Monday, September 30, 2013

Silly Bits VI

The Government appears to be about ready to shut down today.  Since this is one of the silliest things that the government does (a statement which goes much further than I'm sure the two major parties would be willing to concede), what better time to talk about some of the Silly Bits involved where this particular shutdown is concerned.

Shutdown, Schmutdown ... big deal.  After all, we've shut down the government some 17 times in recent history, and for all the common sense that seems to make, the damn thing keeps coming back to life like the evil lead in a Zombie Apocalypse movie.  Besides, all the really cool stuff in Washington DC like White House tours, the parks, and the museums were shut down already because of last year's Sequester. (Or so they've told us.)  

I for one am suspicious about these so-called shutdowns.  They tell us that this one will not threaten the checks of soldiers or the elderly on Social Security, but could eventually threaten the processing of claims for both; all so they can keep the special subsidies for a medical plan for members of Congress and theirs staffs who are making far more than the average citizen.  We'll no doubt keep writing checks for foreign aid (a post in itself that will have to wait for another day); all to keep from granting the same one year delay to individuals signing up for the ACA through legislation that were granted by Presidential fiat to employers. 

Besides, it's getting hard to worry about the bad things that will happen from this government shutdown when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi already told us only last week that the government has cut everything it can already and can't cut more.  If that's the case, for all we know we might have been shut down already.   

Democrats want to blame Republicans for this potential shutdown, since it was their idea to shut down the government the last time in 1995.  Republicans in turn would like to blame Democrats, since it's Harry Reid and his party in the Senate that seem to have become the party of 'NO' lately in their refusal to compromise (or in many cases, even vote). A pox on both their Houses!

The truth is that Government is on the verge of shutting down because both parties are too busy posturing for position for an election that's 13 months away to have done their job for the previous 12 months.  Both parties require some media face time, good sound bites, and a jumping off point for fund raising.  So instead of doing one of the few things that they are obligated to do under the Constitution to perform, they ignore their fiscal responsibilities (and common sense) and square off on partisan lines at the last minute in such a way that any decision made must be ill-considered at best and a knee-jerk reaction at worst.

I've got an idea!  How about instead of passing a Continuing Resolution, we have them instead pass a law to hold a special election this November for ALL of those currently in office in both houses (regardless of the status of their term).  How about we make a 'very special' election' and not allow incumbents to run in it?  If your party gamesmanship is so important to that you continuously place it above your oath of office, take the bullet for it and go find another place to work.  If you're unable to perform the simplest requirements of the job you have, step a aside and allow us to find someone who will.

According to Democrats and some in the media, Republicans in the both houses of the national legislature should stop messing with Obamacare (The Affordable Health Care Act) because its law.  What a preposterous notion!

It's the job of members of the Congress to challenge laws when and if necessary, and to fix those that need it even after they're passed.  They've been doing this since the inception of this branch of government and as a result, we've seen things as foolish as the 'Jim Crow' laws of this nation redressed.

Of course, still waiting in the wings is the Debt Ceiling and yet another possible stand off .  You remember the Debt Ceiling; it's the limit of the government's ability to borrow money.  Now however, the President is out there on the stump telling us that the nation's debt is going down faster than it has in years.  Am I the only one that sees the logical inconsistency in this?  

If the debt is going down, why have we once again run out of money to borrow?  How is it that what we were told were the 'draconian cuts' of the 2012 Sequester have not prevented this from happening as threatened (promised)?  If we are so quickly again reaching the national credit limit however, shouldn't we be doing even more to bring in line the government's spending with it's revenues (like delaying a very expensive new government program like Obamacare)?

By the way, where does the $85 billion of government debt that the Federal Reserve purchases in bonds every month figure into this concept?  Call it Quantitative Easing or just the monthly bond auction, this government escapade doesn't even show up on the balance sheet.  Likewise, no elected official has to approve it, since this is the Fed's money and not really the government. (Like there's a difference?) This ruinous fiscal policy already has already led to devaluation of the currency and will eventually lead to some fairly massive inflation.  Such devaluation may some good for some in the stock market and those looking at the national debt we're worried about, but it won't do much good for anyone who earns and purchases in US dollars.

During the 2012 election, Presidential candidate Ron Paul held up a silver dime when talking about the current price of gasoline.  He reminded the nation that because of the changing worth of the currency in 'real goods', the value of the metal in what was a ten cent coin when minted was still enough to buy a gallon of gas, even at today's prices.  

As to the idea of a federal government shutdown itself, it should probably be pointed out that the real problem may not be whether it should happen or not; but this:

How did we let this government become "too big to fail" in the first place and allow the potential of its temporary shutdown to matter.   

The federal government long ago exceeded the limitations placed on it in the the Constitution.  This rampant overreach is as much responsible for the potential train wreck than anything else we're facing today.  Perhaps if so much money and power were not relegated to this bug-infested swamp on the Potomac River, we'd be cheering rather than fearing its potential of its temporary demise.  

Friday, September 27, 2013

TFP Column: Political Tactical Victims

Congress has returned from its summer vacation, is back in session, and is up to it usual level of shenanigans.  It's hard to tell however, which (if any of them) is taking a principled stand and which are merely trying to position themselves for future political office or suck up to those in power in their respective political party to retain their committee appointments and campaign financing.

For that reason alone, I felt obligated to write about how most of how the rest of us are used as little more than political cannon fodder in these mostly pointless and purely political battles.  Our collateral damage status however, usually only allows us to make the grade as "Political Tactical Victims" in this current struggle.

Fortunately however, this time of year sees a great deal going on in Northwest Ohio and the Glass City, so those who want to stay in the know will spend a little time this weekend either on the website or wrapped in the pages of Toledo's largest Sunday circulation newspaper, which also happens to be Ohio's best weekly newspaper for the last five years in a row.  Of course, I'm talking about none other than the Toledo Freed Press.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Charity Begins In Government

I'd like to do dedicate a little ink (metaphorically of course) in a mid-week post this week to my friends in the Glass City.  You know who you are (Maggie Thurber).  You're the ones concerned (if not justifiably outraged) over the fact that your City Council is perfectly willing to donate tax dollars that don't belong to them to worthy causes, yet those very same elected officials seem unconcerned at their utter lack of personal contribution to these same supposedly laudable groups.  

I'm sure that knowing of your charitable nature, many of you can't help but feel warm (if not downright ill) inside to know that while you live in a city that's been balancing their budgets in ways that would make double entry bookkeepers weep in envy; the stewards of your public funding can still find it in their hearts to support those who come to them cap in hand.  Short of funds they may be, but apparently long on votes.  It must be inspiring to know that the same people begging to take money each year from the Capital Improvements Budget to balance the General Fund can still find it in their hearts to donate from that Fund that the city has none to spare.   It must make you feel all warm and fuzzy to hear the same elected officials who complain of a lack of funding for proper police and fire protection calmly dispense public checks to private charities.

While you're basking in the smug and self-satisfied feeling that comes from watching these fiscal watchdogs rob Peter to pay Paul (curious, when you're Peter) I must tell you however that Toledo's well-known level of public generosity may soon need to stand in line.  For this November, it's the intention of Jackson County, Missouri (Kansas City) to place a measure on the ballot which would create a 20-year, half-cent sales tax.  Now while county sales tax proposals are certainly nothing new to those in Toledo, the potentially laudable goal of this particular one might be viewed as rather unique (and potentially scary).

If passed, the expected $40 million in annual revenues would go to equip and provide staff to ... wait for it ... medical research.  Kansas City's Children's Mercy hospital would reap some $20 million, with at least another $8 million to go to both St Luke's hospital and the University of Missouri at Kansas City.  All three of these entities already receive private donations (tax-deductible, BTW) for such purposes, but it's thought that such major funding escalation would allow them to increase the size of their research programs, as well as to allow them to recruit top scientists for the effort.   (I wouldn't at all be surprised!)

Let me say first that medical research is a truly laudable endeavor, and one that I support through personal contribution.  But what kind of research are we talking about you here might ask.  "Why, medical research of course," (he said in his best Bill Murray "Stripes" imitation).  Actually, the particular type of research that will be supported by this funding hasn't been defined by those promoting the tax.  It could be anything from a cure for cancer or AIDS to one that's really important, like a cure for the common cold.  (It might even be Alzheimer's research, but I don't remember.)  Of course, it could be that they don't want to go into too much detail, since knowing what the money would go for might make such a taxpayer donation less charitable.   According to a piece in the Kansas City Star though, "Backers of the proposed county tax say it is adequate to make a major difference, medically and economically."   (my added emphasis)
Not surprisingly Kansas City's Mayor and City Council are fully behind this ballot effort.  After all, not only is none of it money from city coffers, but a specific tax like this one doesn't prevent the city from future tax request efforts for project it already has in mind like expansion of the recently approved $100 million, two mile-long streetcar system or the proposed $1.2 billion dollar airport terminal improvement project.  Oh sure, KC could use more police and fire protection as much as Toledo, has their own water and sewer system issues, and has a backlog of street repairs waiting; but pursuing such concerns wouldn't provide the same warm glow as supporting such worthy causes.  Sure, the three largest private foundations in the area could come up with $36 of the $40 million just by setting aside 1% of their assets (again according the the KC Star); but wouldn't that make the taxpayers feel ungenerous by comparison.

Besides, supporters of the tax tell us that if any of this research bears fruit, taxpayers will share in the rewards reaped by it.  Of course their not saying what our share of such research would actually be, but wouldn't taxpayers seem greedy for asking what their cut of this undetermined research would be before committing to funding it for the next 20 years?

Sorry Toledo.  It's not that you haven't shown yourself unfailingly charitable during some of the toughest economic times that any part of the nation has had to face.  Let's face it, you've failed to turn down any but the most ridiculous of tax requests over the years, and your continued tacit support of the city council regularly giving away the money they've torn from your grasp through taxation has all but redefined 'giving til it hurts'.  Kansas City however apparently seems fully ready to raise the bar on both the level of largess and the ridiculous nature of giving.  Like you, their generosity seems to know no bounds (or common sense) and their willingness to tax themselves to provide it apparently knows no limits.  As in the Glass City, here in the City of Fountains, it seems that Charity begins in government.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am compelled to admit with a sense of mean-spirited gratitude and of greedy self-satisfaction that I live in Johnson County, Kansas and not Jackson County, Missouri.


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Sunday, September 15, 2013

These Boots Are Made For Walking ...

It's been a week where an inadvertent remark by Secretary of State John Kerry has done more for Middle East peace than his predecessor's entire tenure and Vladimir Putin is as busy as President Obama in making the case to the American people for how stability in the Syria is to be reached.

Russia and the US have apparently negotiated an agreement about dismantling the chemical weapons in Syria.  With its agreement, Syria will now become a signatory of UN prohibitions against using weapons that it never admitted that it had, and surrender them without actually admitting that it used them on its own citizens.  In return, President Obama will quietly withdraw a request for permission that he was never going to get from Congress for a response to their use; which no one wanted to look too closely at, lest they discover that some of them had come across the border from Iraq during one of the previous Administration's foreign policy escapades and have to admit that they were there in the first place.  

According to statements being released by press secretaries and State Department representatives, no one need now fear that 'boots on the ground' will be required as a follow up to a never approved missile attack that was apparently designed to accomplish nothing other than blowing up $350 million of ordinance without making a regime change or inflicting a civilian casualty.  What a relief!  (What a load of crap!)

Wait a minute!  These are CHEMICAL WEAPONS whose components can only be destroyed properly by those with expert knowledge of such weaponry under the most exacting of conditions in specialized facilities through the use of tremendous heat.  Without delving too deeply into how the United States gained the singular expertise required for the destruction of such materials and the demolition of the sites that create them, I would suggest that anyone who believes that those with such proficiency are not in uniform may already be committing significant abuse where modern chemistry is concerned. 

As for their safe disposal ...  The last time I looked, the entire nation of Syria was a war zone occupied by multiple factions with no love for each other, let alone President Assad and his government.  (As for the US and its on again, off again support of regime change ... not so much.)  Now regardless of whether the agreeing parties yesterday also reached peace amongst the disparate factions involved with this conflict (they haven't) or is planning on imposing peace on the region by some means (no one's said so), someone's going to have to provide security, transport, and disposal of these materials while the fighting is still going on.  (Lest heaven forbid, they should fall into the wrong hands.)   

Regardless of what anyone in the Administration, Congress, or the Press is peddling these days; if this task is to be accomplished, a great number of US personnel are going to have to place themselves in harms way as part of this process.  Construction engineers are going to have to build a disposal facility in that part of the world.  (We probably have or had one in neighboring Iraq, but that nation's gone to hell under recent foreign policy and those facilities may no longer be operable.)  Security and transport will need to be provided from wherever the stockpiles have been most recently relocated (to protect them from our Tomahawk cruise missiles) to wherever the disposal and remission sites end up.  Ground forces will necessarily make up some part of that security if for no other reason than to protect convoys from IED's (improvised explosive devices) and suicide bombers; along with their requisite supply and logistics services.  Air cover will likewise need to be provided as part of that security, which because of the location means carrier deployment, use of Saudi air bases, or both.  Deployment of carriers will mean the further staging of a fleet of ships for support, logistics, and fleet protection.

Based on current intelligence estimates of the size of stockpiles in Syria and even assuming that the warring parties currently occupying the space allow us to proceed, it's likely that undertaking such an operation will require 'boots on the ground' for the rest of the decade at a minimum.  Up until now, the promise against such a condition is the only thing achieving bi-partisan support.  Strange that in the rush to celebrate this agreement, no one is talking about these unintended consequences of their success. 

It was Lee Hazlewood that wrote "These Boots Are Made For Walking"; that Nancy Sinatra (Frank's daughter) made famous in back in 1966.  It won't be go-go boots on the beach that we'll be talking about in 2013 and beyond however, but combat boots once again deployed to march the sand in Middle Eastern deployment. 

An earlier version of this was picked up and reprinted on the website of the


Thursday, September 12, 2013

TFP Column: Who Should We Fear On 9/11?

Yes it's been a while since I last penned an effort for the Toledo Free Press, but since Editor-in-Chief Michael Miller has rather high standards for a publication that has just earned more awards this year from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, it's difficult to offer something that meets them.

Of course this week's effort, "Who Should We Fear On 9/11?" doesn't come close to meeting such standards (which is probably why your truly didn't win anything); but Michael has been kind enough to put it up this week on the TFP website anyway (probably out of a miquided and mistaken feeling of sympathy)On the other hand, perhaps he was simply looking for someone to look the anniversary of this tragedy without waving the flag.

This has been a busy week in Toledo, with the Mayoral and City Council primaries just completed and the Glass City still in full festival mode; so anyone wanting to keep up with what's going on in Toledo and Northwest Ohio will need to spend a bit of time on the website, at least until this weekend's edition comes our of  "The Best Weekly Newspaper" in Ohio for what is now the fifth straight year, The Toledo Free Press.

Monday, September 9, 2013

We're Hunting 'Yeah Buts'

Two years and 110,000 after it started, the President of the United States wants to do something about the Syrian Civil War. He's even taken his case for action to Congress for approval (yeah but he said he may do it anyway even if they disapprove). Sure, what we're planning is being leaked by an Administration that may be more porous than Sponge Bob Square Pants. Yeah but what we hope to gain from this dubious effort is a mystery greater than that of the Sphinx. 

This unfortunately termed 'shot across their bows' strategy has us with a number of US Navy vessels parked off the coat of Syria, all apparently locked and loaded with cruise missiles that the President would like shoot. (Who knew nations had bows.) This will show its President Bashar el-Assad that he can't use chemical weapons against his own people in the civil war engulfing his country that could decide his continued rule, if not his continued existence.

Now for those who've already forgotten, Congress was already looking at a busy schedule when it got back from vacation this week. The nation is about to max out its credit limit at $16.7 trillion and Congress has little time before we allegedly reach default. Yeah but the President wants his Syria resolution dealt with immediately even if we don't know if we can borrow the money to pay for it.

Congress also urgently needs to pass a 2014 budget, since it failed to do so in the previous eleven months. Yeah but one of the biggest complaints we've heard about budgets in the past is how we've spent too much on Middle Eastern wars. Yeah but all the President's talking about is a very limited action involved with firing some cruise missiles to re-establish ourselves as the one and only super power, so how much could that cost?

The Navy lists the Raytheon Tomahawk Block IV cruise missile at roughly $569,000 per unit (yeah but that's in 1999 dollars). A 2011 Huffington Post article cites information from a Navy spokesman that today's cost is actually closer to $1.41 million per missile. That means that this 'bow shot', while undoubtedly creating a number of Syrian 'shovel-ready projects', could cost us between $113 and $280 million dollars.

So you'd think with the kinds of cost involved, targets would be chosen with some guaranteed 'bang for your buck' (pun intended). Yeah but not where the stockpiles of chemical weapons are, since Syria's moving them around and we aren't really sure of where they are.  Besides, striking them might release those chemicals, killing even more innocent people. Not at Syria's missile launchers, warplanes and airports either, since we're not sure about where the first two are are, and cruise missiles aren't good for taking out moving targets or runways. Not at any of his command and control bunkers either, since as bad as cruise missiles are on airport runways, they're worse at bunker busting. Not even at Assad himself, since we're not looking for regime change, something that might provoke consequences that our strategy is not prepared to deal with.

Strangely in this case, the idea of going after Syria in the first place seemed more the idea of the British and French, with the US there to 'lead from behind'; and PM David Cameron took project approval to the British Parliament. Yeah but he after he talked President Obama into stepping forward, Parliament voted it down so the British are now out. Yeah but never fear, the French are still on our side (at least until the next opportunity to surrender occurs). Normally the US waits to build a coalition of NATO forces (yeah but nobody in NATO wants any part of this one), or a world-wide coalition of UN members (yeah but no UN members seem to want sign up).

So today Congress is back at work in Washington; but they're not likely to take up the hearings about the NSA, IRS, or Benghazi that they said were urgent when they left. Others may want to talk about the Budget or the Debt Ceiling lest financial doom occur. Yeah but the President said he really needs a vote on his Syrian resolution this week.  After all, Assad is a bad guy and though this war has been going on for two years it's probably past time we got him to leave (yeah but most of his opposition aren't much better and some are far worse)

Truthfully, the President's Syrian Charade seems more like something from a 'Looney Tunes' cartoon, and as the President speaks to the American people and to Congress, my guess is that some of those in the White House old enough to remember the Elmer Fudd character can't help but paraphrase the famous quote of its shotgun-toting (that's for you Joe Biden) comic straight man:

"Shhh. Be vewy vewy quiet, I'm hunting yeah buts."