Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve Dialogue


video


While thinking about the questions that will face the youth of the nation (and the rest of us for that matter) in the year ahead, a thought occurred to me about some that I remembered from my own youth. After doing a bit of research, I found a copy of the video I from that time to illustrate my point. It is one from a live performance at Chicago's Arie Crown Theater in 1972 of a song from the "Chicago V" album, at a time when the band's original line up was still in place. Since this song was originally released that year, as the Vietnam War was ending, it might seem rather dated. Upon listening to the lyrics however, you may (as I did) find it less so. 


I will not print out the lyrics, though if for some reason you cannot understand them or are simply interested in reading them through, you can find them here. I cannot help but wonder as a new year is about to begin, if we have even now adequately answered these questions; and if these queries posed some 38 years ago (almost 39) aren't as relevant today as they were then. 


I am likewise struck by the combination of compassion and naivete as young people of my generation assumed (as all generations do) that they would be the ones to change the world. I hope that in enjoying this trip through the "Way-back Machine" and the music provided, you too are struck by the timeless message provided.


Happy New Year

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Encroachment

In football when the team playing defense attempts to line up in an area beyond where they're supposed to, a penalty is called for "Encroachment" and the offending team is marched back five yards for the rules infraction. In examples that I have talked about in this blog and in a column for the Toledo Free Press, agencies of the federal government appear to be regularly committing the same type of rules violations, attempting to usurp the authority of the legislative and judicial branches of the government in an attempt to push forward a progressive political agenda. 

  • Medicare regulations that go into effect January 1st are pushing forward a proposal for end-of-life care (also known as Death Panels) that the legislature rejected while passing health care reform. 
  •  The Agriculture Department is taking charge of school bake sales and the food sold at them in the name of protecting our youth from unhealthy food without a mandate to do so. 
  •  The Department of Health & Human Services has told health care providers that they will not be able to raise rates more than 10% without the permission of that agency, in spite of being given no such pricing authority in this industry. 
  •  Having failed to gain authority through "Cap and Trade" legislation, the Environment Protection Agency has nevertheless decided on its own to regulate the emissions of CO2 (a substance that at other times and places is considered naturally occurring) for oil refineries and power plants. 
  • The Department of Homeland Security has decided that global climate change is now a national security threat and will form a panel to identify and assess the impact that it has on their mission whether they have the authority to or not. 
  •  The FCC has broken new ground on multiple fronts, ignoring a letter from members of the Senate as well as court rulings to assume control over parts of the Internet. 
 It would be criminally naive to believe that these Cabinet level agencies, with Secretaries appointed by the Executive Branch of government, made these moves without explicit or implicit permission if not approval of the president. In fact we were warned that this was a possibility when some parts of the aggressive legislative agenda of the the Obama Administration were rejected in Congress. 


No more egregious attempt by one branch of the government to nullify the separation of powers has occurred since "The Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937". In this legislative proposal by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, an attempt was made to grant power to the executive branch to appoint additional Justices to the High Court (up to a maximum of six) for every sitting member above the age of 70-1/2. Though the bill ultimately failed due to adverse public reaction, it is universally considered as an attempt by FDR to pack the High Court in order to get one more sympathetic to his New Deal legislative agenda and subvert one that was ruling parts of it unconstitutional. 


Evidently the current Administration has learned something from the mistakes of prior progressive presidents. Understanding that its current agenda was not and will not be approved and that the approval of what is still a Conservative Supreme Court was unlikely and irrelevant, it turned instead to a bureaucratic and regulatory process that was not in place on the same scale during FDR's time. If the legislative and judicial branches could be not counted on to do the right thing as proposed by the President, one need simply find an expedient way to go around them. 


Regardless of altruistic motives involved, the relative good for the country that might or might not occur, or whether you approve of the agenda being implemented is immaterial at this point. The simple fact of the matter is that the federal government was created with a system of checks and balances to prevent just such an overreaching by one branch of government and protect citizens from any one branch becoming too powerful. Any attempt to subvert those protections by any person or group must be considered inherently wrong. 


We have yet to see how the Legislature will react to some of these recently passed regulations and whether it will attempt to bring these agencies to heel through its control of oversight and budget. We must likewise wait as legal challenges are mounted to some of the legislation that apparently gave these agencies their regulatory powers. 


There is little doubt in my mind however, that a clear violation of the rules has already been committed. If it were within my power as referee of this game; I would certainly throw the yellow flag and charge this President, these Cabinet Secretaries, and their agencies with the penalty of Encroachment.



Tuesday, December 28, 2010

TFP Column: 2011 The Year of the Bureaucrat

With this being a week between holidays, I am assuming that much of the content for the Toledo Free Press is being put up early to provide an opportunity for its employees to enjoy these last days of the year. 


So it is at least with a piece that I put together this week, "2011 the Year of the Bureaucrat". While many are looking back at the year that was with fondness or regret, I am looking forward to the year coming with a touch of fear. Since so much of this content being posted prior to the normal publication date, it's difficult for me to call out any specific pieces of interest this this week's TFP; but I expect that anyone who looks will find much to their liking. 


While I'm at it, I would like to express my gratitude to Tom Pounds, publisher and Michael Miller, editor-in-chief, for including my efforts in the TFP in 2010. I would further like express my wishes for a Happy New Year to Mr Pounds, Mr Miller, and everyone at the Toledo Free Press for their kindness, their friendship, and their tireless efforts in producing an outstanding product.


Happy New Year to All!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Suffer The Little Children

They say that one should never speak about politics or religion in polite society. Since I have long violated the former however, I see no reason not to occasionally violate the latter. (Besides, it could easily be argued that any blog of mine has nothing to do with polite anything.) 


Having survived a good many years of Catholic education at the grade school, high school, and college level with help and support of a number of priests and nuns; and very seriously considered entering the priesthood myself at one point, I feel that I have enough background and knowledge from which to so comment.  


So I am discomfited to say the least, by the recent pronouncements of the Catholic Church on the continuously growing scandal over child abuse by priests (for which the term least seems unfortunately appropriate). How in fact, are we to reconcile the recent end-of-the-year speech to the church hierarchy that Pope Benedict XVI made on December 20th with the behavior of those in question? Certainly we can all be encouraged by him saying, 


"We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen." 


We might be concerned about the sincerity of his message however, when this example of papal eloquence apparently seeks to blame the Church's handling of priestly child abuse by saying that the scandal of such behavior must be seen in historical social context. While accepting blame in a general way for acts that are both illegal and immoral, he appears to in some part blame society for the actions of a few priests: "In the 1970s, pedophilia was theorized as something fully in conformity with man and even with children."

If we are to believe the sincerity of the Pope's concern (and I certainly have no reason to question it), this appears to be some twisted form of admitting guilt and accepting responsibility by blaming society. Nowhere in any part of this mea culpa, does there appear to be a true acceptance of responsibility by the Church for the illegal actions of these priests. Neither does there appear to be a condemnation of the Church's hierarchy for consistently covering up these crimes while shuffling these pedophiles from one parish to another to keep their actions from being discovered or prosecuted. There likewise appears to be no self-condemnation by an organization which ostensibly assumes the moral high ground, but was more than willing to trade money for silence over the years to protect its reputation. 


If the Catholic Church were to be judged like any other multinational corporation, a good faith effort at atonement would require that they would terminate not only the offenders, but any of those in management (Monsignors, Bishops, and Cardinals) involved with the cover up of illegal activities at the very least. And while I am not calling for the current pontiff to step down, it would certainly not be out of line to expect the CEO of such a organization to step down, or at least to condemn the actions of his predecessors for failing to take a more principled stand and more forcible action where the offenders were concerned. 


This behavior is reminiscent of the stand that the Catholic Church took during the Middle Ages, when the Church held itself above any and all secular law and refused to have churchmen judged by anything other than its own Ecclesiastical courts. And while secular courts have often proved to be less than perfect (as proved by the example of Thomas Becket during that period), attempting to consistently protect its members from judgment and from justice hardly seems in keeping with the teachings of the New Testament. 


We read in Luke 18:16: "But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God." It also says in Matthew 18, "But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." 


In light of the former quotation, it seems indefensible that those tasked by their spiritual leader in their holiest of books for the protection of innocents, should apparently abandon them in the very hour of their need. In light of the latter quotation, it seems more than contradictory that those who committed these heinous crimes brought were brought neither before a secular court nor that of the Catholic Church for the justice (if not the retribution) they deserved. In fact these loathsome malefactors were offered a form of complicit protection, and their reprehensible acts against young victims were swept under the rug by those who are supposed to represent what's best in humanity. 


While new guidelines have recently been written for dealing with future examples of these abhorrent acts, until the Church can reconcile its far too lenient treatment of the despicable perpetrators, their own pathetic enabling behavior over the years, and the complicity of those in power in cover-ups and buyouts with the Scripture that it uses as its defining document; I fear that the only suffering being done will remain that of the little children involved and their families.



Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

The scene depicted above is one that is iconic for Kansas City, the lights of the Plaza District put up every year to celebrate the season.


In one of those strange coincidences, Christmas falls this year on a day that I normally post every weekend. In the spirit of the holiday, there is perhaps no greater gift that I can give on this day than to take it off and refrain from doing so (after all, even White Castle is closed on Christmas). Do not expect such largess to continue indefinitely; as I am not after all, the government. I am sure that after digesting the rather impressive quantities of food that I have / will consume on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I will find the strength to return to this blog to its normal level of nonsense.


Merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bureaucratic Tipping Point

Like many things throughout history, government bureaucracies may have reached a tipping point in this country. Once considered essential to protection, most (like their union counterparts) have long since become little more than self-perpetuating parasites whose major, if not only concern is in increasing their own size and budget. 


These leeches have grown in number and flourished under oversight responsibilities long ignored by a Congress more concerned with re-election, bring home pork projects, and protecting their own favored status than they are about doing their jobs. But some of these agencies are beginning to reach new levels of arrogance in their continuing efforts at control of every aspect of society, while ignoring any attempts at restraint. 


Two particularly egregious examples of this occurred just this week. Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), announced the formation of a task force charged with "identifying and assessing the impact that climate change could have on the missions and operations of the Department of Homeland Security"


The idea proposed here is that the concept man caused global climate change is now a matter of national security. The claim that follows is that since the DHS is in charge of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), that it needs to extend its mandate into the areas of global climate in order to deal with flooding, wildfires, and hurricane activity caused by such climate change. 


Setting aside that most if not all of the claims tying global climate change to every recent disaster happening in the world are anecdotal, that the model changes on an almost weekly basis, and that there is little or no evidence to back them up; it nevertheless remains that the expansion of her responsibilities is not up to her. Congress in fact created the DHS after the events of 9/11, and set up its mandate under the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to attempt to deal with protection from further attacks. 


In addition to creating this cabinet level department and post in the first place, Congress is further responsible for funding the department for its mandated activities. Since this funding level was set up before the current expansion, one cannot help but wonder therefore what part of their existing responsibilities they will choose to de-fund in order to take on these new ones. Considering that DHS (also in charge of the TSA) failed to recently prevent a man from accidentally bringing a loaded gun on an airplane in Houston, is facing increasing derision for the body scan and pat down policy that has proved all but useless and treats all this country's citizens as potential terrorists, and has failed almost entirely in securing the southern border of this country from the incursion of potential terrorists, continued violation of this border by illegal aliens, and the expansion of Mexican drug cartels; one would think it a tad over-reaching for this department to attempt to expand its responsibilities rather than to properly fulfill its original mandate. 


 DHS is not alone however, and the Federal Communications Commission has likewise moved this week to extend (or perhaps overextend) its regulating responsibilities. 


Yesterday the FCC adopted regulatory control of the internet in the form of "Net Neutrality". The FCC proposes to protect service providers from blocking or slowing access to certain websites, in spite of the fact that such a problem currently doesn't exist. What it will do however, is create a foothold for the FCC in controlling the internet and the beginnings of a regulatory morass that service providers and website hosts alike will have to negotiate in the future. Worse still, is the fact that doing this, the FCC is ignoring the authority of other government branches in its attempt at expansion of its mandate. Congress has already warned the FCC that it has no legal standing for interference where the internet is concerned, and will undoubtedly consider striking down this new expansion by joint resolution. Such a resolution already has wide bi-partisan support, and having the FCC ignore a letter sent to it by 30 Republican Senators last week will undoubtedly add to cry to follow through on doing so. 


Additionally, the FCC makes this move despite a ruling by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals (the court which holds authority in such matters), which told them specifically that they have no authority in the area of traffic management on the internet. 


These two agencies are not alone in writing their own rules, and this is a problem that we often see when dealing with unelected officials. The IRS and SEC can both run their hearings using a rule of 'guilty until proven innocent' regardless of the fact that this goes against existing legal principle in this country. The EPA can decide on its own to assume regulation of carbon dioxide in spite of the fact that it is a naturally produced substance. The USDA can determine the number of bake sales held as school fund raisers and the type of food that can be sold at them, whether this has anything to do with 'Agriculture' or not. 


These unelected sycophants largely ignore common sense, the rule of law, and their elected and judicial counterparts as irrelevant and temporary obstacles to the assumption of increasing power and control they deem necessary to protect us from ourselves. They deem themselves far wiser than the rest of us and above the law ... because for the most part, they are allowed to. While ostensibly operating for our protection, the only ones truly protected in all of this massive regulatory process are the increasing number of government functionaries seeking an ever greater control over every aspect of our lives. 


The increasing pace of this expansion and encroachment may now well have reached a tipping point where such continued growth becomes almost unstoppable however, and the increasing number of regulations (over 78,000 pages of them according to the Federal Register) almost insure that at some point soon every aspect of our lives will fall under the auspices of bureaucratic control and everyone will be in violation of something.



Saturday, December 18, 2010

Dear Santa

I suddenly realized that it was a week before Christmas and I had yet to write my letter to Santa Claus. Having thus missed the opportunity to send him the proper missive by snail mail, I recognized that the only way that it had any chance to reach him in time would be to send him an email. Of course I'm sure that Santa gets millions of emails (Who can afford the postage these days?), so I began to think about how I could set my letter apart from all the rest.

Then it hit me. Rather than sending a simple email, I could instead write my request in the form of a blog posting. Based on our physical resemblance, our shared smoking habit (though I often prefer cigars to using one of my pipes these days), and the popularity of this website (Hah!); I thought it at least possible that the big guy would might read this in time to do me some good.

Besides, I thought that doing it in this manner would allow me the perfect opportunity to also rant about the tax rate negotiations and those that will now find something under their tree, the omnibus spending bill and all of the gifts that Congress seems to be trying to supplant Santa by delivering to constituencies (though it appears that this may not make a vote in time), and any number of other political pejoratives about the shenanigans that have been going on in Washington in the days leading up to the upcoming holiday that I could think of.

Just as I was getting the keyboard warmed up to deliver this scathing diatribe however, I discovered myself unable to do so. In a true Linus moment, it occurred to me that Christmas is not there for me or anyone else to use as a platform for political commentary, nor is it a time of year that should be used to attack anyone (even if they deserve it).

Whether one follows the religious interpretation of the holiday, the secular version of cheer personified in Dicken's "A Christmas Carol", or even the overblown commercial version lovingly demonized in "A Charlie Brown Christmas"; the day is meant to be one of fellowship, of sharing, and of giving.

That in turn made me take a look at a year all but ended, to see what I might want to put on my gift list for Santa. I found that in spite of being a year of rather more challenges than I expected, 2010 has nevertheless been a pretty good year. I have been granted pretty good health, the opportunity to reinvent myself (something long overdue), and a chance to spend more time with a family in Kansas City that I have seen far too infrequently over the last couple of decades (also long overdue).

I also find in looking about me, that I am blessed with three healthy, happy children; and five grandchildren of equal fitness and cheerfulness (one of which, Molly, is but a recent addition to the clan). Taking all of that under consideration, I find that I have a great deal for be thankful for this year.

This in turn brought me to the realization that I really had nothing that I wanted to ask Santa for this year. My needs and desires for material possessions seems to diminish with every passing year, and I find that the simplicity of such a life agrees with me. 

While I hope to be doing some traveling soon to pay visits to these offspring and their progeny, I am more than capable of handling that on my own, and will be confirming plans for this over the coming days. Even my man-toy list is non-existent this year, since I was forced to replace a computer that achieved room temperature a couple of months ago. While this self-given gift may have been a bit extravagant, it did allow me the guilty pleasure of continuing my literary efforts, both here and in the Toledo Free Press. It even provided what may be an additional opportunity to submit work for publication that I will talk about more in January if anything comes of it. 

Perhaps it's simply that not having trimmed my beard in a couple of months, the face that stares back at me in the mirror is simply too strong a reminder of a guy with eight reindeer (nine in bad weather) and the spirit of the season. I therefore find myself unaccountably filled with that Christmas spirit, and believe that I will simply relax and enjoy the feeling. So as far as that letter goes:        

Dear Santa, 


If you're reading this, don't worry about dropping anything off for me this year, I'm doing just fine. Besides, I'm sure that you have plenty of people out there who actually do need things and have been a lot nicer than me.

Thanks for everything you've brought me in the past by the way. It's all been pretty great.

If you'd like to stop by anyway while making your rounds, please feel free to do so. The cookies and milk will be on me. If nothing else, we can compare notes on diets that don't work and the proper care of white beards. 


Merry Christmas, 


 Tim



Friday, December 17, 2010

TFP Column: Once Bitten, Twice Taxed

Like many of us around the country this week, my attention has been on the negotiations surround turning the "Bush Tax Cuts" into the "Obama Tax Rates". 


I wasn't so much concerned over whether something would be passed, as both parties seemed resigned to it. I was focusing some attention on the resumption of the Estate Tax as part of the process however, because so few seem to be noticing this little gem's inclusion. 


The result of this focus became "Once Bitten, Twice Taxed" about the second bite of the income apple that government wants to once again take when you assume room temperature. 


Of course there's a great deal more insight and information to be had from the electronic edition of Toledo's largest Sunday circulation newspaper. So if you can tear yourself away from the rampant consumerism of Christmas shopping this week, you should take a little time to catch up on what's going on in Northwest Ohio.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Partisan

As I watch the final negotiations going on about turning the "Bush Tax Cuts" into the "Obama Tax Rates", I cannot help but be amused at the maundering of many of the political pundits going on out there. While recognizing many of them as probably better educated and certainly better connected than I am, I find that they appear to be suffering from compromised thinking ... about compromise. As we once again are regaled with the very public 'sausage making' of the legislation under negotiation, like many I find myself more than a little disgusted with what these media pundits find laudable in the process. 


We are told that President Obama has somehow given in without a fight to the right (though not without calling opponents some names) by granting tax breaks to the rich, to the detriment of his left-wing base and his potential re-election in two years. We are likewise told that the Republicans in both Houses of Congress have sold out their fiscally conservative principles in the name of no longer being seen as the party of no. 


On top of the unemployment insurance that was always part of the deal (and which admittedly both sides wanted anyway), they have allowed the left to add extraneous nonsense to enter the negotiations on legislation for such things alternative energy and ethanol subsidies; seriously jeopardizing voter support they received in the recent election. Mostly what we are told however, is that both sides are showing a return to a bi-partisan spirit in crafting this legislation, and that this is indeed a beautiful thing.


But what is the value of such compromise? Are elected representatives to be applauded for giving up on what they told us were fervently held beliefs in the name of compromise? Did we elect them to abandon what they told us were core values, or were they sent to Washington to represent those beliefs for us? How are we to trust them in the future, or the very concept of our representative republic itself, if so many are willing to compromise in such a way? What is wrong after all with a little partisanship. 


In spite of what we have been told recently, partisanship is a part of this country's history. Since the Revolution, this country has reveled and suffered through partisan debate. Many did not want to make the break with Britain in the first place, even as battles were being fought. After winning our freedom, many did not want to replace the originally passed Articles of Confederation with the stronger federal government of The Constitution. 


That founding document in turn could not be officially ratified by the States without a serious partisan debate over the addition of the Bill of Rights. And after all the dust had cleared, the Hamiltonians (followers of Alexander Hamilton) and the Jeffersonians (followers of Thomas Jefferson) bitterly debated what they considered at the time to be the encroachment of the federal government into areas that it had no business for decades afterward. Why then should we be surprised that Federalists and Statists continue to debate such issues in this country to this very day? 


This is not to say that one philosophy or the other should rule the day (much as I would sometimes wish it), nor is this an endorsement of a particular political party. It is however to say that bi-partisanship is not a good of itself, nor should it mean that each side can have something bad for the country if the other can have one in turn; a practice which sounds more like adding insult to injury than it does like meeting in the middle. As far as the general lack of bi-partisan thinking and compromise slowing the wheels of government down, my question would be: "What's wrong with that?" 


In spite of what they would like us to believe, the two major parties have proved themselves equally unable to govern and not so far apart in the direction they would like to steer the country. The argument now more often appears to be about the speed we are driving on an unsafe road rather than the direction we are going. 


The out-of-control ride is becoming increasingly more difficult to watch from the back seat. If such partisan wrangling slows the pace of government attempts at encroachment of personal freedom in some way, then I'm all for it. If standing by principles should in some way slow the runaway train that government has become in any way, it has my full support. 


Compromise is defined in Dictionary.com as "a settlement of differences by mutual concession". It is also defined as "an endangering, especially of reputation". While I might be in favor of some of the former when required, I find that I am increasingly disgusted to discover far too much of the latter going on these days. Far from applauding such bi-partisan back slapping however, I would prefer a little partisan backbone in my elected officials.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Price of Peace

As the debate over tax rates continues in the House and Senate, one of the chief argument against extension of lower rates is over their cost to the federal government. It seems that their is a great deal of concern on the part of those desiring the end to those tax rates because an increase of the federal deficit will result. 


Chief among the concerns of these recent deficit hawks is that the country cannot afford a loss tax revenues at a time when this country is involved in two wars. I cannot help but reject this thinking. Since Congress has not passed a Declaration of War since December 7, 1941, the conflicts that we are currently engaged in cannot qualify as such. This does not speak to the necessity of these actions nor in any way lessen the sacrifices of brave men and women fighting on these fronts; but only speaks to the fact that words do have meanings and in this country war means something very specific. (Either that, or Congress and past Presidents have abused their legal authority under the Constitution.) 


Besides, the cost of these military engagements is far from the only investment that this country is making. Most estimates in fact, place all defense-related spending at between $1 and $1.5 trillion for fiscal 2010. Since the total 2010 budget is over $3.5 trillion, which would put total defense spending at less than half. Setting aside the rest of the money spent by Congress (admittedly, a pretty large set-aside, but one that many Representatives seem capable of doing), my curiosity turns not to what the price of these two combat zones costs, but what the cost of peace is to the US in the rest of the world. 


What does it cost this country for troops deployed in the Far East and NATO countries? What does it cost to maintain and replace equipment in far-flung bases around the world from Saudi Arabia to Guantanamo Bay? What level of treasure do we pay for troops and bases not actually engaged in open conflicts around the world? What's the cost to maintain bases of the various services in this country alone, where by law such troops cannot be deployed. While we are deploring the costs involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, does anyone ever bother to ask about the cost of troops in Japan and South Korea? How much do we spend to maintain armored divisions in NATO countries that have never fired a shot in anger? 


Moreover, what have we paid over the years to hire, transport, and provide logistical support special envoys sent into countries around the world attempting to maintain peace that often has nothing to do with this country? What have the costs been in attempts to resolve thousand year-old conflicts between with a never-ending stream of Cabinet Secretaries and special envoys seeking to create or maintain peace in Eastern Europe between various sectarian groups or the Middle East between Palestinians and the Israelis? 


What we do know, at least according to its "Budget In Brief", is that the Department of State operated on about $16.4 billion in appropriations last year; but these sums do not include Foreign Service Nationals or Border Security Programs. Also not included is the money called out in this document is that doled out as Foreign Aid either dropped into the cesspool more commonly known as the UN or used as little more than payoffs to governments and petty tyrants in nations around the world in a vague and failing effort to get them to remain our friends. 


What does it say about the quality (or value) of such friendships that they have to be bought and paid for? How long would we expect them to last if the money were withdrawn? I am not trying to justify the nation building that this country is attempting around the world, in fact far from it. Neither am I commenting on the too seldom heralded efforts of a military often placed in untenable positions by the very politicians who complain about their costs after deploying them in the first place. I am however showing my confusion and disgust at the ability of these self-same politicians to complain about the cost of fighting what they deem lengthy and perhaps unworthy battles around the world, without ever mentioning the price of maintaining the peace for far greater periods in far more places.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

TFP Column: Pirates of the DC Wetlands

It certainly seems as though Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" trilogy has been on a lot lately. From the election through the holidays, it seems like they are being replayed almost every week. 


Now since I don't believe in coincidences, I decided to try and figure out if there was a meaning to be derived, however subliminally, from all of this screen time. As I listened to the ongoing negotiations for extension of the Bush Tax Rates and unemployment insurance benefits, it all began to come together for me. The result of that realization and the anger that I began to feel as a result of the conclusions that I drew became a piece entitled "Pirates of the DC Wetlands" in the online edition of the Toledo Free Press. 


As usual however, there is a lot more going on in the opinion pieces in the TFP, with many of the usual players speaking out on both recent events, as Publisher Tom Pounds and Lisa Renee Ward have done; and editor-in-chief Michael Miller's piece on the anniversary of John Lennon's providing more historic perspective. We could all use a little perspective as the days remain cold, the snow begins to fall (both in Toledo and Kansas City), and the frenetic pace of shopping increases in the days leading up to Christmas. 


I would suggest that spending a little time catching up with all that's going on in NW Ohio with the Toledo's largest Sunday circulation newspaper might just be the way to provide it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The New Governent Cookie Monster

Update 12/13/10: 
This was signed into law by President Obama today saying, "Had I not been able to get this bill passed, I would be sleeping on the couch." The first lady, presumably the one who would have been assigning sleeping arrangements, applauded bi-partisan support for the bill which she said would insure that "no child should go to school hungry." I would add, "unless they want a cookie..." 


For those of you who believe your federal government has lost its focus on what's really important these days (or just its mind), the proof may just have finally presented itself. 


At a time when Congress cannot seem to agree on a budget months after the current fiscal year has begun, nor decided on what tax rate you are going to pay next year; they have found time to decide what home-made treats can be sold at school bake sales. No, I'm not kidding about this. Senate Bill S3307 (The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act) has cleared both Senate and House votes, and awaits only the president's signature to become the law of the land. Among other things, it will allow the Secretary of Agriculture and the USDA to limit the number of bake sales held at schools and the type of foods sold at those events. 


At a time of concern over the amount of money being spent by a government already drowning in debt, it will also provide an additional $4.5 billion in funding over the next ten years for free meal programs in and out of school, and nutritional education programs for food service providers at these institutions of learning. (I was tempted to say Government Indoctrination Centers, but my tin foil hat slipped off as I was typing and I managed to forebear.) 


Setting aside the contradictory evidence that the sale of sugary treats at school events is the root cause of childhood obesity in this country, one has to wonder why enlightened administrators and educators in this country are not the best judges of calorie and fund generating activities in their respective schools than a faceless federal bureaucrat who has probably never seen the place. 


It likewise seems curious that these college-educated instructors should not be able to agree that the issue is little more than a simple math problem to determine that the number of calories burned in activity subtracted from the number of calories ingested has more to do with producing the result shown on a bathroom scale than what's on the table at a bake sale. 


Can government be so fat-headed that they believe that yet another law or an additional program will somehow produce a different result in this equation? Can common sense where diet and exercise are concerned in fact be legislated? (Not that I'm looking to open that can of worms ...) And will such rigid control of bake sales actually produce the desired result? Can the cake or pie addict not self-medicate at the local grocery store or restaurant? Can the pizza junkie not only order his drug of choice by phone or online, but have it delivered? Can those suffering withdrawal symptoms from a serious doughnut or cookie habit not stop at the local Krispy Kreme or Duncan Donuts to still the tremors? 


Perhaps more importantly, doesn't the Secretary of Agriculture and USDA have better things to do than monitor fund raising events designed to replace money that government can no longer provide for school activities? Don't school administrators, already in short supply and buried under a mountain of government compliance paperwork, not have better things to do than fill out more of it? 


Doesn't Congress have more important subjects to concern itself with than stepping on the personal initiative (and self-esteem) of students attempting to show some school spirit andsupplement funding for a school band or football team? 


The whole thing would be laughable if it were not so tragic. Fat cat politicians who are normally more concerned with participating in pounding down heart stopping, calorie crushing lunches and rubber chicken fund raising dinners believe that they are the best judges of food intake in this country. Bureaucrats normally more focused with the expansion of their own bloated budgets than with tightening their belts are supposed to micro-manage the fund-raising and diet activities of students that are under their control eight hours a day, five days a week, nine months out of the year. 


I used to believe that 'The Cookie Monster' was an irreplaceable bright blue Muppet created by Jim Henson who first made his appearance in 1969. It now appears however that even this lovable "Sesame Street" fixture is capable of falling prey to the a government takeover. Do not expect Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to be nearly as cute and cuddly, nor to be using the all too familiar line, "Me want cookie" however. It seems far more likely that his government imposed script will be adapted from that of the "Seinfeld" character the Soup Nazi, "No cookie for you".

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Appeasement

On the day after we commemorated the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I find myself looking at the times leading up to the US entry into WWII.  


This country and the world once again find themselves in troubled times and many of its leaders shake their heads in dismay at what currently masquerades as a foreign policy for the US. We treat our friends as strangers and our enemies as innocent bystanders. We pretend that evil does not exist in the world in spite of having our noses rubbed daily in illustrations of its presence. We refuse to confront or even acknowledge the danger inherent in those whose stated goal is our destruction in the name of political correctness. 


We act as host and chief financier of the United Nations so that every third world dictator and petty tyrant can take center stage to disparage and insult us in our own backyard. We create or prop up corrupt governments around the world to provide us protection from what we believe are other even more corrupt governments, only to often find ourselves having to deal with the tyrant that we supported when he finally gets out of control. We pretend that we can broker peace between cultures that have been fighting each other for thousands of years and act surprised when our efforts prove unsuccessful because one side or the other (or both) simply don't want peace. 


We watch as hundreds of people are killed along our southern border, and refuse aid to state governments begging for it that we would cheerfully extend to a foreign country to protect them from a similar invading criminal element. We bow our heads as Mexico rebukes us on how we treat immigration law violators in this country, when its own authorities are shown to be guilty of robbing, raping, and murdering those in similar circumstances in their own. We accept such criticism without complaint and without pointing out such obvious incongruities. 


We accept criticism from Iran and China on human rights violations while watching them murdering their own citizens year after year. We reach out a hand in friendship to those proven to be our enemies in the Muslim world (only to have it spat upon) while simultaneously reaching out a hand to pat down innocent citizens in our own country to protect us from their most radical elements. 


We hand billions of dollars over to countries like Egypt that corrupt the electoral process through violent suppression of opposing points of view; and stand silently while they accept our money, but refuse observers of their flawed process that they deem as interfering. We support equally corrupt governments in Pakistan and Afghanistan, again with billions in US funds, ignoring their aid to this country's enemies and the murder of US troops by their security forces. We in fact seem to hand bags of money to every petty despot in the third world, only to see them share this wealth with other local tyrants who make no bones about being our sworn enemies. 


This does not dissuade us from sending more money however, filled as we are with the childish hope that somehow these misguided misanthropes will eventually change their minds. Disaster relief money that we send to areas around the world more often than not ends up in the hands of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats in even more corrupt governments, but our response is to send more in the misguided hope that some of it might actually be used for the intended goal.


--------------------------------


No matter how much we badly we desire it, the world does not change to suit our altruistic picture of it. Perhaps it's time that we began to recognize that much of the world does not share a common philosophy with us and stopped trying to remake that world in our own image. 


Perhaps it's time that we stopped looking at the world through rose colored glasses and stopped believing that by our example and our treasure, we can influence other nations to follow our path to freedom. We would do well in fact to remember our 20th Century history. 


Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain in the 1930's certainly showed us what we can expect to reap when we sow a lack of recognition of the real evil that does exist in the world. His treatment of Adolf Hitler lingers on some seventy-five years later as an shining example of ignorance and futility. Governments who reject freedom, liberty, and the "pursuit of happiness" of their citizens have not fundamentally changed in the intervening years. 


Unless we begin to once more stand on the founding principles of this country; like the misguided Chamberlain, we risk being remembered by history for little other than appeasement.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Christmas 2010

While looking for something else, I came across a posting that I did about Christmas three years ago. I was so taken by the apparent timelessness of the sentiment of this piece that I decided that it might be worth dragging it out into the open again and revisiting. (The fact that it allowed me to post to this site with little or no original work had nothing to do with the decision, I assure you.) 


While the piece has been edited slightly due to the timing of its appearance and the changes of the last three years, I believe that it remains true to the insight of the original. 


The Christmas season is once again upon us ... and with a vengeance. Retail outlets have shoved aside the last lingering Halloween or Thanksgiving displays in a full-throated effort to separate us from us much of the money that we really don't possess as they possibly can. Many are now hunkered down and beginning to look forward to the arrival of that white-haired fat guy with a beard (but enough about me)


This is a time when families gather together, trees are decorated, and aggressive shopping behavior becomes a truly Olympic sport. It's also the time when I most question the manners and intelligence of my fellow man. 


Think I'm kidding, then answer these questions for me: When did people start waiting in line all night in front of a store like it was a "Harry Potter" movie premier? Do we really need to begin shopping at 3 AM in order to save a couple of bucks and buck up the sales of what is still a bloated retail marketplace, or would it make more sense to at least wait until the sun comes up before attempting to do our small parts in the massive consumerism more commonly known as the US economy? 


Has anyone bothered to think of the poor schmuck store employees who have to worry about you freezing to death on their sidewalk while waiting, only to break their sleep rhythm to come in long before the crack of dawn and face the thundering herd waiting on their doorstep? What part of the Christmas spirit is it to fight with your fellow man over the latest over-hyped gift that your kid or spouse simply can't live without? Is this year's game system or $200 laptop any better than last years, or has it simply fallen prey to the obsolescence that was designed into it in the first place. Forget the religious implications of such behavior here folks, if Santa sees this going on, you're definitely getting put on the 'naughty' list and getting a rock in your stocking. 


When did we become so stupid (or the assumption of such ignorance on the part of advertising agencies and retailers become so pervasive) that diamonds, big screen TV's, and expensive cars are the only presents believed to make us happy? I've watched "Charlie Brown Christmas" for years, and I get that Christmas has gone commercial. I missed part however, where the whole thing turned into 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous". 


What part of the Christmas spirit is it to run up all of your charge cards buying expensive and over-hyped presents for the family in order to assuage your guilt for always being at work; only to realize that you will now have to continue to spend all of you time away from them in order to pay for the purchases you just made to make it up to them? What happened to the toy commercials (or have I just been watching the wrong channels)? The Christmas hype always used to be about kids, now it's about adult toys. Is this about the spirit of giving or just a contest to see who has the most disposable income? (We know the answer of course, but I had to ask the question.) 


Will they be playing all the versions of "Miracle on 34th Street" over and over again this year, with the colorized version following the black and white and the color one following it? Is this instead some new and diabolic plot by some evil corporation to replace "A Christmas Story" as our favorite Christmas movie, since they've worn out the copy they are showing anyway? (Or could it instead be a plot to follow Miracle on 34th with Christmas Story with repeated showings allowing them to short-staff the studios and turn our brains into Christmas tapioca?) 


Why do we feel the need to overindulge at Christmas parties, as if we had taken a vow of abstinence on the 4th of July that we feel can finally be broken? Is the likely chance of a DUI and spending some time in jail or the commission of some personal or professional faux pas at one of these social gatherings worth the long term repercussions of breaking the pledge? Are the nauseating feelings of guilt and retribution (and hangover) worth a few hours of alcoholic indulgence in public? Take my advice ... If you really feel the need to be over-served, do it to yourself, at home, while watching "Miracle on 34th Street". Don't worry if you happen to nod off from time to time from the effects, you can fill in the blanks during the subsequent replays. 


Listen folks, I may not be the Spirit of Christmas present (though I admit to bearing a remarkable resemblance to someone hanging out in neighborhood shopping malls); but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that somehow we've missed a turn that was indicated on the societal GPS. I know that December 25th has now been recognized by the Catholic church as not being the day on which Jesus Christ was born. In spite of being a date co-opted from a pagan mid-winter festival (Mithras) however, the day does still has serious spiritual traditions and implications. In both the pagan and Christian teachings, this holiday was supposed to be about fellowship and good cheer. 


Let's try not to lose sight of that as we gather to celebrate this special time of year. So lighten up everyone; and in the words of Tiny Tim (no relation),


"God bless us, every one".

Friday, December 3, 2010

TFP Column: An Unlikely Winter Freeze

The weather outside has indeed become colder and the first day of winter is less than three weeks away, but this week's effort for the Toledo Free Press has nothing to do with falling temperatures, but rising rhetoric. 


In "An Unlikely Winter Freeze", I take the recent announcement by President Obama of a federal employee pay freeze and pose a few questions. Like so many other things that a politician says, it appears to make some sense on first hearing it than it does if you actually attempt to make it happen. 


But I'm not the only one looking at the numbers in this week's TFP. Kristen Rapin-Criswell has put together some interesting information on the proposed increases in Toledo's proposed water and sewer rate increases, and Caitlin McGlade looks at the money that the Toledo Symphony Orchestra is looking for from the city for their upcoming Carnegie Hall appearance. 


There's cold and snow in the forecast for NW Ohio, so my advice would be to curl up in a warm place and catch up with Toledo's largest circulation Sunday paper, the Toledo Free Press.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Spending Madness

The Christmas shopping season madness is once again upon us, and once more we find ourselves goaded into spending money that we don't have on cleverly named retail holidays like 'Black Friday', 'Small Business Saturday', and 'Cyber Monday'. Whoever thought that we would some day long for the simpler times of manufactured 'Hallmark Holidays' that only encouraged us to buy a piece of paper or perhaps some flowers for a loved one? 


Even these have morphed over time however, until they have become a out of control Frankenstein monster of spending where only jewelery or automobiles can replace the simple written message of affection that were originally intended. 


When we look dispassionately at the spending frenzy that such clever marketing and advertising have engendered in even the most reasoned of us from a well-intentioned sentiment, it's not impossible to understand what some of our lawmakers go through after being exposed to the current spending culture in the 'logic free zone' of Washington. Even the most cynical of us can recognize that the best "Mr Smith Goes to Washington" intentions can be derailed, and that those in control of the nation's purse strings can lose their common sense and become caught up in the compulsive spending behavior that government has become. 


The problem however is that unlike individuals or families, government never seems to recognize when it makes a bad purchase, feels remorse for spending money it doesn't have, or shows a willingness to change such pitiful behavior going forward. They instead normally seek to follow prior poor spending choices with more and greater ones. Not content with the acquisition of the occasional useless Chia pet, government goes on to expand the program into a Chia farm. (Or is it Chia herd?) 


Unwilling to admit that no matter who makes it, the ab belt (a battery-operated electronic muscle stimulation system to flatten your stomach) will not give you the 'six pack' that they show on commercials, government instead buys each succeeding (and more expensive) model by the truckload and expands the program to provide even more of us something that we don't want and which will never work. 


When was the last time you heard of a government program being de-funded because it wasn't getting the job done? When was the last time that you heard of spending being reduced to a failed effort because of its lack of results? When was the last time that you heard a government legislator or bureaucrat admit that a program that they sponsored or worked for was simply wrong and should be eliminated? (Except of course, when they were suggesting that it should be replaced by a larger and more comprehensive one.) 


No, the government's answer to what we should do about money wasted in a failed efforts seems to be, "let's keep it going to see if it gets better", or worse still, "let's expand the program to see if the results change". Each succeeding legislature, regardless of the political party in charge, seems doomed to repeat the mistakes of its predecessors through a combination of misguided altruism and the belief that the bill never comes due on the government's credit card. 


There is no rhyme or reason to this squandering, only a misplaced belief that forward is the only direction available and that admission of failure is never an option. If there can be said to be a government philosophy about spending in fact, it may in fact be one that can be taken from the Scifi parody film "Galaxy Quest". Congress seems doomed to follow the "Never give up, never surrender" doctrine where its own compulsive consumption is concerned; and while amusing perhaps as movie comedy, it should perhaps be found less so as national policy. 


As the final days of the Christmas shopping season wind down, there's always the hope (though a slim one) that for once we'll get more than we paid for in this holiday shopping season. Perhaps we'll break the cycle of addiction created by the government's shopaholic mentality and fueled by our lingering desires for instant gratification. Perhaps in spite of the cries to fuel the retail engine and jump start the economy, this will be the time that we finally manage to end the spending madness.