Saturday, April 28, 2012

Indecent Exposure

It's a rare occasion when I feel the need to admit that I'm wrong.  (Most who truly know me would say that it's an even more rare {rarer?} occasion when I actually do so, and especially in any kind of public forum.)  It's not that I don't find myself being wrong or being in the wrong on a regular enough basis in my life; but since my last marriage ended, the requirement (and perhaps the ability) of admitting to mistaken notions or even more misguided behavior has somewhat withered through a lack of use. Having such survival skills atrophy during a marriage can be fatal, and even now might prove to be dangerous, a fact I'm afraid I may yet come to discover.

I'm sure that many are beginning to wonder what could possibly be the heinous nature of my sin, and why I should feel this apparently overwhelming need for confession.  Have no fear that I will make you wait any longer however, for the moment of truth is in fact upon me.  Here it is:  I admitted both to the writing of this blog and likewise to my efforts for the Toledo Free Press to some of my co-workers.

"What, that's it?" some of you may now be saying. "Jeez, what a let down.  What's the big deal about that anyway?"  Others however, perhaps writers themselves; or at least older and wiser in nature of things must now instead be saying, "Oh my God what's wrong with you? Have you no sense at all, let alone a decent sense of shame?" The former question is one to which many learned doctors have lent their talents, in a long and largely unsuccessfully quest for an answer, so don't expect to get any insight here from me.  The answer to the latter is proving equally problematic however, in spite of the fact that I am more than familiar with the concept.  (Those of the Jewish faith may have cornered much of the market on guilt, but for shame one really needs to turn to those of us raised Catholic.)  For while I always thought I met reasonable requirements in this area, recent actions must call that assumption into serious question.

Now one of my literary heroes Robert Heinlein, was quoted as saying:  “Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.” But that's easier for Mr. Heinlein than some of the rest of us.  Not only were his talents and writing abilities far beyond those of most of us mere mortals, but he has the additional advantage of having achieved room temperature back in the late 80's.  Because of his talent and the fame (along with what I would assume would have been a healthy amount of money), I'm sure that he was far less likely to succumb to embarrassment over his own dirty little habit, even while carrying it out. Being now in the position of taking a permanent 'dirt nap', he is I'm sure less concerned with the vagaries of celebrity, chagrin over the way he earned his money, and the problems involved with ignoring those pesky autograph seekers.

Also of course, he doesn't have to go back into the office next week and face people who by then may well have made the fatal mistake of reading some of his literary version of natural fertilizer.  He will never have to survive the guilt of having wasted some part of their finite time on this Earth (time they'll never get back) in joining even temporarily, with the rather twisted following that he might have gathered over the years.  Worse still, he will not be worrying that in doing so, they may perhaps have gained a greater insight into the shallow nature of the intellect and trivial nature of the soul that produces this malodorous tripe.  He will not have to face up to the fact that having thus plumbed the depths of a personality that's usually found wanting in fathomage by comparison to the local kiddy pool, they must now attempt to cover (at least as best they can) the obvious disdain in which they must now hold this mostly disreputable scribbler in an attempt to maintain some semblance of good order and discipline in the office. 

Having now exposed a soul best left to hide in the shadows however, there will inevitably be changes ahead.  You know what I'm talking about.  Sidelong looks filled with equal parts of pity and disgust, reluctant handshakes with oft-averted eyes, and of course the whispered conversations just out of earshot (accompanied by the sadly shaking heads) that must inevitably follow.  No blame of course can be attached to such behavior on their parts, since what these co-workers have been presented with is little more than a form of Indecent Exposure.  They didn't necessarily ask for the experience they were subjected to.  They were innocently minding their own business when confronted by something that no reasonable person can hope to be prepared for.

You know, come to think of it, perhaps I should be accepting responsibility for what I've put all of the rest of you who have been following "Just Blowing Smoke" for some time now (and apparently in ever-increasing numbers).  The fifth anniversary of the creation of this blog on this venue is fast approaching, and there are times when feelings of guilt for the damage that I might have caused to a faceless and mostly blameless audience over that period is all but overwhelming.  To be honest with you, I have from time to time seriously considered giving up this horribly perverted exhibitionist behavior in the name of common decency.  Having done it for as long as I have often makes it difficult to face myself in the mirror in the morning (which may in some way account for the beard).

Please note that I do not in this self-flagellation, count the efforts that I pen for the Toledo Free Press.  Nor is the inestimable Editor-in-Chief of that esteemed publication in any way responsible for the often stinking offal that makes its way onto these pages.  Not only have I desperately attempted to write to a higher standard in gratitude for his confidence (at least as much as I can), but his guiding influence and strict ethical code would no doubt prevent much of what passes for composition on these pages from ever seeing the light of day.

While I am more than willing to tender my most sincere apologies for all that I have put you through, I unfortunately find that I have neither the strength of character, nor of will, to abandon these disgusting practices that have become so much a part of my life.  Overwhelmed by my own twisted desires and the demented sense of satisfaction that I gain from continuing this personal perversion, I suspect myself likely to continue for some time.  (Besides, I don't want to add to the national unemployment figures by throwing the JBS staff  out into the street.)

I fear however that in spite of the increasing temperatures here in Kansas City, this most recent breech of office etiquette (and perhaps even 'below the line behavior') may force me to don the trench floppy hat that have long served as a uniform for those committing similarly depraved acts.  If after all, I'm going to reveal my disgusting nature through this form of Intellectual Indecent Exposure, I might as well look the part.     

Hey, I wonder if I've still got that old Army helmet liner around somewhere.  There might at least be something kind of retro-cool to looking like the title character from the 1971 Jethro Tull classic that I used to perform in my youth ... 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

TFP Column: Selling Stupid

When you've been around sales as long as I have, you begin to recognize who's got a good pitch and who's got a lousy one.  You also wonder how some can manage to make a great pitch with a lousy product and some make an embarrassingly horrible one with a good, or even a great product.

So it was this week, that I began to look at the upcoming November election in terms of both the product that each of the two major parties were pitching, and at the way that they had prepared and packaged their ideas for the voters that they were trying to sell. The result is this week's effort in the TFP, "Selling Stupid", a title which you will understand soon after you begin reading.

Since this effort looks to go up on the website pretty early this week, you'll understand that you have a lot to look forward to.  Not only is the mid-wee 'Star' edition covering the incredible line up of super hero movies coming out this summer, but there's little doubt that this weekend's TFP will, as always, have a few super pieces of its own.

But what else could you expect from Toledo's largest Sunday circulation and Ohio's best weekly newspaper for the third straight year, the Toledo Free Press.  

Primary Education

In spite of the fact that the primary process is not over, it appears that it is.  President Obama after all, was running unopposed for the Democratic nomination, proving once again what George Ade said long ago that, "Anybody can win unless there happens to be a second entry".  In spite of a marginal approval rating and less than marginal economy, President Obama will easily receive his party's nomination to run for a second term.

After the initial assumption by Republicans that no one could beat Mitt Romney for his party's nomination, one that was proved false on more than one occasion, he now appears to be the last man standing in process that proved only slightly more entertaining than the Rosie O'Donnell Show (which the Oprah Network recently cancelled). While Romney hasn't got the delegate count required to officially end the process, even his most ardent detractors are all but conceding his victory, and beginning to fall in line in order to present a united front in time for the convention. 

Looking back at what's gone on so far however, the glaring questions in my mind aren't about the candidates (whose real test is yet before them), but about the primary process itself.  

We might start for example with the insistence on the primacy of Iowa and New Hampshire to kick off the process individually, in spite of a complete lack of credible reasoning to continue this archaic process. Other than drawing attention to states which nothing else normally does, there's no logical reason to allow it to go on.  

Immediately following, we can add in the constant shuffling of primary dates by states across the rest of the country hoping to make their own relevant.  In spite of constant threats by national parties of sanctions for doing so, this never-ending 'me first' attitude has done nothing but drag the process out.  (Isn't it amazing that this infighting doesn't make us question whether political parties who cannot seem to control their memberships are capable of accepting the leadership of a nation?)

Isn't it in fact curious that at a time when so many claim that the big problem with politics today is the money involved, they insist on a long primary process that's as much proof of a candidates ability to raise money as it is to raise the enthusiasm of his own parties political base?  Of course, we're told that as the process continues, we learn more about each candidate.  Bullshit!  All that happens over time is the candidates manage to smooth the rough edges off of stump speeches they'll eventually need in the actual election, while likewise learning to tailor them to individual audiences across the country.

Why must this process (like every other in politics) favor incumbent candidates, who either don't have to compete or spend from their war chests or have money left over from previous efforts?  Why can't this process be about the best people expressing the brightest ideas, regardless of when they hit the national stage?  Why can't those ideas be ones that they've long held and which persuaded them to run for office in the first place, instead of ones that they're only now recognizing as they "travel all across this great land of ours, talking to hard-working American people"

Why can't we learn from past mistakes and successes in this process?  So let's take this as an educational example of potential improvement.

Why can't we start the process on April 16, the day after the American voter truly learns what the price of democracy is (more on that later)?  It certainly seems a fitting date.  We can begin with three or four debates to give an understanding of each candidate's principles, and start the actual voting process in the middle of May.

We could then run five "Super Tuesdays" of ten states each; two weeks apart (and if Iowa and New Hampshire insist on being in the first group, that's  OK with me).  Interspersed with these primary groupings, four additional debates could be held if requested or required by circumstances.  The entire process would be over in ten weeks, and still allow Parties to hold nominating conventions in plenty of time for the election. 

Such a concentrated process would make many more of these primaries meaningful, coming as close together as they would.  They would also have the intended consequence that the process would no longer be one of who could raise enough money to last out an admittedly overlong process, but whose core principles would stand up best in this concentrated marketplace of ideas.

While were at it, why not eliminate the ones like Missouri's; which while it allows a popular vote, only allows one that has nothing to do with picking delegates or nominating a candidate.  If these states wish to hold primaries, the least that they can do for voters is to keep them from being a meaningless sham.  

Perhaps most importantly, by changing and concentrating the process, we can make the political parties themselves pay for some portion (if not all) of these private beauty contests.  I can find nothing in the Constitution which mandates the need for political parties, and nothing that therefore requires that the taxpayers of the states holding them foot the bill.  

One could (and perhaps even should) therefore demand that if taxpayers must in fact pay for any part of this party process, that all primaries be open ones in which voters are allowed a ballot regardless of prior party affiliation (or lack thereof).  It seems a violation of voting rights and a particularly egregious offense that Republicans and Democrats are capable of billing the American people for their private processes, and then refusing them the right to participate in them.

Listen, Democracy is never perfect; and even the Founding Fathers recognized the dangers of the representative republic they were creating.  Forming political parties in fact, was something that they did reluctantly.  None of what has become the primary process however, is defined or mandated in the language of the document that created this government.  

It's up to us to do what we can therefore, to see that we get the best possible candidates that we can to hand over the limited reins and responsibilities for the highest office in the land (and those of the legislature).  There's a lot about the twisted path that we find ourselves on that will be difficult to straighten out, perhaps cleaning up the primary process however could be seen as a truly 'shovel ready project'.  

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Population Density

(For those of you unfamiliar with "Just Blowing Smoke", let me state for the record that while I attempt to cover serious issues during the week; the weekend is normally reserved for complete nonsense.  While even I concede that the difference is all but indistinguishable; you can still expect that sarcasm lock key has firmly been pressed today.)

The City of Los Angeles is making a renewed and conscious push to increase population density around the major arteries of its mass transit system by enforcing special new zoning laws. Since LA is the model of urban sprawl and the home to a particular breed of silly people; the more I considered this, the more it confused me.

Oh sure, with the cost of housing in southern California (or anywhere else in the state for that matter), you'd have to be pretty dense in the first place to want to sign on to a new mortgage in these troubled times.  (Come to think of it, wasn't it stupid people buying houses that created a good chunk of the problem in the first place?)  What I couldn't understand however, was what advantage to the city there was to having so many dense people living in such close proximity to each other.  While a concerted push to gather all those considered 'slow on the uptake' together in certain areas might be beneficial to law enforcement (criminals have long shown themselves to be amongst the densest of the species and would therefore be easier to keep an eye on); the attempt to gather the weak-minded together through zoning laws might be considered a form of profiling that should be considered illegal and concentrating patrols in such an area might therefore cause more problems for law enforcement than it would solve?

I also couldn't help but wonder whether having so many dim-witted people living together might create additional burdens on other city services.  Were accidental fires more likely to occur in an area filled with obtuse individuals?  Were toilets more likely to clog after inappropriate things had been flushed down them by people who were simply too dim to know better, causing sewer line issues?  Would special traffic signals have to be installed in such areas to prevent oafish citizens from hurting themselves or each other in crossing streets?  And what did any of this have to do with putting these simple folks around the transit system?

Then it hit me!  

Having driven far too many miles, far too slowly on LA freeways over the years, I realized that perhaps the city had finally figured out a way to make a serious attempt to get some of the worst idiots off their highways and onto buses and trains.  This was brilliant!  Not only would this allow more intelligent commuters to travel on these multi-lane masterpieces of modern transportation more quickly, but it would also likely help those using public conveyances to commute to and from work.  Saving them the cost of automobiles, insurance, and $5 plus per gallon gas would allow them to divert this new found wealth into paying for homes that they probably still couldn't afford.  Of course you'd still have to figure out a way to make these dummies want to move there in the first place, and to walk past their cars and on to the transit stations, but it might be a start. (Maybe they could come up with a program of IQ-based property tax incentives.)

Eventually however, I began to wonder if such a grand scheme, no matter how masterfully conceived and executed, could actually succeed.  After all weren't Washington DC and its surrounding suburbs packed with some of the densest people in the nation, with no pervasive benefit coming from collecting those whose elevator doesn't go to the top couple of floors into one area.  One might even be able to successfully make the case that concentrating these dense people, as we have, into areas where the primary sources of employment are federal agencies and the national legislature might actually have had a deleterious long term effect on the nation.  (Many have made the case that it already has.)

Of course I've never heard anyone discuss that there had ever been an actual plan to increase the number of numskulls in Washington, though perhaps the prospect of a safe and well-paying and simple minded government job is in and of itself enough to attract those who will never be considered the 'brightest bulbs on the tree' (and a fair number of those who might glow a bit brighter).  Maybe there's just something about not being 'the shiniest coin in the purse' that lends itself to the talents required for government service and attracts them, like moths to the flame.  Maybe the single minded pursuit of incredibly tedious, mostly useless paperwork; all wrapped in pretty red tape and filed in triplicate is something that appeals to those who could be considered a bit slow on the uptake.  

Perhaps this even goes a long way to explain Charles L'Enfant's design of Washington itself, where the east-west streets are all named with letters and the north-south streets with numbers ... a recognition that a subtle aid for mostly senseless residents to make their way around the seat of the national government more easily was a necessity.  Perhaps this is even why the Capitol City was built on mostly mosquito-infested swamp land that would have been otherwise found unsuitable and uncomfortable for use to those considered far more sensible.

With such an obvious example of failure before it, the LA experiment with population density is likely to be proved an idea as dumb as those it expects to influence.


More recently released statements in the news find that LA is now trying to cover their tracks (pun intended) with this whole effort up by saying that all of this is actually an environmental issue.  (Perhaps they had gotten wind of this post coming out and decided to do a little proactive damage control.)  In a marvelous bit of political spin, they have apparently come forward to claim that the goal that they were in fact attempting to achieve was not that of getting stupid people sequestered into specific selected areas of the city, as was apparent from the wording of their original announcement; but instead that of getting 'a lot of people' concentrated in multi-family dwellings around their mass transit system. (Nicely played LA, nicely played indeed ...)

None of the more recently released statement speaks to how they expect to crowd people into town homes and apartment buildings in the capital of urban sprawl when they could instead be living in single family homes, unless of course they're stupid.  But that's OK, if history has taught us anything, it's that everyone will blindly accept the statements of government officials without question when what they're trying to tell is they are smarter than contractors in knowing what they can do with the property that they own and likewise smarter than people in knowing where they can and should live.

Come on now, how stupid do they think we are anyway?  (Don't answer that.)


Thursday, April 19, 2012

TFP Column: The Little Bus That Couldn't

Someone on the staff at a recent editorial meeting had the temerity to bring up the thought that were a couple of things we hadn't done here at "Just Blowing Smoke" in quite some time: 

1. Release another Fracture Fairy Tale to the public
2. Pick on the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA)

After a bit of verbal abuse was exchanged over who would be held responsible for these lapses (someone must always be blamed in the end), it was decided to kill not two, but three birds with one stone (which was rolling by at the time, having not gathered any moss) and do a Fractured Fairy Tale on TARTA as our offering for the Toledo Free Press.  (The fact that doing so allowed the editorial staff to go back to their normal slacker ways, and to do so with rather smug expressions on their faces, I'm sure occurred to none of them.)  The result of these combined labors was an effort that came to be known as "The Little Bus That Couldn't".

If there's not time to talk TARTA down from the ledge of offering us a choice on this new misguided more egregious way into taxpayer's pockets, there's plenty of time to get the word out and vote this potential monstrosity into the seventh level of Hell that it came from.  

Of course because of the nature of this week's effort, I don't know when it will go into the TFP.  Have no fear however, the mid-week 'Star" edition should more than entertain; and come what may, there will be another weekend edition of Toledo's largest Sunday circulation Ohio's best weekly newspaper (for the third year in a row) to amuse and inform you. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

SCOTUS v Patients Affordable Healthcare Act

The Supreme Court has now heard testimony and has probably even reached a judgment regrading the “Patients Affordable Healthcare Act”; though we're going to have to wait to know what it is until they finish writing their learned opinions on the subject. We're told by our President that it would be wrong because of the current crisis in healthcare in this country (a statement he later performed the Olympic backpedal on), for SCOTUS to even consider striking down the law.

There are a great many things wrong with this statement however, and that makes it hard to know where to begin responding to it. But let me try this simple one … Bullshit! I've spoken before about the responsibilities of the highest court in the land to address Constitutional issues, but let's at least get the facts straight.  The law currently under review by the court is not one designed to provide universal health care to citizens in this country and by its authors admissions, it does not. It was instead one passed in order to provide universal access to health care 'insurance' in this country. We could even say in this law's case, provide is far too tame a word; and that it's design is to mandate that everyone in this country be covered by some form of health insurance. (If not by private insurers, then by the government.) This law has far less to do with whether health care will be accessible than with who will pay for it.

Oh sure comes the response, but stop nitpicking and confess that there is in fact a crisis in healthcare in this country that must be dealt with. In fact, I do not concede this. If health care in this nation were so bad, then why does every national leader in world come to this country to receive treatments for serious illness, rather than stay in their own? Why are most medical breakthroughs made in this country rather than in others? There is no crisis of care in this country.  

There are however inequities as to access to treatments in this country based on their cost. (There are similar inequities to home ownership, automobile ownership, and luxury items.)   Where healthcare is concerned, we know that not everyone can get access to treatments that their doctors deem necessary to their continued health and perhaps even survival. Part of this has to do with health insurance industry, as issues of pre-existing conditions, approval of the treatments for general use, or cost vs efficacy continue to remain in a field filled with miracles and patent medicine. As often happens where such weighty issues where constant change is involved, there are invariably stories (some true) of seeming injustice and personal tragedy that go along with them. The question we should be asking ourselves however, is whether those in government are best suited to provide the answers to any of the questions. It's government after all, that got us into this mess in the first place.

During WWII, progressive saint President Franklin Delano Roosevelt imposed wage and price controls on the nation, in the misguided thinking that any one man or government could actually control a national economy. It and he couldn't of course, and clever employers who wanted better workers and could no longer offer them more in the way of wages, instead began to circumvent the spirit if not the letter of the law by offering benefit packages that included health care insurance to attract them. Forced by a competitive employment market, their competitors soon followed suit and another well-intentioned law was effectively bypassed, while reaping a full harvest of long-term, unintended consequences.

Skip forward some 20 years and we find ourselves in 1965 and see government enter into another well-intentioned effort, this time to provide health care insurance to seniors who were now unlikely to have it after leaving the employer who had provided it during their working career (because of the previously mentioned govt intervention). Congress therefore passed Title XVIII of the Social Security Act, better known these days as Medicare to address the issue. Not content with the scope and scale of the program however, it sought further redress and addition through program expansions in 1972, 2001.

Since providing medical insurance for our aged only (regardless of income), would be unfair to those younger who couldn't afford it, and whose employers didn't provide it, we at the same time added Title XIX to that same Social Security Act in order to provide even more potential government protection to yet another group. Of course the program known as Medicaid would be managed by the States, but with the Federal government monitoring.

These programs have existed now for some forty-seven years, and in typical government fashion their often obvious ineffectiveness is met with bureaucratic cries that the only way to fix the problem is to expand the programs. Having become the medical insurance provider for our elderly and impoverished, we must double down and make government the primary health insurance carrier for the nation. We must likewise turn control of the type and level of health coverage to what Congress believes is best for us; in spite of the fact that they will not be participating in the program.  Legislators it seems, have once more exempted themselves in favor of their own program of health care (much like they did with Social Security).

Having been told that it's wrong that we should have to deal with faceless insurance company employees and program managers, we're told that we'd be better off dealing with faceless bureaucrats instead. Having been convinced that evil insurance companies have and will provide little competence in serving our medical needs, we should instead turn our health care over to those whose efficiencies in the DMV and Post Office are legendary. Seeking to save us from being abandoned by the evil and unfeeling capitalists in the insurance industry, we should instead turn the quality of our very lives to the same government that has provided the kindness and compassion shown by those of the IRS.

Can anyone, with a straight face and a clear conscience point to something in its past or present that the government does better than the private sector in a truly free market environment? (And don’t point to national defense on me, as the limited efforts to sub-contract minor bits of even this have proven just as successful and often more cost-efficient than the government version; even with the normal graft and corruption of such contracts involved.)

No the Supreme Court should not rule against the “Patients Affordable Healthcare Act” because it extends the power of the Federal Government far beyond the limits placed on it by the Constitution.  Neither should it rule against the Act because of the current so-called health care crisis, because of the slim majorities and lack of bi-partisan support for the issue in the legislature, or because the President doesn't want them to rule his signature bit of legislation Unconstitutional (especially in an election year). Beyond all of these reasons, some more Constitutionally valid than others, they should rule against in order to save us from a government that's long proved itself incompetent under either party's rule to run such programs, and especially one that will forever place our health in its hands.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Rights of Spring

So much of the discussion these days is about the "Rights" people think they are entitled to that I felt the need to weigh in on the subject (which beats my normal behavior of gnawing my own leg off in order to escape them).  In addition to those enumerated in the "Bill of Rights", there appears to be a fair-sized list not included with this document that people would like to see added.  

Now the Founding Fathers recognized when amending this document (the only way that they could get the States to agree to ratify it) that the list was not complete.  In fact, James Madison originally proposed twenty of these Rights; but only twelve were sent to the States for ratification, and only ten of those were in fact ratified.  There were a number of people at the time who objected to listing even those as a "Bill of Rights"; saying that by doing so that some damn fool in the future would insist that only those rights listed would be considered valid. (Wow, talk about calling your shot.) Even stretching a point however, I don't believe that many of the ones getting press ink these days could even make a list that Madison would throw away.

On the other hand, it's that time of year when we must further consider another kind of Rights, the "Rites of Spring".  Recognizing of course, that these two are distinct concepts (otherwise why spell them different), I nevertheless saw an opportunity to put my two cents in on both simultaneously in a compromise effort.

In the spirit of the kind of kind of twisted compromise that "Just Blowing Smoke" has long been known for, and with a nod to those on both sides of the political aisle (who mostly wouldn't recognize a real compromise if it jumped off this page and bit them on the ass); I would therefore like to consider some seasonal thoughts which, though they may well fall outside the consideration of the Founders, are no more ridiculous than others that I've heard.

Starting from the most important:
  1. I believe in the Right to see the Cubs win a World Series.  It's been over 100 years after all, and I'm sure that even the goat that started the curse would be willing to forgive and forget by now.
  2. I believe in the Right not to have to listen to really tasteless and poorly performed Rap music played at a volume that rattles the windows of the car ... pulled up at the stoplight next to me.
  3. I believe in the Right to 3-Day Weekends, and further believe that it's a gross imposition on the freedom of American society not to have one every weekend during the spring and summer. (I'm still considering the Constitutional implications of adding Fall to this list.)
  4. I believe in the Right to demand that political candidates be forced to take the month of July off so that we get a chance to clear our heads of their non-stop pontificating and mostly pointless and repetitive rhetoric.  (The Mainstream media should likewise be banned from covering such bloviating or commenting on it in any way for the same period.)
  5. I believe in the Right to a steak cooked almost medium rare on an outdoor grill right next to the baked potatoes and ears of corn that will accompany it; and served with a beer so cold that's it dripping with condensation. (And can we please pile the butter and sour cream on?  If this journey is going to kill me, I'd like to at least enjoy the ride.)
  6. I believe in the Right to stand in the way of Progress until it proves itself to be something worth having. (The version they're touting right now leaves more than reasonable doubt about the concept and much to be desired.)
  7. I believe in the Right to demand that potential voters be given a test at least as demanding as the one that allows you to drive; since both are likely to allow one to cause a good deal of general mayhem once you begin doing them.
  8. I believe in the Right to temperatures warm enough for the fairer gender to display themselves in all of their warm weather finery. (Not only does this bring a 'spring' to my step, but I think it's specifically mentioned in the Declaration of Independence under the "pursuit of happiness")
  9. I believe in the Right to further believe in "the small of a woman's back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days."  (No wait, Kevin Costner already used that line in "Bull Durham".  Never mind ...) 
  10. I believe that I have a Right to end this list before it becomes even more absurd than it already is, and far more farcical than was my original intention. (I know that hardly seems possible, but am willing to concede the floor if anyone has something they consider worthy of addition and let them take their best shot) 
(In the spirit of "Just Blowing Smoke" Political Correctness, the Editorial staff wishes it noted that if any of the Rights listed above have in any way annoyed, offended, or angered you in any way ..... tough cookies.)
Now, if I can't get these Rights imposed on this nation (and damned soon), I'm not going to bother with any cheesy 'Occupy' demonstration.  I'm in fact prepared to take these demands (if I must) directly to the UN Security Council for consideration.  

While I have absolutely no respect for an organization that I believe does little more than take up valuable Real Estate in New York City, forcing them to debate a ridiculous issue on which they have can no serious say may at least keep them from wealth redistribution to petty dictators and criminal regimes for an afternoon.  Making them consider yet another bit of pointless nonsense in the name of the concept of Rights that most of the members of this august body have no 'Right' to judge (and that in fact do not actually exist), likewise suits my vindictive sense of humor and my twisted sense of irony where they're concerned.   (Besides, forcing the US representative to the UN to use its veto power to keep this from passing would crack me up.) 

On a personal note, I will mention my cousin Molly Roe will be singing the National Anthem this afternoon at 3:00 PM Central Time at US Cellular Field to begin the Chicago White Sox game against the Detroit Tigers.  While the editorial staff at "Just Blowing Smoke" are unanimously Cubs fans and as a consequence question the wasting of her talents at this questionable venue, we recognize the singular honor being shown to her.  

Good Luck Molly, we know that you'll do an outstanding job, even if it is in front a bunch of Godless cretins. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hidden Taxes, Hidden Unions

Complaining about the amount of the taxes that we pay is perhaps the only real right not spelled out in the first ten amendments to the Constitution, though it could of course said to have been spelled out in the Declaration of Independence.  And while we all talk about Income Tax (at the national, state, and often municipal level), Social Security Tax, Property Tax, and Sales Tax; the list of ways in which government finds to tax us seems to go on forever.

Though many of us believe that this is the extent of that which we need complain about, there are many more hidden taxes that we also pay in our daily lives.  Rather than just list them however, let's take a bit of a literary license with a hypothetical situation of someone in 'pursuit of happiness':

Let's say for example that you want to start you own business on land that you already own (and are therefore already paying taxes on).  First of course, you'll have to pay to get a building permit issued in order to place a structure for your use on land that you own, paying a tax to the municipality for permission for the privilege of doing so.  Once construction is almost complete and regardless of the abilities, reputation, and even union affiliation (or lack of it) of the workers used; you will now need to obtain a Certificate of Occupation.  That certificate of course, will only be issued upon a city inspection for which a 'fee' (code word for tax) is required.  Having completed this process however, you might assume that you are done and can begin your actual pursuit, but you'd be wrong.  Still remaining is a Business License, yet another tax in fee form that you must pay in order to legally do business in a building that you now own, built on land that you own.

And heaven forbid if that business is one that serves food and liquor; as these require not only an additional Health Inspection and yet another fee, but additional permission and license to sell a legal beverage (alcohol) in the business you own on the property you own.  More paperwork and permission, and of course more fees for permission to do so.

Perhaps you'd like to leave a dog at this premises to guard your investment while you're not there.  All well and good my friend, but that pet / guard had better have a dog license (at what is no doubt a reasonable fee) or you'll have trouble with either the city or county, depending on which has their hand out.

Now perhaps before putting your nose to the grindstone and knowing that they'll be little leisure time in the days ahead if you're to make a go if it, you decide to take a vacation. You'd better watch out before clicking on that deal of an airfare.  In a recent Bloomberg report, travelers found that the $150 transatlantic deal they just got may prove to be $800 by the time the taxes and fees are added in.  In a specific trip mentioned on Delta from Atlanta to London Heathrow, the $338.40 base airfare had almost double that amount in taxes and fees added to it (another $599.20) before any bags could be packed.  And while the hidden nature of some of these fees and taxes are now no longer possible, the taxes and fees yet remain.

Taxes are not the only thing going on more or less out of sight though.  There are also Unions which, though not acknowledged by their members, restrict membership to drive up wages just as surely as if they were the UAW or SEIU.

Do you want to become a doctor?  Fine, but in order to do so you must first train at an accredited institution for such a purpose, then serve an apprenticeship (commonly known as residency) before getting your diploma and being allowed to hang out your shingle.  Why even the Hippocratic oath speaks to this restrictive principle involved, "Those things which are sacred, are to be imparted only to sacred persons; and it is not lawful to impart them to the profane until they have been initiated into the mysteries of the science."  (This certainly sounds like the basis of a closed shop to me.)

There may be differences between the AMA and the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers), but you'd be hard-pressed to discover them from the way they operate.  It should likewise be noted that such practices restrict membership and drive up the level of compensation, or at least they did until government bureaucracy took its place in the equation and mandated price controls through what it paid in fees by Medicare and Medicaid.

But doctors aren't alone in such secret membership.  One might just as easily point to lawyers and their State Bar Associations.  Study at an accredited institution as long as you like, but you can't become a practicing lawyer until you pass an exam and become a Journeyman (or as they put it, are "admitted to the Bar").  Even then, you are required to pay dues to the State Bar Association where you've been admitted, and get yourself tested and admitted in every other state in which you wish to practice.  Here too has restricted membership kept fees fairly stable (and high) and allowed those laboring in this covert trade union to maintain a relatively high rate of recompense.  

One can, without stretching the point too finely, include most Political Parties in this country in the mix.  Members do in fact pay dues, and by so doing do gain voting rights within their organization, even when the voting is in primary elections paid for not by the party, but by the taxpayer.  And while not every state holds to such restrictions, most favor closed shop elections for those running for public office.  If this were not so, why are Independent candidates, or those from other parties (like Libertarians) forced to operate under different petition rules and often kept from participating in the public debates for these public office.

It's hard enough dealing with the frustration caused by restrictive taxes and restrictive rules imposed by the partnership of government and unions on many parts of our day-to-day existence that we can clearly see in this country.  It's particularly confounding however, to find out how much of the money being taken and how many of the strings being pulled are being done through Hidden Taxes and Hidden Unions.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

TFP Column: Womb State

I'm early again this week in having an effort posted on the website of the TFP.  It's a rather unusual piece called "Womb State" that speaks to the beginning of the end of the 'Nanny State' in this country.  

This is achieved, not by releasing us from the stifling protection of government rules and regulations however; but by making them even more all-encompassing so that we are to be kept from being even exposed to the vicissitudes of life lest something bad befall us.

It's a bit of doom and gloom, but at least its early enough in the week that there is yet time for something far brighter and sunnier (like the weather) to peek out in this wonderful spring season.

The only way you're going to know what they are however, is to keep up with both the mid-week 'Star' edition, and of course Toledo's largest Sunday circulation and Ohio's best weekly newspaper (for the third year in a row), the Toledo Free Press. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Basket Case

Well the DJBSS has been sent out onto the streets, each with an assigned patrol route in which to root out and hopefully prevent some of the dastardly depredations of the confectionery criminals known as RABBITS(We've also warned most of the local pubs that our oft-inebriated security service is once again on the loose, allowing them time to stock up on potables and hire extra bouncers.)  And while I'm sure that the lads will do themselves proud (at the bar, if not at their assignment), it does tend to leave things a bit quiet around at the Just Blowing Smoke offices.  Yeah, that's what it is alright, quiet  ..........  too quiet.

After all, this is normally a time of year when little else can be heard than the pitter-patter of little feet (or the thundering tramp of them, depending on age and disposition of the crumb crunchers involved); and that too is missing.  With all of my children grown (please note that I did not say 'grown up'), and with the fact that they and their children are at best hundreds of miles away, this is not an unexpected condition at this time of year.  It does however, leave rather a void in this holiday weekend.  

They'll be no last minute scrambling to find containers that had been put away 11 months ago and not thought of since, running out for more eggs to replace the broken or over-cooked ones, no extra dye kits required to replace the spilled ones, and no Solomon-like conflict resolutions to be made in insuring that each child receives exactly the same number of delicacies in exactly the same ratio.  (Though never employed by a government bureaucracy, this particular form of 'wealth redistribution' was in fact my specialty, as it sometimes required sugary inequities to be disposed of through ingestion, rather than allow a lack of 'fairness' in the results to stand.)  

Oh there may yet be a last minute trip to invoke a bit of capitalism and pick up some tasty treats of the chocolatier's art, but only because this is one of the few times of the year that such trips can be made without a clerk looking at piles of my purchases and at my waistline before sadly shaking her head at me and taking my money. (After all, Man does not live by bread alone ...)

Perhaps what I'm feeling is something like that of a phantom pain in a severed limb (something with which I'm familiar from a long-lost finger tip).  A longing for something that is no longer there.  In spite of the fact that I wear my Curmudgeon credentials proudly, I find that after years of grousing over the often expensive and usually messy labors involved with keeping up with the rather bizarre traditions of the secular Easter holiday, after grumbling over waking up early on a Sunday morning so that hidden containers of tasty treats could be discovered (often only after a few hints), and after agonizing over whether all of the eggs hidden were found (and not left to rot in some wayward spot, only to be discovered weeks later after they had begun to truly stink up the place); I find that there aspects to these rituals that I now miss. 

I'm sure that some of this is some from of a simple nostalgia for the days of my own and my children's youth, or perhaps more likely they're cheap, self-serving fantasies where I can finally be the parent I always wanted to be.  On the other hand, it's far more likely that they are the dark and twisted desires of one who, like a serial killer, longs for a return to revisit the delicacy depredations that I committed upon my offspring (sorry, sometimes I watch too many "Criminal Minds" reruns).  

In truth, I find these days that there is little satisfaction in eating the ears off of a chocolate bunny without listening while the pitiful cries of the offended rug rats are voiced nearby.  There is little savor in the consuming a handful of jelly bean if their ones not pilfered from someone else's possession (usually unknowingly).  There's something strangely sad in discovering that you actually don't much care for the taste of 'peeps' unless they've become somewhat stale from having been aged on nests of plastic grass for over a week.  (OMG - I'm a RABBIT!)

Whatever the history or reasoning for it however, there just seems to be something missing from the holiday experience this year, and something disquieting about an absence that I appear unable to put my finger on.  And while I'm far from having my normal aplomb shaken, I'm occasionally concerned about my current state of mind.  (Which is strange, since it's normally only other people who feel the need to be concerned about my mental state.)  It's not that I fear something as serious as a complete mental meltdown (though the prospect of one does seem rather refreshing when I think about it), it's that I think that if I'm not better able to get these feelings of Easter nostalgia under control, I may well become an Easter "basket case".

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Quote of the Day

It seems like I haven't done an extended quote in a while, but I'm just finishing up Milton and Rose Friedman's "Free to Choose", and this one about the Interstate Commerce Commission struck me as particularly appropriate when considering much of the bureaucratic overreach going on today, as well as the impending Supreme Court decision on the 'Patients Affordable Healthcare Act"  (and remember that this book was first published in 1980):

"The ICC illustrates what might be called the natural history of government intervention.  A real or fancied evil leads to demands to do something about it.  A political coalition forms consisting of sincere, high-minded reformers and equally sincere interested parties.  The incompatible objectives of the members of the coalition (e.g., low prices to consumers and high prices to producers) are glossed over by fine rhetoric about "the public interest," "fair competition," and the like.  The coalition succeeds in getting Congress (or a state legislature) to pass a law.  The preamble to the law pays lip service  to rhetoric and the body of the law grants power to government officials to "do something."  The high-minded reformers experience a glow of triumph and turn their attention to new causes.  The interested parties go to work to make sure that the power is used for their benefit.  They generally succeed.  Success breeds its problems, which are met by broadening the scope of intervention.  Bureaucracy takes its toll so that even the initial special interests no longer benefit.  In the end the effects are precisely the opposite of the objectives of the reformers and generally do not even achieve the objectives of the special interests.  Yet the activity is so firmly established and so many vested interests are connected with it that repeal of the initial legislation is nearly inconceivable.  Instead, new government legislation is called for to cope with the problems produced by the earlier legislation and a new cycle begins." 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Silly Bits III

Having all but exhausted myself with a rant earlier in the week, I was reticent to attempt to annoy everyone with another bit of nonsense this week.  There were however, a couple of things continuing to annoy me like an itch that I couldn't scratch.  There are therefore going to be two weekday efforts this week (and don't you feel fortunate that this is so).

As I mentioned earlier this week rather briefly (he offered sarcastically), the President was doing a bit of public prodding of the Justices of the Supreme Court for doing their job in reviewing the Constitutional nature of the 'Patients Affordable Healthcare Act' (which of course, he and his spin masters are now hinting never really happened).  While I believe that I probably said enough about most aspects of that subject, I would like to add a couple of related comments to the previous effort, since as the week has developed the President has added even more to his list of those who he's apparently not happy with.

Oil companies were early on the list, as the President once more attempted to attack subsidies and tax breaks granted 'by law' to companies that seem to be rather profitable.  It seemed strange that he wasn't demonizing car companies that had likewise returned to profitability, and that continue to owe the government considerable sums of money, but perhaps it's because high priced cars never kept an incumbent officeholder from being re-elected, but high priced gas most surely has.  It was also curious that the President wasn't demanding that Congress remove the subsidies from Corporate farmers or institutions of higher education who are likewise dining at the government trough while maintaining their profitability.

I also found it interesting that while he was more than willing to chide SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) for fulfilling its Constitutionally mandated responsibilities, he seemed unwilling to castigate a Democratically controlled Senate for failing to do theirs.  The Senate is after all supposed to be submitting an annual budget, but has failed to do so for over 1000 days.  I suppose that he might be holding back in doing so, lest the Senate take up the question of the President's most recent recess appointments.  Such backroom agreements between the President and Senate Majority Leader, both Democrats, call for (as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once said as a Senator to General Patraeus about the Iraq War) "a suspension of disbelief".

On a completely separate but equally important note, I find myself continuing to be dismayed at the diminution of freedom in this country that has apparently fallen off the radar screens of the media and citizens.  We continue to expand the government's ability to do warrant-less wiretaps and searches, apparently have no problem with deploying federal troops to perform law enforcement functions in violation of the Posse Cumitatus Act of 1878 (as long as it's done on Federal Interstate Highways), see little problem with deploying unmanned drones to perform surveillance on its citizens, see less of a problem with killing US citizens overseas without due process (or even filing charges), and preventing citizens from speaking freely within zones of 'protection' provided by the Secret Service.

Perhaps never in this country's history has the Bill of Rights been so grossly infringed upon.  Oh sure, Lincoln suspended habeus corpus during the Civil War, shut down newspapers and exiled Congressman who said things he didn't like.  Sure FDR rounded up and imprisoned US citizens whose ethnic background he felt threatened by.  But you could at least you could say that we were in a 'state of war' declared by Congress.  And while many will try to make the case that the war on terrorism is just as much a danger as those previous conflicts, no such war has been legally declared by Congress (and certainly not one on US soil).  Beginning with the Patriot Act, and with continued assault on the Bill of Rights in what may be the only current example of continuing bi-partisan support, this nation can be said to have entered no less than a de facto state of martial law.  It seems, at least according to Democrats and Republicans in our current ruling class, that the only way to protect the freedom we hold dear is to surrender it a piece at a time.

If this were not despicable enough on its face, our current foreign policy is one demanding sanctions against those in other nations seeking to infringe upon the freedoms of their citizens in the very ways our own government is doing to us.  That it goes largely unnoticed by the mainstream media is tragic.  That it goes unmentioned and unchecked by leading members of both major political parties during an election year is criminal.  That it goes largely uncared about by the citizens whose freedoms are being compromised is .... just more Silly Bits.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Presidential Rewrite

You know, I really had a couple of other things that I wanted to write about this week (and maybe I'll get to them as it progresses), but this one simply won't go by without comment ....

The president gave a speech in the Rose Garden of the White House today that could and should best be described as nothing more or less than a 'rewrite'. No other term can adequately describe something that in so many ways attempts to rewrite parts of the past.

To begin with, it appears that the President would like to rewrite the definition of 'Judicial Activism', which normally defined as a judge or court using their ruling to make new law based on personal bias or political considerations rather than interpreting that law.  In fact, the Supreme Court duly waited for the "Patients Affordable Health Care Act" to properly work its way through the judicial system.  During their extended three days of testimony, their questions seemed exactly on point with regards to issues of law, whether eliciting interpretation of the 'Commerce Clause' or considering points of this law relating to the taxation powers of Congress.  They did not ask how much it would cost or what good it might do.  So in fact, it could instead be said that the Justices used Judicial 'restraint' rather than activism.

Second, it certainly appears to be a rewrite of his own past for a former 'community organizer' to decry the process of "judicial activism" when describing whatever the result of the Supreme Court's decision is. Was it not these very community organizers (along with progressive political counterparts) that were crying out for such activism in the name of 'fairness' and 'justice'?  Haven't they for years sought such judicial activism in order to redress the inequities of this country (real or imagined) as they saw it.  Why then should they fear that which they demanded, unless of course they felt that they had failed to make their case to the Justices (much as they have to the American people)

Third, having redefined terms and his own early days of 'public service', the Editor in Chief was far from complete in rewriting history; this time where the law in question was concerned.  As quoted in the UK Guardian article, the President has said "it would be wrong for the "unelected" supreme court to take the "unprecedented and extraordinary" decision to strike down his signature health care legislation when it was passed by an elected Congress."  (Though he did get the part about the Supreme Court being 'unelected'.)  He was in fact quoted in the article as saying, "I am confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress".  By what editing tool does the president call the passage of this law a "strong majority."    

Oh it's true enough that it passed by a majority of both Houses of Congress, and while (at least according to our friends at Wikipedia) the Senate passed the bill that became this law by a 60-39 majority.  In this decisive majority, note was taken however that vote was strictly along party lines and barely escaped a no-vote from filibuster.  Every Democrat and two Independents voted for it and every Republican against it.  It's in the House however, that this alternate rendition of history becomes farcical.  The vote there was 219-212, with all 178 Republicans and even 34 Democrats voting against it.  Certainly neither of these votes could be called by the magic word we've heard so often lately ... "bi-partisan"  (unless we note bi-partisan rejection of it in the House).  As for 'strong majority', a margin of 7 can only be called one if we not only rewrite history, but redefine the term itself. 

(And we won't even bring up that no one in either House of Congress actually read the entire 1990 pages of the bill before voting on it, or the procedural gymnastics that were involved with bringing it to a vote.  Oops, I just did ... sorry.)

Perhaps most interesting in all of this however, is the attempted rewrite of the Constitution that the President would like to make, which as ratified says in part:

Article III, Section 1 - "The judicial Power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish."

Article III, Section 2 - The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made ..."  

Evidently now according to this President however, who's a former Constitutional Law professor by the way, it's no longer the responsibility of the Supreme Court to pass on whether laws passed by Congress fall within the limitations placed on government by that document; even when they're legitimately challenged.  It's also apparently now acceptable for a majority to rule without respects to the rights of either the minority or the Constitution in the passage of laws.  Further, it appears that it's no longer acceptable for that minority to challenge what our Constitution was designed to avoid, a tyranny of the majority which many think this particular piece of history reeks of.  Constitutionally, the Supreme Court is not obligated (nor should it in any way) consider how a law passed by Congress; even it's done so by unanimous acclimation.  It's only liable to consider whether such a law fits within the limits defined by the Constitution for the federal government and which created their positions to do so.

You will note here that I have not spoken about whether I think that the law should or will be overturned by those in the Court, since the decision has no place in this discussion; only that it's the Supreme Court's obligation to make the very considerations that they are currently taking on, and that the President should allow them to do so without political interference.  It is likewise the duty of a President who swore to uphold and defend the Constitution to recognize (as any true Constitutional scholar would) that the 'Separation of Powers' is a defining principle in that document, and not one to be cast aside lightly, even in the name of retaining an office through blatant pandering and electioneering.

Oh I know that it's an election year, and as such Presidential podium pontificating is to be expected as an incumbent President seeks not only to defend his Administration's signature piece of legislation, but to unofficially poll for issues that can be used in the coming days for stump speeches.  I know that his opponents will likely attempt to use the Court's decision (not due for release until July) in the campaign as well.  This is the second time in three years however, that this President has publicly castigated or taunted the Justices of the Supreme Court in their attempts to fulfill their Constitutional obligation however.  He has likewise recently remarked in public statements that if Congress would not do that which was necessary, he would do it without them.  

With all due respect to the President, he might well wish to consider that if he wants to have his own authority respected that he needs to likewise respect the power and authority of those co-equal branches of government. He might also want to recognize that in his current Constitutionally limited position, he is not granted the power of Presidential Rewrite.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Vote of Confidence: Chapter 19

OK people this is it, the last piece of the puzzle has been fit into place and Chapter 19 (along with the Epilogue) of "Vote of Confidence" is now up on the VOC website for review and comment.  That this effort should be completed on April Fool's Day is strangely fitting, as well as a happy coincidence.

I have previously described this story as “A twisted tale of Life, Politics, and what some might consider cruelty to animals”, but any of you who have followed along on this little journey know that none of these accusations has or in fact can be proven in a court of law. (Though it comes into question at the end of the tale, depending on your definition of what constitutes 'cruelty.')

I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you who has followed along with this rather twisted tale.  I hope that it provided as much amusement and entertainment for you as it did fun for me.

I can't say that I am ready to take up the effort to write something of over 300 pages again (unless someone is paying me to do so), but I can say that it has always been my goal to complete such an effort and see it read, and that I'm very happy to have been able to do so.

Thanks again for playing along ...