature can, "can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as on the great mass of the society". Nowhere is any mitigation for this concept seen either in the writings of the Founding Fathers, or in the Constitution itself. In fact, specific provision was made in this founding document which limits and defines the government methods to change improper or onerous laws, up to and including changing the Constitution itself (by making Amendments)

I therefore fail to understand how the current discussion of the immigration law seems to justify the attempt to make a certain group of people exempt from such law. We are asked to forgive the violation of such laws because violators have been here so long. Yet many laws already have a "statute of limitations" which prevents the state from prosecuting a person from legal violation after a certain period of time has passed, and immigration law is not one of them. We are asked to forgive the violation of such laws because those doing so only seek a better life for their families. What other laws should we forgive for such benevolent reasons: bank robbing, kidnapping, petty theft? We are asked to forgive such violations because they are after all, only misdemeanors and require no punishment. What other misdemeanors will also be forgivable without further punishment: drug possession, drunk driving, spousal abuse? 

Of course when viewed through the window of such cold logic and using reason as a basis for discussion, such comparisons seem ludicrous. In fact, many of those same compassionate people are calling for increasing enforcement of many of the offenses that I list. Additionally, mandatory minimum sentences have now been made part of law for many such violations in order to remove from the judge the potential for compassion or leniency for violators. 

Also seemingly forgotten in the discussion is the fact that two previous opportunities were provided (in federal law) for legal immigration mechanisms for those in this country illegally. It was promised by Congress that each of these opportunities would solve the problem and would begin the process of stricter enforcement. Yet only the most foolish would believe that they were successful or that stricter enforcement did in fact follow, and those making any claim of belief have no good answer as to why if they were a success, further relief is now required. 

If we are a remain a nation living under the rule of law, we do not get to pick and choose those that we will ignore. While there are stupid laws out there that cannot be enforced, they are still laws until changed. While there are probably more laws on the books at every level of government than can be enforced by all of the enforcement officers in the country, there are mechanisms that can be used to add enforcement or eliminate laws. 

If we are to abandon the principles of governance in this country however, if we are allow selective enforcement for compassionate reasons, if we are to allow the demeaning of one of the principles by which the government functions by that government itself, can we not allow the government and the people of Arizona to similarly choose which laws they will enforce and ask that the federal government not interfere with such choice and drop the frivolous suits?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

TFP Column: Taxes By The Numbers

It's always an honor to have one of my efforts made a part of the Toledo Free Press. Having two efforts put up in succeeding days however, is something special. 

This latest column touches on something that appears to be much on the minds of most of us in America ... taxes. Taxes By The Numbers looks at some of the implications of the numbers at what might be the end of what is commonly known as the "Bush Tax Cuts". 

It's interesting to hear what some of those in power are saying in the days leading up to these year end impending tax increases, and more interesting still to see what these numbers actually are. Some of these numbers are almost never openly discussed and most of them should be of great concern to all of us.

Monday, July 26, 2010

TFP Column: Zero Sum Solution

With the addition of financial reform legislation, we see yet another ponderous, mind-numbing, and tree killing bit of Congressional interference in capitalism (apparently killing trees is OK, as long is it's done for the sake of such higher purposes).

Rather than offer any real relief from the heat however, my belief is that it is mitigation of Congressional oppression that is required. Because of a wealth of good material, my offering for the weekend electronic version of the Toledo Free Press is only now coming online. 

I therefore offer for your edification, this week's TFP effort, "Zero Sum Solution". While it may prove small comfort to offer from the heat and humidity stifling most of the country (except that winter is but a few short months away), it may prove a refreshing alternative to the hot air coming from Washington DC.

There is much more however for those of you attempting to discover what's really going on in Toledo and NW Ohio, and it can be found in this weekend's edition of the largest circulation Sunday newspaper in the area, the Toledo Free Press.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Racist Riptide

For those of us attempting to follow, assimilate, and interpret the story this week involving the remarks of Shirley Sherrod; it felt very much like swimming in a riptide. Now for those of you perhaps unfamiliar with the term, a riptide is a current that moves away from the direction of shoreward bound waves. Such a current is also known as an undertow, since it travels under the surface. Riptides are a great danger, as even the best swimmers can be drawn so away from shore by these swiftly moving waters that they find themselves unable to return to the safety of shore; and eventually they drown.

So too were we drawn hither and yon (and farther from the safety of the shore of reason) by unseen currents in this story. First the edited video released on led many to believe that this was a story of racism on the part of Ms. Sherrod as she spoke of resenting, ill serving, and finally helping a white farmer in Georgia. Then those who took the time to look closer and listen to her speak more carefully of this as a seminal moment in her life, saw the direction shift as she told us of learning that this situation was not about race relations in this country.

The story quickly changed direction again however as the NAACP and the USDA quickly moved to censure Ms Sherrod, decrying the racism that their first  interpretation led them to; with her federal government employers apparently demanding her resignation (at what level this demand may really have come from may yet in fact be a story).

The currents shifted again however, as those in powerful places either finally looked at the entire speech (or at least the entire originally aired video). Apologies were offered (along with renewed employment) and both Mr Breitbart and Fox News were blamed for the undertow of opinion caused by bringing any of this to light (I believe that this tactic is known as "shooting the messenger".) and for the apparently floundering attempts made by the government and NAACP to now swim to safety in these treacherous waters.

Now as the waves appears to have settled on the surface at least for the moment, those left are carefully attempting to make their way once again to safety of shore. They should remain careful however, for we are still left with some potentially uncomfortable currents that must navigated:
  • While Ms Sherrod was apparently using this anecdote as a teaching moment, her speech did talk about turning the white farmer over to "one of his own kind", the kind of lightning rod of a phrase that could still be considered racist language when used in any speech, especially by one in government service. Many have been brought down by far less.
  • Ms Sherrod's teachable moment taught her that such inequity was not a racist struggle, but a class struggle. This apparent epiphany moving her from potential racism to potential socialism does not appear to disturb many yet (and fear of falsely accusing Ms Sherrod of such sentiments at this point may prevent any follow up questioning on such beliefs). Such protection may not last forever however, unless the story disappears into the B section of the news.
  • Ms Sherrod might have reached that teachable moment many years ago, but apparently the audience at this relatively recent NAACP dinner might still be looking for theirs, as they laughed and clapped at the ill treatment that she described performing on a person of another race.  (This likewise seemed to draw little attention, either in fear of further racist charges or because of selective inattention.)
  • This is the only speech to have come out of either Ms Sherrod or an NAACP event since the battle lines were drawn with the Tea Party movement. One might suspect that as time goes on, other equally embarrassing moments on the part of either may yet surface.
Additionally, we have discovered that watching presidential press and cabinet secretaries drowning in their own misstatements while attempting to set records in the Olympic backstroke is a swimming event painful to watch on television. Watching them follow it with the political version of the Australian crawl in the same 24 hour news cycle is almost too painful for words. Speaking of words, watching the liberal left media go into a feeding frenzy over a prior feeding frenzy on the right is to mainstream media what watching the fat man Mr Creosote from "Monty Python, The Meaning of Life" is to eating. I for one am embarrassed and ashamed for most of those who claimed either the titles of journalist or pundit.


There is little doubt that many of these swirling currents developed as a result of the NAACP condemning racism in the Tea Party movement. There is likewise little doubt that some in the conservative media used selective inattention when watching and listening to this video to drum up their own particular brand of vitriol and feed red meat to certain rabid parts of their audiences.

On the other hand the NAACP and the federal government seemed to have a similar disability when reviewing the same material, drew many of the same initial conclusions, and tarred and feathered Ms Sherrod with apparently equal zeal and relish.

Finger pointing therefore, that will be attempted by both sides with vigor over the coming days, will probably come to little in the end. There is little doubt however, that riptides like the one that we have just experienced can be dangerous places to swim when you are caught in the middle of them, and perhaps none can be so deadly as those shark-infested waters that the term "racism" seems to create any time its used.

Perhaps all will become a little more careful when wading into these waters, and like Ms Sherrod in her video, use this as a teachable moment (though I do hate that phrase).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Military Intelligence

A recent article in the Kansas City Star could not help but catch my attention. Having only recently returned to the Kansas City area, I had little invested in reading the press release from the Rep Ike Skelton that , " ... the Navy plans to move a construction battalion to Whiteman Air Force Base near Knob Noster in western Missouri. The Naval Mobile Construction Battalion-15 currently is stationed at the former Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base in south Kansas City area." 

It did however make me curious. I could easily understand the economic impact that 17 active duty personnel (full-time jobs) and that the 497 reservists (part-time jobs) would be a loss to the Kansas City area. I could also understand that this Construction Battalion probably serves a needed function in the greater scheme of the military. My difficulty arose however when looking at the broader picture of its location. 

While I have relatives currently serving actively in the military, I make no claims to understanding either the military mind or the logistics of construction battalions. I like to think however, that I can bring logic and reason to bear on most if not all of the situations that I consider. 

I have yet to reach a satisfactory conclusion however on the concept of moving a Navy construction battalion from one Air Force base to another, especially when both locations appear to be about as far from an ocean as you can get in the continental US. 

There may in fact be an excellent reason for this naval battalion to operate out of either location (and perhaps someone will point one of them out through comment); but at best the situation has all of the earmarks (pun intended) of a public relations nightmare waiting to happen for the armed services in general and the Navy in particular, and at worst it may be yet one more example of a member of Congress attempting to strong-arm one of our armed services in the name of pork and keep some of the taxpayers' money at home ... no matter how ridiculous such an attempt may appear.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I Blame Fox News

Now for any of you familiar with this blog site, the title of this posting has to be a statement that comes as a bit of a surprise. One hardly expects that someone calling himself a Constitutional Conservative will go on the attack when it comes to the only news network that does not appear to have actively aligned itself with liberal and progressive causes in this country. 

Those of you more familiar with the "inside baseball" of blog sites however, will recognize that such a title posting is likely to generate higher hit rates (something blog sites strive for), as it provides reasons for folks with strong beliefs either way to look deeper. I can't say that I have been overly concerned with hit rates over the years on this site, since I don't have advertisers that reimburse me based on such things; but it does one's heart good (yeah I know, who thought conservatives had hearts) to know that there is someone out there reading your work. 

Besides, it appears that my readership has already gone up lately recently, since a site called Before it's News has begun picking up postings on this site on an RSS feed. To the point however ... The furor over the case of Shirley Sherrod and the USDA drew my attention this week, as it appears it did many others. Curious over the latest reports, I decided to follow up on the NAACP's position reversal on Ms. Sherrod, and its claim that the mistaken position that they originally took in the case was because they were "snookered by Fox News". 

Setting aside the fact that 'snookered' is not a term of common parlance these days, that few reporting on the story seem concerned with the audience reactions at an NAACP dinner to the pronouncements of Ms. Sherrod on her treatment of this "white farmer" from many years ago (and before they knew that this was supposed to be a teaching moment), and that no one forced either the White House or the NAACP to condemn Ms. Sherrod without more careful investigation; I found the accusation against Fox News troubling. Not believing in coincidences, I was forced to look further into Fox News and its owner Rupert Murdoch. I couldn't help but wonder what further societal ills might be laid at their feet.
  • Mr. Murdoch began acquiring newspaper properties in the US in 1973 with the San Antonio Express through his company News Ltd, going on to purchase the New York Post in 1976. In the years since, the newspaper industry has seen a gradual decline in both its prominence as a source of news and its revenue.
  • In 1981 they went on to acquire half of 20th Century, taking over the rest in 1984. Many would argue that both the originality and quality of movies have similarly declined since the 80's.
  • In 1986 they went on to complete the purchase of the Metromedia group of television stations, and the Fox Broadcast Company was born. Like the newspaper and movie industries, the network television business has struggled for originality, audience share, and revenue ever since.
  • In 1996, the company began the Fox News Channel to compete with CNN. Cable news networks were never the same again (though some apparently attempt to maintain that the start up of MSNBC that same year might have had more to do with it).
  • In 2007 the company began the Fox Business Network and around the same time completed the purchase of the august Wall Street Journal. No one can deny that in the days since, the national and world economies have suffered horrible setbacks.
So while clearly circumstantial, I believe that this evidence shows that Fox News (along with all of the other associated organizations under the umbrella of Rupert Murdoch and his News Corporation) is likely at fault for many of the evils in the world today. From the world economic crisis to the decline of newspaper circulation, from Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell movies (sorry, couldn't resist the shot) to the sorry state of reporting on cable news networks; this group is likely at the heart of all of the ills that beset society today. 

Disclaimer: Just Blowing Smoke regularly uses both irony and sarcasm. Those incapable of recognizing such literary devices should by no means endeavor to reach conclusions on any subject based solely on the material contained herein.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign

In the days following the NAACP resolution to condemn racism in the Tea Party movement, charges and counter charges have been flying back and forth faster than the tennis balls at the recent Wimbledon tennis tournament. The mainstream media, long seeking to demonize this grassroots movement in some way and performing its function as a cheerleader for the left, has likewise been attempting to give some traction to the accusations voiced by the NAACP during its Kansas City convention. While no audio clips from any of these gatherings has yet to be produced as an illustration of such sentiments, there have been a number of photographs used to reinforce the accusations of racial intolerance.

Most if not all of these examples involved signs and posters carried by participants at rallies across the country. Some of these obviously homemade efforts were clever in the way that they attempted to illustrate the maker's frustration with what's going on in this country and some were in questionable taste and may have crossed the line in that same attempt (something particularly easy in our PC society). Some of these efforts might even be interpreted as racist (especially by someone predisposed to do so) in the maker's attempt to show anger against the policies that the federal government has been pursuing, though much of that frustration began long before Barack Obama became president.

I hate to tell you folks, but that's the nature of political discussion in this country. Some will be reasoned debate, some will be argumentative but necessary, and some will simply be regrettable examples of the poor behavior that large gatherings of people are capable of. For myself, I do not think that any of what has been reported could prove that there is racism at the heart of the Tea Party Movement, rather than righteous anger against the policies of the federal government in general and the egregious abuses of this administration in particular. I believe however, that any group that's attempting the level of political change that this one is needs to be especially careful about policing itself. I therefore suggest the following:

No posters at Tea Party gatherings!

Let's face it folks, the posters are not there to educate others at the gathering (they already know why they're there), they are there to illustrate individual grievances. Many more are simply a natural product of the frustration felt and perhaps simply an effort to vent it. Some, like posters at sporting events, concerts, and in television audiences however, are little more than shameless attempts to get a camera to focus on them. This "look at me" attitude does nothing to advance the cause that these groups feel so passionately about, and leaves the door open for poorer examples to potentially embarrass and humiliate such groups. They also allow groups with opposing points of view the opportunity to infiltrate such gatherings and demonize them with fabricated extremist visual offerings.

It was the Five Man Electrical Band back in 1971 that recorded the classic song by Les Emmerson, "Signs", with the singer complaining that signs everywhere were "breaking my mind". I would have to say that the lyrics are probably more relevant today then they were at the time that this song was recorded. We have enough road signs (especially those illustrating payment for projects by Stimulus funding), billboards, and posters in the world; and the elimination of signs at Tea Party rallies would be a welcome reduction.

Besides, it would be a tragedy for such a necessary movement in this country to be derailed by what may be little more than visual attempts at self-aggrandizement. The signs and posters at Tea Parties may not break anything, but they could do damage to perhaps this country's best hope in taking back control of its government. I can only hope that the movement will see "the Signs" out there leave the signs at home.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Relocation / Dislocation

My son Sean has been in Kansas City for a visit recently and picked me up from an appointment in the middle of the afternoon. Like his father, Sean always has the radio or CD player going while in the car; but unlike me, his political views and taste in radio stations do not permit him to enjoy conservative talk radio on weekdays (in spite of my failed attempts at political conversion)

After scanning the radio dial twice (according to his retelling of the event) he was unable to find more anything other than National Public Radio to suit his tastes. It appeared that there was plenty of Country music, and what to his sensibilities seemed an inordinate amount of Christian radio, but nothing like the music selection that he was used to in his home of Columbus (OH). Thinking of his problem reminded me how much this country changes as we move from place to place. 

Now as I look back in time, I have lived in Chicago, Kansas City (now twice), Columbus (twice), Cleveland (actually Medina if you want to get technical), LaGrange GA, and Toledo. Each of these places had things that recommended them, and some had more than others. Certainly however, each featured differences in the level of culture, variety and type available cuisine, and in the personalities of their populations. Ultimately, each had a charm of its own (sometimes in spite of itself)

This is turn reminded of that first time I had moved to what is known as the "City of Fountains" in the mid 70's. I remember a time not long after that arrival that found me sitting in a quiet local bar and enjoying a quiet local beer. The discussion of my fellow patrons that day was of their attire, more specifically of the material making up their foot coverings. One described cowboy boots as being made of alligator skin, another of rattlesnake skin, and the third of shark skin. (Please, no complaints from PETA members, as these none of these politically incorrect foot coverings were mine.) My reply, as the three looked at me was simple and to the point: "Sorry guys, but I just moved here from Chicago. I don't own a pickup truck, don't have a rifle rack, and I'm wearing penny loafers." (Wow, did I just date myself or what?) 

Any fears that I might have had of physical intimidation following this shocking admission were quickly dispelled however, as having just moved from Chicago, my erstwhile companions in libation assumed that I was part of the Mafia (Higgins being a well known Sicilian surname). I came to love the city and its people over the subsequent seven years that I lived here the first time. I find likewise that I am enjoying my return to both KC and the family that remains here in residence, in spite of the fact that it has a Mayor whose name suspiciously reminds me of one which should not be spoken (Mark Funkhouser)

I have to admit however, that even though I have lived here before, there is a bit of dislocation that comes with this most recent relocation (as has occurred with every previous relocation), and I'm sure that I will continue to experience periodic mental displacement (beyond what I normally experience) caused by the difference between my current surroundings and those of my previous home in Toledo from time to time.

In considering this current situation, I couldn't help but recall the line from The Wizard of Oz; when Dorothy said, "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more." "Sorry Dorothy, but you're wrong," I would be forced to reply to her these days. "In point of fact, we both are!"

Friday, July 16, 2010

TFP Column: Blast From The Past

Taking advantage of things going on in my current city of residence (Kansas City) and my former former (Toledo), I have discovered a rather unlikely connection between the two through a group that I hadn't heard from for years and had thought had gone the way of the dinosaur. 

In my most recent effort for the Toledo Free Press, editor-in-chief Michael Miller has allowed me to explore this connection (and to continue to pick on the Department of Justice) with a piece called "Blast From The Past" in the electronic edition of that publication. 

For those of you of with an interest in all things political however, there is a much more important piece in this week's edition. Kristen Rapin has written an outstanding piece on the current scrutiny that NW Ohio Representative Marcy Kaptur is getting in regards to earmarks and political contributions. 

It's far too hot, humid, and uncomfortable to be outside doing anything (even if it needs doing), so my personal recommendation would be to find a cool place, a cool drink, and curl up with this weekend's Toledo Free Press.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It's Good To Be The King

For those of you who might recognize the phrase but not the source, it is a memorable one from what I consider an otherwise forgettable cinematic effort by Mel Brooks, "History of the World, Part I". The line is spoken by Mel himself, while playing King Louis XVI during the French Revolution (one of the many roles he played in this movie), as he takes any number of liberties while using the quoted line as only his excuse for these acts. We don't have any kings in this country currently (in spite of claims to the contrary), but we certainly seem to have a less than excusable elite capable of taking liberties. 

Surprisingly enough, I'm not talking about Congress this time however, but instead about some of the minions and myrmidons that namelessly work in the federal bureaucracy, public sector employees. Now I have written on this subject and these people before, but the sheer magnitude of the facts of the situation have never been so clearly illustrated as they have in a recent Heritage Foundation piece by James Sherk. Now for those of you are are either unable or unwilling to read the entire piece supplied in the link, let me pull a couple of salient bits of information out for you education and edification.
  • The federal pay system gives the average federal employee hourly cash earnings 22 percent above the average private worker’s, controlling for observable skills and characteristics.
  • Including non-cash benefits adds to this disparity. The average private-sector employer pays $9,882 per employee in annual benefits, while the federal government pays an average of $32,115 per employee.
  • Overall, controlling for other factors, federal employees earn approximately 30 percent to 40 percent more in total compensation (wages and benefits) than comparable private-sector workers.
  • Federal employees enjoy job security irrespective of the state of the economy. Since the recession began, federal employment has risen by 240,000—12 percent. The unemployment rate for federal employees has only slightly risen from 2.0 percent to 2.9 percent between 2007 and 2009.
  • Federal employees demonstrate with their actions that they receive better compensation in the public sector than in the private sector: They quit their jobs at one-third the rate of the private employees.
  • Bringing federal compensation in line with private-sector compensation would save taxpayers approximately $47 billion in 2011.
Overall, the article illustrates (as shown in the chart at the beginning of the post) some even more startling numbers (though getting past the whole saving $47 billion in 2011 is hard for me at least), that federal civilian employees earn an average of $78,901 annually compared to $50,101 in the private sector, a difference of 57%. Add the generous benefit packages that public sector employees get in comparison to their counterparts in the private sector, and the difference is $101,015 to $60,078, a difference of 85%. 

Now the study does point out (and it's worthwhile to note), that public sector employees tend to be better educated (33.4% in the public sector to 21.9% in the private have bachelor degrees) and are higher skilled as well; both of which can account for some level of higher pay. The study also points out however, that, "Many federal employees in highly skilled occupations receive market wages. However, semi-skilled federal workers earn substantially more than they would in the private sector." Such a statement would seem to mitigate some part of the education argument as justification for the vastly different levels of compensation, as it hardly seems likely that the more highly educated would be taking the lowered skilled positions. 

Ultimately, we must conclude from the information supplied by the Heritage Foundation that at a time when the only discernible job growth in this country appears to be that of the federal government, these statistics and conclusions are more than alarming. At a time when the federal deficit has all of the appearances of a runaway train, this kind of compensation disparity seems at the least irresponsible and at worst, all but criminal. As Mel Brooks says, "It's good to be the king"; but it appears that if you can't manage to sign up for that gig (it is tough job market after all), the next best one for those desiring of the taking of financial liberties is to work for the federal government.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Diamond In The Rough

Something in a conversation that I had today got me thinking about the subject of diamonds. Have no fear, this discussion had nothing to do with the contemplation of matrimony on my part (been there, done that twice, threw away the T-shirts). No, this was in regards to one of those endless commercials by jewelry stores making none too subtle hints that the only suitable gift for a woman is one of these pieces of compacted carbon. That the purchase of volcanically densely packed bits coal should be the only way to win or keep a woman's heart has often struck me as rather insulting to the intelligence of the fairer gender. 

That such blatant capitalism apparently works as well as it does should be considered a miracle of modern advertising. The whole thing got me thinking about the fact that one of the great scams of the modern world is the value of diamonds. While it is true that this is one of hardest substances known to man (harder in fact than a conservative's heart, or so they tell me), it is not nearly as rare a gem as was once thought. 

In fact, some 130 million carats (57,000 lbs) are mined, and over three times that are synthesized annually according to our friends at Wikipedia. (The carat, by the way, is a unit of weight based on the carob seed, or approximately 200 milligrams.) Rubies and emeralds are certainly more rare, as are sapphires and opals. Even pearls, though technically not a gemstone and also somewhat artificially produced, are more difficult to obtain. Regardless of the geologic facts of the matter however, the diamond remains the most prestigious of rocks. 

It simply struck a chord in me that while many are quick to vilify oil companies over the price of their product, their apparently scandalous methods of obtaining it, their exploitation of both their workforce and their consumers, and their apparently scandalous profitability; few realize the level of manipulation and the artificial value that is maintained over this particular gemstone. 

DeBeers, begun in 1888 and still one of the larger players in the diamond market (during the 20th Century having roughly 80% of the world's diamonds passed through their hands) still holds significant inventories of stones. That organization's inventory and that of their counterparts in the world diamond cartel, closely control the release of both the number of stones and the number of large stones, in order to artificially maintain the high price of diamonds in the world market. 

Yet in spite of this blatant manipulation, diamond producers are held in high esteem, diamond purveyors (jewelry stores) are considered palaces, and customers of these overprice baubles are considered intelligent and trendy. Quite frankly, the whole process is a sham, propped up by all of the worst excesses in both capitalism and consumerism. 

Perhaps this is the true meaning of "diamond in the rough", which defines as, "Someone who is basically good-hearted but lacking social graces and respect for the law." Of course, they go on to list another definition as well, "This term is often used to describe people on the edge of the criminal fraternity who, while they may not commit serious crimes themselves, probably know people who do." 

Maybe that particular connection is why the whole thing got me so aggravated in the first place ... it reminds me of politics.

Friday, July 9, 2010

TFP Column: Consistent Inconsistency

I hadn't written anything for Michael Miller and the Toledo Free Press during my hiatus period either and the skills to do so were more than a little rusty, but he decided that my last minute effort was at least worth of posting in the online edition this week regardless. 

I hope that you enjoy "Consistent Inconsistency" while promising that any future TFP effort will be submitted more in line with the editorial schedule.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Summer & Immigration Continue To Heat Up

It has occurred to me that both the planet and immigration reform have been heating up in recent days. The planet (at least the northern hemisphere thereof) can be said to have some excuse for this other than the purported looming crisis of global warming ... summer. Different areas of the country are experiencing this annual event to different extents, with my current home of Kansas City to experience rain and highs in the mid 80's and my former home of Toledo and my daughter's home in the NYC area both expecting temperatures close to 100. 

The heat up of immigration law debate in this country has no such scientific justification; nevertheless, the subject seems to be drawing increasing levels of attention. Having dispensed with stimulus programs that didn't provide all that much relief from the nation's economic doldrums, health care reform that failed to provide relief for rising health care costs (at least in the near term), and having likewise proved that it's little better in dealing with disasters in the Gulf of Mexico than the previous administration; the current one is now apparently directing the full force of its attention to subject of immigration. Both sides on this subject seem to have their share of worthwhile points, as well as their respective flaws of argument and inconsistencies. 

Many choose to stand behind the idea of building a wall at the border, in spite of the consistent failure of fixed fortifications to provide any safety for those who built them (the Maginot Line, the Atlantic Wall of WWII, the Walls of Troy & Jericho). In fact, one cannot help but see an interesting inconsistency in the fact that many of the same people who cheered Reagan when he said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." are now those most likely to be those demanding the building of one on our own border. 

Others demand sympathy for offenders of Immigration law, especially for those who have been in this country for some time. This position seems equally inconsistent, since two previous immigration reform acts would have allowed such offenders two previous paths to forgiveness and legal citizenship. Still others point out that violations of immigration law are misdemeanors, and offenders should be cut some slack. And while there is little doubt that we have selectively enforced many of the laws in this country over the years, it also shows a lack of 'big picture' vision when we suggest such laxity while demanding increased enforcement of laws on misdemeanor alcohol or drug related offenses. Like summer temperatures, different areas of the country are experiencing different comfort levels where immigration is concerned. 

Arizona's recent passage of its own kind of immigration reform has certainly put them on the hot seat and at the center of the storm. Apparently a state does not have the right to increase enforcement of existing federal law (when such federal government does not want them to) by the use of its own personnel and funding, and that federal government will not hesitate to say so. Texas seems equally uncomfortable these days, as kidnappings, murders, and armed incursions of drug cartels penetrate their border with the south. Then again, Texas has always had a bit of a reputation for stretching the truth and using the least little thing (like uniformed gangs holding hostages, killing judges and prosecutors, and severed heads being delivered to families as warnings for good behavior) to justify the use of their second amendment rights. 

Not surprisingly, California seems largely untouched by the immigration issue, in spite of the border that they share. Then again, California seems largely untouched by much of reality much of the time. There is little hope that any real action will come of the heated debate on Immigration Reform this summer. Washington DC is also one of those places whose residents can experience serious discomfort during the summer months (which is why Congress recesses then). Additionally, this is an election year, and the polling data is inconsistent for those running for office as to which side of this debate provides the greatest chance of re-election (and the most political cover)

There will however be a significant amount of additional hot air generated by politicians, advocacy groups, and pundits on the subject; as a part of the heated rhetoric. As such, they will do little to resolve the issue; but will undoubtedly make a contribution to the increase in summer heat.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


"I find it interesting in listening to the demands for respect of many young men today to discover that in fact they have little for themselves, less for the women that they consider important in their lives, and almost none for the rules under which we live." 
- me 

The observation that such is the case for the generation that will be responsible for our future was rather disturbing to me, though I suppose that many would say that every generation of my has felt the same way about the ones that followed. On this Fourth of July, such concepts seem incredibly important to me. 

After all, this is the day when we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence (in spite of the fact that many of those who signed this document apparently did so some time after the date credited for the document). Those signers were in fact not only dissenting, but breaking with a king and government in England that many held in high esteem in spite their differences. They took the time however, to create a document (which remains in some significance) setting forth the purpose of their action and carefully outlining the justification for those which would follow. 

In making this attempt they were fact showing polite regard for the very people to which they assigned their currently untenable situation to. What greater compliment can be paid to a group of political representatives (especially in light of some of the recent history of the calling) than that they felt the need to do this for their enemies ... and in such a fashion!

This of course, is not to say that one is not allowed to disagree with one's opposition (even violently so). In fact this Declaration could be no clearer a statement of opposition and the firm resolve to stand by that opposition if it were made as a declaration of war. Further however, if it has taught us anything, it is that even when doing so (and perhaps especially so) that there is a certain respect of the rules to be considered.

 Now since I have not put keyboard to paper recently (a situation for which some are no doubt more than grateful), I will try and keep this brief today. I would like to say however that as we all enjoy time with family and friends, enjoy good food and good company, and remember the day that once and for all set this country apart from any other in the history; perhaps we might also remember the example of respect illustrated in the Declaration of Independence by our Founding Fathers. 

Strident rhetoric is all well and good when trying to attract media attention (or when political figures or media pundits are bloviating at annoying volume and length), but respect is owed even to those with which we violently disagree. It is not necessary to demonize the people who make up the opposing point of view in order to make our own. In fact we may even demean our own cause by doing so. Enough already!

May each of you enjoy the sentiments of the day, remember the constant sacrifices involved both those maintaining it around the world, and renew our own respectful declaration to continue the struggle to maintain the freedoms that define the United States of America.