Saturday, March 31, 2012

April Terror Alert: RABBITS

As March ends and April begins, the Department of Just Blowing Smoke Security (DJBSS) is once again working tirelessly to root out potential terrorists threats in this nation. (Well kind of, anyway ...)  So maybe tirelessly is too strong a word, but even I admit that they're able to do a pretty fair job now that we've finally sobered them up from their St Patrick's Day activities, performed a cursory cleaning of their headquarters while they were out celebrating, and replaced the empty jumbo-sized bags of Cheetos scattered about the attic that we keep them locked in with full ones.  

And while they have been given little in the way of credit for their labors and are often held in relatively low esteem (even by me), it must be admitted that their efforts have proven far more effective in threat protection for this nation than their 'mall cop' counterparts at airports around the country, better known as the TSA. 

It is therefore no surprise that the DJBSS has once again slipped a notification and threat assessment out from under the door of their command center (OK, attic) with barely a week for the nation to take appropriate precautions.  I am of course speaking of an imminent Easter holiday threat ... RABBITS.  And believe me when I tell you that we aren't talking about cute little fuzzy creatures who make their way from place to place with a curiously amusing (and rather charming) little hopping gate, but about an organization of criminals and thieves who will stop at almost nothing in perpetrating their heinous and addictive path of petty pilferage upon a sacred rite of spring (though now that I think about it, I suppose they could hop about as well if they wanted to).

Now for those of you who have never heard of this nefarious organization, they are a particularly disgusting bunch of evildoers whose members not only commit depredations on the innocent youth of this nation during the Easter holiday, but are evidently also doomed to pass their seemingly their cursed existence and insufferably immature behavior from one generation to the next.  I am of course speaking of the Ravenous Bunny Butchers Ingesting Tasty and Sugary treats.  In a maniacally clever bit of misdirection, they've even managed to mostly allay fears of the general public regarding their demented and disgusting onslaughts on seasonal confections most in danger by taking the very name of the cute little creature that this holiday is most closely associated with ... the Easter Bunny

Here at "Just Blowing Smoke" we recognize that Easter is also a important religious holiday for many of you out there.  After many years of research however, even the lexicographers at the "Stuck On Stupid Dictionary" have been unable to come up with a relationship between those serious religious aspects, a rabbit, a basket, chocolate, boiled eggs, marshmallow baby chickens, or jellybeans that they are willing to share ... even with the editorial staff.  This is probably just as well, since doing so would probably break up the rhythm of the narrative and have nothing to do with the ridiculous point attempting to be made here (much like this interruption has already done). 

While you may never have heard them called out by name, I'm sure that all of you reading this have at one time or another suffered from their dastardly and diabolical attacks on Easter baskets during your youth.  Curiously, the psychotic membership of this candy cabal of reprehensible reprobates is mostly restricted to those of adult age (and with an obvious lack of adult self-control) who have offspring.  There's even limited evidence, obtained from rather suspect government-funded studies, that indicate that these RABBITS in fact commit most if not all of their disgusting acts of domestic terrorism (if not outright child abuse) under the very roofs they live. 

These lightning swift attacks have been perpetrated on the spring treat receptacles across the nation for decades, and membership activities appear to have no respect for age, income, or ethic origin.  Recognizing the evidence of these atrocious acts of domestic dessert assault are easy, and they are often characterized by Easter Baskets suffering from the following depredations:

*  Missing ears from chocolate Rabbits (usually with the appearance of having been ... dare I say it ... bitten off).
*  Curiously insignificant numbers of malted milk eggs
*  Suspiciously empty Reece's Easter Egg packages 
*  Trifling and grossly insufficient numbers of Marshmallow "Peeps", including some that almost appear to have been 'gnawed upon'
* Smeared, and therefore all but unreadable chocolate colored fingerprints on hallways and door frames
*  Trails of jelly beans leading to available habitation exits (or in some cases, the master bedroom)

Members of RABBITS can normally be easily identified by their "shit eating grin", often made all the more apparent by the smeared ring of chocolate found around their disgusting pie holes (and sometimes the back of one wrist), visible in spite of (or because of) their misguided and miserable attempts to wipe the evidence away.By the time that they can normally be properly identified however, their awful acts of intentional ingestion have already unfortunately been committed.  

You can of course, feel free to contact the DJBSS at 1-800-RATBUTT to report the iniquitous activities of these RABBITS; and I promise you that their names and likenesses will in turn be turned over to the Department of Homeland Security for possible further prosecution (Sorry, but it's a settlement that we've reached with the government for all the abuse that we've heaped upon the TSA).  Please remind the person answering the phone to wipe the chocolate and yellow marshmallow off of the receiver before replacing it back on the cradle.  (It makes the phones so sticky!)

In order to highlight the despicable deeds of these confectionery criminals, the DJBSS is raising the terror threat (as you might have already guessed) to PINK, in honor of those cute little eyes on the real Easter Bunny.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

If You Build It, They Will Come

Kansas City is a classic example of a modern Midwestern city that aspires to be oh so much more than it is.  Not content to remain a quaint little place with the nickname of "City of Fountains", they want to be a player. Like many of these urban 'wanna be's', it seeks to do so through massive infrastructure projects; hoping that by building them, something (or someone) will come.  All of these projects of course, come with a price tag, but what are such costs to a city attempting to make a name for itself.

Like many before them, KC encouraged the building of condos, and provided lavish property tax incentives in the hopes of luring young urban professionals to move downtown.  Unfortunately, they weren't smart enough to realize that they couldn't create real and sustainable neighborhoods if they couldn't force retailers necessary to creating such an atmosphere to move with them, providing everything from groceries to shoelaces (and they couldn't).  

Not dismayed by this apparent lack of urban planning success, someone in the city determined that their failure was merely one of scope and scale, and that to address this what they needed was a grander plan, including perhaps a shining glass bowl of a arena.  So they built the "Sprint Center" as a state-of-the-art facility with some private investment, but also over $200 million financed by the city through future hotel tax revenue.  When completed, they had indeed provided a superior downtown entertainment experience ... but unfortunately it sat empty most nights because the city had no professional sports franchise to anchor or support this rather pricey venue (and still doesn't) (As a side note, not having such an entertainment venue in use didn't help the hotel tax revenues much either.)

No matter.  If they couldn't get entertainment to come to the arena, they'd build some around it.  So the next thing you know, taxpayer money was being invested in what would come to be known as the "Power and Light District".  This area would provide shops, clubs, and restaurants that would bring people downtown when nothing was happening at the Sprint Center; and add to the entertainment value of downtown when there was.  Of course nothing in life's free, and like it's predecessor, entertainment venues can be rather expensive.  The Power and Light District was expected to be a investment development of some $850 million dollars.  The city however, found itself financing some $180 million of it in loans as part of the deal.

But as Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman will tell you, the only reason that government investment fails in its efforts to stimulate the economy is because they fail to spend enough, or double down every time that there's an opportunity.  Kansas City was listening.

A group of city officials is now scrambling to put together paperwork in time to meet the application deadline for a Federal DOT grant of $25 million for ... (wait for it) ... a downtown street car system.  Obviously the city needs a new specialized transportation system to allow the few people who got suckered into the downtown condos (and who are now broke on these pricey units with their mortgages upside down), along with those who aren't going to the Sprint Center (because there's no game going on), and those not going to the Power and Light District (because the venues aren't enough to attract enough people to make this a break even proposition) to get from point to point within a very limited area of downtown. 

Besides, if they can get the Federal funding (Which is free after all, having fallen off the federal money tree, right?) the city will then only have to finance another $75 million of a transportation system that will go into an area already serviced more than adequately by buses.  Of course tearing up streets to put in tracks will probably have a deleterious effect on the businesses that this system is designed to serve until it's completed, perhaps even bankrupting them in this already lousy economy; but when it's done, there will be a beautiful (at least for a while) system to serve the businesses that will no longer need it.

You know, looking back in history, we like to throw stones at the 'robber-barons' of last couple of centuries, but at least they didn't ask for government bailouts when things failed to pan out.  Oh sure, many of them, like their more modern counterparts, got their share of government subsidies (in land, if not in cash); but they ended up being some of the most generous people in this nation's history.  Sure they were 'evil capitalists and shameless profiteers', but a lot of their ill gotten gains later went into the building schools, libraries, museums, and theaters to promote education and the arts in projects that didn't cost the city a cent.

Say what you will about sports owners of the past: that they abused "The Reserve Clause", failed to pay players their fair market value, and waited far too long to allow African-Americans into professional sports; but at least they built their own stadiums.  They may have bought and sold player contracts like they were trading in the futures market, but they didn't ask fans and non-fans alike to risk municipal and state funds on monuments to their own egos.

Kansas City has I fear, become the rule rather than the exception with its machinations, and few such projects here or anywhere else would even be attempted these days without a federal grant, state assistance, and municipal bonds to offset actual costs that will inevitably reach 100% budget overruns (if you're lucky).

In the end, what do any of these cities have to show for such city largess.  The average stadium or dome is lucky to last 30 years without demolition and replacement, often long before the last of the debt is paid off. Kemper Arena for example, once the shining jewel of Kansas City, now sits on demolition row as planners seek a smaller, friendlier, and more intimate venue to replace it.  The fact that KC can't support two such arenas only points to how fickle our civic leaders can be when there's a shiny new toy to play with. The disrepair and shabby condition in which Kemper is currently kept only heralds its doom and reincarnation.

But in the end, neighborhoods will rise and fall on the fickle nature of real estate investors as they always have; and even tax incentives won't produce a viable neighborhood, only a speculative one.  Entertainment Districts will go in and out of fashion with the regularity of women's hemlines,  and the latest craze (or taxpayer-backed project) will be hyped as the next salvation of the city while the plywood gets nailed over the windows of its predecessor.  Current public servants meanwhile, will merely hope that no one will notice that the last one is far from paid off while touting the benefits of the next.  The newest arenas become old quickly, and less attractive to fickle sports team owners who want a better scoreboard, owner's box, or more clever naming rights.  Before we know it, Kansas City will soon find itself doing urban renewal on what now are its two great attractions.  

Spring training is all but over and the baseball season is upon us.  Soon the Royals (who along with the Chiefs, got $575 million in taxpayer-funded stadium upgrades) will once more be seeking a prize that has eluded them since 1985.  City officials will likewise be misguidedly hoping that their investment will in some way be paid off by those coming for this year's All Star game, hoping the notoriety will likewise make them a winner.  

As it often does every baseball season,  hope spring eternal that such winners will come their way (being a Cubs fan, I ought to know).  For city officials however, real hope will undoubtedly be saved for the next city financed project; a dream that it will be the one that finally brings them a winner and makes a name for Kansas City.  Well, surprise gentlemen: I've got a new one for you already.  I vote that we rename KC from the 'City of Fountains' to the 'Field of Dreams', for it's obvious that its leaders are overcome with the spirit of the Kevin Costner film, "if you build it, they will come".

(For my friends in Toledo chuckling at the pratfalls of my current place of residence.  Don't laugh too quickly.  Instead, take this as the cautionary tale it was meant to be.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Vote of Confidence: Chapter 18

Of little surprise now (since all of the editing is done), is that I'm on schedule with getting new efforts posted on the VOC site.  As promised therefore, I have posted Chapter 18 of “Vote of Confidence” as a special mid-week effort. The fact that by doing so, I am able to appear rather clever and post the last chapter this weekend on April Fool's Day is merely a fortunate coincidence.

Though I have previously described this story as “A twisted tale of Life, Politics, and what some might consider cruelty to animals”. Any of you that have come this far in the effort however, know by now that none of these accusations has been proven, and that in as far as I know, no actual animals were in any way harmed (physically or psychologically) during the completion of this story.

I would love to be able to give you some insight into what has gone before or will come after, but we're too close to the for me to give it away without good reason. (Besides, not doing so adds a bit of mystery to the whole thing, don't you think?)

Since every writer likes to be read, and since I like to sometimes believe that I'm a writer, I encourage you to take a look at this effort. While I can't promise that you will get any of the time back that you spend in doing so, I can say that you might yet be a bit surprised.

Monday, March 26, 2012

TFP Column: Cognitive Dissonance

After taking a week off, I'm back on the Toledo Free Press website early this week with another piece on the 2012 election in about seven months.  This time however, I'm not talking about the contradictory statements that the candidates normally make about their closely held principles, but the mutually exclusive concepts that voters seem to able to simultaneously maintain in the "punkin' heads". 

Interestingly enough, there's a term for this condition; and suprisingly enough it's the tile of the piece, "Cognitive Dissonance".

Being that this is in so early in the week, there is no way for me to know what will yet appear in either the mid-week "Star" edition, or next weekend's.  I know it will be interesting however, which must account for the fact that this is Toledo's largest Sunday circulation and Ohio's Best Weekly newspaper (for the third year in a row).  But that's merely what you've come to expect from the Toledo Free Press.  

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Vote of Confidence: Chapter 17

Of little surprise now (since all of the editing is done), I remain on schedule with getting new efforts posted on the VOC site.  In fact, I am in fact complete with the editing process as we speak.  I am pleased therefore to let you know that Chapter 17 of “Vote of Confidence” is now up for review and comment. We're on the home stretch now, and I will post Chapter 18 in a couple of days so that the grand finale can go up next weekend on April Fool's Day. 

Though I have previously described this story as “A twisted tale of Life, Politics, and what some might consider cruelty to animals”. Any of you that have come this far in the effort know by now that none of these accusations has been proven, and that in as far as I know, no actual animals were in any way harmed (physically or psychologically) during the completion of this story.

I would love to be able to give you some insight into what has gone before or will come after, but figure that if I had to put up with writing this last bit, the least you can do is read it to the end to figure it out. (Besides, not doing so adds a bit of mystery to the whole thing, don't you think?)

Since every writer likes to be read, and since I like to sometimes believe that I'm a writer, I encourage you to take a look at this effort. While I can't promise that you will get any of the time back that you spend in doing so, I can say that you might yet be a bit surprised.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

I Unlike 'Like'

I find that I am growing increasingly uncomfortable with the word 'Like' these days, and while I know that this was not always the case, it took me some time to recognize that this issue goes back many years. 

For those of you who intend to read on; you must recognize that blog writing (especially my weekend efforts), is a form of therapy for me.  And trust me when I tell you that no one needs weekly therapy sessions more than I do.

I suppose that it began many years ago, during the halcyon days of my youth.  Full of vim, vigor, and a hormonal state that could only be considered balanced by comparing it to the current federal budget; I occasionally found myself in the company of members of the fairer gender.  (This is not a simple as it might appear, especially for someone whose High School days were spent in an all-male establishment for the most part.)  Embarrassed, tongue-tied, and completely unable of coherently expressing myself (a condition into which I far too often relapse, even these many years later), I usually found myself able to stammer out after considerable effort: "You know, I uh, like you." 

Conversationally and emotionally stunted, and apparently without the lyrical ability that is said to be gift of the Irish nature, I was however occasionally able to rise above this stammering foolishness far enough for the occasional:  "No, I mean uh, I uh really like you."  (I know. Most of you are now in shock and amazement at the level of  Shakespearean prose that I was capable of, even at this early age.)  As time went on, eventually I was able to rise to even greater heights, occasionally allowing the word 'Love' to pass my lips (though undoubtedly still not understanding the concept, and probably in the forlorn and doomed hopes of 'getting lucky'); and eventually I managed to almost forget how uncomfortable I was with the word 'Like', though never quite completely.

Years later however, I found myself again confronted with this dreaded word, often in far more precarious circumstances. "Of course I like the bedspread with little purple flowers on it dear", was likely to be found coming out of my mouth with mild aversion, but without conscious effort.  "Certainly I would like to go shopping with you dear; and of course I'd like to stop at the Art Museum afterward to spend hours viewing the traveling exposition of 'Shoe Art' afterward," slipped from my lips with only an occasional grimace or muttered imprecation.  "Yes dear, I really like the way you've fixed this ... what kind of meat is this again?" might also found being spoken around the lower extremity usually found stuck in my pie hole, with the unpleasant taste coming as a combination of the foot, the disingenuous nature of the remark, and the dish in question.  The stammering that usually accompanied such pronouncements usually doomed the attempted domestic tranquility being sought and increased my distress at the use of this word.

Update and Disclaimer:  None of the sentences listed above was ever actually used by me during either of my marriages  ...  No, really.

Just when I thought I had put these troubling and traumatic experiences perhaps forever behind me (along with a couple of marriages) along came Facebook, and the use of the word 'Like' became an unrelenting and recurring nightmare.  Rather than my own fumbling occasional uses of the word in failed attempts to comprehend emotions that I rarely understood; I was now subjected to a veritable barrage of this four letter word that must be used to convey a cornucopia of emotions and opinions.  

When a FB friend put a link up, was my unvoiced 'like' an expression of appreciation for the information provided, for the opinion expressed by this friend about the link, or both?  Would a failure to give this vote of confidence (no relation to the novel of the same name) be seen as a lack of solidarity or worse, as an expression of disdain for something they found meaningful or informative?  When two FB friends shared a link, was I required to like both, and would a slight be incurred by not doing so?  When putting up my own links and other nonsense, would I in turn take offense myself in not being 'liked'?  Did comments that were made on such material similarly require a 'Like' to show acknowledgement of their interest or affirmation?

Making matters worse almost simultaneously, was the peculiar speech pattern that was once again appearing in so many around me, one that I had thought to have seen the end of with "Valley Girls" and similar movies about teenagers in  shopping malls fading into the oblivion.  Instead, I once more found myself besieged by acquaintances, co-workers, and random strangers who insisted on connecting random thoughts in sometimes even more random sequences of phrases to form discourses molded around 'Like'.  Declarations that, "Like we were going out the other night, and like you'll never guess what happened.  It was like the craziest thing that I'd ever seen before, and like you know I've seen some pretty crazy stuff.  So anyway, we were just like sitting there ..." engender the same feelings in me as fingernails on a blackboard or my the vibration of teeth being drilled for cavities (without anesthetic).  

Worse still was realizing that by such constant exposure, I too was occasionally being drawn into similar (and because of my recognition of them), even more painful declarations.  Hailing back to the memories of social suicide that I committed through the use of this word in irrational in often pathetic early attempts at the social graces, I now found myself committing linguistic suicide in abortive attempts to communicate the simplest of ideas to other members of either gender.  Horrified at my inability to articulate the simplest concept or idea without bastardizing it into what will undoubtedly be the main soliloquy of Hollywood's next retread of a unoriginal ideas "Valley Girls - The New Mallenium", I actually began to contemplate a vow of silence rather than see myself sink to a level of communication only previously dwelt in by members of the inarticulate 'Occupy' movement.

Lest some of you begin early celebrations of my potentially quiescent future however, let me add that while indeed on the brink, I believe that I've pulled myself back from the edge of despair and unintelligible communication.  That which cannot be changed must be endured, and that which does not kill us makes us stronger.  I realized that I must therefore soldier on as best I can.  This does not mean that this word has gained new found favor with me; but the awareness that until the current benighted conversational trend runs its course, there is little that I can do to ameliorate the current bastardization of the English language.  I will therefore attempt to use this word only within proper context (and when forced to do so by the exigencies of Facebook).  

Until further notice therefore, I choose to 'Unlike' 'Like'.    

Thursday, March 22, 2012

It's Oil Lies I Tell You

This week's mid-week rant is late, (and will probably be a bit short) for good reason, in that my health has been suffering for a couple of days.  Just as I get back into the swing of things however, I find that the truth is suffering far more than I have while I have been regaining my strength.  It's campaign season after all, and whether you're running for a nomination, or already running for the highest office in the land, it seems to be a requirement for the truth to take far more of a beating than my tired old carcass has taken this week.

The same president who refused to let the Keystone XL pipeline become part of a Congressional bill a couple of months ago and deferred approval to 2013, now has the political temerity to stand in front of a pile of pipe in Oklahoma and say that he's trying to expedite the process.  In typical campaign fashion, he blamed political opponents for attempting to circumvent a process that he felt needed more time three months ago; while now telling applauding audiences that he will cut regulatory red tape (that his Administration created) to speed the process up.       

Note:  The president and candidates for office are likely to see much more in the way of applauding audiences this year, since recently passed legislation makes it illegal to protest in the presence of someone guarded by the Secret Service ... like the president and presidential candidates.

He went on to say that he's going to order federal agencies to expedite the approval process that he once delayed (after all, the project has only been under review for three years).  Curiously, few in the media seem ready to point out that President Obama has no dog in this hunt, as the section of pipeline being built does not require federal approval; and none seem ready to use the term 'flip-flop' in discussing the President's restatement of his previous strongly held position, one which greatly appealed to his core constituencies in the environmental movement.

In a CNN piece offered today, he also said "Anyone who says that we're somehow suppressing domestic oil production isn't paying attention".  Now for those of you not paying attention, this is one of the lies by omission.  Oil production is not being suppressed by the Administration, since it comes from wells whose drilling began long before the President took office.  Fewer permits are being issued for new exploration however, and vast tracts of land have been placed out of reach for exploration by this Administration.  This bodes ill for future long-term domestic production. 

There was more 'creative truth' forthcoming in the Oklahoma speech, when the president said "the price of oil is set by the global market", going on to blame unrest in the Middle East for the higher prices.  Curious then, that the price of oil is higher now than during the Arab Spring or the Iraq War; nor did they reach current pricing levels even during Egypt's popular uprising and the uncertainty of its ability to control the Suez Canal.  

What wasn't mentioned in the speech however, is that oil is traded in US dollars; and that as our unaddressed national debt continues to go up faster than a 'shovel ready project' and the government printing presses held by the Federal Reserve continuing printing this fiat currency at a record pace, the value of those dollars continues to diminish in value for real goods like gold, silver, and OIL.  Hence this inflated currency will not buy as much oil as it used to, and prices effectively go up. 

It's not all lies however. Some is merely a misleading way of telling the truth.  For example, the President said in a speech in Columbus later today that, "America's dependence on foreign oil has gone down every single year." (since he took office in 2009) This statement has some truth to it, if you use the excuse that the current floundering economy requires less oil to fuel it, and therefore depends less on foreign production.  This however, is like saying 'My out of pocket expenses were down this year, because I was dead'.    

Now before those of you flying your Republican flags dislocate your arms by patting yourself on the back, try and remember that none of your candidates has yet to put together a cohesive energy policy.  They remain content to castigate the man in the Oval Office, while presenting no alternatives other than 'Drill baby, drill'.  Newt Gingrich, mostly irrelevant now in the process anyway, has gone so far as to make $2.50 gas part of his stump speech; as if his wishing it were so will make it so.  

How then will he achieve this objective? More drilling would certainly bring up production and reduce prices, but as we've been reminded far too often, it take 5-7 years to bring a well into production; long after the first term of an Obama replacement were to end.  Oh sure, price controls mandating $2.50 per gallon for gas could be instituted, but not only would this have a negative impact on future drilling; but it hardly seems the reaction of someone who calls himself a  Capitalist and small government Conservative.

Rick Santorum is calling the current Administration policy that of "N-O", but this seems a strange attack from another supposed small government candidate who is already talking about calling out a new morality police to end pornography.  He also has failed to produce what anyone would even laughingly call an energy policy as part of his bid for the highest office in the land, being too concerned with winning the religious right instead of the fiscal right; something that's long been his Achilles heel.

The Republican frontrunner Romney is quick to slap the Administration around on what it's doing, inferring that this is about making gas on par with an alternative energy agenda that they've been pushing (which may the only truth being spoken here), but is much slower on the draw in describing what he'd do instead.  Perhaps this former business executive (and not career politician) thinks that this is situation is like what we were told about the now two year-old Patients Affordable Health Care law (Obamacare) that might be his opponent's largest achievement in office.  It's a situation where we should vote for him before we learn what his energy policy is.

The truth of the matter is that 75% of the potential Republican nominees energy position amounts to little more than, 'The other guy is a bad man, doing bad things'.  (I thought about using 'The other guy's a bad man and a doo-doo head'; but didn't want to slander the President for fear that I would quickly find myself doing an interview with the Secret Service.) 

I won't go into Ron Paul's position in great detail, in spite of the fact that it agrees with mine (or is it vice versa).  He believes that the real culprit in the oil crisis is inflation.  He in fact went on "The Tonight Show" earlier in the week (no, I don't watch Jay Leno, but read about it after the fact here), and described the problem rather succinctly.  Holding up a silver dime, he went on to explain that based on the current value of silver (approx $30 per ounce) that you could buy a gallon of gas (even at its current price) for the precious metal value of the weight of this 10 cent coin.  The cost of everything unfortunately, goes up when our currency is no longer based on the real value of real things, and when we allow the Federal Reserve and the Federal government to play games with the value of currency and the credit rating of the nation.  (But of course Ron Paul's opinions are crazy.)

The bottom line here is that with this one rare exception, everything that you're being told about the price of oil, and the subsequent price of a gallon of gas ... is Oil Lies.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Vote of Confidence: Chapter 16

Continuing to surprise even myself, I remain on schedule with getting new efforts posted on the VOC site.  In fact, I have completed the editing process as we speak (though some will say that this is merely so I could celebrate St Patrick's
Day without having to worry about getting in front of a keyboard)
At any rate, I am pleased to let you know that Chapter 16 of “Vote of Confidence” is now up for review and comment. The editing process is in fact complete, and the last chapters will go up in the next few weeks.

Though I have previously described this story as “A twisted tale of Life, Politics, and what some might consider cruelty to animals”. Any of you that have come this far in the effort however, know by now that none of these accusations has been proven, and that in as far as I know, no actual animals were in any way harmed (physically or psychologically) during the completion of this story.

I would love to be able to give you some insight into what has gone before or will come after, but that would imply a remembrance of what has gone before or a knowledge of where it's going to, a rumor which I can neither confirm nor deny. (Besides, not doing so adds a bit of mystery to the whole thing, don't you think?)

Since every writer likes to be read, and since I like to sometimes believe that I'm a writer, I encourage you to take a look at this effort. While I can't promise that you will get any of the time back that you spend in doing so, I can say that you might yet be a bit surprised.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

La'Fheile Pa'draig Sona Daoibh 2012

Posting on St Patrick's Day has become something of a tradition here at "Just Blowing Smoke", and the fact that it falls this year on a Saturday (when I normally post anyway) makes it even easier to continue that custom.  I try to add and/or change a bit of this annual effort from year to year to keep from boring my audience (at least no more than I normally do); and in 2012 I've decided to add a couple of musical efforts from a group of local Kansas City Irish lads that has achieved a good bit of notoriety around the world, "The Elders". (Hopefully, sharing their abilities with my growing, but rather twisted group of readers will meet with their blessing.  If not, they'll no doubt be 'wigs on the green'.).  By doing so, I'm hoping that such music might put you in the proper mood while you read on.  (The one above is entitled fittingly enough:  "Men of Erin".)

And so here it is; time once again for this humble scribbler born of Irish origins to wish all of you that most glorious of annual salutations:

La'Fheile Pa'draig Sona Duit

Now for those unfamiliar with the ancient Hibernian tongue, I have in fact wished you, individually, a Happy St. Patrick's Day in Gaelic. (The phrase is pronounced "La ale-lah pwad-rig son a ditch".  The plural version rests in the title, and is pronounced, "La ale-lah pwad-rig son a jeev".)       

St Patrick is of course, the patron saint of 'The Island of Saints and Scholars', more commonly known as Ireland (pronounced 'areland). The Island of Eire, as it's known in its native tongue is also known as the Emerald Isle, since the regular and abundant rains produce a countryside dominated by the same lovely shade of green as its crystalline namesake. More fortuitously on this day for those who celebrate it however, it's the land where Irish monks first created the nectar of the gods more commonly known as Whiskey (probably as a defense against the rigors of their chosen monastic lifestyle); and for the production of the finest product of the brewer's art ... Guinness. 

(Actually, it's a little known fact that it was God Himself who created whiskey, but the monks decided to take credit for it.  For those of you wondering, it's said that its original purpose was to keep the Irish from conquering the world. ...  and you have to admit, so far it's succeeded.) 

St Patrick himself is said not to have followed quite the strict path that his later monastic brethren were to his heavenly reward, instead choosing a rather more tortuous one; walking a fine line between angering the Celtic heathens he sought to convert and the incurring the ire of the Church he sought to serve.  And since this is ostensibly a day held in celebration of his labors, it would seem downright rude not to recount at least in brief, some of his history.

Patrick is in fact quite curious as patron saints go, even Irish ones. Of course this might have something to do with the fact that he wasn't Irish, but English instead. He actually came to Ireland for the first time in chains as a captured slave (which is the manner in which the Irish are said to be most fond of entertaining their British neighbors). He escaped his captivity after some six years however and returned to his home in Britain, eventually becoming a deacon, taking his ordination vows as a priest, and later still becoming a bishop. He returned to Ireland as a Catholic missionary, working mostly in the north and the west of the island. Very little is actually known of the places where he preached and labored, though legends abound of the locations where he purportedly stopped and the miracles he performed while carrying out his chosen vocation. 

This missionary work ultimately proved a successful one, and the country remains largely a Catholic one to this day. And while the model of the Catholic Church that he worked toward did not come about while he was alive or even as a result of his labors, he was nevertheless named the Patron Saint of Ireland by the eighth century.

Now Irish tradition holds that St Patrick used the Shamrock to teach the heathen peoples of the island the Catholic mystery of the Holy Trinity, which may explain its popularity as a symbol today. This tale may be more an example of the Irish flair for the 'telling of a good tale" than one of actual doctrinal education however, as the accounts of the use of this three-leafed white clover only began to appear in popular myth centuries after his death.

The noted Irish knack for exaggeration and overstatement might likewise be held responsible for the famous accounts of St Patrick chasing the snakes from Ireland's shores, since there have never actually been snakes in Ireland. (In defense of such myths, it should noted that the Irish seldom let the truth get in the way of a good story.) 

Regardless of the legendary nature of his time on earth (excused as perhaps no more than a bit of Blarney), or the fact that he was never formally canonized by the Catholic Church, we nevertheless celebrate his feast day every year on March 17th, the date believed to be that of his death in 493.  

(Even that much about St Patrick creates a powerful thirst in a man, and would no doubt constitute sufficient reason to stop off at the pub for a pint or two. This affinity undoubtedly accounts in large part for the relationship between the festivities being celebrated and the man himself;  and have nothing to do of course, with fondness the Irish have for for a pint or a 'touch of the Irish'.) 

As I have pointed out on previous occasions here, March 17th is also the birthday of one of my grandchildren, Margaret Ruth Tipatina Demaria. ("lá breithe sona Maggie")  "Maggie Moo Kropotnik", will be turning six on this day of ancestral family revelry if my often failing memory still serves me correctly. Rumor has it that they will once again be holding parades in New York City (near where she lives) and in Chicago (where my own roots are) in celebration of this more recent, but equally blessed event.

Strange as it may seem, you will probably not find me making a pub crawl locally on this 'feast day'. For while personal considerations indeed make it a day worthy of all manner of celebration, I tend to avoid the crowds often attendant to the occasion (though I admit to being rather tempted to make my way down to a certain 'hooley' this evening where The Elders will be performing). In the spirit of the myth and the man however, I am persuaded at the very least, to offer an Irish toast for all of you on this day of days for the Demaria clan, for the O'hUig'in clan (the ancestral name of the Higgins), and for that paragon of Irish virtue (such as it is) ... St Patrick. It's a sentiment that should speak to all those considering themselves true Irishmen, and even those only so blessed on this one day of the year:

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

All of this may be a bit too complicated for those of you already firmly in the grip of green Anheuser-Busch or Miller products in what is undoubtedly a heartfelt, but terribly misguided form of Celtic revelry.  Surely it's beyond the comprehension of those of you who have or will graduate to Car Bombs far too early in the day. (A Car Bomb is a shot of Irish whiskey dropped into a pint of Guinness, with the name coming from the effect that drinking such a concoction in one long swallow normally has on the consumer's brain.) 

So for you 'happy few, you band of Irish brothers', let me offer instead this far more simple effort:

"May you be in heaven for two hours before the devil knows you're dead!"


(For those of you looking for something a bit more up tempo to kick off the day's celebration, you need look no farther than the following tune, "Packy Go Home", again from 'The Elders'.)

Friday, March 16, 2012

TFP Colum: Chasing The Snakes

In exchanging correspondence with Michael Miller, I was informed that he was assembling material for an edition with a St Patrick's Day theme.  Fortunately for me, I was already working on something along those lines, and his direction helped to finish the process.  In keeping with the St Patrick's holiday therefore, my effort "Chasing the Snakes" has to do with politicians who, like the patron saint of Ireland, often seem to be given (or take) credit for mythic achievements that were never, or couldn't possibly ever have been done.

But listen, if Michael has been assembling St Patrick's Day efforts for over a week, there's bound to be some that are far better than my own humble effort.  In fact, for those that are looking to celebrate the traditions of St Patrick in the Glass City.  My advice, as always, is no matter what, to stay away from the green beer.  Beyond that, I expect that there will no better place that than the TFP to find out what's going on in Toledo on St Patrick's Day, and where (their offices are over a Irish Pub after all).

But that's the way it is in Toledo and NW Ohio.  If you want to know what you need to know and where to go when you need to go, you have only to pick up a copy (or go online for the electronic edition) of Toledo's largest circulation Sunday newspaper and Ohio's best weekly paper (for the third year in a row), the Toledo Free Press.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Middle East Bully

Iraq seems to be settling back into uncomfortable, but well-recognized chaos and conflict.  Afghanistan too is reverting to the sectarian internal strife that it's known for far too long.  The situation with Syria's strong man continues to deteriorate, with calls going out for potential outside intervention; and Iran's continuing nuclear program's development bring more and more cries for something to be done by someone.  There's no doubt that someone must step up and stop the bullying being perpetrated on the nations of this region.

Of course we know what our government would like to do, and what it's done for many years; ignore thousands of years of history and continue to meddle in what's been a war zone since long before BC became AD.  Let's face it, countries in the Middle East have hated parts of themselves, most of their neighbors, and almost all outsiders for thousands of years; and probably before they were called Mesopotamia and Persia.  It's an unreasoning bit of madness that goes on for reasons that few if any understand, and the remaining choose to forget.  Like a millennium old Hatfield and McCoy feud whose beginnings are lost in the dust of history, all that's seemingly left for those who remain is an unreasonable and unreasoning hatred.

Make no mistake however, the perpetuation of this mindless violence does indeed serve a purpose for some.  If you can stoke the fires of hatred high enough, you can get even the most reasonable of the individual members of a mob to commit what they would consider all but unthinkable acts.  If you can distract a population long enough from the fact that while ordering them to do so, their leaders will never put themselves in harm's way, they will never notice the relative ease and prosperity in which those leaders live.  Neither will they understand that it's their almost constant state of siege that maintains the power of despotic rule and has become the major impediment to a better life for themselves.

Not content to stand idly by or simply provide a unifying demonic figure for the region however, and incapable of staying out of arguments that we were long since proved to have no place in, the West continues to attempt to pick winners and losers in the same misguided way that it always has.  Heedless of the horrendous record of its past failures, the West continues to believe that it has the right to wage wars in countries that have not asked for help; doing so in the name of a peace that remains far beyond their grasp at best, and realistically impossible at worst.

Already the nations of the Arab Spring are falling increasingly under the dominance of 'strong men', who will eventually take the reins of yet another despotic government in the region.  Even the sham of democracy which has from time to time reared its head in this region, with fraudulent elections for pseudo representative governments, will soon find itself mired in the recurring story of popular oppression, religious mandate, and an ongoing struggle among tyrants attempting to reach the pinnacle by crawling over piles of dead and imprisoned.  And when the dust clears, it's likely we will once again be left with two kinds of leadership in these lands; bad guys who like us, and worse guys who don't.

I can't help but ask why we don't for example, seem to care about the human rights violations, oppression of women, and autocratic rule in Saudi Arabia; an often twisted monarchy that has been a long time ally of the United States in the region?  Is it that we can't see what's going on, or that we choose to ignore these behaviors since the kingdom buys military hardware from us and allows us to operate what they say are much needed air bases in the area?

Perhaps worst of all in this self-serving bullshit is the harm's way that bureaucrats, diplomats, and politicians who have never raised a hand in anger seem ready to put members of our Armed Forces into.  Though armed with the latest of weapons and provided by their military leaders with the best of tactics available under the circumstances, they are doomed to win the battles and lose the wars, strangled by contradictory rules of engagement created by armchair generals and a strategic goal that's little more than a moving target used by those whose interests are likewise colored by the desire to acquire and maintain power.

Would we even care if it weren't for the oil beneath their sands?  Perhaps ... when the news showed us inspiring pictures of ragged civilians standing up to well-equipped troops; but the fervor would no doubt quickly wane when "American Idol" came on.  How then can we expect these people to trust us, when we lack consistency of policy, of leadership, and of effort?  How can we expect them to respect us when we attempt to buy their friendship; more often than not by throwing bundles of cash to those who if we caught up with them in this country, we would throw into jail?  How can we expect these people to love us when we continue to usurp their sovereignty, deploy troops to their streets, and drop bombs within their borders in order to impose our own particular version of morality upon them?  What point can there be to the so-called benign interference and gunpoint morality when our efforts result in as much collateral damage as success?

Yet we pretend at benevolence in a land that doesn't appear to understand our version of it (and perhaps justifiably so), and seems not to want it (at least from us).  How much of our never-ending efforts have become about assisting the current US government (and many who have come before it)  in its misguided efforts to control its own economy through around the world adventures in military spending; doing things we weren't asked to in places where we weren't invited?  How much of the rest is about ignoring common decency and common sense, as we continue to "protect US Interests" (the free flow of oil) not by attempting to gather that beneath our very feet, but instead by attempting to impose our will on people half a world away.

It's strange (and almost sadly amusing) that at a time when our leaders are worried about removing the bully from the schoolyard, from the street corner, and the Internet; that it's we who are the bully of Middle East politics.  It's tragic indeed that those we purport to help must dream of one day being free of us.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Vote of Confidence: Chapter 15

Continuing to surprise even myself, I remain on schedule with getting new efforts posted on the VOC site.  In fact, I am all but complete with the editing process as we speak.  I am pleased therefore to let you know that Chapter 15 of “Vote of Confidence” is now up for review and comment. There's only four chapters left now, and I hope to have the last up in less than a month.

Though I have previously described this story as “A twisted tale of Life, Politics, and what some might consider cruelty to animals”. Any of you that have come this far in the effort however, know by now that none of these accusations has been proven, and that in as far as I know, no actual animals were in any way harmed (physically or psychologically) during the completion of this story.

I would love to be able to give you some insight into what has gone before or will come after; but even after this far, that would imply a remembrance of what has gone before or a knowledge of where it's going, a rumor which I can neither confirm nor deny. (Besides, not doing so adds a bit of mystery to the whole thing, don't you think?)

Since every writer likes to be read, and since I like to sometimes believe that I'm a writer, I encourage you to take a look at this effort. While I can't promise that you will get any of the time back that you spend in doing so, I can say that you might yet be a bit surprised.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Capitalism Run Amok

I've been having a little trouble sleeping nights lately (and no, it's not the result of a guilty conscience ... unfortunately).  While much of the TV on late at night makes pretty bad look pretty good if you don't have cable, some of the 'Commercials for Insomniacs' are actually quite amusing.  I am learning more a about American popular culture from these examples of Capitalism than I do from watching the news.

Did you know that that there are elastic waistbands that women can buy to get the layered look without the layers?  While no one has explained to me why women want to look layered without being layered, I was able to grasp that one of the reasons for the purchase of this extra 12" waist band was so that when a woman bent over she didn't expose her waist, or worse yet, the exterior of her posterior.  While I can certainly see the desirability of limiting the display of 'Plumber's Syndrome", I was nevertheless struck that the same could be accomplished (without spending the $20, plus shipping and handling) by not purchasing shirts cut so high and tight they rode up and pants so low-cut and tight that they rode down.  (This is undoubtedly why I am neither an expert on fashion, nor a rich inventor/entrepreneur.)

Did you likewise know that you can buy devices that make slicing, dicing,and chopping far easier than it would be with an ordinary knife?  (Of course you did, since such devices, in one form or another, have been around for years.)  I can't really poke too much fun at this one, as I found myself purchasing one of these technological wonders many years ago in order to be able to fragment vegetables more efficiently ... and create Julienne fries 'in a snap'.  (The fact that I had never heard of Julienne fries before buying this device, and therefore didn't even know if I wanted them, seemed inconsequential at the time.)  While I must admit that the device did in fact slice potatoes, carrots,and onions admirably, and far faster than I could do in manually with a knife (even one of those fancy new knives that slice empty cans of refried beans before creating wafer thin tomato slices), I was still somewhat dubious of the processOf course after you added in time required for assembly, tear down, and cleaning; neither method actually proved faster than the other.  

Over succeeding years, I found that by the time I dragged the damn thing out, figured out how to reassemble it, found the proper cutting blades, and finally began to cut, I had lost interest in the vegetables requiring dis-assembly (and sometimes the will to live); so I parted with it through donation to a charitable organization (tax-deductible recycling).  I still have one of those 'slap choppers' collecting dust in the back of a cabinet, but seldom use it.  It likewise did nothing to truly expedite the vegetable dissection process and the memories of the sore hand that I got using it further remind me of why it too should be recycled.

But these forays into personal consumerism and rampant capitalism are educational as well.  I have recently learned that the only way that I'm going to get eight golf balls or a bowling ball out of my carpeting is to buy a $500 vacuum cleaner.  This model of modern carpet cleanliness is capable of maneuvering around furniture that I don't own, getting under tables that I don't posses, and is capable of vacuuming around corners by turning on a dime.  Of course, I like to vacuum in straight lines so I get those 'clean lines' in the finished carpet, and if the power it contains is half of what it brags about, I suspect that it would suck the dime up long before turning on it. I'm also told that it's very easy to carry up and down stairs, but since I live in a one-bedroom apartment, this ability seems of little practical benefit.

Then again, if the vacuum cleaner didn't make me a big enough sucker (and I suspect it would), I could always add to the volume of air movement in my residence by buying one of those massive air cleaners.  According to the nice lady on the infomercial, they exchange the air in a room at least three times an hour (though no one ever seems to explain what they're exchanging it with).  In fact, these devices confuse me.  While I'm trying to live a bit 'greener', dedicating myself in small ways to cleaner air, I can't help but wonder if such a unit wouldn't exchange the air before I had done my efficient best to use it.  Additionally, I'm not sure of the trade off between the pollution generated in order to power the unit with electricity vs the promise of cleaning the air with it is a fair exchange.  I fear I will not be able to reach a logical conclusion to this dilemma until presented with properly documented fact one way or the other.

As for women's undergarments, let me only say that I had no idea that so much scientific development was going into them; or that women could talk about them for hours on end in spite of the fact that they used to be called 'unmentionables'.  It seems that women are willing to buy articles of clothing that manipulate their bodies in ways that would surely get the average man arrested, even if he was married to the one in question.  The parts that aren't being pushed up are being pushed in.  Whatever real or imagined body parts or body faults that a woman has, according the show's hosts, should be quickly surrounded by elasticized material, manipulated, and re-displayed through methods that have already been outlawed as torture by the United Nations.  

And while corsets seem to have for the most part been done away with (except decoratively of course), most of the functionality of women's undergarments seems to have been taken over by the scientists that created the Ace Bandage, and with much the same material.  Perhaps most intriguing in this meat manipulation process (sorry ladies, but that's what it is) is that it's done in a mostly misguided attempt to gain the ability to wear styles of clothing that no one, let alone supposedly mature women, should wear.  While I have always been fascinated with women, like the making of sausages and laws; I suspect that this is a process probably better not viewed too closely, too often, and certainly not on television late at night.

(I am coming to believe that like many other areas of scientific study, women's underwear falls into two schools of thought.  The 'Victoria's Secret'  school of undergarment design holds that "less is more", and charges more for the less that they provide.  The 'Ace Bandage' school on the other hand, believes that "covering more showing less" is the answer, and charges far less than the Victoria's school for the more making it appear that there is in fact less being covered.  It's not a perfect theory, but it's a working one that works for me.)

I may be an unreconstructed capitalist, but some of this scares even me.  The fact that there are multiple channels dedicated to consumerism on such a scale is bad.  The fact that in these tough economic times, there appears to be a great many people with a day pass on the crazy train with 'disposable' income to buy this carnival crap is worse, and may in fact prove that Capitalism has finally run off the rails.  I'm not sure whether to give the process a standing ovation, or pull the covers over my head so I don't have to watch any more.

But if you'll excuse me now, I need to get back to the the show I was watching.  The electronics hour starts in 15 minutes and I have my eye on a deal on a 73" HD, 3D, surround sound TV that if I pull the trigger on it, they probably won't be able to get through my front door anyway.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Silly Bits II

I've been trying to follow the results of the "Super Tuesday" voting with some degree of interest beyond a lingering yawn, but find my fervor for the process, and with it my attention span for endless coverage of the minutiae around them are flagging.  As a consequence of this general feeling of listlessness, I find myself without a desire to go into the pontifical rage on any particular subject required for a mid-week effort.  This does not mean that I haven't got a few things on my mind however, or that I'm willing to share them.  I am therefore going to attempt another 'Silly Bits' effort instead.

Rush Limbaugh, the self-appointed savior of talk radio, has stepped in it once again; though I at least give him credit for an apology that was not entirely self-serving.  Unfortunately in spite of a valiant attempt at 20-20 hindsight, the damage has already been done.  Ms Fluke has managed to do exactly what she set out to do, draw attention to herself and change the discussion on the Obamacare mandate which tells the Catholic Church that its health insurance must provide treatments that violate its own doctrine on birth control.  

We're not asking any longer why such treatments must now be provided by any employer for free (and with no co-pay) when they're not that expensive to start with. We're not asking any longer how the government is able to tread over the fine line on the First Amendment or why disaffection with such care should be restricted to only the Church and not to any employer who feels that such mandates violate their personal beliefs. (Though perhaps it would be easier to get waivers if such organizations were simply to unionize.) We're not even asking where the president's executive order (the Stupak promise) that abortions would not be provided under the Obamacare compromise went to.  

Instead we're talking about Limbaugh impugning the character of a woman who's obviously a political activist, and who made her college choice by her own admission, in order to make a policy change at that university.  We're talking about access to women's health care that already exists as if it didn't, because Rush couldn't stop banging an out-of-tune drum that he thought would resonate with his audience.  Maybe his hearing is worse that he thinks, and he suffers from occasional bouts of being politically tone deaf.

(I won't even begin to talk about the disingenuous behavior of the progressive voices in the media, who want Rush's dismissal and an advertiser boycott for using some of the same language that they have in equally public venues when talking about their ideological opponents.)

Gas prices continue to go up, and the president goes out on the campaign trail to tell us that the problem can't be solved by drilling.  Really!  I can't and won't assign any particular blame to this chief executive; like most politicians running for office, he manages to pick and choose the stats he likes to back up his rhetoric, but the 'facts' are often contradictory.

Our president tells us that more oil is being produced in the US now than ever before ... and that this is to his creditReally!  What happened to the days not so long ago when he and other politicians told us that it takes 5-7 years for drilling to result in production; and if this is the case, how should he expect credit for drilling that began before he took office?  Meanwhile drilling permits remain at an all-time low, the pipeline from Canada can only be begun by going around presidential approval in an election year, and no new refinery has been built in over 30 years.

Hybrids must certainly be contributing to our ability to stretch the existing production, but the Middle East is becoming a scarier place week-by-week; so counting on them for our future oil seems like a worse plan than usual.  Increasing debt and Fed policies continue to make the dollar diminish in value against a barrel of oil (oil is currently only traded in dollars, though how long that will last is anybody's guess), which likewise contributes to its increased costs in the long term.  

As for electric cars, I am once again forced to point out what seems to escape those inside the Beltway in DC.  Even if we start buying fully electric cars, the electricity has to come from somewhere.  Coal burning power plants are closing, since they can't meet new EPA regulations.  Only one nuclear plant has been approved for construction since the Carter Administration, and it hasn't begun construction.  Solar and wind power generation can help but little (especially when solar panel manufacturers in this country are going down faster than the Titanic), and will never be able to fill the gap created by the impending loss of these coal plants, let alone provide us with the cheap energy which most economists agree is required to stimulate economic growth.  I guess that leaves us with further demands on oil and natural gas, which brings us back to where we started.  

(Then again, maybe the plan is to get us all into Chevy Volts that we can't afford, and with batteries catching fire for no apparent reason, keep us too scared to get into our cars in the first place and thereby reduce consumption.)
Super Tuesday winds to a close, and the winners (kind of) and losers (sort of) are both congratulating themselves on the job that they did (even if they didn't really do it).  And while they're patting themselves on the back, and thanking their staffs, their fundraisers, and their supporters; not one of them thinks to thank the American taxpayer; not for their vote, but for picking up the tab.  It is they after all, who are footing the bill for this state-by-state beauty contest; with many educated estimates holding the cost of these candidate benedictions  at $3,000,000 per state. 

Like the broken promises of most of candidates leave behind after an election, this bit of taxpayer largess goes largely unrecognized; something I find especially troubling when so many state budgets are being slashed left and right (pun intended) to at least attempt to meet the mandated responsibilities of a balanced budget.  When are we going to make these political parties pay for their own political parties?

It's a sad commentary on the political process indeed when 'hard working Americans' have to foot the bill so that the self-appointed political elite in this country can decide who's turn it is move up the political food chain.  Regardless of who gets the delegates, once again the American taxpayer has lost.