Saturday, October 29, 2011

New Blog Site: Vote of Confidence

To the disappointment of some and the immense relief of others, there will be no weekend rant today in "Just Blowing Smoke".

In lieu of my attempts at a more humorous tone on the weekend (which have been known to fail on a Biblical scale), I am offering instead, a link to an entirely new blog site.  This site will become the home to a writing effort that began for me just over six years ago, as I decided that there was a book inside my head that needed to come out (if for no other reason than that there's far too much clutter up there as it is).  Understanding lately that in today's publishing environment it's unlikely to ever see the light of day, I have decided to post it to a site specifically for that purpose; and to do so in a serialized fashion that was once popular in the science-fiction magazines that I read as a kid, as I go through the arduous process of re-writing and editing it once more.

The title of this effort is "Vote of Confidence" and while I have often been asked what it's about, even I who wrote it hardly know how to describe it.  The best that I can come up with is below the title, stating that it's "A twisted tale of Life, Politics, and what some might consider cruelty to animals..." (though in fairness, no animals were actually injured during the writing of this book).  There's little danger of giving away the plot, since there's little in the way of one to give away. 

I will be posting new chapters as the work on them is completed, and will post links to those efforts both here and on Facebook. I have high hopes that the years of effort that I've been making to improve my writing ability through the writing this blog and the pieces that have been very kindly deemed worthy by the Toledo Free Press will have led to a considerable improvement of this revised version over the original.  I likewise hope that those choosing to make the effort to read it will find the experience of doing so as enjoyable as that I have had in writing it.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Education Quotes

My disdain for some of that which calls itself higher education has been increased recently by some of those in 'Occupy' movements across the country.  It appears however, that I am not alone; and that such thinking has roots in minds far greater than mine for a far greater period than I have been around:

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. 
- Oscar Wilde

Education is a state-controlled manufactory of echoes.
- Norman Douglas

An education was a bit like a communicable sexual disease.  It made you unsuitable for a lot of jobs and then you had the urge to pass it on.
Terry Pratchett

Nothing in education is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts.
- Henry Adams

Education is a method whereby one acquires a higher grade of prejudices.
- Laurence J Peter
The advantage of a classical education is that it enables you to despise the wealth that it prevents you from achieving.
- Russell Green

Strange as it seems, no amount of learning can cure stupidity, and higher education positively fortifies it.
- Stephen Vizinczey


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Government Protection Racket

Everywhere we turn these days, we find constant reminders of the lousy economic numbers in this country; and while economists refuse to talk about a 'double-dip recession' that hasn't yet met their strict definition, we all know it's here.  Many of us know the culprit as well.  It's not evil corporations or the wealthy 1%.  It's not even really the bankers, though they certainly haven't gone out of their way to help the situation. In fact, it's those in government telling us that something must be done for our protection, when the only thing that they're really trying to protect are the cushy jobs that most of them will have to attempt to keep, some 12 months from now.  

Government is something that we created in this country over 200 years ago to do for ourselves together what we could not do alone.  It was not instituted to do things we have apparently now become too lazy to do for ourselves. Look at the Government's latest answer to fixing the economy if you'd like an example, as the Senate passes legislation seeking tariffs against the Chinese for flooding the US with 'cheap goods', and preventing our own from being competitive.  Really?

Isn't that the same government that's telling us that the biggest problem is that consumer demand for goods is down?  Do they think that demand will improve if the costs of those goods are increased through tariffs on produced in China or the sale of more expensive goods from elsewhere (even the US)?  What will happen to a cost of living calculation that's already little more than pointless fiction, since it doesn't include the costs of food and energy, if we add to it what will now be the higher costs of imported goods?  

Politicians complain that the Chinese are pumping money into their own economy to artificially prop it up (which seems rather disingenuous of those who passed two different Stimulus plans and would like to see a third passed).  But so what?  What's wrong with taking advantage of China spending their money to makes its goods cheaper to buy until they can no longer afford to do so?  Aren't we glad that China is using this money to prop up their exported goods, rather than using it to build fleets of ships, squadrons of airplanes, and silos full of missiles?  If they think that the best use of their national treasure is an attempt to sustain something that cannot be sustained forever, let them.  In fact, let's applaud and encourage them to continue to do so while enjoying the fruits of ignorance that allow us to buy more and cheaper stuff with our own money. 

Of course placing tariffs on goods coming out of China will likely spur retaliatory ones on US goods being shipped to China and lead to a trade war, but what's wrong with that?  Well for one thing and like so many other times, Washington will be fighting the last war and not the one one we're facing.  We are no longer in a position of strength to bully other nations on the world stage.  The economy is a house of cards and the windbags in Washington are doing little more than seeking to blow it down.  For another, these are the same policies that proved a dismal failure during the Great Depression when they signed in 1930 the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act into law.  Rather than helping the economy recover, this bit of odious political economic theory in fact extended the damage of the Depression far beyond what it should have.  Is repeating one of the poorer examples of legislative governance in this country's history the only way that we can prove its lunacy? 

Perhaps what we need to be asking ourselves more often is whether much of the very protection that the government is attempting to provide is what's stifling the economic recovery that it claims to be seeking.  Cheap energy is a necessary component to fueling a recovery for example, but the govt refuses to issue permits for drilling on land and sea in this country.  When Canada offers to ship us less expensive oil that it's choosing to recover from its own lands, we refuse to allow them permission to build a pipeline across the US for processing.  Such thinking not only ignores the necessity of obtaining such energy from a friendly source, but the large number of good paying jobs that will result from looking for it, getting it out of the ground, and building the pipeline across this country to move it to refineries.  What kind of protection is that?

The president demonizes the TEA party movement seeking a return to a limited government as defined by the Constitution that it was created under.  He finds sympathy however, for an Occupy movement that seeks not equality of opportunity but equality of result.  Doesn't this kind of equality stifle the very spark of potential genius this country was built on under a pile of stinking egalitarian mediocrity?  In the rush to seek some imagined progressive government utopia of uniform opportunity, are we instead getting a conformity mandated by the force of law?  In the seemingly constant incremental surrender of individual freedom, could we be dooming ourselves to stagnation instead?  Have we exchanged a true diversity of ideas for little more than a divergent set of paths to failure?  While decrying a lack of competitive edge in this country, has government itself instilled a placidity whose only goals are illusionary props to self-esteem?

This protection by legislation and regulation is not only doomed to failure by the faulty thinking it comes from, but by the imperfect assumptions it's based on and the defective methods involved in writing it.  What makes all of it even worse however, are the inevitable strong-arm tactics that will be used to enforce what are little more that crooked, flawed, and unsound policies for no other reason than that those in power believe that they know what's best for you.  Growing up in Chicago around the stories of mob influence during the days of another flawed government mandate, Prohibition, we knew what to call this kind of protection.  Used very effectively by criminal enterprises that often seemed far more organized that our government (then or now), we called them Protection Rackets.    


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Higher Education

You know, you have to sympathize with the complaints of some of the recently graduated college students in the 'Occupy' movement.  After all, leaving the safety of protection of the academic world after 4-6 years, only to find yourself saddled with a debt equivalent to the purchase of a small home in the Midwest can be a rather startling revelation.  Discovering that this encumbrance has provided you little in the way of earning collateral, since your degree in English Renaissance Literature has as much value in the real world as one in Underwater Basket Weaving can be unnerving.

Listen, I can feel your pain.  Back in the days when I was seeking a degree in Philosophy (and no, Socrates and Aristotle were not teaching then, but I think Descartes was), I remember how interesting the courses were and how exciting and fun it was to be learning things that I'd never dreamt existed.  Fortunately for me, I was waylaid in my quest for ultimate knowledge by a professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City from whom I was taking two courses from at the time.  Though not my academic adviser (who curiously enough, I never met during my time at UMKC), Dr. Minton took the time to patiently explain to me that my Bachelor's degree would do little more than qualify me to sort mail at the Post Office.  He further explained that I would need both a Masters degree and Doctorate to pursue the one job open to such graduates, becoming a professor like him.  Soon after that, I left school forever to pursue the full-time employment in the printing industry that led me to where I am today.

(Of course looking back, getting a job at the USPS in the mid 70's would have meant that I could have been retired by now with a pretty decent pension, instead of having to restart a career after the all but demise of the daily newspaper business; so I should probably be a little pissed at the man.  He at least did me the favor of explaining the hard realities of the world to me however.) 

Knowledge is a beautiful thing in and of itself, and continuing education is a goal to be pursued, not a destination to be reached.  Nor is the process limited to the academic environs of a university and the structure of a classroom.  I have achieved far greater knowledge and insight in the last few years under the tutelage of friends now living in Virginia or still living in Toledo than I did in many of the years before (Thanks Brian and Maggie).  With no more instruction than, 'if this is what you believe, figure out why and keep your thinking logically consistent' and 'here's the title of a few good books you might want to read'; they sent me on a voyage of discovery that will likely never end. The cost of this instruction by the way, has been that of the books themselves, and the treasured and all too rare opportunity to provide reimbursement to those instructors through the purchase of an adult beverage.

I understand that not all were or will be as fortunate however, and the cost of a college education continues to rise.  While the rest of the world is suffering in the economic malaise and many commercial concerns are seeking strict cost cutting measures, the world of academia seems to be living a far different existence.  Many universities across the country are building new dormitories to provide what most would consider 'high-end amenities' to current and prospective students.  Sports facilities, long a source of contention between academics and alumni, likewise continue to be erected or upgraded in an effort to attract the best and brightest on and off the field.

At a time of complaints over the reductions of aid to education by states already strapped for cash is demonized, pay continues to increase for both instructors and administrators.  Here in Kansas, the Board of Regents approved modest increases of 1.8% for all; but in spite of the tough times, slightly larger ones for some who they felt were being paid less than their peers.  Kansas State's Kirk Schultz's pay will go from $350,000 to $400,000, President of Pittsburg State Steve Scott's compensation will go from $213,000 to $248,000, Hays State's Ed Hammond's pay will jump from $222,860 to $255,200.  By comparison, the increases of University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little from $425,000 to $432,650 seems hardly worth mentioning (except that she's making over $400k); as does the increase of Wichita State University's Don Beggs from $277,160 to $282,150.  (And don't get me started on the pay of full professors, the madness of  the tenure system, how much of their responsibilities they delegate to TA's and graduate students, or the concept of paid sabbaticals.)

I know that Universities, like other businesses, seek to attract the top flight administrators; and compensation is certainly a way to do that.  While recognizing this necessity however, I cannot help but deplore what at best is an example of poor public relations and at worst an almost intolerable insensitivity to current economic realities shown by such compensation packages. 

Perhaps those camped out and sleeping under tarps in places where they aren't allowed to do so might want to redirect their faulty target identification systems from the fat cat bankers who loaned them the money for an education they can't find a use for to the institutions of learning that accepted that borrowed money in what they believed was a legitimate contract to provide them with not only an education, but a future.  (A situation which has apparently been solved now by insuring that most if not all student loans in this country will come henceforth from the government.)  Perhaps they might also set their sights on those in Washington DC who strangely seem oblivious to the fact that education costs have been going up at rather startling rates lately.  

I fear however, that until we either stop telling young people that they need a college education to succeed in life, or start telling everyone in this country that tuition rates have been going up at twice the rate of inflation since 2000, those entering universities around the country will indeed be seeking and getting a 'higher education'.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

TFP Column(s): Halloween Costumes 2011 / The Perfect Storm

Well it's that time of year again when demons, zombies, and delusional freaks who believe they are super heroes will once more be walking the streets.  Oh sure, you can say that they're just politicians making last ditch attempts to scare up a few votes for next months elections, but quite frankly they terrify the hell out of me.

Far less alarming however, are this year's suggestions for disguises that can be used for garnering the only handouts that do not come from the government these days.  So it was with recently repaired sarcasm and irony keys on my computer and tongue planted firmly in cheek, that the annual "Halloween 2011" costume recommendations was penned for the TFP. 

Of course it's all a bit of harmless Halloween fun ... you know, like lighting bags of dog crap on fire on people's porches (not that I ever did anything like that of course), and a lot easier to clean off of your shoes.

There were even a few costume additions that limitations on column space and time restrictions did not permit me, that I am now able to add here: 

Stand on the porch of the homes you visit with a shoe (or rubber foot) in your mouth.  When asked, tell them you are VP Joe Biden; then quickly shove the item back into place to before you say something else stupid.

Put on your Sunday best, pin a piece of paper with a "1" on it to your clothes, and wear a demonic mask or makeup.  When queried, respond that you are one of the 'evil rich' and don't they wish that they were too.

Women can paint a black eye on while wearing anything else that they choose.  When asked, tell them you are recently returned from Topeka, Kansas; where misdemeanor domestic violence laws were not being prosecuted (and where existing laws for charging this misdemeanor were dropped by the city council) for a day in a rather sad political budget pissing match. 

Wear something business casual and carry a clipboard full of multicolored forms, a stick pen, and a very stern expression.  When asked about your costume, tell them that you are the most dangerous person in the United States (as defined by Ronald Reagan), "someone from the government who's here to help".

Hey listen!  Since the candy being handed out to children as an integral part of this celebration violates every one of the recommended government dietary requirements, I urge all of you to 'Occupy Halloween' by putting the children in your neighborhood in a sugar frenzy that their parents will not soon forget.

If that concept isn't scary enough for you however, try this one on for size:

What might happen if those in the 'Occupy' movement, keen on taking bankers and Wall Street villains to task, come to realize that it's the government regulations and regulators that are really to blame for rigging the game.  Then add in the righteous (and more well organized) indignation of the TEA Party movement that has likewise come to realize that the enemy, if there is one, is the faceless bureaucrat who regulates their every moment and the legislator who ceded his Constitutionally mandated power to a bunch unelected government courtiers and sycophants.

What it meant to me at least, is the possibility that the best and brightest from the two groups might begin to recognize their power and come together in "The Perfect Storm" thirteen months before the next big election.

Of course what this means is that after an absence of a couple of weeks, you will find not one, but two efforts of mine in this weekend's Toledo Free Press.  (There's even an ugly rumor going around that the Halloween costume bit will appear in the print edition this week as well.)   

As always however, there is far more and far better to be found in the pages of this weekend's edition and some exclusively on the TFP website.  I therefore urge you to spend a little time catching up on everything else that's going on in Toledo and Northwest Ohio this weekend with Toledo's largest Sunday circulation and what's recognized as Ohio's Best Weekly Newspaper, the Toledo Free Press.


Shepherd Indicted by Flock

While the title of this post may appear a bit confusing at first, its meaning will become plain quickly enough.  For it seems that a Grand Jury in Jackson County, Missouri (Kansas City), at the urging of the County Prosecutor, has handed down a misdemeanor indictment for Bishop Robert Flynn, as well as the Diocese of Kansas City - St Joseph, MO for failure to report suspected child abuse.  

It seems that Bishop Flynn failed to report the suspected child abuse activities of one of the priests in the diocese, Rev. Shawn Ratigan; who is now facing federal child pornography charges.  After apparently hundreds of images of this child pornography were found on the good Father's computer, the Bishop had Father Ratigan reassigned away from parish duties that might bring him into contact with children, but failed to report the situation to police for a period of some five months. The Bishop also apparently failed to read a memo submitted by the principal of the Catholic school where Father Ratigan worked in May of 2010, some seven months before the items were discovered on the computer and a year before authorities were informed.

The December 2010 time frame is coincidentally the time when I had previously written a piece on the Church's position on accepting responsibility for the actions committed by these priests, "Suffer The Little Children".  I wondered then whether someone in authority would be held accountable:

"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."    

It appears that being held to that standard was not as long in coming as I would have suspected.  Of course Bishop Flynn and the Diocese are likewise named in a number of civil suits relating to this situation that will likely take years of legal wrangling to resolve.  The calls for Bishop's Flynn's resignation have likewise been surfacing regularly since May when Ratigan's situation first came to light, but the Bishop appears not to be giving serious consideration to accepting his own responsibility in this situation (other than to issue apologies), to be under no pressure from the Vatican to do so, and is in fact pursuing a full schedule of appearances.  The Holy See for its part, is remaining purposefully silent on the situation, claiming on the surface at least to be attempting to avoid the appearance of interference with the local legal proceedings.

Perhaps the Pope and the rest of the Church authorities fail to realize that it is this very silence that has stirred the righteous indignation of the faithful, both in Kansas City and elsewhere.  Even the most devout recognize that not only is it far past time that the Catholic Church stopped trying to cover for those who violate its most sacred trusts; but accept responsibility for what some might call being an accessory after (and in some case before) the fact for these criminal acts. 

Forgiveness is one of the core tenants of the Catholic faith; but such forgiveness is not achieved without making a Confession, following through with a true act of contrition, and the performance of a penance.  While certainly no one believes that those higher in the Church hierarchy 'committed' these sins, the Church has long recognized 'sins of omission' which those in authority certainly appear to be guilty of by their failures in protection of their flock and to turn over the perpetrators to the proper authorities.  The failure of those in the Church to protect those in its care that are most vulnerable is inexcusable. The apparent belief that those in authority need not share some of the guilt for the damage done when they fail not only to prevent this when they could, but to report it when they knew of it is unconscionable.  The idea that members of the clergy might be above the law because of their position is intolerable.

Until Church leaders too step forward, perform more than a simple 'mea culpa', and accept responsibility and penance for these detestable deeds, I'm afraid that this won't be the last time that what was once a loyal flock seeks to indict its shepherd.


Monday, October 17, 2011

More Transparency From Your Government

In a story little reported around the rest of the country, the KC Star follows up on a story that it has itself become involved in, with the shut down of public access to a medical database by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Today, the paper reports that Senator Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican member of the Judiciary Committee is demanding an explanation for why HHS now denies full access for anyone to a national database tracking malpractice and disciplinary cases among doctors saying: "More transparency serves the public interest."  Grassley has in fact called for a briefing from HHS as to why such information is no longer available to journalists, researchers, and the public in general. 

Of course the KC Star has every reason to continue to follow this story, since it was one of its investigative reporting efforts that led to the current policy.  The Star's involvement in fact dates back to September, when it "reported finding 21 doctors in the two states who had 10 or more payouts" ... (It tracked cases in Missouri and Kansas for malpractice) ... "but had not been disciplined".  By putting these records (which have names removed) together with court records it obtained separately, the Star was able through its efforts, to discover the names of one of these doctors.

Both universities and other journalism organizations have since called for full access to this information, but have been denied that which was previously available by HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sibelius.  Instead, her agency now says that it might agree to release specific data, but retains the option to deny any such a request made.

“Shutting down public access to the data bank undermines the critical mission of identifying inefficiencies within our health care system,” Senator Grassley is quoted as saying in the story.

And with barely the stroke of a pen, the same federal government that wishes to take control of health care in this county once and for all believes that patients, researchers, or the media do not have the right to know whether there are incompetent doctors out there who are not being disciplined by their peers in the medical profession.  And in yet another example of the 'transparency' touted by the Administration when it entered office, it once denies consumers of vital information that might help them to make better choices in medical care for themselves. 

"My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government." 
 (quoted from:


Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Top 1% Win Because They Play

Didn't being in the top 1% used to be a good thing?

I remember my years in high school (difficult to forget, since Gutenberg had just invented movable type) when were given standardized tests.  I took up the challenge of the PSAT, the SAT, and the ACT with relish as part of the college application process certainly, but also to measure myself against other students in the nation in a similar position.  Seeking and achieving a higher score in these tests was not only a source of pride, but assuaged the need to compete that I felt.

After my halcyon days of education and standardized tests were over, I was left to find new ways to measure myself against my fellow man.  Advancement in career was certainly a part of that, and being granted additional responsibilities was certainly a source of pride; but a job title never paid the rent or bought groceries.  No, it was financially that we ultimately measured ourselves against our contemporaries (and even many whose station was above ours).  In fact, I remember telling many a new salesman during their training period that commission checks were not only a justly earned reward for the hard work that they did, but a great way of keeping score.

Competing wasn't limited to work, and contests with peers on the simple electronic games of the time were always a part of the fun.  From 'Pong' and 'Donkey Kong' in those earlier days, to Role Playing Games (RPG's) like 'World of Warcraft' to 'Lord of the Rings' more recently, pitting ones skills against other players and those who write the rules (especially when you figure out the tricks and shortcuts) was eminently satisfying.  And while I'm not as good as some in my clan, I keep score and try to improve my standing.

It's with this in mind that I view the misguided thinking of the whole 'Occupy' movement.  Somewhere in the midst of being caught up in a twisted entitlement mentality, they've come damn close to something, but failed to grasp it.  Yes, the top 1% is getting a lot of the breaks these days; but it's not capitalism that's at fault for all of the world's problems, but crony-capitalism.  After all, we've had capitalism in this country since it was founded, and the disparity that they claim to so disparage has only become an issue in recent years.

What changed?  Certainly it isn't the principles of capitalism itself.  Capitalism is only an economic system in which the private ownership of the means of production and distribution is maintained.  It's a system where anyone can own both physical and intellectual property, and the score is kept based on how much of both you have.  Now maybe I'm wrong, but what they appear to object to is their inability to play the game by what they consider 'unfair rules'.

What they fail to grasp apparently, is that this game that has worked for centuries is increasingly being rigged ... by the government created to protect it. This doesn't make those bending the rules to the point of breaking (or hiring someone to do it for them) worthy of praise, but neither does it make them into maleficent demons.  What it does make them is pretty damn good at scoring points on a real-life strategy game with some pretty twisted and always changing rules. But like most of the electronic RPG's out there, the players don't write the rules.  No in this case, that's done by those clever little programmers in Washington DC and by their pals the lobbyists, hoping to get a jump at getting to and staying at the top of the pile.

Is the tax system rigged?  Of course it is. It's a set of originally simple rules that gets more complicated every time someone in Washington decides to 'fix a bug' in it.  Hell, even the IRS cannot and does not understand the thousands of pages of tax code that they are supposed to enforce. But if you want taxes to stop favoring the rich, simplify the tax code!  Take out the ponderous pages of rules, regulations, incentives, loop holes, and deductions so that there's nothing to take advantage of.  Join with Conservatives that have been pushing for years to see a 'Flat Tax' with the same rate for everyone or 'Fair Tax' based on the consumption of goods.  No exemptions, no deductions, and no tax-free investments for anyone.   (And oh by the way, without a complicated tax system, we'd need little or none of the massive IRS bureaucracy and the money we waste on it.)  

You want to fix the banking system, don't let the government add to the already ponderous regulation that it works under (and under which it collapsed), then bail them out when they flip a coin that says "heads I win, tails you lose".  Get the legislators and lobbyists out of the process and tell them that they're a business like any other.  Tell them that if they gamble their (our) money on risky investments and lose it, they will go bankrupt.  And tell them by the way, that they'll be going to jail as well for doing so, and have every personal asset they own confiscated to settle the bill.

You want foreclosures to end, then shut down government interference in the system and government run Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as well.  It was government regulation that convinced people to buy houses they couldn't afford and forced banks to lend them the money to do so.  It was government regulation that allowed the bundling investments that burst the housing bubble.  It's complying with government regulations that is hindering with clearing up the paperwork so the system can reset itself and move on.

You want to fix Wall Street, then stop letting Congress write regulations for its operation that allow the most egregious offenders to speculate without putting real money up.  You want major corporations to act responsibly, then yank the government safety net out from under them.  Stop the taxpayer funded incentives, the subsidies, and the legislative picking of winners and losers; and make the system run with little government supervision and no support.  Everybody from people who run trains to those who build cars knows that right now they can continue to operate under practices that are not and cannot be self-sustaining, and when the inevitable happens they can run to legislators under the 'too big to fail' scenario with their Oliver Twist suits on to beg for money.  Tell the government that it has to stop.

If nothing else however, remember that real capitalism is little more than a game with rules that you need to learn and understand.  And like any other game, it's one you can't expect to win unless you play.  Watching over the shoulders of others exerting themselves, and complaining that the rules won't let you compete won't get you into the game or take you to the next level.  So log in, get your password, and start playing with the rest of us.  Who knows, you might find that you enjoy this fairly realistic and rather challenging RPG far more than you thought.

And as for those you're trying to demonize for playing too well ... don't blame the player dog, blame the government writing and rewriting the rules of the game ...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ideological Inconsistency

I am becoming increasingly frustrated by what is apparently the most widespread epidemic in the world today, ideological inconsistency.  From the pundits to the electorate, few have managed to escape a malady afflicting the nation.  While I don't consider myself above occasional bouts that must be treated, I do try however to give myself regular inoculations of the cold, hard facts in a largely successful prophylactic effort.  Perhaps that's why the dissonance of arguments on both the left and the right seem so confusing to me these days.

Conservatives want to remove subsidies from farmers (something long overdue), solar and wind technology, and ethanol producers.  They claim that industries and technologies that are marketable do not require government assistance in order to survive.  How then do we explain the inconsistency to their wanting to continue subsidies to oil companies and defense contractors?  Is the oil industry not profitable without government assistance?  If such assistance were removed, would they not maintain their profit margins through the market?  And how much has been and is still being poured into corporations developing technologies that this country will never deploy in its own defense?  How much treasure is wasted in contractor malfeasance and featherbedding for projects woefully behind schedule or those that will never succeed?  

Progressives for their part, want to pull the financial plug on any form of energy coming from oil and coal which are already in place and generating inexpensive power much needed for potential economic growth; leaving in place supports for energy sources that will never be more than marginal ones incapable of supplying current, let alone future needs, in anything like their present form.  They somehow manage to forget fact that according to their ideology, subsidizing corporations is inherently evil (especially when any of their manufacturing is done overseas), apparently capable of setting aside such ideology in the name of 'green technology'.  Ideology likewise seems irrelevant when it's pointed out that ethanol produces more pollution (and less energy) than oil; or the concept that while mercury pollution produced by the burning of coal is unforgivable, that released when an energy-saving light bulb is broken is OK.

Meanwhile Congress continues pointless ideological discussions of how to cut the growth of spending in the future instead of the actual spending in the present that's behind our runaway debt. In a perfect example of conflicted dogma, the left and right simultaneously debate how to raise revenue (taxes) without raising taxes (except on those paying most of them already).  Naively believing that this time they can tax the hideously rich (some of whom are already in Congress) without having them lobby their way around it or move their money out of the US to avoid such taxation entirely (and further hurting the economy); they ignore the elephant in the room that even if they were capable of such a monumental feat of legislative legerdemain, the sum taken in wouldn't come close to balancing the government's books (paying 1-2% of the current deficit by most respected estimates).

While they wrestle with this insubstantial demon, the unmistakable monster of government bureaucracy before them continues its reign of terror, absorbing more money and power with each passing moment.  In this government-approved version of "Oliver Twist", the young orphan attacks the grown-ups with his plate, and beats them about the head and ears while taking whatever he determines is his fair share. Ideologically weak legislators on both sides of the aisle, intimidated by this unruly juvenile delinquent, seem unwilling or unable to curb his monstrous appetite; nor can they deny him the increasing authority he takes without asking.  Regardless of Ideology, everything be damned when the business of 'government as usual' is at stake for these unelected courtiers of an increasingly corrupt system.

And of course what discussion of distorted and duplicitous ideology would be complete without touching on the choosing of a Republican challenger for the sitting President that's so much in the news and on the minds of 'those who know'.  USA Today for example, talks recently about non-candidate Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey never entering the race as a governor who after all, "has held office for less than two years" (a crime that they consider Sarah Palin equally guilty of).  True enough as far as it goes, unless one wishes to look at the time before Christie entered office, when in 2008 we elected a junior Senator from Illinois with 'less than two years experience' (and who spent most of that time campaigning for the office he currently holds), to the highest office in the land .

Not to be left out on capricious and incoherent thinking, those on the right still talk about a movement to draft this man of relative inexperience during the national convention where they hope to pick a replacement for one that they complain does not have a proper background and experience of leadership required to perform this function.  

Herman Cain is likewise attacked for a lack of experience from the left and the right, but no one asks whether the experience of running a profitable business is better that of leading an unprofitable government, or why the experience of being a professional politician is a good in and of itself.  We've had experienced politicians in the White House much of the 20th and 21st Century after all, and what have they gotten us except into the mess we now find ourselves desperately seeking a way out of.

Strangely, the only candidate with a consistent ideology is the one most disregarded and demonized.  One cannot help but wonder that if consistent ideology is sought by Republicans, what clearer choice could they have?  Who has more knowledge of what caused the financial disaster we stand on the brink of or spoken more clearly on its solutions?  Who has likewise spoken more often and plainly on a return to a Constitutionally limited government that so many claim as their ideology? 

Instead of praise for such ideological purity however, Paul has been marginalized.  In spite of the fact that he has more experience at working with Democrats and Republicans alike in Congress than any of his counterparts, he's seen as unable to do so.  In spite of apparently standing for exactly what the Republican electorate claims they want from the next candidate for the highest office in the land, the argument continues to be over which of the other candidates is the most electable lesser of evils.  

Like Alice down the rabbit hole, the whole concept of consistent ideology has become 'curiouser and curiouser'.  At a time when we most need an outlook based on an objective analysis of the facts before us, what we get is anything but. The facts today don't seem to count except in how they are capable of being edited into soundbites that fit a pre-existing ideological vision more twisted than the Red Queen. We've so lost sight of what it means to hold firm to anything like the tenets of a consistent personal philosophy that we may soon use H G Wells instead of Charles Dodgson to say that, 'in this country of the blind, the one-eyed man will soon be forced to have government mandated and paid for Lasix surgery'. 


Friday, October 7, 2011

SOS Dictionary: A New 'Terrorism' Definition

Last week's cross-disciplinary effort was apparently much more fun for the staff than I had realized (or intended, for that matter). Both the Department of Just Blowing Smoke Security and the Stuck on Stupid lexicographers asked for an opportunity to try again.  (I originally suspected that sampling a hidden bottle in the attic that they didn't want to share caused this attempt to repeat their effort.  I have since come to believe however, that it has more to do with the flattery advanced by a certain attractive lady from a land far away.)    

In the spirit of benevolent dictatorship, I bowed to this entreaty, knowing that the chances they could equal their last effort were worse than Michelle Bachmann's odds on getting the Republican presidential nomination.  (Of course it might have something to do with the fact that I'm a slacker who sees no reason to write something of my own when someone else volunteers.)  After an extended session in which scrap paper was generated equivalent to the number of trees required to deforest Delaware, I was presented with a result that I had neither looked for, nor expected.  

Looking at this effort now, I can't help but be amazed at their exhaustive research (which I assume from the periodic snoring that came from upstairs) in identifying a previously known, but unrecognized core group of nefarious characters plotting against this nation.  I found this group to be not only a credible threat, but insidiously clever in calling themselves by the very name that describes their activities.  

This 'hiding in plain sight' mentality is an excellent form of misdirection; but unfortunately for them, one that proved not entirely successful when subjected to the scrutiny of a group of miscreants who are themselves well-schooled in the art of not being noticed when they don't want to be.  I therefore present the following addition both as a terror alert and as a new definition for the Stuck on Stupid (SOS) Dictionary.


Taxing the
Rich to 
Resulting from an
Immoderate government

1.  The efforts of 'Tax and spend' true believers in Congress and the White House who seek to mitigate their profligate spending through the forced confiscation of the abundance of those they deem affluent.

2.  The misguided attempts of followers of the 'Robin Hood' theory of economics (like Paul Krugman) that justifies giving the poor that which they have not earned and don't deserve by taking it from an alleged 'evil rich' who have committed no crime except succeeding at life through their own hard work.

3.  The misguided tactics of a guerrilla government to balance its books by robbing Peter to pay Paul.  The inherent failure of their tactics comes from the fact that Peter can never have enough taken from him to make Paul happy.

4.  Grand Inquisitors of Keynesian economics using WMD's (Weapons of Mass Distraction) to so poison the intellect of the electorate that they believe that although the top 1% of wage earners pay 38% and the top 10% pay 70% of the taxes in this country, they are not paying their 'fair share'.  (statistics are from The Heritage Foundation)

5.  The activities of suicide bombers like Warren Buffet and Ron Howard who misuse a combination of wealth and celebrity to destroy economic growth in this country through the use of 'Media Explosive Devices' (MED's) that maim rich and poor alike when detonated in public places. 

6.  The actions of elected officials (mostly rich themselves) who believe that it's alright to take money from other rich people as long as the 'servants of the people' are left alone with their lavish pensions and exceptional medical care. 

7.  The strategies of subversive left-wing social planners, with an army of IRS enforcers at their back, who have managed to create an aura of fear wherever and whenever the concept of personal success rears its ugly head in this country.

8.  The stunts performed by adversaries of free market capitalism who have pronounced a jihad on those who believe in the principle of the 'pursuit' of happiness, rather than government-enforced egalitarianism.

9.  The enterprises of insurgents that hand money that isn't theirs (and exists only as government debt) to Wall Street brokers and 'too big to fail' bankers by the wheelbarrow full, only to later feign attacks on them for the purpose of disingenuous propaganda; all the while appropriating funds to continue to do so from the innocent bystanders they claim to be defending.

10.  Seditionist strategies by elements of society that claim to be attempting to free the people of this country through an unrelenting program of tax slavery.

11.  The activity of those who see themselves best suited to pick the winners and losers in life by attacking the most successful on behalf of the least able.

Those who have somehow missed previous Terror Alerts or entries in the "Stuck on Stupid" Dictionary may find them by typing 'terrorism' or 'dictionary' into the search function on the left tab.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Social Security Taxation - A Brief History Lesson

Nothing truly inspirational has come across my path this week that deserves a full-blown rant, but I did come across an interesting bit of the past where Social Security was concerned in my continuing education course, "Things this dummy never learned in college".  

Since I am all but incapable of maintaining the structure required for 'higher education' these days, I have been force to audit even this class; which has no lectures, no syllabus, and no testing (and therefore no grades).  Apparently the ne'er do well leading the program has no plan in mind except the acquisition of knowledge, regardless of the department or discipline involved. This would be an admirable goal in and of itself normally, but I am familiar enough with this reprobate to recognize that no praise for this tortuous effort is warranted.

At any rate, I came across this bit of the history of Social Security in "Economics in One Lesson" but Henry Hazlitt.  While last updated in 1979, Hazlitt provides a wealth of information in just over 200 pages that could help even the most moronic of students understand the basic principles of the Austrian school of economics (and I ought to know).  

Concerning our 'Senior Safety Net', he said:

"Social Security was to be entirely a self-financed insurance plan based on strict actuarial principles.  A reserve fund was to be set up sufficient to meet future claims and payments as they fell due.

It never worked out that way.  The reserve fund existed mainly on paper.  The government spent the Social Security tax receipts, as they came in, either to meet it's ordinary expenses or to pay out benefits.  Since 1975, current benefit payments have exceeded the system's tax receipts.  ....

In the original 1935 bill the salary taxed was only the first $3,000.  The early tax rates were very low.  But between 1965 and 1977, for example, the Social Security tax shot up from 4.4% on the first $6,600 of earned income (levied on employer and employee alike) to a combined 11.7 percent on the first $16,500.  (Between 1960 and 1977, the total tax increased by 572 percent, or about 12 percent per year compounded.) ...  At the beginning of 1977, unfunded liabilities of the Social Security system were officially estimated at $4.1 trillion." (Emphasis added)

Now if that period after 1965 seems oddly familiar, those of you old enough, or who have studied your history might remember that Medicare and Medicaid were added to this program in the Social Security Act of 1965.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

TFP Column: Government "Prop"aganda

I was late this week in attempting an effort for the TFP, and Editor-in-Chief Michael Miller may have thought that he had escaped at least one week without having to deal with my illiterate scribbling.  As much as I like Michael however, I found myself caught up in the books on Economics that I have been reading for the last couple of weeks.

(Reading books on Economics for fun ... am I living the dream or what!)

I only wish that some of those in government had read some of the same material that I have, and we might all have been spared a good deal of misery (and a larger portion of debt) in the last couple of years.  

Applying my 'book learning' to the situation at hand (the next proposed Stimulus), led me to put together a piece called "Government 'Prop'aganda", which discusses some $447 billion in props to the economy proposed by the President and some of the disinformation surrounding it.

As always, anything worth knowing is going to find its way into the TFP this weekend.  So if you want to know everything that's going on in Toledo and NW Ohio, you're going to have to look in on Toledo's largest Sunday circulation and Ohio's Best Weekly newspaper, the Toledo Free Press.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The New Definition of Govt "STIMULUS"

In perhaps the finest example of cross-disciplinary cooperation in the history of "Just Blowing Smoke", the Department of Just Blowing Smoke Security and the lexicographers of the "Stuck on Stupid" Dictionary have combined their talents to produce this weekend's effort. Senior staff at JBS, understanding that potential jurisdictional disputes could create unnecessary friction; or worse, incite the staff to seek organization under a union, spared no expense in securing the full cooperation of the respective personnel.  

Of course this meant that we had to send out for a pizza with real Italian Sausage from "Italian Delight" and serve it with a choice of Leinenkugel Red or Dos Equis Amber.  ( A few disgruntled scribblers complained about the lack of Guinness as a selection, until it was explained that such nectar can only be served on tap and threatened the removal of alcohol choices entirely as an alternative.)

Setting aside the minor effort at insurrection by this bunch of minimum wage, minimum IQ, and minimum accomplishment slackers; I must admit that this effort is an interesting addition to the growing legends (in their own minds, at least) of both departments.

Government STIMULUS:

Trying to 
Interfere with 
Monetary policy 
Usury, and 

1.  An attempt by the government to jump start a failing or stagnate economy by an infusion of capital, a program of incentives, or both.

2.  The transference of money from one person (or group of people) to another, so that they can use such cash to stimulate the economy.  Invariably such a transference hurts those it takes from, does not reach those it was designed to, and is not used in the fashion originally intended if by mischance it actually does arrive.  In the process however, more than a little of the cash allocated is siphoned off by the useless drones of government bureaucracy to perpetuate or increase the size of their fiefdoms. 

3.  A misguided misreading of the principles of economics that leads some to believe that the laws of supply and demand will not invariably do a faster and much better job of  returning stability to a nation's economy that any artificial attempts to do so.  

4.  Asinine attempts by politicians to provide a quick fix for the economic malaise using principles that they understand about as well as they understand those of particle physics.  (No wait, not even that well ...)

5.  Ludicrous, nonsensical proposals for economic recovery made by those attempting to run for or keep elected office which are used as little more than a bully  pulpit from which to demonize their political opponents.

6.  A government program which trades failed short-term solutions for long-term stagnation caused by its very interference.

7.  An opportunity for elected officials to line the pockets of selected constituents, lobbyists, and especially donors in the name of 'sharing the burden' of a sagging economy.

8.  Attempts by the public sector to pick winners and losers in the private sector.  In doing this job poorly and indiscriminately, they often decimate such private sector businesses in the process, whether chosen to reap the benefits of such an attempt or not.

9.  Misguided efforts by those who have mostly never run businesses (or held jobs other than in government) to decide how those attempting to do so should be 'helped'.  Not surprisingly, they either cannot or simply refuse to hear the pleas of their intended victims attempting to tell them that in order to do so, they need merely: "Get out of the way!"

10.  Government wealth transfer programs in which some funds are misappropriated, others are misapplied, and still others are simply missing.

11.  An attempt by a government to spend money it doesn't have, on programs it doesn't need, to solve problems it cannot fix.