Friday, November 14, 2014

TFP Column: Dumb and Dumber-er in politics

As proof that there is not only a quirky, but perhaps even benignly evil bit of timing between real life and cinema, it’s hard not to notice next week’s release of a movie that would have probably have been better served by being left alone to die long ago: “Dumb and Dumber.” While it’s perhaps unfair to disparage “Dumb and Dumber To,” film that has yet to be released (although judging by the trailers already out there, not releasing it would be doing it, its producers, and the viewing public a favor).

I’m talking of course, about the occurrence and results of this week’s mid-term election, where the Republican party attempted to exhibit the real-life version of the “Dumb …” franchise by attempting to get away from the stigma of being the ‘Party of No’ by having no national concept of what it was they stood for. Dumber of course, being portrayed by the concept of Democrats attempting to show that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery by running candidates with the same predilection for ‘hoof in mouth disease’ that the Republicans did during the previous election cycle.

Proving that it’s often better to be lucky than good however, Republicans somehow managed to get re-elected a Senator who established his Kansas residency by claiming to rent a recliner from one of the constituents in his district. Democrats countered with lunacy straight out of “Mad Men” that their constituency could fight the ‘War Against Women’ by telling those of the fairer gender not to worry their pretty little heads about such complicated things as the economy, unemployment or foreign policy as long as someone in government would guarantee them a federal health subsidy for their uterus.
Republicans promoted change by running the same tired faces that they’d been showing up with since Clinton, while Democrats attempted to prove that that the American voter, while blind, misinformed and generally disinterested, seldom turns out to vote for a slate of candidates that the national party has already acknowledged as likely to lose.

Pundits on both sides may debate which candidates committed the greatest faux pas on this year’s campaign trail, and they’ll have a surprisingly large and bipartisan list to choose from. One that you won’t see, however, is the Democratic Party announcement to focus its money and effort on governors’ races to the detriment of their efforts in the Senate.  (How did that work out for you, by the way?)

The Senate Minority Leader (soon to be Majority Leader) and the President each held their press conferences Wednesday to discuss the meeting that they’re going to have later this week about the agenda of the upcoming lame duck Congressional sessions coming soon. (Only politicians consider the meetings about their meetings about their meetings of any real import.)
Both of these public statements continued to fulfill the promises of “Dumb and Dumber” by wasting the electorates’ time recapping what we already knew. Mitch McConnell said that he knew who the President is and vice versa  (thank you Captain Obvious). The President, meanwhile, reminded us of his continued promises to do something about the nation’s problems if Congress didn’t (difficult when both were on break to run for office). Both mentioned their willingness to compromise in such a way as to make it abundantly clear that neither really was.

Little mention was made about the money involved in this year’s election, since Democrats spent more than Republicans and (according to Fox News) that the $4 billion total was a fraction of what the nation spent on Halloween costumes and candy. The only entertainment left out of today’s session was the one never heard that: “Elections have consequences.”

Never fear however, the next sequel is just around the corner. By the end of 2015, the next election cycle will be in full swing again and most of Congress will return to becoming too busy running for their jobs again to actually do them. I hear that they’ve even got a working title for it: “Dumb and Dumber – Bush vs Clinton Again?”

Friday, September 5, 2014

TFP Column (not quite): Water Water Everywhere

Sometimes despite the best of efforts, one of my writing efforts doesn't make into the Toledo Free Press.  (I know, who would believe such things, but they're true nonetheless.) There are reasons for this, and perhaps even a legendary excuse or two involved involved with such personal lapses.  All responsibility for such failures, I assure you, ultimately remain mine.

That being said, I was disappointed enough with this most recent failure to look for an alternative to burying it in a drawer (or filing it in the round cabinet), especially since I believed it to be a respectable (and occasionally clever) effort.  Having discovered that the Mayor felt unfettered by the passage of time in telling his side of the story, I decided that I could similarly disregard time and space, drag out the tired platform of a blog that has seen offerings far too infrequently, and let somebody read my side as well.  I hope you enjoy it ...

Ohio is a state uniquely blessed with the natural resource of water; on all sides bordered and in many places divided by it. As it has ever been in the world, owning the access to such resources has often meant power.

While not finding itself blessed to be on a Great Lake, the building of dams to create three large reservoirs was instead good enough to grant water power to Columbus. Control of access to that source granted real negotiating power to the state capital, power used for many years to improve Columbus's ability to expand and control its borders with its neighbors.

Toledo was not immune to the lure of 'water power' in its past, often manipulating its neighbors out of their own access through a combination of smiling persuasiveness and aggressive arm twisting that such a need was unnecessary. The few pennies more that such communities paid to serve Toledo's water power was justified, since that cost freed them of construction and maintenance of infrastructure that was solely Toledo's burden to bear.

And when only a few years ago the Glass City told interested parties planning the potential location of an inter modal facility in the region to plan where they would; but it would be the city itself, with its ability to grant or deny access to water for any such project, which would in the end decide; that was just the exercise of such power.

Like the child who for years has enjoyed showing off the sharpened blade of the family heirloom, occasionally even removing it from its oil-wrapped rags and raising it in a feigned threatening manner. It's something quite again when the threat becomes real, and the fear more than merely something to scare the children with.

Or was it?

It seems that some of the unreasoning panic over the Algae bloom and the toxin from dying microcystin that occurred may have been more of a 'Chicken Little' episode than first portrayed. As reported on by Maggie Thurber in Ohio, the levels of the toxin in the water supply were such that World Health Organization guidelines stated that the average person could consume two liters of it per day for a lifetime without any threat to health. So why the panic?  Because it was the WATER DEPARTMENT!

Now back when I first moved to Toledo, the Water Department had a reputation for being a leper colony of municipal mismanagement. Here the dead and dying politically; well-connected, but less successful city employees 'took a window seat' (were left sitting at a chair doing nothing but looking out a window) until they could retire or the world lost interest in them.

This is not to say that the department deserved no respect, but that it received little or none from the citizens, as well as the city.  It was traditionally and equally disrespected budget-wise as well.  Maintaining infrastructure isn't sexy after all, and few politicians find traction in trying to drum up votes by attempting to fix a few pipes that no one will ever see when there's a dog park or a swimming pool that can be opened.

Mostly however, Water Departments are there so that politicians can do what politicians do. Those that like to spend money to no real purpose for example, use them to do so. Hence City councilperson Lindsay Webb would like to spend $175,000 that the city doesn't have on a study it doesn't need.

The Mayor however, would like to take it further, make the city's history of 'out of sight, out of mind' maintenance where the department into a policy for consideration by the state and feds as a 'quality of life issue'. This is partly because clean drinking water is absolutely in fact a 'quality of life issue', but mostly because making it also shares the blame for its state of deterioration, and the responsibility for its long-term fix.  This could mean millions in assistance from higher levels of government to the city.

Best of all however, the pitiable cries of panic provide cover for those who've long ignored the actual problem and gives voice to those seeking 'unusual', scientifically impossible, or mindbogglingly bigoted solutions. Stop farmers from fertilizing fields is one we hear often enough, though EPA regulations have reduced much of the blamed runoff.  My personal favorite however comes from the mewing fringe, hoping to block the flow of the Great Lakes themselves to prevent upstream pollution from reaching the Glass City. (I keep waiting for a voices to break out in a stout chorus of South Park's "Blame Canada".) 

Strange to consider that pity may now have replaced what was once the fear of a source of Toledo's power and envy. One cannot help but think of the “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as it foretold of, “Water water everywhere, nor any drop to drink ...”

TFP Column: Participation Foreign Policy

One of the things that has always been the most valuable about sports for young people are the lessons they learn in life that have nothing to do with the sports themselves. The price involved with sacrificing individual effort to contribute to a team as one learns to compete as a part of one, the expense incurred individually and together for violating the rules of the game, the cost and reward of competing honorably, of being good losers and, even more important, of comporting oneself as even better winners are all lessons that I like many learned on the sporting fields (and the ice rinks). Looking back, they proved themselves far more significant than the scores of the games, any personal ability garnered (or lack thereof) or any awards won (or lost).

Of course, we wouldn’t know much about such things these days. Youth baseball for example, is a game now played first without a pitcher so that everyone can know what it means to get a hit — not that this is something which should normally matter because no one’s allowed to keep score when hits and runs occur anyway. And if some politically incorrect fool should dare to do so by accident, “mercy rules” will no doubt bring such an atrocity to a speedy end so that the self-esteem of the losers won’t be damaged too terribly in the process of defeat that never really happened.

Such nonsense was painful enough to watch when your children are involved and even more horrible to talk about in terms of the valuable ideals being forever lost. It’s absolutely horrifying however to see this philosophy come to a sort of feckless fruition by watching our nation’s leaders apparently using the same rules when playing at foreign policy around the world.

Having fallen prey to a form of foreign policy participation in which your goal is “not to do anything dumb,” or “to do as little damage as possible,” our current commander-in-chief seems unable to grasp that the rest of the world cares far more about the scores of such trials and more than content to tally the score of this particular contest with the severed heads of our players if available, those of nearby fans if not.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m as “war weary” as the next citizen, having watched Democrat and Republican administrations alike fail at nation-building around the world for far longer than Hasbro had the game “Risk” for sale (originally released in 1957 under the apt name “The Conquest of the World” by the way). Ever able to win the wars, our team has consistently (one might even say unflaggingly) proven itself all but incompetent in its ability to afterward “win the peace.”

Our “old-school” opponents, however — nations not yet fallen on the depredations of T-ball and certainly not that of the mercy rule — still prefer to play a game where the rules say that leaders still lead (and not from behind) and any game worth playing is worth winning (and not just strategically exiting the field of play when it seems convenient). Add in that many of those teams are inspired by a form of religious zealotry that not only causes them to still believe that God (Allah if you’re being specific) is not only on their side, but is personally inspiring them to greater sacrifice through after-life bonuses and perhaps you can begin to see how serious and dangerous today’s field of play has now become.

Not so dangerous however, as the group continuing to call the plays on our side of the field. Our leaders, graduates of years sensitivity training and self-esteem nurturing, apparently seem satisfied with having shown up on the world stage for a bit of participation, but only as long as such efforts have no long-term effects on the only real game that counts to them — winning elections.
As Tom Hanks famously said in “A League of Their Own”: “There’s no crying in baseball.” Neither apparently, are there (or should there be) participation trophies in foreign policy. The lines on the world map may, for the most part, be arbitrarily and artificially drawn from Ukraine to Iraq, and from Syria to Iran, but the blood being shed and the thousands lives being lost in the current game of foreign policy being played there is proving neither arbitrary nor artificial. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

TFP Column: Getting Off The Bus

(Contrary to all logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 02/10/2014.

There’s news on the street that in spite of putting forward a position paper two weeks ago on the ground rules for taking on comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the current session, Republicans have reconsidered and are now saying that it’s unlikely such legislation will occur this year.

Some believe that the difficulty lies in tackling such an effort in a year when most Congress members (Democrats and Republicans alike) are far too busy raising money for re-election campaigns.  Others say Republicans are refusing to take up legislation likely to add voters to Democratic voting rolls. Still others believe there’s no point in passing new legislation on the subject when its likely the president will take up his pen, his phone and his Justice Department in the selective enforcement of whatever makes its way to his desk for signature. (Can you say Dream Act?)

Like the multiple reasons that may now be standing in the way of its passage, such comprehensive legislation is often known by a variety of names. Omnibus, for example. The term may seem rather innocent, being often defined as an anthology of works or laws related in theme. In the hands of a twisted national legislature however, a more malevolent interpretation has been adopted. Washington D.C.’s nefarious definition of Omnibus in fact, instead seems to mean:

“A comprehensive list of rules and regulations ostensibly related to a given subject (however tenuously) in such a way so as to obscure both its original meaning and ultimate purpose so well that often even those who propose them no longer have any idea what they mean, nor of the laws of unintended consequences that will inevitably subvert and outweigh any potential benefits that might have accrued as a result of its passage.”   

Why, it was only last week that the president signed the latest bipartisan example of such a nightmare in the form of a 949-page, $956 billion Farm Bill. Twenty percent of the almost $1 trillion over 10 years will serve as belated Christmas gifts to the top four percent of the nation’s corporate agribusinesses for producing things like rice, peanuts and catfish  (with a little left to help Christmas tree farmers). A closer examination might reveal  enough pork included in this particular bus to make it ride more like the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile.

As for the other 80 percent of the funding, it’s reserved to cover the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known as the SNAP, or the food stamp program). While this latest version surprisingly cuts the budget for SNAP, it does so only after allowing it to become a program whose costs have increased 358 percent (from $17 billion to $78 billion) since 2000.

Many however, still wonder why two such dissimilar routes are served by the same omnibus.  It’s said that Democrats like massive entitlement programs and hate subsidies while Republicans can’t resist corporate handouts and hate entitlements. Combining them therefore insures its continued bipartisan support.

Some however, try to deny the political machinations involved. It cannot be denied for example, that some of the things bought with SNAP cards are in fact food. Likewise, some of the agribusinesses receiving subsidies (unlike Fruit of the Loom) actually grow it. Similarly, like all large government programs, this one serving two masters shares the common issues of enormous waste, gross mismanagement and significant fraud.

Of course for those who may have forgotten (which hardly seems possible), we’re still dealing another example of Omnibus legislation: “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” commonly know as Obamacare.  Almost three years after this 2,400 page health care conveyance was created in March 2010, it has run off the road, crashed and burned and probably had more riders thrown under it than carried by it (only after picking them up late).

One can’t help but wonder then why some complain Congress doesn’t pass as many laws in each session as they used to nor take up as much comprehensive legislation. Equally surprising is their disappointment when the Omnibus process for something as important immigration reform stalls. 

Some call it failure and the natural result of the bitter partisanship in a divided Congress. Others call it the inherent laziness of politicians more concerned with keeping their jobs than doing them. While both are probably true enough, I instead consider it a fortunate circumstance indeed when either party decides to step back from the curb and refuse to get on yet another omnibus. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

TFP Column: Contradictory Laws Equal Confused Country

(Contrary to all logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published today on 08/11/2014.

Many will tell you that the United States is the greatest country in the world. They believe so in large part because this nation, (at least in theory) under the framework of the Constitution, lives under the “Rule of Law.”

Now for those unfamiliar with this principle, this means this nation is governed under the pre-eminence of its laws, and not under the primacy of any individual or group of individuals. Laws however, have an internal supremacy of their own.

Municipalities like Toledo, for example, have city councils with the ability to write and pass laws, which go into effect if the mayor signs and doesn’t veto them. Those rights are guaranteed under the principle of “Home Rule,” granted under Article XVIII of the Ohio Constitution. Article XVIII however, states: “Municipalities shall have authority to exercise all powers of local self-government and to adopt and enforce within their limits such local police, sanitary and other similar regulations, as are not in conflict with general laws,” — which is written vaguely enough to make it a constant subject of judicial, if not political, interpretation. Translated from “lawyer-speak,” it means that a city can write laws for itself only as long as the state and nation agree that such laws don’t conflict with state or federal law.

Confused yet? Then let’s talk about the state level, where legislators play much the same game. Like their municipal counterparts, laws can be whatever is passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor. Once completed, however, state law has the potential to make local laws obsolete or superfluous, under the conflict portion of Article XVIII. But that’s not the end.

The efforts of the states in turn are themselves subject to the same fate under the supremacy of federal laws under Article VI of the Constitution. Known in fact as the “Supremacy Clause” it states: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.” (I know, blah, blah, blah …) Remove the legal gibberish however, and it makes clear that when under judicial review, federal law shall deemed the Supreme “Law of the Land.”

This is where it gets even more confusing. Not only does the president, like the governor at the state level, have the ability to sign or veto legislation submitted to him by the legislature, but lately he seems to feel he has the power to change or delay implementation of certain politically inconvenient provisions in spite of “shall vs. may” language within it (something we’ll have to go into in another effort). More importantly, it’s the executive branch and the president’s attorney general at the Department of Justice (DOJ) that’s ultimately responsible for enforcing federal law.

During the current administration there’s been some confusion, contradiction and what might even be seen as arbitrary behavior where such enforcement is concerned. The current DOJ sees no voting rights violation when a couple of Black Panthers with clubs stand outside a polling place in Pennsylvania, but does see it in a Wisconsin requirement for photo ID and in Ohio where providing absentee ballots and 28 days of early voting is apparently insufficient protection.

The DOJ challenged Arizona (and won) for passing a state law to allow its local and state constabulary to enforce existing federal immigration law when the federal government seemed unable or unwilling to do so. (Texas’s governor just recently deployed the Texas National Guard to assist border enforcement in his state and we have yet to see if this too will be challenged.)
And then there’s pot …

The DOJ insisted on the supremacy of federal drug laws early on when challenging “medical” marijuana use in California, but has recently seemed rather timid regarding recent state laws for recreational use in Colorado and Washington.

Inconsistent and contradictory federal enforcement of the Supremacy Clause seems the most generous way of describing the current situation. Does this erratic and unpredictable legal philosophy leave us confused as a nation, one ripe for both abuse and for legal challenge? Yes. Worse yet, it also makes it more likely that regardless of what you do (even if that’s nothing at all), you could well be guilty of something.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

TFP Column: Climate Change Denier

(Contrary to all logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 03/07/2014.

I hereby freely admit to being a climate change denier. I’ve listened to all the accounts, from the news readers to the opinions of pundits, and have read some of the limited amount of scholarly work on the subject. I find nothing in this body of work to convince me the issues involved are anywhere near settled. Further, I deny that the arguments put forward on the subject appear to have any merit.

This is not to say I disagree that the climate is changing. Instead, I’m convinced the changes occurring are little more than trends and natural movements that occur over time. Little if any of this movement appears to be man-made nor do man’s actions seem to have any significant effect on it.

Now for those of you already composing hate mail to me or to TFP Editor in Chief Michael S. Miller and canceling your free subscription, I’m talking about the political climate.

In spite of the endless stories (especially recently) regarding this notion of political climate change, little of it seems to actually be occurring. Some insist that the apparent cooling coming from the “Alphabet Fallout” cloud of the NSA and the IRS must surely prove the theory. Others are sure the “Benghazi Effect” and what it’s done to heat things up before the next election should be proof for all to see. Still others disregard these contradictory temperature claims and instead talk about the growing holes in the “Obamacare Layer” as proof that far-reaching and permanent political climate change is imminent. Nonsense!

Some even erroneously cite so-called statistical proof, using the alarming disapproval rate earned by Congress. Such claims are greatly exaggerated. While it’s true the current legislature carries a spectacularly low approval rating of 17 percent, the dirty little secret is Congress’ approval rate has seldom risen above 30 percent in the past 40 years.

Don’t get me wrong. The political tide certainly appears to be rising for the GOP, but this movement hardly seems permanent and may be a trend that ends with the 2014 election cycle (if not sooner). Part of this is because Democrats (and their media minions) seem far better at telling their story than their opponents, even when that tale is largely fiction. The rest, however, is because of the unfailing ability of the GOP leadership to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. (Can you say John McCain or Mitt Romney?)

Scholars have for years attempted to tell us that our nation is a center-right electorate. History shows us, however, that when the current group of neoconservatives in the Republican Party wins, they celebrate by apologizing to their opponents before moving in their direction, making that victory little more than a Pyrrhic one.

Instead of becoming evidence of change, such results are more likely to prove its absence. They highlight the inability of today’s political climate to show real change, regardless of who’s in charge. This entire process is reinforced by a plurality of low-information voters who seldom look beyond name recognition in choosing candidates, regardless of party affiliation or prior performance.

Available data, as determined by the length of Congressional service, tends to support this. Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s interminable 31 years in office, for example, doesn’t even rank in the top 100 on the historical “Groundhog Day” list of service in the national legislature. Michigan Rep. John Dingell currently holds the title of Congress’ “never-ending gobstopper,” but plans to retire this year after an uninterrupted 59-year tenure. Rumor has it his legacy will likely be carried on with his younger wife (a lobbyist) attempting a move from understudy to title role, and cashing in on said name recognition in her run for the open seat.

The climate of politics is not something easily influenced by the rhetoric of its participants, the heat of the issues nor the apparent coolness of the electorate to its representatives. It is perhaps far too placid (if not flaccid) to have its tides easily stirred. Those of you thinking you see a sea change coming, with a permanent rise in the depth of the Republican Party (especially that of some of its conservative elements) — think again. Wild and unproven theories may continue to exist, but real political climate change can and should be utterly denied. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

TFP Column: Post "Network" Politics

(Contrary to all logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 03/20/2014.

In 1976, Peter Finch spoke to a generation as newscaster Howard Beale by telling us: “So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out and yell, I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”

Not many recall “Network” screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky’s cynical prescience regarding the degradation of television network news (cable news networks didn’t yet exist), or director Sidney Lumet’s portrayal of the general apathy and eager gullibility of the American viewing public. Few indeed remember anything of this film other than its iconic tagline.

The only thing that’s changed in the intervening years is the addition of cable channels dedicated, in theory, entirely to news yet with programs that have become in many ways far worse than Chayefsky anticipated, and perhaps more outrageous than Lumet was willing (or heroic enough) to portray.

We may not yet have astrology segments, but multiple (and mostly inaccurate) weather segments seem to serve well enough as a substitute. Revolutionary groups may not be on the air yet, but the proliferation of journalistic zealotry makes one often feel it is.

Not anticipated in 1976, however, was the proliferation of non-news stories (and reality shows) from Hollywood regarding those leading lives of unthinkable luxury and unthinking ignorance. While flouting moral precedent, society’s rules and the nation’s laws (with the permission of lenient courts), many find time (between rehab sessions) to support international tyranny under romantic notions of revolution.

Talk radio, for all its supposed sins, at least attempts to devote an entire 30-minute segment (including commercials, news and traffic) to a subject as important as whether we should get into or out of a war, or whether the laws and regulations pouring out of the pens of pampered politicians make a difference.

With television, we’ve come to accept a schizophrenic form of news. Most days, it’s force-fed to us in two- to four-minute segments (bipartisan commentary included). Eastern European politics or the science of hydraulic fracturing, we’re apparently only capable of digesting important national or world events in a Reader’s Digest condensed format, with segments only slightly longer (and often less intelligently written) than the commercials that separate them.

Occasionally however, the networks depart from their information shorthand to provide their viewers with nauseatingly repetitious offerings on what they don’t know on a story, supplemented by experts and pundits providing commentary so “inside baseball” that few if any can understand it.

As for their coverage of national politics, networks prefer an inflammatory sound bite to their job of covering the four W’s of the story (who, what, where and when). If they do get around to them, one can be certain of an Obi-Wan Kenobi interpretation of such facts “from a certain point of view.” And as for the fifth W (why), once more a panel of experts returns (fellow journalists and unemployed political minions) who can ignore questions in a bipartisan fashion, regurgitate party talking points ad nauseam and still find time to promote their current book.

Much of that unresolved “Network” anger still exists in this country, but remains largely unfocused. We’re angry with government for not doing the job it’s expected to do while doing far too many things it’s not needed for. We’re angry with politicians and political parties who’ve spent far too much time feathering their own nests instead of the nation’s work and have done so with our feathers. 

We’re angry with each other for the selective inattention we exhibit to the pain and suffering going on around us. Often however, we’re the most angry with a mainstream media that continues to assert special privilege as “The Fourth Estate,” ignoring their responsibilities and failing as badly as the American equivalents of the first three.

The right of a free press was included in the First Amendment for a reason by the founders, who understood that the republic would never survive without it. I wish Howard were still around, and this time “mad as hell” at those he worked with.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

TFP Column: Rites Of Spring

(Contrary to all logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 04/03/2014.
Despite the dire prognostications of the Pennsylvania rodent population, the contradictory evidence of flowers that seem brave enough to begin poking their way into the sunlight (though forced to do so through the semi-frozen ground of global climate change) and despite the mirage of lingering snow drifts to your lying eyes ... spring is finally here.

Spring means many things to many people. Here in the Midwest, it means planting of crops for farmers (or in some cases, getting the government to pay you not to plant them by placing land in a “soil bank”). It means fertilizing the lawn, then rushing to tune up the lawnmower so we can cut it after stimulating its growth. It’s likely to mean it’s time to repair the car’s suspension from that unfortunate assignation with a pothole the size of that meteor crater in Winslow, Ariz.
One of the most important things about spring however is sports. Spring is in fact the convergence of all things sports.  College basketball holds its two different tournaments, the NCAA championship for the “feasible,” the “unlikely,” and the “surprising” and the NIT for those whose yearly efforts haven’t reached the previously mentioned levels, but should be rewarded by face-saving and revenue-generating post-season play. The professional basketball season is also winding to a close, with more teams making its postseason play than missing it, and the usual suspects likely to be there at the end.
Hockey follows basketball to a season close in the growing warmth, though it’s outdoor play these days is only for show and therefore not an impediment.  Like its brother basketball, it too has fallen prey to the lure of revenue, and far too many will contest to dethrone the Chicago Blackhawks and lift Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Football too has begun, whether you’re talking about the spring practices of the college teams of the U.S. version or the more accurately defined world sporting event that’s only in recent years getting its proper due in this country.
The king of sports this time of year, however, is and always will be the national sport, baseball. Oh sure, they messed with Opening Day this year by allowing the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers to play one in Australia, before the traditional opening game in Cincinnati; but games played on the other side of the international dateline can probably be discounted in a 162-game season. 

Regardless of whether snow must be cleared from the fields and long sleeves are the rule rather than the exception on the field, it’s time to “Play Ball!”
Across the nation, we abandon balmy living rooms and cheerfully face the often frozen confines of a land where “hope springs eternal.” We encourage our overpriced stars, cheer those we’ve never seen before, but who show early promise and salute those who, perhaps unknown even to themselves, are taking their final lap as men playing a boy’s game.
This spring is particularly special for some of us, as it commemorates the 100th anniversary of historic Wrigley Field in Chicago. This celebration is likely to be rather muted however, since the Cubs have failed to win a World Series during the entire century of this ballpark’s existence and the Cubs enter what’s likely to be the 108th year of their rebuilding program.
A point that forces one to take note that not all things associated with spring are positive is that politicians are already out on the stump, attending fundraising dinners across the country and forming exploratory groups, while simultaneously denying that such efforts exists. (A curious process since the only thing that such exploration groups seem to discover is a previously unknown groundswell movement for the candidate to run.)  For those seeking further evidence of the dire consequences of the season, it’s also less than two weeks until tax day.
Alfred Tennyson told us that “In the spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” Recalling dim memories of having been one during the Dark Ages of history, I believe I can say without fear of challenge that a young man’s fancy seldom strays from such thoughts.  For many this week, however, the glorious contemplation of such emotions and perhaps of the fairer sex in general will be done in the Glass City with a hot dog and an adult beverage at Fifth Third Field. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

TFP Column: Toledo - Real Estate Entrepreneur

(Contrary to all logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 07/21/2014.
When the story broke that the City of Toledo might become its own landlord, I immediately offered my services to Toledo Free Press Editor-in-Chief Michael Miller:

“Permit me the time to carefully gather and analyze the facts and figures involved with this situation and I will deliver to you the finest effort that I’ve ever done for the Toledo Free Press.”

Oh sure, setting the bar this low makes the goal far too easily attainable, but I could not let that deter me.

I spent countless hours over endless columns of figures that made little sense to me and would likely have made the most dedicated IRS auditor catatonic. I tirelessly dedicated myself to interpreting market trends that even Donald Trump would find all but impossible to decipher.

Half blind from lack of sleep, nerves jumbled from too much time attempting to live on a diet of coffee and Snickers bars, and terrified by the implications of the material that I had thus far digested, the answer struck me in the wee hours of the morning when I least expected it, like the lightning bolt that struck the jackass in “Sergeant York” (which seemed a strangely appropriate metaphor).

Of course the city should not be permitted to become its own real estate agent and purchase One Government Center. The logic was as simple as it was brilliant; the reasoning as inarguable as it was definitive.

Oh, it was not about decades that showed an unblemished record of abject failure in real estate market speculation under every administration in Glass City history. Such a conclusion could be reached almost intuitively, and a more satisfactory form of closure was required. Speaking of history and failure, however, neither was it about the State of Ohio’s documented history of minimal maintenance over the 30-year-plus history of the building that had aged this 22-story structure far beyond its years and likely put it in a state of disrepair capable of creating one of those “catastrophic and unrecoverable spins” a la Tom Cruise “Top Gun.” (Similar personal experience in the case of my own structure had taught me more than a few tragic lessons in this regard.)

It probably should have been, but wasn’t about the volatility of the Downtown Toledo real estate market during an economic recovery that remains shaky, and where the only ones still apparently making any money are the carpenters putting plywood up in the windows. This is is Toledo (“where you will do better”), where even experienced and savvy gamblers like Larry Dillin and the Chinese, playing their cards close to the vest, have feared to go ‘all in’ with what would normally appear to be winning hands in games like Southwyck or the Marina District.

It wasn’t even about the fact that even by using Common Core math principles (where 2 + 2 = 5 for some values of 2), the numbers never seemed to work out. Even if purchasing the property at a cost of $1, by the time the city completed a “property flip” on this facility that meet all of the current building codes and ADA requirements, it would likely exceed the existing current estimate of $7 million. Add in the consequences of Toledo’s liveable wage, the labor overruns that come with any government project and the inevitable yet-to-be-discovered costs that will only come to light when the project is too far along to turn back on, the real costs of Toledo’s “This Old House” fixer-upper may not only exceed the worst nightmare from this PBS show, but in a worst case scenario could conceivably approach the original $61 million construction cost.

But all of this can be set aside as not being the real reason that Toledo should not become a real estate agent and buy this building. That, in fact, was something that I only discovered late into my research.

As many of you know, government overreach is at an all time high in this nation, with bureaucratic encroachment at every level of government occurring against a largely disinterested electorate. Government in this nation is more powerful, more intrusive and more dangerous than it has even been in its history. The real reason, therefore, that the city should not be permitted this move is … the Blazers.

Government simply cannot be allowed to add to their already formidable arsenal of weapons, the power imbued in those hideously colored, horribly tacky real estate blazers. Equipped with these polyester stormtrooper uniforms, what chance has even an aroused citizenry against them?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

TFP Column: Politicians, Blame and Credit

(Contrary to all logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 07/19/2014.
Politicians and political parties in power are usually concerned with taking credit for anything that improves under their watch — even if they have nothing to do with it, or if that improvement amounts to nothing more than a better way to spin the story than has previously existed. Their political enemies, meanwhile, often see it as their mission in life to discover any deterioration in order to raise the specter of fear with regard to such failure, and to assign blame (political and otherwise) for its occurrence.

Blight, however, is not so much a periodic occurrence as it is a constant condition that ebbs and flows with the economic tide. It exists every single day, and on a bipartisan basis. The party in power may carry the responsibility for how much attention it ultimately garners (or doesn’t), but those in the minority bear an comparable responsibility (if not complicity) for attempting to ignore it for as long as they’re able to.

As for the daily newspaper whose recent efforts have brought so much attention to a subject always there, but often obscured, one cannot help but note a few things. First, that while the issue is an enduring one, the inadequacy of prior coverage on this issue is equally long-standing.   Second, that target identification in this case has been followed by little in the way of proposed solutions. Third, and perhaps more telling (if not self-serving), that interest in drawing attention to the city’s lost prestige seemed important only when its own reputation seemed to be going down faster than the Titanic.

It would be easy therefore (and maybe even a little fun) as someone far from the power base wielded by the current administration, to blame Mayor D. Michael Collins and the current City Council for the blight that exists in Toledo. It would, however, be completely wrong to do so. One might find equally misguided amusement in blaming the previous administrations of  Mike Bell, Carty Finkbeiner, Jack Ford and the often lackluster City Councils for a blight issue that’s been around far longer than any of them have served in office.

Just as local political leaders are not the cause of blight in a city, seldom are their actions likely to provide its solution. Overreacting to any temporary media attention that such stories garner, their traditional ham-fisted methods of over-funded studies and emergency regulations are far more likely to leave the city dealing with the long-term unintended consequences of their ill-conceived notions. Such efforts are in fact more likely to prove themselves a greater affliction than the blight they propose to resolve.

So it is (as Toledo Free Press Publisher Tom Pounds recently pointed out) up to local residents and businesses that the city must look to if any long term change can be hoped for. His  “My Toledo, Buy Toledo” initiative may seem a simple thing and, as he says, “a small start”, but as the saying goes: “Every oak tree started out as a couple of nuts who decided to stand their ground.”

Mr. Pounds is therefore to be applauded for this effort, not for its grand scope and scale and comprehensive nature, but in fact for being just the opposite. Not only is such a small grassroots effort, without benefit of taxpayer funding, far more likely to succeed, but not having an attention span tied to a news cycle (or an election cycle), it’s far more likely to be sustainable.

This is not to say that elected officials can or should have no part in this effort, and I would certainly hope that all of them will step forward at some point to show their support for what Mr. Pounds has begun. Whether already business leaders in the community or not, there are roles for them to play as simple as that of looking at the City Charter and removing or waiving any regulations that inhibit direct citizen participation in keeping their own neighborhoods up. Really ambitious ones might even show support by participating in such upkeep efforts, especially in their own districts.

Such an effort, even if it initially appears to be largely symbolic in nature, is about to begin in the private sector. Mr. Pounds rightly points out that there is likely “a very long way to go,” even to begin achieving their goals, but as Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Saturday, July 12, 2014

TFP Column: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

(Contrary to logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 4/24/2014.
At the end of the initial sign up period for the Affordable Healthcare Act, the Administration announced that the program had signed 7.1 million people up for health insurance (8 million in numbers released subsequently) and took their own “Mission Accomplished” victory lap. After all, 7 million was the number that the Non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicted would be sold during the initial rollout before even it began, and without discussion as to why, became the benchmark by which both sides measured success.
The right was certainly quick enough to adopt it in the early days, attacking the chances of success after the dismal rollout problems of the web site and the all but epic failure of the federal exchange in the opening months of the sign up period. Subsequent performance, along with the apparent reticence of the government to release numbers on a timely basis, only fueled the confidence of failure in opponents and did little for the morale of supporters.
The left spent just as much time blaming the delays of the initial rollout, if not more, in what some might be considered to be whining attempts to excuse a failure that had yet to occur. Those who continued to assume any air of confidence were made out to be dreamers and losers who refused to face reality.
State Exchanges didn't do all that much to help the situation. While those in New York, Connecticut, Kentucky, Rhode Island, and Washington prospered; websites in Hawaii, Oregon, Maryland, and Vermont fared dismally. The general consensus of those tracking the numbers was that reaching the CBO goal was simply never going to happen.
As the deadline approached, Jay Carney and Kathleen Sebelius put the best face possible on the situation, but prepared us for the worst. The web site was better, traffic was improving, and people were getting insurance, so 'the number' wasn't as important in measuring success of the law.
Once victory had been declared however, the tune changed again. It was all about the number and nothing else. Sure, some still wanted to dispute the accuracy of the numbers released by the Administration, (I know, how could anyone fail to trust numbers released by the federal government?) but they were little more than malcontents.
In spite of the fact that the US Electorate largely has the attention span of a 5 year-old where the details of any story is concerned, these pundits and naysayers still attempt to contest the victory by disputing whether payment has been made (or will continue to be), whether those signing up were those whose insurance was canceled as a result of the law or previously uninsured, or the health and age of those who signed up. Interesting questions perhaps, but only to those tracking statistics in the government fantasy league.
But it was what no one was talking about that was interesting. Benjamin Disraeli is credited with the quote, “There are three types of lies … lies, damn lies, and statistics. Even the most cursory examination of the latter in this case point to a law with numbers that have largely ignored in favor of the 7 million. Speaking of ignored, if 7 million signed up, more than 22 million this year alone ignored the law and failed to sign up. What's more, the same CBO whose numbers awarded the victory to the ACA has now projected numbers going out into the year 2023. They tell us that going out those ten years, there will still be over 31 million people who still won't have health insurance.
If these numbers victory then, perhaps it can only be considered a Pyrrhic one. For those unfamiliar with the term, it comes from Greek King Pyrrhus who in victories over the Romans (280 and 279 BC) suffered such devastating troop losses in his victories that they were little better than defeat.
Then again, perhaps the 'statistics' reported on the ACA and the 'victory' declared by the current Administration require more than simple analysis. Perhaps they require the popular perspective inspired by George Lucas from “Star Wars” (from Episode VI, for the nitpickers); and that the victory declared is true, “... from a certain point of view”.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

TFP Column: My Guilty Past

(Contrary to logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 5/05/2014.
I've been thinking about the recent resignation of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich and what it means; not only as a user of this particular search engine, but as someone paying attention to the direction in which the political winds blow. Now for those who somehow missed the story, let's go over the highlights of the story.
Six years ago Mr. Eich, who co-founded Mozilla back in 1998, made a $1000 contribution in support of Proposition 8, a 2008 ballot initiative that opposed the legalization of gay marriage in California. Prop. 8 passed by a 52% to 48% margin, but was later overturned in the court system. Since those rulings, gay marriage has resumed in California.
After many years with the company, Mr. Eich was recently named to the position of Chief Executive Office, a position which had been open for over a year. While news of his contribution made the news years ago, the story resurfaced after the promotion was announced, and a firestorm of controversy ensued on social media and within the tech community.
Some initially merely called for Eich's resignation, but soon others went further and called for a boycott of Mozilla. Mr. Eich issued a statement re-affirming his commitment to inclusiveness at the company. The Chair of the Mozilla Foundation, Mitchell Baker, later also issued a statement about the company's continuing commitment to inclusiveness and its support for marriage equality. The damage appeared to have been done however, and Eich resigned his position and left Mozilla on April 3rd of this year; ten days after becoming CEO.
The Free Speech issue of course, is at the heart of this controversy, and it's one that can be appreciated from both sides. Mr. Eich is certainly free to exercise his speech rights in making political contributions. Customers considering use of Mozilla (which is provided free by the way, except for voluntary contributions) are likewise free to use or discard any product from any company for whatever reason they choose.
I can sympathize with Mr. Eich however, who while he apparently had a rather closed definition of what constitutes a marriage in 2008 (the same one the President had at the time), showed no other signs of discriminatory practices against LGBT employees in the workplace. I can likewise sympathize with anyone (in the LGBT community or otherwise), who finds Mr. Eich's opinions on marriage offensive and responds. I do get concerned however, when a single action, years in our past, can have such far-reaching impact on our present and future.
Now, as a Libertarian, I take a somewhat different view on the entire subject of marriage. My concern is not about the respective sexes of those being joined (or the number for that matter), but what business the government has in the process. The fact that one must obtain a license to marry from that government (and pay them for the privilege) is not only offensive, but seems ludicrous in this day and age. It's not as if government stands in as a feudal Lord whose permission must be sought before joining; nor is it a state affair in which inheritance of lands and title may be at stake.
Considering that for those of non-noble lineage, this ceremony was little more than a gathering during which the happy couple jumped over a broomstick together, today's rules and regulations seem almost grotesque. That the rite supposedly being protected from desecration can now not only be legally officiated at by a priest, minister, magistrate, or justice of the peace; but by any mayor, ship's captain or Elvis impersonator with a drive thru lane makes the demand for government certification seem farcical.
I bring all of this up of course, because of my own trepidation over exposure. No, I haven’t been asked to step into a position of greater authority recently, nor do I expect to be at any time soon. Nevertheless, I fear that some crack TFP investigative reporter might choose to 'out' the guilty secret from my own dark past.
No, it's not some contribution to a ballot initiative that would portray me as a homophobe, a racist, or a religious bigot in the last six years that I fear. Growing up in the rarefied political environs of Chicago however and influenced by a Catholic education under the tutelage of a rather dissident clergy during the sixties and early seventies; I'm ashamed to confess that when I was finally able to legally cast my ballot for the first time, I voted Democrat two elections in a row.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

TFP Column: Canceled Commencement

(Contrary to logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 5/25/2014. 
In response to a lunchtime protest by the janitor and groundskeeper at Whatsamatta University, I have canceled my commencement appearance at this extinguished center of higher yearning.

While neither surprised nor disappointed to discover that my opinions are objectionable to some at Whatsamatta U (in fact, I take a certain warped pride that they are), I ultimately decided that such events should be about those graduating (both of them) and not about me.

In spite of the public dissent,  some have told me it’s important I speak, accept the honorary degree that’s been offered, begin to call myself “doctor” publicly and insist that others do so as well, and eventually try to parlay this into a career as a radio or TV talks show host.  I say, however, that an honorary degree is little more than a fancy piece of paper rewarding me for work that I’ve never done and I already get a pay stub for much the same thing every couple of weeks.

Others say that I should damn the naysayers and accept the opportunity to fly halfway across the country (difficult when you live in the middle) in order to say things to an audience smaller than (and soon to be even more impoverished than the titled characters) for “Two Broke Girls.” I say, however, that I have already put in my time in riding these “Greyhounds of the skies” and let me tell you, it’s no longer what it once was. Besides, if I wanted to work for peanuts, I could continue to write freelance columns for the rest of my life.

It appears, however, that I have inadvertently managed to become a member of an ever-growing (and far more credentialed list) of conservatives that have accepted an invitation to speak at a university event somewhere around the nation, only to later cancel said appearance in response to the pathetic whining of a vocal minority protesting the decision to invite them in the first place.
We are told this is a First Amendment issue, which only proves that we appear to be living in an age where the writings of the Founders have been vastly misconstrued by a number of the citizens who live under its freedom. While it’s true that the Constitution guarantees us the right to speak freely, it does so only within certain legal limits. Those limits do not include a protection against there being consequences against anything other than arrest.

Sadly however, it appears that any expression of politically incorrect speech (especially at institutions that in theory exist for the free exchange of ideas) is now likely to cost you everything but your freedom. No longer content with being the PC police, today’s latest group of zealots has a adopted a pose more consistent with that of the Spanish Inquisition (which nobody expected).

This is not to say that anyone must like what’s said by someone exercising those First Amendment rights.  It certainly doesn’t mean that you must agree with what they’re saying. It does perhaps mean, however, that a person in this country should be able to be heard out politely without fear of interruption or reprisal.  I remember the Michael Douglas line from the movie “The American President”:

“You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”

Now, however, it seems as though every casual remark, every failed joke and certainly every tweet gone wrong are subject to endless scrutiny by a group of sanctimonious hypocrites who celebrate their own free speech by castigating others behind anonymous screen names.  Conservatives face the additional damning change of well … being conservative, and these social media bigots are are more than willing denounce and censure on the basis of that charge alone.

As for my own situation, regardless of my decision not to appear this year at Whatsamatta U, I am resolved to keep the down payment made on the speaker’s fee. Though cancellation means I am no longer be required to deliver my remarks (a boon for which many would gladly pay me), recompense is nonetheless deserved for having completed the difficult task of preparing them in the first place (which you can’t prove I didn’t).  Besides, retention of this honorarium should be just enough to “Super Size” my dinner tonight.