Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Contradiction In Terms

If it sometimes seems like everything having to do with politics is confusing, that might have something to do with the fact that it is.  Oh sure, often the problem is that politicians and pundits are simply trying to obfuscate (Go ahead and look it up, I'm not going to help you.), but there are times when even the snake-oil peddlers are not at fault.  You see, many of the terms used in association with politics do not mean what they appear to.

Federalism, which seems to imply a strong Federal government, in fact means much the opposite.  Those of the Founding Fathers who believed in federalism believed that were different levels of government which co-existed or shared in power on an equal footing, along with the power that the people themselves retained.  In the Federalist Papers (No.28) one of the strongest supporters of a strong central government, Alexander Hamilton, conceded: "Power being almost always the rival of power, the general (Federal) government will at all times stand ready to check the usurpations of the state governments, and these will have the same disposition towards the general government."

Of course this didn't stop those considered Federalists (like Hamilton) from attempting to take things too far and gather too much power under central government.  Opposition to this perversion of the concept led to the creation of the Anti-Federalists (Jefferson & Madison) who fought Federalism by espousing its original intent.  (Confused yet?)

Statism, which one would assume based on its appearance to mean place power in the hands of the States rather than a central government, in fact means what you probably thought that Federalism did.  Instead of being defined as dispersing power to the various states, in fact this terms implies that all power will be held by a strong central government.  Statism is the governmental process by which such a central government intervenes (interferes) with all aspects of society, such as the regulation of the economy, the control of markets, and the disposition of property ownership and distribution.  (I know, I know.  Don't even get me started on this or I'll have to start taking my blood pressure medicine again.  But I'll bet you're even more confused now!)

But wait, it gets better!  Now for those of you who haven't been keeping up with Just Blowing Smoke, should pay close attention and keep the duct tape handy.
Liberalism is not what you thought it was either,  In fact, it is the belief in liberty and individual rights, a philosophy that grew in the 17th Century (1600's), rejecting previous theories of absolute monarchy and the divine right of kings in favor of the Rights of the Common Man.  Philosophers John Locke and Thomas Hobbes were some of its first proponents and a source of inspiration for the Founding Fathers of this country. As developed, it came to simply mean a life in which the individual was free from interference from the State.  

The term was co-opted in the 19th Century however, and shifted from what we now considered the political right to what's currently the left, leaving little of its original definition behind but the term 'classical liberalism'. An early form of political correctness had injected itself into the discussion, and we were given the concepts of positive and negative liberty.  As so often happens when intellectuals get their hands on the terminology, what this also meant is that no matter which kind of liberty you were determined to have, you would now had less of it than you had before, and government would be playing a role in how much and what kind of liberty you would be permitted.  

By the time that President Teddy Roosevelt picked up the ball and ran with it (1901-09), the original meaning was all but lost.  By the time that Woodrow Wilson (1913-21) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-45) had their way with it, it would not have been recognized by those who originated the concepts.  (Feeling a little woozy yet?)

Conservatism in a similar fashion, was first defined as maintaining the status quo (which at that time was a monarchy or limited parliamentarian government).  Instead of seeking personal freedom and limited government, it was a politics that sought little more than keeping things the way that they were.  Often credited to such luminaries as Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand (a man, not a meat) and Irishman Edmund Burke, this became Toryism when it emerged in Great Britain.  If this term sounds familiar to you, it might be because the American Revolution in those 13 colonies fought against not only British troops brought over from what was then the motherland, but local Tories who remained loyal to the status quo of King George. (Don't worry, just breathe ...)

If all of this seems a little 'Inside Baseball', it probably is; but pointing out the misconception of so many about so much is a necessary part of the process of reversing it.  Listing the obscure and as well as the obvious is the only way we're going to recognize how badly we're getting screwed by governments and elected officials hell bent on treating us like mushrooms (buried in shit and kept in the dark)

A pretty smart guy that I trade words with from time to time in Toledo, WSPD radio's Brian Wilson, often says that politicians wake up every morning, counting on the poor recollection, aggressive ignorance, and mind-numbed complacency of their constituents.  I would have to concede every point; but plead that while there's no excuse for it, there are definitely reasons.  It's no easier to decipher the confusion, nonsense, and absolute bullshit handed out as fact on a daily basis when the words used for any intelligent discussion on the subject of politics are little more than a contradiction of terms.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

August Terror Alert

The month is almost over, and I realized that little or no effort had been expended during it to alert the public to another of the many nefarious organizations out there trying to terrorize the general public.  Of course, such a lapse cannot be tolerated in the decrepit cubbyhole more commonly known as the editorial offices of Just Blowing Smoke.  (As for the Department of Just Blowing Smoke Security, they have long since been relegated to corner of  the attic, with little more than empty cigar boxes and the tin-foil hats that no longer fit the editorial staff as company.) 

The delay in this alert, occurring as we are looking at the first Hurricane of the season approaching the East Coast however, has provided a timely opportunity to identify yet another of these execrable institutions.  And while there is a real potential for property damage and loss of life from such a storm, perhaps little of it will compare with the devastation perpetuated by the WACKO's now on-site. Knowing that most of you are probably unfamiliar with these hooligans of popular media, I should perhaps explain that the members of WACKO are in fact, agents of the Weather Anticipation Crisis Kibitzer Organization.

I'm sure that you know now who I'm talking about; those highly paid purveyors of panic on all forms of major broadcast media.  In an often successful effort to create an atmosphere of abject terror, these are the media operatives in the very path of the storm whose reporting and commentary during the all too frequent updates (constantly interrupting your favorite episode of 'So You Think You've Got To Dance In Front Of A Idle American', and usually right at the good part) are broadcast seemingly every waking hour of the day (and most of the sleeping ones) to convey information that cannot possibly serve to help us.  

While purported to be but simple reporting of the facts, few notice that the pronouncements of these WACKO's (made in the name of public safety and information) are often contradictory.  They tell those potentially affected to go out and buy emergency supplies of food and water, long after such supplies have disappeared from the shelves.  They taunt those in the storm's path with accounts of the last bottle of water, loaf of bread, or generator to be sold at a local outlet, all the while wailing over their necessity.  In stern tones, these WACKO's extol those who cannot hear them (since they probably no longer have a working radio, television, or power for that matter), to seek a safety that no longer exists.

They carefully use terms like 'might' and 'may' when describing the path and strength of such storms; giving themselves the greatest possible latitude in sowing hysteria amongst the greatest numbers, while maintaining at least a shred of credibility.  Perhaps most interestingly antithetical, these WACKO's are the first to demand that residents abandon the area that they themselves are reporting from, in spite of having just traveled many miles from an often safer locale to get to it.  Showing not even enough sense to come in out of the rain for their own part, and while handling electrical equipment in a rainstorm, they castigate as ignorant, the hardy souls who choose to defend the homes and stoically face the weather head on.

Having no new information to offer in their hourly (if not more often) reports, they content themselves with endlessly repeating hours old information as if it were 'hot off the presses' until most are more afraid of listening to these broadcasts again than of any impending doom that nature has to offer.  Pointing at the blowing tops of trees or large waves on a shoreline, they attempt to define the concept of wind as if we had never seen it before.  With carefully unmopped faces (and often glasses) they attempt to convey to a no longer riveted audience the concept of rain falling.

The agents of WACKO can normally be identified by their uniforms, consisting of dusters or windbreakers, usually with hoods blowing over their faces and microphones to obscure critical parts of their safety announcements.  Their handlers in turn, can usually be found sitting behind big desks, and can be easily identified by the phony looks of concern on their faces when the cameras cut to them (and secret joy at no longer being one of the WACKO field agents required to brave the elements).

While these WACKO's can be dangerous, true peril usually lies in listening to them too closely or too often.  They are easily evaded by the simple expedient of turning off the television (and leaving it off until the storm has passed).  Do not attempt to confront these WACKO's, as their droning voices have often been known to have a hypnotic, and sometimes suicidal effect.  DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES attempt to contact the DJBSS at 1-800-RAT-BUTT to report their activities.  Not only do we not care, but it is unlikely that anyone would answer in any case, as the entire staff will probably be found hiding under a table (wind, rain, and thunder scare us).

In honor of first Hurricane of the season, Irene, the terror threat has been duly raised to Sea Green.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Odds and Ends

I would like to be able to tell you that the mid-week rant will be an inspiring bit of rhetoric that will undoubtedly move you in ways that you have yet to comprehend.  I would also like to be able to tell you that I am in my mid 30's, am in the best shape of my life, and possess the wisdom and riches of Solomon. Unfortunately, neither of the above statements is true.  

This week's writing efforts have in fact consisted mostly of sitting in front of a keyboard and waiting for inspiration to stop in for a visit.  Since she doesn't appear to have me on her social calendar, it seemed that it might be a great time to 'take out a little trash'; hoping that in doing so, the whole might prove greater than the sum of the parts.


There have been three earthquakes this week in the US (and another in South America).  All were about the same magnitude, but the ones in Colorado and California were greatly overshadowed by that which was centered between DC and Richmond, VA.  Certainly it's unusual to have an earthquake along the East Coast, but it's equally unusual to hear of one in Colorado.  Perhaps the importance granted to this eastern quake is because like most everything else in this country, something is only important if it happens in Washington or New York.

I would normally be greatly concerned by such events, seeing them in terms of the imminent approach of the Apocalypse (or at least as signs of Global Warming),  especially when coupled with the mass hysteria of the recent London riots; but since I haven't seen any dogs and cats living together, I find that I am in fact less concerned than I probably should be.
The East Coast quake did at least provide us with a laugh, as paraphrasing a couple of postings in Facebook: "The Obama Administration, in conjunction with the USGS, today announced that the epicenter of the 5.8 magnitude earthquake near Washington DC may have occurred along one of three rather obscure fault lines, the "Bush's Fault", the "Tea Party's Fault" or the "Not My Fault".  The press release went on to state that this event can be largely attributed to seismic displacement in the area caused by a number of the Founding Fathers spinning in their graves."

A Tangled Webb of Lies

Toledo District 6 City Councilwoman Lindsay Webb is currently embroiled in a rather interesting controversy.  Apparently the incumbent Councilperson failed to turn some required paperwork in to the Lucas County Board of Elections by the required date to be included on the ballot for re-election to her post.  Her opponent, Douglas DeCamp asked that she be removed from the ballot for violating provisions of the City Charter in regards to this paperwork; to which Webb responded that she had mailed it on time from Ann Arbor, MI and that the Post Office had routed the document through Detroit, causing it to be a week late.

An alleged copy of the envelope used for that mailing has surfaced through the news department of 1370 WSPD AM, showing that this piece of mail in fact had a Toledo post mark and was mailed one day before being received by the Board of Elections (which would in fact make it a late filing under both strict and substantive compliance considerations).  These "dog ate my homework" inconsistencies with Lindsay Webb's statements (and excuses) may prove problematic for this candidate, even as a Democrat in Toledo.  The fact that she was placed on the ballot without having the proper paperwork in place may prove equally troubling for a Lucas Country Board of Elections that is already under fire.

This situation is now currently under review by both that same BOE, as well as the 6th District Court of Appeals.  It's likely that there will be a good bit of tap-dancing music being played in the coming days as Ms. Webb attempts to earn a spot on the Olympic back-peddling team (and the final ballot) trying to explain this apparent web of deceit.

Republican Primary Entertainment

We are still months away from any actual voting in Republican primaries, but pollsters are busy a couple of times a week trying to figure out who the leading candidates for the Republican nomination are.  (None of them has yet discovered why we should care who's in the lead this early in the game, but I guess they're not hired for that.)

In between important stories about why we shouldn't vote for Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, or Mitt Romney; they barely noticed that Ron Paul took second place in the Iowa straw poll, the only official voting (well, kind of official anyway) yet done. Of course Rep Paul is still accused of being on the crazy train for wanting to get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan (you know, like Democrats), for wanting to reduce taxes (like Tea Party members), and for trying to put entitlement programs on a sound fiscal footing (like Republicans in Congress).  It's hard to argue with the concept that this dark horse candidate (no racism intended) may not only be running with the pack, but on the verge of taking a lead.

But it's far too early to  tell any of what's going on, which is why the talking heads are spending so much time trying to do so.  This endless statistical analysis, coupled with the apparent disregard for the actual score of the game leads me to believe that a real opportunity is being overlooked here.  

Perhaps what primary politics needs is a Fantasy League where candidates can be drafted in office pools, twice weekly polling numbers can be compared for points, trades made, and prizes awarded based on who actually makes it to the big game.  

If the Fantasy League thing isn't workable, maybe we could put the whole bunch in a big house with lots of cameras, and film them at each others' throats as a Political Reality Show. (I'm betting the networks would fight over it, and the Republican Party could certainly use the revenues from such a show for the Presidential campaign war chest.  It's the only way that they're going to be able to compete with the amount of money that President Obama is raising.)  As boring as primary season is, perhaps some co-opted form of mindless entertainment might be just the ticket to make the process slightly more bearable until the actual voting begins.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

TFP Column: Wasting Away

I think it's great when really rich guys get to pull an 'Ebeneezer Scrooge', repent their life of evil money-making ways, and seek absolution when they begin to see the end of their days approaching.  It makes me feel kind of ... violently ill.

So it was with a certain degree of nausea that I took up comments by one of the richest men (if not the richest) in the world, Warren Buffet in a piece for the TFP entitled: "Wasting Away".  After getting past the shock that this Mr. Buffett wasn't the guy wasting away in Margarittaville, I found that I was still confronted with what seemed little more than alcoholic stupor when he told us that rich people are being "coddled" by not being asked (or forced) too pay enough in federal income taxes.

Now I'm willing to bet my next refund check that Warren Buffett has spent more on people to keep his tax liability as low as possible over the years than I have made in my lifetime.  But hey, who am I to argue with a man who plans to give some $30 Billion (yes, that's with a 'B') to ..... charity.  

Hey wait a minute! If paying taxes is so great, why isn't Jimmy (sorry, Warren) giving all this money to the government?  Could it be that they won't be as efficient in spending it?  Could it be that the Gates Foundation is much more likely to use the money in truly worthy causes?  Could it have something to do with the tax deduction that Mr Buffett will legally get for such charitable donations?

But enough about this all-you-can-tax Buffett.  What I know for sure is that if you want to live anything like Mr. Buffett (or at least like his accountants), you're going to have to catch up on the great things going on in Toledo's largest circulation and Best Weekly Newspaper, the Toledo Free Press.

Editor's note:  I had been looking forward to achieving a milestone in my efforts with the TFP of 100 columns, and had even commented on the situation to Editor-in-Chief Michael Miller.  You can imagine my surprise (and a little disappointment), when having done some cleaning up on the labels for the blog, I discovered that this effort will be the 106th.  It looks like the party is over before it has begun.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Politicians Are A Necessary Evil

"Most Politicians are like Halloween decorations.  It's OK to display them in public for a few days once a year, but you don't want to leave them out too long ... they scare the children."

If it seem like I spend a lot of time castigating politicians on both sides of the aisle ... it's because I do.  Don't get me wrong, most of them are probably pretty decent people outside of their political responsibilities (but there are some that are simply and seriously wrong in ways that I don't have time to get into in this post).  What they have CHOSEN to do however, cannot help but call their intelligence, common sense, and ulterior motives into question.  Who after all would choose to sit through school board or city council meetings that are only slightly less entertaining than being trapped in an elevator for hours at a time with a talkative hypochondriac, a flatulent idiot, and a self-righteous and proselytizing bigot without a damn good reason?  

Like many, I've heard the pronouncements of "the call to public service", and I believe for a few that it's actually true; but as it relates to far more of those seeking office, I have more than a few doubts.  In fact, I'm far more willing to believe the outlandish claims of AXE ads telling me that if I spray some cheap crap on myself, the chicks will really dig me than these concocted self-serving rationalizations. (Though that AXE thing really does work ...  No, really!)  Seeking public office, regardless of the misleading reasons handed out like fortune cookies by some office-seekers, is for a great many of these people a desire to take up the mantle of power.

Perhaps the exercise of such power is the prize they believe is their due for the price they pay by humbling themselves in begging for campaign funds, showing up at public events that they don't want to go to (and normally wouldn't otherwise), and talking to a bunch of 'just plain folks' who want them to make the neighbors dog stop barking in the middle of the night.  This 'Let's Make a Deal' trade should not and does not however, grant them a level of self-importance beyond their previous station; nor does election provide them as a 'servant of the people' with membership in some elite society.

Worse still however, is that somehow being elected often seems to mistakenly confer upon them the belief that they can solve the world's ills if they can just pass one more law.  Many times it doesn't even matter what the laws long-term consequences (good or bad) might be, as long as such a law has the elected official's name attached to it.  It seems as if somehow the thrill of competing and winning in the game of politics has had the side effect of turning these once normal people into media addicts, jonesing for the microphone and the camera, desperate for the fix of a broadcast soundbite.

Politicians can in fact, solve little if anything by passing another bit of legislation (though they can create some rather costly and unsuccessful attempts to do so).  If the world could have had its ills resolved by the passing of a law, don't you think someone in the long history of politics and politicians would have come up with it by now. "Passing laws is like passing gas.  It normally serves no one but those passing it, is an impolite thing to do at best (especially in public), and often results in a horrible and lingering odor."

Those we elect to office should recognize that they are only necessary as the chosen sacrifices made by a civilized society (well, kind of anyway) that recognizes that it's far too wrapped up in self-indulgence, complacency, and ignorance to govern itself.  We can respect the nature of the sacrifice that some make on our behalf, while retaining what now seems an all but necessary skepticism of the motives of the rest.  For their own and society's benefit (and much like small children), they should seek to be mostly seen and not heard.  Also like children, they should work hardest at staying out of mischief.  All of us should likewise keep in mind that where politicians are concerned, they serve us best who burden us least with their efforts.

And so perhaps we are left with a reluctant thanks to those who serve us in office at the same time that we must at all times be suspicious of their efforts and methods.  Like those responsible for picking up the trash, we should applaud their services to the common good without seeking to join them in what often becomes their rather distasteful efforts.  Like the actors that they many times are, we seem to ask little of them these days but that they entertain us.  Most (except the best) should remember however, that they are only necessary until the new crop of would-be zealots and power seekers makes its appearance at the next election. Ultimately, politicians (and government) are nothing more than a necessary evil that we must perpetrate upon ourselves in protection from the even greater evils that Man is capable of. 

(All quotes used in this post are from ... me.)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Irish Anniversary

Having my daughter and her family come to visit the City of Fountains was indeed a joy, and reminded my of a time only eight short years ago when that family was just beginning.  It was a time when my rather self-willed youngest offspring decided that she needed to get married in Ireland. It didn't seem to matter at the time that she had just been married just a few weeks earlier in New York City.  Of great concern however, was the idea that her father was going to visit Ireland without her.  The next thing that we knew, the game was afoot. 

As if making a wedding come off in a foreign country were not daunting enough of a challenge for any young couple (thank goodness for her wedding planner), this turned out to be the weekend of the big Northeast blackout.  Each of us was stranded in their respective airport, with all of us losing a day of travel when power failed from NY to Cleveland.  I have been told that there is no more pitiful sight than that of a young lady sitting on her luggage in an airline terminal, clutching her wedding dress, and sobbing uncontrollably.  (And I would tend to agree, since it certainly sounded that way as I listened to her on the phone that evening.)

Somehow however, not only did we all make it across the pond; but everyone managed to make it to the ceremony on time as well.  This in spite of the fact that there were a few other responsibilities and ceremonies to be dealt with that weekend.  The ceremony itself was held at Newtowne Castle just southwest of Ballyvaughan in County Clare, with the reception at the Ballinalacken Castle Hotel in Doolin (following the traditional visit by the wedding party to the local pub, of course).  It was an astonishingly beautiful day and ceremony, with fine clear weather not being the only thing about it that was rather extraordinary. (Other extraordinary parts of the story we were only to find out years later, which is a tale for another day.)  

Since today is the anniversary of that day back in 2003, I decided to drag out a few of the pictures from that rather magical event.  Since few of you were able to celebrate this blessed event with the family and friends that made the journey (a circumstance which no doubt saved me more than a bit on the bar tab), I decided to put up a few of these memories (in no particular order) on Just Blowing Smoke to commemorate the 8th Irish anniversary of Jim and Laura Demaria.   

Happy Anniversary Jim and Laura, and as the Irish toast goes:

May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
And the rain fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of His hand
And may you live in peace and freedom

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Revolutionary Tactics

It often seemed that Conservatives were doomed to suffer continue electoral defeats, having learned nothing from the army of their Idols, the Founding Fathers.  Strangely enough in fact, they seem to have been running the playbook of the Redcoats rather the the Rebels for some time now.

For those of you who have not read your Revolutionary War history (and certainly were not exposed to such nonsense in the government indoctrination camps that supposedly educated you), much of the limited success that the fledgling American Army had were the result of using the element of surprise and vastly different tactics than their opponents.  It's of no surprise that they had to do this, since British Army (along with their German mercenaries) were the most disciplined in the world, better financed, and proven in battle.  Their one and only weakness was that they were used to fighting stand up, line abreast battles with other armies on the open fields in Europe, a weakness that the rebels were often able to exploit.

Revolutionary troops had neither the numbers, the training, nor the discipline to fight the same way as their European counterparts.  What they did have though was a knowledge of terrain, a musket with both a longer barrel and a rifled bore, and a marked unwillingness (at least on the part of militia) to trade volley fire with their opponents.  They chose instead to learn from the tactics of their hunting and Indian fighting days, hiding behind any cover available, shooting their opponents leaders first, and seeking strategic retreat (running away) after doing as much damage as they reasonably could.  The few times that the Army managed to mount successful major assaults against the British were usually by sneaking up on their foes at an unexpected time or from an unexpected direction. The times they went toe-to-toe with the British troops, they lost.  These lessons have apparently been lost on today's Conservatives.

Certainly anyone looking at the tactics of today's political battles would agree that the Conservatives seem to be the ones marching ahead in straight lines, heedless of 'shot and shell' around them.  They seem far more willing to accept casualties in the name of 'good sportsmanship', they refuse to adapt their tactics to the opposition or the situation, and usually refuse to engage their opponents on an equal footing.  Often seeming to be more concerned with playing by rules than winning the battle, they blindly repeat prior tactical errors of repeated direct assault.  They blithely accept potential decimation of their ranks in the name of a fairness which disappeared with line abreast formations, and often at the cost of victory.

Their more liberal opponents, for all of their detestation of military matters, understand that history will be written by the victors. Having either failed to read or choosing to ignore the rules of 'civilized' battle presented to them by Conservatives, they snipe away at the right; regularly achieving both tactical and strategic success. Realizing likewise that the victors will dictate the terms of surrender, they seem to grasp firmly the concept that once the battle has been won, no one much cares whether the killing shots were fired from formed ranks or from the cover of a rock.  They understand that it's easier to pick off the key leaders of a group under directed and concentrated fire.  Once such leaders have been effectively neutralized, discipline of your opponents will quickly break down in the ranks and the rest can be easily taken.

Not being privy to the political stratagems of Conservatives at the highest levels, I can only hope that  they are learning with time; that perhaps they are simply following the strategy of the first (and only) Commander of the Continental Army and first Commander-in-Chief of the nation, George Washington.  Washington if you will remember, lost about 2/3 of the stand-up battles that he fought with his British counterparts; but learned from each of his defeats, always managing to withdraw in an orderly fashion and seeking to fight another day.  

Though saddled with a general staff made up of far too many 'privileged characters' whose positions were often no indication of ability, he was still able to maintain a solid fighting force by promoting those of ability regardless of previous rank.  Though starved by a Congress more intent on its own comfort than that of its Army, he somehow managed to rally his troops together in the harshest of conditions; maintaining their spirit to fight on.  Though plagued by 'friends' who turned their back on him to seek their own power and glory, or after insults real or imagined, he somehow managed to maintain discipline and fight on long enough to win the war.

Recent changes in the maneuvers exhibited by Conservatives lead to hope that these lessons are at last not lost on those who most need a new strategy.  Utilizing troops fresh from the growth of the Tea Party Movement, the increasing strength and influence of the Libertarian Party, and the wealth of new citizen-politicians seeking public office; they finally seem to understand that winning should at least be as important has how you do it.  We can only hope that much as the French helped seal the deal for Washington's rag-tag Revolutionary Army, these new allies will provide the additional impetus required for Conservatives to begin to recognize their heritage, and to properly utilize Revolutionary Tactics.

Monday, August 15, 2011

TFP Column: Stop Panhandling

It seems like it was just couple of days ago that I was telling you about an effort of mine going up on the Toledo Free Press website.  Not wait, it was in fact just a couple of days ago that something did.  But as they say on Monty Python's Flying Circus, "... and now for something completely different".

This whole thing started with discussion on 1370 WSPD radio and a piece on the TFP website got me thinking about panhandling in this country.  Little did I realize that there was such a growing problem with people asking for money on street corners (I only thought that they did it in Congress).

The more I thought about this, the more I came to realize that there were different levels of panhandling, and that some of them were just plain wrong.  As it often does, these thoughts turned themselves into a session in front of the keyboard, with "Stop Panhandling" as a result.

Since this was put up Sunday evening, the week is just beginning and I have no idea what will be going on as the days progress. If you want to know however, you will have to spend a bit of time finding out in Toledo's largest Sunday circulation and Best Weekly Newspaper, the Toledo Free Press.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The "C" Word

More and more in society we find ourselves faced with words that almost dare not be spoken in polite society, and sometimes not even outside of it. The 'N' word certainly fits in this category, unless of course you are a young African-American male greeting or chiding another young African-American male. The 'F' word also seems to draw considerable scorn, in spite of having the ability to describe an act of love (though I admit that it does so inappropriately and rather coarsely at best). There are other letters and other words associated with them that could be included as terms of obscenity (two come quickly to mind, one beginning with an R and another a D), but I think you understand the point of my introduction. I would now like to add yet another to this list of loathsome and disgusting words, this one beginning with the letter 'C'.

Now while considering this word to be repugnant, I find that it's impossible to have a discussion of it without its use. So if you will pardon the mention of this rather opprobrious term for the duration of this posting, I would appreciate your indulgence as I take up discussion of the word 'Compromise'.

I know that this is probably not the one you expected to see; but its recent misuse and abuse has made it a particularly loathsome term that has seen far too much degradation to be spoken any longer in polite company. Ostensibly a word used to describe “a settlement of differences by mutual concessions”, it has been bastardized as a result of constant misuse by politicians and pundits in the media alike.  Having taken on an almost sacrosanct definition, this term is no longer deemed a method, but a goal instead. 

No longer can the term be used to describe “something intermediate between different things”, instead it has become a term describing little more than abject surrender. In order for one side or the other to now compromise in political debate, they must give up closely held beliefs, principles, and sometimes even common sense in the name of agreement in a tainted process that can later be lauded by elected officials as if it had meaning. In truth, it no longer matters what such agreement turns out to be, as long as it's reach 'in the bi-partisan spirit of compromise'.

How else should we view the Faustian bargain acclaimed by many on both sides of the aisle as the best compromise that could be reached in regards to raising the debt ceiling. Are we expected to applaud compromise when government celebrates its supposed spending cuts by going on a binge that raises the national debt by over $200 billion in a single day? Shall we cheer the House for whittling and watering down bills passed to the point of uselessness in the spirit of bi-partisanship? Will we commend the Senate for a form compromise that involved refusing to vote on anything? Perhaps we could provide a standing ovation to a chief executive whose idea of compromise is to insult everyone around him and then blame all but himself for not playing nice.

And what's the result of such shoddy compromise, a plan which neither garners the revenue increases that one side insisted upon, nor performs the real spending cuts that the other demanded for agreement. The truth of the matter is that as far as the Debt Ceiling is concerned, this contemptible compromise isn't worth the red ink that it's written in. One might even go so far as to say that the spirit of compromise which this attempts to represent is itself Compromised.  (“to expose or make vulnerable to danger, suspicion, scandal...”) 

The concept of compromise in politics has become nothing more than another unpalatable piece of the English language, unsuitable for use in any company, let alone a polite one. In its name the citizens of this country are far too often asked to accept idiotic, pointless, and sometimes downright evil choices in the spirit of something without meaning. The 'Compromises' reached by the Jackasses and Elephants in Washington are now little more than two thieves agreeing on what they consider an equitable split of the loot. Compromise has become so perverted and so offensive in nature that it would be far more accurate to use instead an equally reprehensible word beginning with 'C'; and one that likewise has no place in political discussion in this country, Capitulation.

(All definitions were provided by

Thursday, August 11, 2011

TFP Column: American Political Exceptionalism

After an unplanned and unexpected absence for a while, I am back at it with another effort published on the Toledo Free Press website. I wrote this piece in response to the final result of the Debt Ceiling Debate (on which I had written before and hopefully I will not be writing again any time soon), to the whining and clamoring mob seeking to demonize Republicans and Tea Party members for the pitful results achieved in it, and to those (including the President) who have had so much to say about American Exceptionalism recently. It is I believe aptly titled, "American Political Exceptionalism".

Let's face it, there was no exceptionalism that could be credited to this debate, nor is there much to be found in Congress these days on either side of the aisle. Oh sure, there are a few exceptional people in both legislative houses, but they are unfortunately for the nation ... exceptions. The bulk of our national legislature is a steaming mass of ... bi-partisan compromise. (I know, not the term you thought I was going to use, but it's an obscenity nonetheless.) The result is the same however, and is a recipe for the natural fertilizer that allows business as usual to grow and flourish in Washington.

The good news however, is that there are a lot more and better things getting ready to go on in Toledo and NW Ohio (I am particularly aggrieved to be missing the Hibernian Festival). The only way that you're going to know about any of them however, is to spend some time with Toledo's largest circulation and Best Weekly Newspaper, the Toledo Free Press.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Curious Celebration of Democracy

While many us have been focusing on the frenetic movement of the stock market, the dwindling value of our retirement portfolios, and the rising national debt; yet another movement has been afoot almost out of sight to subvert the intentions of the Founding Fathers. As reported by McClatchy Newspapers in the Kansas City Star, California Governor Jerry Brown on Monday signed legislation that could potentially place Founders' view of the Electoral College in dire jeopardy. 

How can this be, you ask?  Isn't the Electoral College specified in the Constitution under Article II, Section 1, Clause 2?  (I know, you didn't have a clue how the Electoral College came about.  Fortunately for you, I carry a leather-covered pocket edition of this document with me at all times.)  In fact this bit of the Constitution does address how many Electors each state gets, and allows each state legislature to decide how they are chosen.  There are subsequent entries in the 12th and 23rd Amendment covering other aspects of the College.  How those Electors vote after a national election is held however, is something entirely different.

Electors are in fact free to vote for anyone eligible to be President.  Traditionally, Electors vote in proportion to the popular vote of their respective states or for the winner of their respective electoral district (at least on the first ballot).  The idea that the Founders proposed with the formation of the Electoral College was much in keeping with their thinking behind the bicameral legislature created in the same document.  By using the Electoral College as a buffer, they hoped to provide some form of balance between the more populous larger states and smaller ones.  Using the electoral system has allowed swing states like Ohio (20 electors) or Michigan (17 electors) to play at least as much a role as Florida (27 electors), Texas (34 electors), or California (55 electors)(The fact that none of these states existed at the time that the Constitution was written speaks volumes as to the wisdom of their decision and the Founders ability to deal with future eventualities.) 

Of course the interstate compact now signed by Governor Brown we are told, "would take effect only if states controlling a majority of the nation's electoral votes agree."  I guess that this would make this the a 'pile on the winner' law allowing the votes of other states to influence the electoral vote of CA. Eight states and the District of Columbia have now signed on to this potential compact, an agreement which the article goes on to point out now encompasses "almost half of the electoral votes proponents need".  Certainly this legislation has the potential to create more direct ties to the popular vote ( which is a good thing if you're a state with a population the size of California's).

Now there have been calls to do away with the Electoral College before, most recently after the election of 2000, when George W Bush failed to gain a plurality of the popular vote.  Opponents of the Electoral College claimed that election results like that of 2000 subvert the democratic process and fail to provide a true popular mandate for an elected leader (though it must be admitted that they did at least provide us protection against a potential President Al Gore).  What they fail to point out or perhaps even recognize, is that while we do have the popular vote, the United States is not and never has been a Democracy, but a Representative Republic. The Electoral College was just another in a series of well-thought-out concepts to protect the minority rights in this country from being trampled the 'will of the mob'. (Something that this measure might be overlooking, if not actively subverting.)

California's interest in throwing its 55 vote weight around should be of no surprise to anyone, as they have long felt slighted by the national voting process.  Having their polls closing 3 hours after those of the East Coast and with election coverage by 24-hour news networks calling states while CA is still voting has sometimes caused this bastion of the progressive thinking to find itself extraneous to the decision-making process.  

It's interesting however that these so-called Defenders of Democracy see this as progress towards portraying the will of the people.  If this legislation is followed through on, it would in fact allow California to, "award the state's electoral votes to the candidate winning the most votes nationwide, regardless of which candidate California voters choose".  One might think it a rather curious contradiction that California and it co-signers would seek to extol the value and virtues of true democracy by potentially subverting the will of the popular vote in their states.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Political Personality Disorder

I am currently working my way through P J O'Rourke's latest effort,  "Don't Vote - It Just Encourages The Bastards" (a book whose insight and humor make it one that I would highly recommend). While I'm not one prone to sharing long passages, when I came across this particular one, I found it crying out to be shared with those of you not willing to spend your all too brief leisure time reading books on history and politics. 

I present it for your amusement, enlightenment, and edification without explanation or comment.

"Political power, however, remains the most powerful of powers, so people will continue to be drawn to it.  What kind of people we know too well.  The politician's personality has been brilliantly described.

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fanstasy or behavior) need for admiration ... beginning by early adulthood ... as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
  1. has grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents and, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
  2. is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance
  3. believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  4. requires excessive admiration 
  5. has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  6. is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her ends
  7. lacks empathy:  is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  8. is often envious of other or believes that others are envious of him or her
  9. show arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
The authors of the above passage had no idea they were writing about politics.  They thought they were writing about mental illness.  This perceptive analysis of politicians appears on page 717 of the American Psychiatric Association's 'Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Medical Disorders', fourth edition, under the heading 'Diagnostic Criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder'."  

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Our Govt Takes Us For Granted Far Too Often

I was disturbed, though not surprised, to read a piece in today's Kansas City Star:  "We take our government for granted far too often".  In it Richard Sumpter, an employee of the Environment Protection Agency and adjunct professor at Baker University, takes another reader (and all of the rest of us by extension) to task for not properly appreciating what our government does for us.  The reader in question (correctly) maintained that government erodes self-reliance.  Mr Sumpter quickly decides that at least in his case, self-reliance is an illusion.   Really! 

Conceding for the sake of argument, that the National Bureau of Standards, the EPA, the USDA, and the FCC have some value to citizens (something that I do in the case of the FCC only grudgingly); it does not naturally or necessarily follow that government agencies need to exist as they are today, or that their increasing encroachment on personal freedom is an inherent good.  Neither does it abrogate citizens from their burden of personal responsibility and self-reliance.

If the National Bureau of Standards didn't exist to establish and standardize time zones, would not some private sector organization spring up as it did in the case of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN); which performs a similar function for domain names and numbers for websites?  While the EPA (Mr Sumpter's employer) does provide us some protection from dangerous substances, does it not often overstep its bounds in attempting to regulate naturally produced substances like carbon dioxide and methane?  Did USDA regulations protect us from the recent salmonella outbreak from ground turkey; and did Cargill recall the potentially tainted meat under threat from the Dept of Agriculture and the USDA, or from the impending threat of litigation if it didn't?  Does the FCC's continuing efforts at regulation and control of the Internet, radio talk shows (The Fairness Doctrine) or broadcast standards which allow almost limitless violence on television while imposing fines on accidental nudity (Janet Jackson @ the Super Bowl) constitute protection or arbitrary standards.  Most importantly, what does any of this have to do with self-reliance?

Mr Sumpter fails to address the areas of government that in fact have some impact on the fundamental issue on self-reliance that he establishes.  But perhaps he simply finds it inconvenient to discuss how the 'safety net' of Social Security has now become a national pension plan for those not planning for their own future.  Maybe the annoying fact that Medicare and Medicaid have all but destroyed free-market principles in medical care, driving costs up and forcing many to rely on them has escaped his subservient vision.  It's possible that he finds the taxation that fund Welfare, Food Stamps, Subsidized Housing, Utility Bill Support, and Free Cell Phones are not troubling programs creating a dependent class in this country.  We'll never know however, since none of the government attacks on the self-reliance he claims is an illusion are addressed in the sonnet he pens to his employers in Washington.     

Interestingly enough, in a column in the same edition of the Star, E. Thomas McClanahan recognizes the potential issue of government redistribution becoming dependency bordering on addiction by pointing out that, "The U.S. government has become a giant check writing machine, with two-thirds of the federal budget given over to to payments to individuals - "  He goes on to say that, "Last year, government payments made up more than 18 percent of American's personal income, a record."  

No Mr Sumpter, the paved streets and traffic cops you applaud are bought and paid for through taxes, not provided at the largess of the government you want us to give up self-reliance to. So too for clean water and sewers, something for which you, like many others across the country, will be paying increasingly more for in the days ahead.  

Even those of us who continue to 'rage against the machine' recognize the necessity for some government; a strictly limited one based on the protections afforded in the Constitution.  What we vociferously object to however, is the expansion of 'nanny state' policies and agencies full of unelected bureaucrats that continue to attack the basic freedoms and even more basic responsibilities that this country was founded on.  The personal responsibility and self-reliance you say are an illusion are in fact a necessity in any nation that hopes to remain free; far more important that the government-provided conveniences that you believe we take for granted and would like us to applaud.  

I will not suggest ulterior motives to Mr Sumpter's effort, which seems to have been done in good faith.  I will say however that pointing out in the spirit of full disclosure at the end of the piece who his employer is does not negate the potential conflict of interest of a government employee trying to celebrate that institution; and in so doing, protect his own rice bowl.  We can applaud his loyalty without commending his willingness to bow to the increasing theft of personal responsibility by his ultimate employer.  Neither do we need to agree in any way with his invalidation of the self-reliance on which this country was founded.  No Mr Sumpter, your basic premise is not only flawed, it's just plain wrong.  It is our government who takes us for granted far too often.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Recent events in Washington DC have shown yet again that there are Republicans who apparently do not share the principles on which the the Grand Old Party was founded.  Of course it also might be said that the Republican party has itself largely mislaid, mostly forgotten, or completely ignored the fundamental precepts on which it was established.  Certainly anyone taking an objective look at what this party has done at the national level in much of the 20th Century might question whether this is still the party of smaller government and fiscal responsibility. 

This apparent disparity between theory and practice became apparent yet again during the latter days of the Debt Ceiling debate in the House of Representatives; when there seemed to be 'Tea Party' Republicans, 'Mainstream Republicans, and RINO's; each of which had different ideas on how these canons should influence voting. Now for those of you who aren't 'inside baseball' enough to recognize this last term, it stands for 'Republicans In Name Only'

There is little doubt based on their records, that there are those in the national legislature who could be called RINO's, claiming GOP membership while often voting more in keeping with the dogma of Democrats; but since I am not a Republican, I see no reason to call out these 'sheep in wolves clothing' or disparage them individually.  Quite frankly the difference between the two parties is becoming so insignificant these days that the accusation is all but meaningless, and the petty problems of Republicans or Democrats are of little interest to me.

What is of great concern to me however is the direction that this country is going, one which many of the current brand of elected officials seem unwilling or incapable of dealing with.  It's not because they are RINO's confused over how party postulates influence their decisions however, but because they are RHINOs.  This may also be a term that you are unfamiliar with (quite possibly because I just made it up); but stands, fittingly enough, for Representatives Having Inadequate Nerve in Office.

(Some of the editorial staff at JBS suggested that 'Nads be used in place of Nerve.  Inconsistent anatomical references to body parts mentioned later in this piece, and an unwillingness to use street slang won out, but only just.  Both references however, appear to be accurate.) 

Now some may find this comparison amusing, since the Rhinoceros is known as a rather stubborn, belligerent, and cantankerous animal; almost incapable of getting along with anything (even other Rhinos)RHINOs in Congress however, seem to be their polar opposites, being easy-going to the point of being almost placid (kind of like cows with a hard, pointy noses). One might go so far as to say that the only thing that the animal and these politicians share in common is a predilection for short-sightedness.  This apparent 'Hyde-Jekyll' transformation seems to occur to RHINOs somewhere between running for office and accepting it.

Apparently all of the stump speeches made on the campaign trail about mom, apple pie, and (dare I say it?) God become meaningless once election is achieved.  All pronouncements about strongly-held principles seem to weaken once many of these leaders walk up the steps of the Capitol Building.  Indoctrinated in the schools of bi-partisanship and compromise, many of those entering their respective branch of the national legislature get a 'spine-ectomy' performed as part of the House and Senate induction ceremonies.

Witnessing this transformation into the equivalent of jellyfish or flatworms, the only confusion that most of us in 'fly-over country' have these days is this: 
Is the House is worse for watering down every attempt to get the national proclivity for overspending under control through double-dip, double-entry, and double-dealing tricks long found in the 'Big Book of Govt Budgets'; or is it the Senate that's worse for sitting idly by on their well-padded chairs, on their well-padded asses while proposing as a solution to the nation's problems ... absolutely nothing.

This "Thelma & Louise" mentality, where the two major political parties (or the two houses of the legislature) do little more than argue about which one is to blame for the direction they're going or how fast they're driving off the cliff, has made it increasingly difficult to find anything other than 'the lesser of two evils' when going to the polls.  Small wonder, since there is seldom enough difference between the offerings of the two major parties, that so few go to the polls each election.  

Recently elected Tea Party freshmen in both Houses have been a breath of fresh air in these turbulent times however.  Say what you will about them, you must admit whether you agree with them or not that they at least appear willing to stand by their principles (and constituents); even when attacked by those around them for doing so.  They are currently but a vocal minority however, and one cannot help but wonder if they too will eventually be corrupted by a system ripe with the effluvia of pestilence that permeates Washington.

Until Congress realizes that it cannot spend itself out of debt, cannot continue to turn compromise into capitulation, and cannot continue to abandon its responsibilities to an out of control and unelected bureaucracy, we are looking at some dark days ahead.  It's likewise apparent that unless we begin funding the Congressional medical plan for spinal replacement therapy, we will be at the mercy of far too many RHINOs.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Wait Til Next Year

Well the debate over the debt ceiling is over, and the pundits are circling the corpse, hoping to grab one last juicy meal and perhaps take a dump on those they disparage before the entire thing become indigestible. (In case they were wondering, it long since has.)

And while these 'experts' hold forth on who won and who lost, and political opponents use the latest terms of rhetorical abuse on each other; let me put my two cents in. We lost!

In yet another sad example of what passes for leadership in Washington DC, the compromise reached allows the government to borrow more immediately with a promise to cut spending at some future date (probably never). Also in this rather vague future will be yet another commission (now coming to be known as the 'Super Congress') to analyze spending and revenue (taxes) in the hopes of approaching some level of fiscal sanity.

Of course none of what's proposed is or ever will actually be a spending cut, but instead merely a reduction in the expansion that naturally takes place each year with the federal budget. In a process known as 'baseline budgeting', such increases are part of the rules used to provide legislators political cover for the expansion of government (kind of like the rules that hide pay increases for members of Congress) and give it the impression of fiscal responsibility. As a lifelong Cubs fan, this kind of subterfuge reminds me of every baseball season that I have experienced since my birth. Those of us supporting Chicago's North Side team understand what real Conservatives across the country are now gaining great insight into; discovering that they were backing teams with players that should never have been brought up from the minors, dealing with athletes who failed to produce when put into the starting line up, and suffering under managers who can't seem to effectively use the available talent that they can put on the field. In a broken record of incompetence, futility, and failure; every major policy debate in this country looks like a season of baseball in Wrigley Field that goes through the same sorry process as every one before.

The whole thing begins with such promise of course. Expectations of victory are raised, promises are made, and predictions are issued as to the outcome of the season. Early successes often buoy spirits and bring supporters to their feet, but sooner or later the cracks in the lineup begin to appear. An ace pitching staff now seems incapable of throwing a pitch (an idea) over the plate, consistent sluggers start fanning at easy pitches or swinging at balls out of the strike zone, smart base runners stumble and come up short of the bag after getting a great jump, and sure-handed fielders seem to drop every ball (question) sent in their direction by opponents or the media.

Determined not to allow dejection (or reality) set in, Cubs fans (and voters) set aside these minor setbacks; sure in the knowledge that the team will come back and the early promise of triumph will be realized. No matter how horribly each opportunity to win is passed up or squandered, the people in the stands continue to cheer. In true Cubs fan fashion, past mistakes and disappointments are forgotten and yet another chance is granted ... only to be rewarded with disenchantment and disappointment.

The Cubs are currently 15-1/2 games out of first in their division (groan), but real Cub fans will never let such facts dampen their ardor, nor will consistent disappointment (for over 100 years) dissuade them from the hope of victory some day. Strangely enough the losing seems to do nothing more than bring out renewed hope for a brighter future. Failure in the past (even consistent, mind-numbing, soul-stealing failure) cannot and will not be seen as a prediction of future performance. In politics lately, we Conservatives see much the same thing. Sure we lost the game on TARP, on Obamacare, on the Budget, and now on the the Debt Ceiling; but have no fear, there will be another chance for legislators to disappoint us and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when the next major government debate comes before them. No matter how horribly this team fails to meet expectations however, most of us will remain optimistic. Sure we didn't win this one (or the one before, or the one before that), but wait til next year.