Thursday, October 31, 2013

It's A Matter Of Trust

Some love is just a lie of the heart
The cold remains of what began with a passionate start
And they may not want it to end
But it will it's just a question of when

Some love is just a lie of the soul
A constant battle for the ultimate state of control
After you've heard lie upon lie
There can hardly be a question of why 

("A Matter of Trust" by Billy Joel)

I'm not sure of Mr. Joel's politics, or whether he'd approve of my use of his words in this fashion, but his 1986 song began to stick in my head last night as the reports of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius' performance before a Congressional Committee and the President made a Boston road trip and attempted to dig himself out of the hole he's recently discovered surrounding the place where the Affordable Healthcare Act used to sit as 'settled law'.

There are those with far more established credentials than yours truly regarding the Washington and Boston events.  My interest ... actually my disappointment, is more far-reaching than with one law and far deeper than with one Administration (though the current occupant of the White House seems determined to double down on distortion at every opportunity).  

My disenchantment could go back as far as Bush '41.  "Read my lips. No new taxes." cost the elder Bush an entire term's worth of credibility, and inevitably an election.  It should have.  What he said was disingenuous and ultimately to be a lie.  Maybe you can excuse the elder Bush as trying to go along to get along with a difficult to get along with Congress (All in the spirit of compromise, right?); but ultimately, it was his broken promise. 

His successor parsed the truth so finely that it all but disappeared for a time in this country.  Clinton wasn't the first to have an affair in office, nor was he even the most creative where his Oval Office peccadilloes were concerned.  His on-camera denials during interviews and the feeble defense of trying to redefine "is" during a deposition however, did neither the man nor the office any credit for truth or authenticity.

As for 'Bush the Younger', while I can't necessarily fault him for the misinterpreted data on 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' that were universally accepted at the time, I can however register my discontent over the breach of the public trust that was the "Patriot Act", and his beginning the eras of 'Too Big To Fail' and the 'Corporate Bailout'.

The current resident however, appears to have cornered the market on mistrust, bringing a level of deception back to the White House not seen since Richard Nixon. 

It was bad enough when we were handed a flimsy story about a YouTube video after the attack on the Consulate in Benghazi.  No one seemed to care about another troubled tale from the Mideast and the prevarication of the video allowed most an excuse to ignore it.  Unfortunately, the unnecessary and off-repeated fiction of the UN Ambassador, the Secretary of State, and the President eventually changed the narrative from one of error and strategic misjudgment to one of shameless fabrication and cover up.

The handling of Top Secret material by the NSA and its subsequent release by Wiki-leaks and the British Press had the nation wondering whether the government could hold on to the truth (when occasionally it stumbled over it), let alone keep it secret.  Attacking members of the AP and Fox News instead of the perpetrators didn't help their credibility.  Lying to FISA courts to go after these reporters however, once again changed the tone of the story and made it not about security, but instead about trust.

If it wasn't the NSA it was the IRS, not that anyone actually trusts them to tell the truth; but the confirmed reports now appear to show the government using this nefarious bureaucracy to attack political opponents in the days running up to the last Presidential election.  The stories on whether such activity was going on, how widespread it was, and at what level it was being controlled continue to change on a daily basis.  While we still don't know the whole story yet, we do know that both the Press and Congress were being given the facts that should have earned their presenters a Pulitzer, if not an Academy Award. 

But this tale started today with the ACA; a subject for which the list of falsehoods is becoming too long to accurately keep track of.  Misstatements about how ready the website was for roll out, its actual (and final) cost, even when it will finally be fixed, vary wildly.  Heath plans that we were told were 'grandfathered in' apparently weren't, but union 'Cadillac Plans' that were supposed to rate a penalty now appear to have been given status that individual plans weren't.  A law that we were told would apply equally to those in the White House and Congress now has special subsidies and now no longer does.  The employer mandate of this 'settled law' is rewritten by a stroke of the President's pen, but the individual mandate (and its 'tax') remains whether you can obtain the product you are legally obligated to within the allotted time or not. 

Well then, who's responsible for these prevarications and misrepresentations, the falsehoods and fabrications that have become increasingly associated with the ACA.  Apparently the Republicans are, in spite of having failed to cast a single vote for its passage in either house.  Not wanting it implemented is evidently the same thing as lying about it.  The website contractors are to blame for lying about the system's lousy roll out.  Private insurance companies appear to be liars because they're obeying ACA regulatory statutes written by the HHS that force them to cancel your policy.  Finally, you're to blame for apparently lying about the problems you've experienced with the website, fibbing about the amount of time you're wasting to gather information, and telling falsehoods about the promises that were made to you and now appear to have been broken. (For shame on you!) 

Future Oval Office residents and their press secretaries will curse this Administration in the years ahead, not for what they've done, but for sowing the seeds of mistrust amongst the Press Corps and the American people.  As for the rest of our lying masters in Washington DC, they may not have invented the concepts of deception, but they're trying to patent it while attempting to turn it into an art subsidized form.  To paraphrase a former Toledo Mayor (who cannot be named):  "This law is full of half-truths, mistruths, and outright lies".

If there's a bright side to the deceit, distortion, and disinformation being generated in Washington DC these days however, it's that the growing stench of mistrust that the Obama Administration has created may have done what neither the abuses of previous White House residents (Republican and Democrat alike) nor the rise of the Tea Party could have.  The paucity of truth coming from Washington may finally have become so egregious that the electorate may finally be pissed off enough to do something about the lying bastards (and bitches) to whom we grant the reins of government. 

This taint has reached the point where it's no longer about the fictitious narrative delivered by Barack Obama and his minions.  Now it's just a matter of trust; and based on the latest polls, no one outside of Washington trusts anyone inside of it ... no matter what they say.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

TFP Column: Under-promise And Under-deliver

"Though not a professional political operative or someone who has personal experience with running for office,  I may have an implausible bit of strategy that might work for the most desperate or reckless among you: Under-promise and under-deliver.”  

Now admittedly while the above is true, I do have some considerable experience in the concept of under-promising, from having made a career out of it.  As for under-delivering, I have little fear of contradiction as to my level of expertise in this area; having a lifetime of it to point to.  

Recommending it therefore as a political strategy in the last month leading up to an election in "Under-promise And Under-deliver" might have some actual (if rather twisted) value that can only be discovered after reading this offering on the website of the TFP.  (Besides, I've already published a disclaimer to cover any potential blame.)

The good news however, is that regardless of the quality of the writing in the column or the value of the advice contained therein, you would still be able to look forward to so much more that's to come in this week's 'Star' edition, not to mention the weekend version of Toledo's largest Sunday circulation and Ohio's Best Weekly newspaper (at least according to the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists), the Toledo Free Press.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

I'm Such A Lousy Twit

There are few from my past that can say (at least if you count only those above room temperature or attempting to do so with a straight face) that I've ever had a problem in expressing my opinion.  There are many in fact, who knew me before I began my efforts for the Toledo Free Press or even the technology of this blog, who would have told you that they thank God daily for the available technology, since before its invention, it was their dubious duty to at least attempt to keep me from expressing my thoughts and opinions constantly, and in annoying detail.   (And I was thought to be such a quiet child at least at one point in my life.)   You would think therefore, that someone cognizant enough of the technology of multiple forms of Internet communication to have had a blog for years and be writing an online column for a weekly newspaper, someone who regularly communicates with the world around them through the magic of Facebook or Linkedin, would be savvy enough to take the use of Twitter in stride.  In this of course, you would be utterly and completely wrong.

In my own defense (and as I have previously mentioned), let me say that my smartphone is much smarter than its owner and should have known enough to prevent me access to such nonsense.  Let me also mention by way of explanation that the 9-3/4 digits that remain marginally available at the ends of my upper extremities are somewhat thick, twisted, and crippled from an unfortunate combination of 30 years of abusing them while defending myself during hockey games and an almost equal (but only partially overlapping) period of battering them with bookbinding and newspaper machinery that I was apparently all but wholly incapable of getting out of the way of.  As a consequence, my efforts at producing something resembling intelligible English on small electronic devices are only slightly better (and more frequent) than those of my simian counterparts from the famous 'Infinite Monkey Theorem'.

You can only imagine the chagrin, social embarrassment, and self-loathing that I feel as I admit that .... (sorry, this is hard for me) ... not only do I appear to be no damn good at 'Tweeting'; but that perhaps because of this ineptitude in the process, I have little interest in future attempts to do so.  Oh, I recognize that this is little more than an admission of the onset of social leprosy (no offense to lepers) that will no doubt see me branded with a Scarlet 'T'; or the acceptance of a physical impairment brought on by old age (and perhaps even senility ... which would cause me to forget my branding), but I don't much care.  I must admit however, that such because of the lack of such ability or desire, I've discovered that it's apparently now but entirely impossible to perform even some of the most basic asocial functions, like properly following ones favorite TV shows, celebrities, or a even network news program.  

This is not to say that I don't have a Twitter account.  I do.  Of course the number of people that I'm following and that of those following me barely reaches the microscopic level in the great sea of Twitter accessibility, but this should not be unexpected when the hard drive on my computer sends up a puff of cobwebs and dust on the few occasions that I attempt to access the requisite software involved.  I do access it however, usually when I'm sent an email that tells me that people I know have things that they would like to tell me in the 'Twitterverse'.  Unfortunately (and invariably) however, I discover that the 'tweets' mentioned in these email actually have little or nothing to do with me and far more to do with a bit of self-aggrandizement on the part of my 'tweeting' acquaintances.

Don't get me wrong here!  I have absolutely nothing against the concept of self-aggrandizement (regardless of how little good that it's done me over the years).  No one who spends as much time as I do in the self-aggrandizing practice of writing understands its need more.  I am beginning to believe however, that like my temporarily overcome addiction to the consumption of large (if not epic) quantities of CH3CH2OH; it's one of the dangers out there in the great big wide world whose charms are all but lost on me, having cost me far too much already.  Like their chemical counterpart, the far too frequent sounding of the 'look at me' alert is now a particular perilous one for me.  

The more that I scribble for public consumption, the more's the chance that I will unknowingly or unwittingly fall prey to the siren's song of thinking that some part of the staggering stream of nonsense coming out of my verbal fire hose is in some way actually 'important'.  This danger, for those who haven't yet experienced it, is that such conclusions often lead the victim further into a maze of the misguided misconception of in their own importance.  In such ways are professional politicians, dictators, and fools made.  While gladly accepting my position amongst the latter rather than the former, I am all too aware of the dangerous line I tread in my journeys.

Of the 'Seven Deadly Sins' in fact, it is that misplaced pride that I must most fear.  (No wait, considering my eating habits, perhaps I should fear gluttony instead.  Or is it vainglory.  Wait, where does pride become vainglory anyway.  Anyway, maybe it's sloth I should fear, or at least it could be if I wasn't too damn lazy to do anything but lay around and eat.  Greed ... no.  Not that I couldn't use the money, but I'm probably too slothful to even count the things I covet.  Lust ... well yeah sure, but not so you'd notice, though I'd be willing to try it given half a chance.  Now that I think of it though, realizing that it's not Lust has me bordering somewhere between wrath and despondency.  Fortunately I'm too slothful to throw a temper tantrum or kill myself.  You know what, this is far too complicated and confusing.  I started with pride and I'm going to stick with it.  Where was I?)  These days it seems that far too much of my life is spent in the unreasonable and often unwise practice of 'Look at me'.

So unless someone can give me an overwhelming reason not to do so, I think it's about time I gave up not only on the use, but even on the ownership of my Twitter account.  With all of time that I spend in the virtual world and on the other social networks I'm involved with, I believe that something must go in order to regain some small part of my non-electronic existence.   It's not that I have anything against you Twitter, but I don't seem to have thoughts important enough to share on a 24-7 basis, to understand the need for sharing them even if I did, or the ability to do so properly on the devices the world provides to do so.  Let's face it.  I'm just bad at tweeting.

Besides ... since I speak lousy electronic shorthand, the 140 character limitation has always annoyed me anyway.

What do you mean 'twit' is not the proper term to use for someone sending a 'tweet'?  Do you mean to tell me that in spite of the apparent appropriateness of the term, that I didn't even get that part of the damn lingo right!  Whatever ... I am so done with this.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

It's Not My Fault!

 This effort has already been accepted by and will be going up on the website of  the Toledo Free Press here, but I couldn't resist posting it here for no other reason than the ability to put in this YouTube video clip from "The Blues Brothers", a 1980 movie that was filmed nearby my old neighborhood in the Chicago area.

"No, I didn't. Honest... I ran out of gas. I... I had a flat tire. I didn't have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn't come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locust. It wasn't my fault. I swear to God!"
- 'Joliet' Jake Blues ("The Blues Brothers")

Enough news cycles have now passed that a mostly disconnected public has lost interest in the hype of the Government Shutdown and manufactured threat of the Default. If you doubt me, ask how many realize that since last Thursday when the agreement was signed, the limit was raised, and the floodgates were opened; that government debt jumped by the rather amazing amount of $500 billion.

Now some might consider this selective inattention on the part of the electorate astonishing, others are impressed by the government's apparent ability to stop time where spending was concerned right before we purportedly reached our previous limit instead. Still others might point to the dubious (and now clearly proven fraudulent) claim made back in September by the President (and shared by Neil Irwin of the Washington Post): "Because it's called raising the debt ceiling, I think a lot of Americans think it's raising our debt. It is not raising our debt. This does not add a dime to our debt." (Really?) What I find miraculous however, is the lack of blame that's been attached to anyone involved with the situation.

I'm not talking about Democrats (or the mainstream media) blaming the Tea Party Republicans in the House and Senate for the shutdown. That's little more than the expected and rather tired rhetoric used to gear up the fundraising efforts of the base running up to the 2014 election. Nor am I talking about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who years ago talked about the Republicans being "the party of no" but has recently taking up that mantle upon himself in refusing to look at anything from the House of which he disapproves. Then again, why should they be held accountable when no one either recently or currently in office (elected or appointed) appears to be responsible for anything that's happened in their areas of responsibility?

Four US citizens, including an Ambassador, were killed in Benghazi; and a year later, no one's to blame. In spite of previous attacks that occurred and the fact that the compound in Benghazi was known to be indefensible; nothing was done to correct it. In spite of the fact that we have fast-deployment teams stationed around the world, none of them were deployed (or even put on standby alert).  In spite of the fact that the safety of US sovereign territory and the diplomatic staff is the direct responsibility of the Departments of State and Defense, no one has been called out, held to blame, or in any way punished. Hillary Clinton (State) and Leon Panetta (Defense) were in fact lauded for the performance of their duties when they finally resigned, in spite of having this glaring failure of leadership occur on their watch.

NSA is clearly out of control with the electronic eavesdropping not only on unfriendly foreign governments and terrorists threats, but on friendly governments and citizens in this country as well. Only the most broad and unconstitutional interpretations of the Patriot Act permit anything close to such spying. Only the most naive and low-information citizens can believe that the massive data storage facilities currently being built in Utah will not be used to retain data that the government is Constitutionally not permitted to obtain without a specific warrant. Yet no consequences appear to the forthcoming for the Director of the NSA (Gen. Keith Alexander), or for the current or former Secretary of Defense (Chuck Hagel and Leon Panetta, respectively) ostensibly in charge of this illegal data collection and its center.

As for spying on us, look no further than the IRS, destined to be the new watchdogs of our private healthcare information. The only thing lower than their approval ratings appear to be the ethics of their operating policies. It must be apparent to all but the sight-impaired that managers were either dictating policy or creating a pervasive atmosphere that sought to restrict the free speech rights of political foes of the President. Lois Lerner, an apparent key player in the illegal effort to obtain such information from these Tea Party Groups and an even more illegal effort to share it with the Federal Election Commission; was allowed to retire and begin collecting her pension however, after an almost smug claim to her own Constitutional right of a 5th Amendment privilege.  Ms. Lerner simply admitted her innocence before a Congressional Committee, and rode off into the sunset with her saddlebags full of cash. 
As for the current situation with the Affordable Care Act and its implementation, what can one say? Oh sure the website is an over-priced nightmare that cost too much. (The fact that there seems to be a margin of error of $200 million for what it cost, in spite of its epic failure, might be a giveaway as to future cost expectations.) But regardless of whether it's $400 million or $600 million for the failure that it's become, we still don't know what a working site will finally cost. Speaking of cost, we were told that premium costs would go down, but according to the Heritage Foundation, they've gone up in at least 45 of 50 states.  They have to in fact go up in fact, since unless you live in the heavily regulated states of NY or CA, the plan you were told you could keep by the President will not be one that you can in fact retain. It's all but impossible that an existing plan anywhere else will meet new (and still being written) ACA regulations, and that you will be required to take an approved and more expensive plan with higher rates and deductibles that does.  As for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, what can one say other than the President continues to have the greatest confidence in her (which is government speak for "you're doomed").

Is this incompetence or malice? I don't know and I don't care. What I do care about however, is that everyone elected or appointed to a position in DC lately seems to be pulling a 'Joliet Jake'. Managers and Department heads at the IRS, HHS, State, NSA, and Defense are retained, promoted, or allowed to retire with full pensions in spite of the illegal activity committed or the epic failures under their leadership. Incumbent legislators in the House and Senate who've consistently failed to produce a budget, run up the debt, and sloughed their regulatory responsibilities off to a faceless bureaucracy, are nevertheless re-elected with comfortable majorities. The Constitution that all these with power and privilege vow to protect and defend is no longer treated as the rule of law that limits and binds the government, but instead 'more of guideline' to be followed or ignored at personal whim.

More than any time in this country's history, Washington DC has become not only a 'logic-free zone', but a 'consequence-free territory' for those who live or work in it. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Island of Misfit Politicians

Not too many years ago, I took a job in an rather dysfunctional office environment.  While there was nothing wrong with the office itself or the place in which it was located, one couldn't help but notice over time that there was something disturbing about this sanctuary of industry.  Try as I might however, I could put no finger on what about this isle of employment that was so unsettling.  No matter who was in charge of it (and that was an ever-changing array of characters) or which employees came or went; there were still far too many incidents of embarrassingly disconcerting behavior, annoying inter-personal conflict, and incomprehensible temper tantrums; episodes which occasionally even rose to the level of infectious mental meltdown.

One day as the Christmas season approached however, and while someone in the office discussed the week's prime time holiday TV schedule, a singular point of clarity shook me to my very foundations.  I suddenly found myself flashing back to the days of my youth and my introduction to a 1964 made-for-TV movie entitled "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer".  It wasn't the title character whose luminous snout lent this tawdry offering its title; nor even Hermey, a rather strange little elf who wanted to be a dentist that struck a disconcerting chord with me however.  It was instead "The Island of Misfit Toys", that was discovered by Rudolph and his gang of intrepid wanderers in their travels.

This island, for those of you who have somehow missed this quirky claymation classic, is a place full of wagons with square wheels, planes that can't fly, and even a 'Charlie-In-The-Box' (instead of a Jack).  In other words, it was an Island of mutant toys that even the X-men probably couldn't love.  It was also apparently, a place into which I had fit into rather handily for some time ... a fact that looking back on it now, I find strangely demoralizing. 

As I also now look back on the recent made-for-cable-news dramas of the 'partial shutdown' of non-essential federal employees that occurred because once again Congress ignored its fiduciary responsibilities in passing an annual budget; I cannot help but wonder at the comparison.  As I contemplate the 'imminent default' on a national debt that can only occur when these same 'Chicken Littles' threaten us with dire consequences by discussing a failure to pay the interest on debt that they incurred if not allowed to raise the credit limit on the national credit card; I cannot help but be struck by the overwhelming similarities between the cartoon misfit location and Washington DC.

Think about it.  Isn't there something slightly physically off-putting in the appearance of many of these public servants to start with?  Without commenting on the attractiveness of their politics, it's certainly not difficult to face the concept that neither Harry Reid nor Nancy Pelosi is likely to win the 'Sexiest Legislator Alive' in People magazine (even the forthcoming 'Extra-special Halloween Zombie Edition).  As for John Boehner and Mitch McConnell; they too capture the sometimes unattractive spirit of this costumed season by looking more like professional undertakers than senior statesmen.  As for the guy in the White House, one cannot help but notice the eerie (eary?) resemblance to a certain famous Disney character made famous in a 1941 animated feature (or the polka dot version depicted on the Island in Rudolph).

As for those from either side of the aisle whose physical appearance is slightly more appealing (if not downright photogenic), isn't there an unhealthy aroma of zealotry that instead often permeates the room around them, tainting their efforts with something that's more felt than seen?  It's so pervasive that one cannot help but wonder in many of these cases whether a 'Dorian Gray' style portrait might be tucked away in an upstairs room of their ancestral homes, and whose appearance now carries the sins and scars of their misfit nature (political and otherwise).

Even if taken at their most appealing however, all these political misfits are people who have sought a career in the exercise of power over their fellow man.  Regardless of the humility and altruism with which they may have entered the fray, or any misguided attempts to retain them; the modern day game of party politics requires participants a lifetime of self-serving and self-interest in order to lay claim to one's place on this island elitism.  And once having achieved a true misfit level of pompous legislative nobility, few have the strength of character to resign their positions of power until unavoidable senility of Island life, revelation of unforgivable public error, or a decision of overwhelming political disfavor to overtake them.

No, there's little doubt that over the years, Washington DC has become little more than a government incarnation of this imaginary place that in its reality should be called the 'Island of Misfit Politicians' (a term which is probably in fact redundant).  Far different from the sad place of unloved toys of Rudolph's adventure however, these misfits see themselves as well-loved indeed (or at least self-loved) and seek anything but freedom from their sordid island retreat.  Appearing to all but revel in their misfit status and nature, they do all they can to stake whatever greedy claim they can to even the meanest plot on its shores; and instead fight to the death to retain the power and privilege of their misfit island paradise. 

Unlike Rudolph's long ago adventure, I suspect perhaps that far it's too late to rescue any of these misguided misfits and see them off to good homes, should they even allow us the opportunity to do so.  So since we cannot rescue them, perhaps it's past time that we sought to rescue ourselves from them instead.  The continuous exhibition of their misfit nature is tainting even the land around them, and all but unfit to live in. (Where's the EPA when you need them?) 

Before we create the next Island of Misfit Politicians however, we should consider changing the rules to save them from their own misfit nature.  For their own good (and that of the nation), let's limit their time as misfits, their exposure to the toxicity of the Island, and return them to society in general; where with luck, there may yet be hope of them fulfilling a less misfit existence.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Halloween Costumes - 2013

While this effort has already been picked up by the Toledo Free Press with both it's local Toledo-oriented entries as well as National suggestions,  I thought that it would be worthwhile however for those who might not understand the local  Glass City references to post only those costume ideas that had national implications here.  Besides, there always seems to be additions to this annual effort as the week of its  creation progresses (as a matter of fact, additions have already been made since this was originally posted.), and the TFP has both space and modification restrictions that must be respected.  If you check back later this week therefore, you're likely to discover additions to this entry that you missed earlier.  

Here is the link to the Toledo Free Press website effort that includes the Toledo specific entries as well as most of the national ones.

Halloween is almost upon us, though there's still plenty of time to choose a costume. For those of you who remain 'costume-challenged' for this all-important candy grab however, we here at “Just Blowing Smoke” have once again come up with our annual list of politically-oriented (and politically incorrect) suggestions that could make you the hit of your neighborhood, if not a viral source of public ridicule on Facebook and YouTube.
  • Place some orange cones on your driveway and install a flimsy gate across the sidewalk leading to your front door with a broken lock and a newly painted 'Closed' sign hanging from it. Leave your porch light on however to encourage participants to push past these feeble barriers. When revelers ring the bell and say 'Trick or Treat', tell them they shouldn't be there but give them candy anyway. If asked about this apparently contradictory behavior, tell them you're the National Park Service.
  • Take a big piece of plastic sheeting and paint a wavy blue line across it.  Wrap it around yourself and fasten it together; then make your neighborhood begging rounds.  When asked, tell them that you're a glass, and you think you're half-empty.  What do they think?
  • Wear a nice suit and.Trick or Treat from door to door while weeping and mumbling logically contradictory statements on the state of the nation and laws that should be passed as if nobody is listening (they won't be). When asked, wipe a tear from your eye and stammer 'God bless America', before telling them you are Speaker of the House John Boehner. 
  • Trick or Treat from door to door, carrying either a recently minted dog turd or freshly filled diaper to sniff right before the door is answered. When residents note your pinched, rather constipated expression and ask about your costume, tell them you are Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and refuse to accept any candy they offer you.
  • Wear a piece of poster board on your chest with the neatly printed words: “We are experiencing technical difficulties, please stand by ...” as you walk your neighborhood route. When asked, tell them that you are the 'Affordable Healthcare Website', take their candy, and apologize for not being able to give them anything in return; requesting that they try again later (after all, it's settled law) before moving on.
  • Trick or Treat from door to door spouting the most wild, illogical, and even insane beliefs about the news at the top of your voice; making sure to periodically blame Republicans as the cause of the world's ills. When asked, tell them you're a show host for MSNBC.
  • Trick or Treat the neighborhood and give the normal greeting when the door is answered. When homeowners attempt to speak however, interrupt their attempts to do so as foolish while disparagingly insisting that you know best about everything and insist that you are only taking their candy 'for the folks'. You will, of course, be masquerading as Fox News host Bill O'Reilly; and should be ashamed of yourself for providing him even that much attention.
  • Wear whatever you want in while making your Trick or Treat rounds.  When asked who you're supposed to be and what you've done, tell them you're a member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). When they explain that they don't know who that is, tell them that neither does anyone else, but that you're charged with cleaning up the poison gas in Syria and that you haven't actually done much of anything yet ... except for winning this year's Nobel Peace Prize.  
  • Come to think of it, if you would like to Trick or Treat your neighborhood in a formal tuxedo with tails and can speak with a Norwegian or Swedish accent (I use the Swedish cook one from Sesame Street), you can go as a member of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.  When they answer the door, give them one of the little blue ribbons you'll need to carry and explain that these days you're giving out the prize to damn near anyone whether they've ever done anything or not.  
  • Wear something business casual and carry a clipboard full of computer printouts, along with your 'Trick or Treat' bag.  When homeowners answer the door, page through the list 'harrumphing', while telling them you're from the NSA and they shouldn't feel obligated to give you a special reward not to release the information they've gathered on you. 
  • Kick a can from house to house on your Trick or Treat route and lethargically hold out your bag when the door is answered.  If questioned on your costume or your lousy attitude, tell homeowners you're a member of the new Congressional Budget Conference Committee and you're as optimistic of success in your coming Congressional efforts as you are of getting $20 bills from them for a 'Treat'.
  • Drag out that old zombie costume from your 'Thriller' days but carry around a newspaper delivery bag instead of a Trick or Treat bag.  When those on your route ask about your costume, you might have to explain that it's the daily newspaper and not the carrier who's all but dead; but most will get the message. 
  • If you want to really scare everyone however, you may dress however you'd like and carry a sign around your neck with the old Ronald Reagan quote about "the nine most terrifying words in the English language""We're from the government and were here to help."
  • Wear a pair of jeans, flannel shirt, and cowboy hat; while also wearing President Obama masque on your 'Trick or Treat' rounds.  When asked, tell them that you are an out-of-work rodeo clown.  
  • Walk your neighborhood in whatever you'd like and when the houses in the neighborhood answer their doors, mumble "Trick or Treat" in a disgruntled voice.  When asked about your attitude and costume (or lack of it), tell them that you are a non-essential federal employee, and were much happier when still at home watching "The View" on the shutdown's paid vacation.
    (By the way those of you actually capable of doing this should be ashamed ... not for enjoying the paid vacation, but of watching "The View".)
  • Refuse to dress up, Trick or Treat, or decorate your house for Halloween; but buy a bunch of candy and leave your porch light on to encourage neighborhood participation in the festivities. When Trick or Treaters arrive, smile and engage them pleasantly, but refuse to give them any of the clearly visible candy you possess. When asked about this apparent contradiction, tell them you're a member of Congress and you're intention is to keep all the goodies for yourself.

    Friday, October 11, 2013

    Silly Bits VII

    I am traveling this weekend and therefore submitting my weekend post before I depart.  Sorry, no apologies for any apparent silliness involved with this early submission since it could be said to compensate for last weekend's late 'Silly Bits' entry.  On the other hand, one should probably write off any consideration of timing as simply more silliness.   

    Silliness is not terribly surprising, considering what's going on where the Debt Ceiling and Government Shutdown are concerned.  Many are beginning to look at this as the 'Silly Season' here in the US.  Not to be outdone however, parts of the rest of the world occasionally insist on trying to compete (mostly unsuccessfully) with the pace of silliness that 'The Land of the Free' and 'The Home of the Brave' is trying to set.  Our first entry in this latest edition is just such an example.

    In Oslo, Norway, the announcement awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize was made today.  While a Pakistani schoolgirl, a Congolese doctor, and a US traitor were among those who successfully got through the talent competition and made the finalists; the winner of the Peace Prize begun by Alfred Nobel (the guy who invented dynamite) is in fact not a person this year at all, but an organization.  The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will receive this year's gold medal and $1.25 million cash award.  (Sorry, there's no sash or tiara; but thank goodness, no swimsuit competition either.)

    For those of you who've never heard of the OPCW, don't feel bad.  Most of the world hasn't either.  These are the guys however, who will be responsible for disposing of the chemical weapons in Syria at some point, though they haven't done anything but look around so far.  By now, some of you might be wondering how they could get the prize for something they haven't actually done yet.  You're probably the same ones who applauded the Nobel Committee for awarding it to Barack Obama back in 2009 before having actually done anything as President (even announcing his 'Peace Through Drone Strikes' foreign policy).  This is also the same prize awarded to Al Gore in 2007 for his efforts with regard to climate change.  Can somebody refresh my memory here?  Was his award for generating awareness of the problem or the massive carbon footprint created in his awareness efforts.  (Maybe the Nobel Committee  just has a problem with this award in odd-numbered years.)    

    Locally, the latest Shutdown brouhaha was the Defense Department's announcement earlier this week that it wasn't going to pay survivor benefits immediately to families of soldiers killed in action overseas.  Not only would this failure of payment create a hardship for families attempting to meet their loved ones at Dover Air Force Base as the remains were returned for burial, but it would force them to cover the funeral expenses themselves until the shutdown had ended (and they call Republicans heartless)

    The Defense Department, showing a level of sensitivity that only a government agency can (and eerily reminiscent of the IRS), justified their actions by saying that they warned everyone that these 'non-essential' expenses would result from government shutdown.  And all of this in spite of the fact that both Houses of Congress had passed the 'Pay Our Military Act' to fund the military that the President subsequently signed into law.  Evidently however, Executive Branch attorneys in consultation with each other felt differently, and that same Defense Department didn't see fit to pass on to Congressional oversight committees (or apparently much of anyone else except some 'unnamed White House personnel') that this obviously misnamed bill still didn't cover what the legislators who wrote it thought it did.  

    White House Press Secretary Jay Carney showed more of his own sensitive nature by attempting to politically justify this horrifying insult to the families of those who've made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country.  These offensive and non-responsive comments were to the effect that this wouldn't be a problem if Republicans would just shut down the shutdown.

    In a related story, Congress yesterday apparently fixed the hole in their earlier fix where military death benefits were concerned.  In the meanwhile however, Senator Joe Manchin of Virginia had apparently brokered a deal with Ken Fisher's Maryland-based 'Fisher House Foundation' to step in and cover the costs for these military benefits to the families involved for the government until they could step in once again.  Thursday Press Secretary Jay Carney, not satisfied with previous structural damage to the situation that he'd already done, stated that now a legislative solution was unnecessary since the Defense Department struck a deal with the Fisher House (though not giving credit to the Senator who had actually brokered the deal that the White House was taking credit for).

    Two things to consider here:
    1. Wasn't this the same White House that a while back was looking to eliminate the tax deductions for charitable contributions in order to raise general revenues?  Weren't we told that all things were to be done by government, and that such contributions and organizations were all but unnecessary?  You know, there's a certain consistent inconsistency to the concept of borrowing money from those whose funding you wanted to make harder to obtain in order to make up for your own funding failures.  Perhaps the next step should be instead to make them 'too big to fail'. 
    2. Speaking of the Fisher House Foundation and this loan, since where does the Defense Department or the White House (the branch of government that controls it), get the authority to borrow money (especially from a private concern)?  Incurring debt is the exclusive province of the Congress under Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution.  Therefore entering into even an informal agreement with the Fisher House, regardless of the altruistic nature of the effort, was and is entirely unconstitutional. 
    Have a silly week....

    Tuesday, October 8, 2013

    TFP Column: Sequestered, Shut Down, and Debt Limited

    In spite of the fact that I seem to be contributing in no substantive way to the number of awards one by the Toledo Free Press, Editor-in-Chief Michael Miller continues to accept my submissions. (We all have blind spots)

    Who am I however, to question the judgment of this award winning publication by second guessing their use of "Sequestered, Shutdown, and Debt Limited" this week; while we gear up for the next national financial battle over the Debt Limit even before the previous one over the Shutdown is over.

    The truth however is that this is the endless drama in Washington DC has become a dysfunctional reality show, and there's no understanding any of it.  There's no watching any of it either; as their lack of plot, poor dialogue, and even worse acting make "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" a welcome relief.  (Man, I really hate Reality Shows.)

    Speaking of welcome relief, it's early enough in the week that you have both the mid-week "Star" edition to look forward to, as well the newspaper that not only continues to be the largest circulation Sunday newspaper, but for the fifth year in a row has one the Best Weekly Newspaper in the State of Ohio (at least according the the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists).  I speaking of course, of none other than the Toledo Free Press.


    Friday, October 4, 2013

    Phone Home, If You Still Can

    For those of you unwilling or unable to keep up with never-ending drama of the staff here at 'Just Blowing Smoke', one of the members of the senior staff was recently sidetracked by a bit of major surgery.  (OK, I admit it was me.  But at least I was smart enough to get sick before the Affordable Healthcare Act kicked in.) That in itself is of no consequence however, except for the terrifying insight that this hospital visit provided.

    You see, during the registration process, I was asked to provide some vital statistics to hospital before they would take me within this inner sanctum of medicine and carve me up like a roast chicken.  Besides my insurance information, there were other vital statistics required for my induction.  

    Now in spite of the fact that it occurred at some point during the Cretaceous Period, I was still able to remember my birth date.  Because it was illegally used during my college days as an identification number, I was likewise able to remember my Social Security number.  If asked, I could even have repeated my American Express number after having used it for years to travel and having had to repeat it to hotel check-in and and airline reservation clerks.  Without hesitation, I was likewise able to remember my current address, in spite of the fact that I have moved some seven times since the beginning of the millennium.  When it came to my phone number however, I was stopped cold.

    Let's see.  Oh yeah, it's 330 ... no wait, that was when I lived Medina, OH.  No, it was 706 ... oops, that while in La Grange, GA.  Maybe 614 ... yeah actually that's from Columbus, OH, and I've used it a couple of times; but not recently and not in a while.  Well I lived in the 913 area code now, but somehow that didn't feel right.  You know what, I'll get back to them on that later.  

    OK, next of kin and contact phone number.  No problem.  Sons Sean and Joe both live in the Columbus area and their phone numbers are ....  Well anyway, my daughter Laura's still out in Montclair, NJ and her phone is ...  Wait.  No worries.  After all, my mom and my sisters Kathy and Maureen are right here in town and ... Oh crap! 

    Oh sure, I could walk across the lobby and ask them what their phone numbers are while they're sitting in the waiting room  (my Mom and sister Kathy brought me to the hospital), but that would mean admitting to them that I didn't know their numbers.  My God, asking directions from strangers while driving with a wife and a car full of kids would probably be easier and less embarrassing.  There has to be another way.

    What the hell had happened to me anyway?  I used to know half a dozen hotel chain 800 numbers by heart and that of my four favorite airlines to boot.  I used to have phone numbers of my top twenty customers at my fingertips.  As for my family, dialing them was a no-brainer.  Wait, that's it ... no-brainer.  Years ago, I had all but given up on the expense of a land line telephone and used only a cell phone.  All the numbers I now required were long since programmed into that cell phone and called up on a menu; or better still, voice dialed from that phone.  

    When did all that happen?

    Oh sure, I've long recognized that there's only so much RAM memory in the personal computer and sometimes you have to overwrite existing data when you get a little short on space.  Not to get too technical, but I even recognize that as the hardware (me) gets a little older, some of the the sectors in that RAM memory become corrupted (damaged) and either garbled or no longer accept attempted new data entry.  I just don't remember when I turned this memory process over to a digital device that was designed to make phone calls on.

    What else have I turned over to Samsung or HTC (phone manufacturers) over the last couple of years?  Oh my God!  I no longer remember any of my family's addresses.  Oh sure I can get to their houses, but I can't tell you their addresses any more.  What about birthdays or anniversaries ... nope, mostly gone.  Directions ... long gone.  How about appointments scheduled for my future?  Gone as well.  Oh no, what about the grandkids?  Whew, I can still remember all of them, though at times their ages are a little fuzzy without looking them up in my personal phone directory.  (Well thank goodness for that small favor.)  I thought that I had lost it completely. (I have of course, but a lack of mnemonic acuity appears to be an unrelated problem.)   

    Somehow without noticing it, I have become utterly dependent on an electronic device to maintain the barest shred of memory with regards to the most important things in my existence.  Somehow, and without my conscious consent, I've given over control of my most basic memory functions, my knowledge of friends and family, even my basic connection to the outside world to a device that I'm allowed to replace every two years.  How could I, so proud in the achievement of my personal freedoms (within government strictures, at least), have become completely enslaved to a mere communication device?  How could I have relinquished such control to a sim card?  Oh, the shame of it all ...

    So if I meet you on the street and you see me clutching tightly at my cell phone, fear not.  I am not a part of a movie plot and waiting for a tormentor to contact me to pass on the next clue in a cross-town scavenger hunt to save the world.  In fact, the device clutched in my fevered grip is my tormentor.  While apparently serving in large part for the mind I apparently no longer possess (or at least control), it has become a serious source of addiction that I can no longer refuse.  

    If I appear unaware of you and others around me, take pity.  Having supplanted all but the most basic parts of my memory to it (though the feeding reflex is still apparently in good order), I have allowed my latest 'Smart Phone' to become far too smart for my own good.  This subtle and insidious obsession may have turned me into little more than a reflective simulacrum of its evil capabilities; a twisted electronic zombie, kept alive merely in service to Verizon Wireless.  So phone home if you can, while you can you fools.  There may be no such things as those pods from the B movies to worry about, but smart phones are real; and are coming for you too.

    Wednesday, October 2, 2013

    Monumental Stupidity

    It would be impossible to believe that those of you reading this could have so isolated yourself as to be unaware that the federal government is currently experiencing a 'shutdown'. Many may not know from the coverage however that the 'limited essential personnel' that remain on the job constitute some seventy-five percent of those employed by the nation's largest employer. It should be additionally noted of the remaining twenty-five percent of federal employees sent home, all have had their pay deferred through such shutdowns and later recompensed.
    A degree of hardship still remains for many federal employees across the country who are living paycheck to paycheck or from federal contractors. In most cases however, these hardships are only temporary and those experiencing them will be made whole in the end.
    Strangely however, those who appear to suffer the most under these politically-engineered battles, whether they be a shutdown or sequester, appear to be simple citizens, and not employees of the Feds. This materializes itself especially in the case of those choosing to take advantage of our national parks or monuments.
    We've all heard the past stories about the cancellation of White House Tours for schoolchildren, tourist trips ruined by locked museums, and vacationing families barred from national parks. This week however, the impregnable barrier was in Washington DC, and was faced by war veterans that were barred from monuments in the nation's capital that celebrated their exploits.
    In one of the most monumental cases of poor public relations (pun intended), a group veterans from Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight were barred from crossing barricades set up around the World War II Memorial yesterday. This group of intrepid warriors however, who had faced far fiercer fortifications during their time in uniform, stormed these sorry ramparts and soon celebrated a well-deserved victory within the confines of a space dedicated to their own previous efforts and the memories of their brothers-in-arms.
    For those who've never heard of this worthy organization before, Honor Flight is a group of non-profit organizations around the country that arranges trips for veterans to be transported to Washington in order to experience the memorials created to celebrate their service to the nation. Along with the chaperons (who pay for their own trip costs in order to volunteer their service), Honor flight otherwise picks up all of the costs involved for the veterans on what is normally a day-trip for this purpose.
    Poorly executed political brinksmanship led representatives of the two major political parties to attempt to lay blame for this sorry example of strategy on each other. Those serving in well paying jobs as elected officials attempted to deny access to those whose service to the nation was far greater; for no better reason than simple political advantage. Such blatant failure to perform their duty only added insult to injury by denying access to those whose service to the nation was performed honorably, was committed for no better reason than trying to win an election 13 months away. The current Commander-in-Chief's sorry approval ratings could do nothing to turn the tide in the propaganda battle, since they could only be celebrated in comparison to even worse numbers for both parties in the national legislature.
    Wednesday yet another Honor Flight disembarked in DC, this one filled with those from the Kansas and Missouri areas. Surprisingly, instead of being met with the breached barriers of yesterday's successful assault, these troops were greeted instead with open gates as the conquering heroes that they deserved. Many of those whose misdeeds had caused this situation by surrendering their responsibilities for the last year now performed a complete about face in the last 24 hours. In a show of political expediency that they seemed incapable of achieving only days before within the legislature, some now desperately attempted to regain the political high ground through a public reversal of tactics. The performance of such a tawdry displays of strategic showmanship however, only showed many of them as unworthy to polish the boots that these former warriors once wore.  (Even the French were ashamed.)
    Next week the group visiting is instead expected to be from Northwest Ohio. That Honor Flight Group is currently assessing the strategic objective and the timing of their own assault, since according to the National Park Service “any attempt to access them will result in being arrested for trespassing”, except for Arlington National Cemetery. Assuming that one side or the other has still not shown either the tactical ability or the moral courage to end this conflict honorably; I'm afraid that Congress's continued pattern of petty politics and false appeasement will do little but illustrate their monumental stupidity.

    This effort was later picked up and reprinted by the: