Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Santa Letter - 2017

Santa Claus
c/o North Pole

Dear Santa,

I Know that it seems  to nave been a long time since I have written you (time being, of course, a relative term to somebody with your lifespan), but I am writing again a bit these days.  However my scrawling's often take more than their normal time to decipher ... and you were on my short list.  

It's probably a bit soon to be writing yet, this early in the year anyway, but though Halloween has yet to occur, I could not help myself (even with my pitiful my attempts on with the keyboard makes) are not what they used to be … so I perhaps I had better start the process a bit early this year, in the hopes that I could get this, at least in some part, complete in what seems a timely fashion. 
(A more timely fashion for some of us than what it used to be, I admit.)

Please note (but only carefully however) that there are still many, on both sides of the political aisle, who probably should be on the 'naughty' list these days if they are not already (and who could use a heat producing mineral in their stocking), but creating such a lengthy list (let alone wasting the time involved by checking on them twice) seems like a worrisome task for anyone in the circumstance.  With all the cities that I have lived in over the years, the whole process is even more confusing, and the list potentially even more cumbersome. 

Besides, it's likely that Karma will eventually catch up with all of them eventually anyway, so why let your group take any heat for their eventual downward slide.  I hope that while many (Ok, maybe all) are likely to be in that category anyway, but you' can still give them a seasonal break whether they deserve it or not.  (I have no idea how you've managed to get this done over the years, and seemingly every year for one reason or another; and I thank you for the consideration that you are willing to give because of  requests, though you (or they) certainly don't owe me anything.)

Do the best you can as well for my kids and grandkids, (as you always have) and I will be appreciative for whatever you manage to bestow on them.  (As I you know, I will be trying to do trying to the same for them as well.)  I know that this approaching time is supposed to be all about them after all (in spite of what the commercials will soon be saying about cars and jewelry), and in spite of all the normal seasonal craziness  that's going on recently.

I hope perhaps it still will manage to be as so as much as it can.

For myself however, I find that I have nothing on my list that I really need (a crumpled Post-it note somewhere ... no more, no less) which I won't be able to pass on due to you due to numerous personal handwriting problems  (which is, after all, what this effort was supposed to be about originally.)  In truth, I recently had some help in reducing my personal inventory (and my personal relative size), and I have no urge to see either begin to reach their former levels. 

You probably have an overabundance of such requests on unnecessary things from other folks with lists that I'm sure will help the elves keep busy enough in the time available.  So in order to fill this time of year, as the Holiday season approaches; please forget any personal article you that you might think I want , but shouldn't really need anyway. 

You will  notice of course (this year) a further notation that my address has recently changed (and is about to again, so they tell me), but I'm sure you know what you need to do in order to find it.  The new digs will no doubt be as welcoming as the old ones were, if you get a chance ...  or just want to stop by and hang out for a bit.  I will probably have to do some work on the egg nog and snack requirements as required, but that's OK with me.

By the way, I shaved off the beard in recent days, not only to avoid potential seasonal job offers and confusion, but also as an unusual change of pace from my usual appearance.  The changes are something that you might find entertaining, if not amusing.  

Mostly however, I look forward to the chance of getting together again.

Best Seasonal Wishes,


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Seasonal Employments Hope Abandoned

Long ago, in the last century anyway,  I had a cross country coach who taught me how to properly prepare and run a race.  He must have succeeded in his lessons, since I set the freshman record for cross country that year.  Later in that year, he told me that I would need to make a choice between running and the hockey that I was playing at the time.

I not only left running, but the school that I was in at the end of that year.  I went on to Mount Carmel High School in Chicago, where I not only got a better education, but continued to play hockey for three years at an amateur level, and at a high school level.

Of course I also managed to break my nose a couple of times, cracked a few ribs. eventually lost a tooth when a stick was smashed across my face, and fractured the patella in my left knee.

Smart people often tell you smart, and perfectly good things, at the wrong time, and for the wrong reason; ending up with achieving the goal that they least desire.

My hope is that this introductory piece is not just such a misguided effort  ...


With Labor Day now behind us, we have Halloween, Thanksgiving, and of course, Christmas (or Hanukkah) to look forward to.  My plans for the Holidays may have changed however, owing to time and circumstance.  There was once a time, in fact, when by now, I was already hoping for an application as a 'Santa Substitute' (perhaps for "Victoria's Secret").  Of course there wasn't much actual  hope in obtaining such a position, in spite of the fact that my girth had been increasing on a regular basis for a number of years, and my hair and beard were achieving a 'uniform monochromatic color' without the use of any dyes. 

My status with the Social Security Bureau however changed a great deal during the intervening period  (no explanation required or forthcoming).  Though my hair color has remained its largely its monochromatic color,  my girth has been decreasing steadily in recent days (through no fault of my own, believe me).

Further change potentially occurred when I relocated back to Columbus, Ohio.  Of course, having moved from Chicago, to Kansas City (the first time), to Columbus (also the first time), to Cleveland (for the job), to LaGrange, Georgia, to Toledo (all again for the job), back to Kansas City, and now back into Columbus; one might say that I am a well traveled man by moving companies alone.

Greater still is the information that has now determined that there are over ninety choices available in terms of gender.  (I have been out of circulation a bit, OK I guess.)  Now having grown up in the Dark Days when there were only two (this was right after Gutenberg invented movable type), I found that these new and apparently limitless possibilities to be rather confusing.  (I can't even imagine the consternation that it might have caused with patrons at Victoria's Secret.)  Before any application could be received (or as usual .... not), I was forced to reject it, or even consider it.

One cannot but note in passing, that if  such rules had been followed during 'Old Testament' times, that Noah might have needed a bigger boat to work with.
(I'm just saying  ...)

Imagine then my concern however, when I realized could that with over ninety choices in the potential recommendation list of gifts, it would be a nearly impossible task. The potential hazard of faulty choices could increase disappointment of those involved (the parents, not the children); if not ultimately produce potential personal litigation.

I am now faced with the choice of either a early seasonal reduction of the size of the beard, the removal thereof; or to face the disappointed looks of  nearby 'crumb crunchers' for months to come over my appearance.  (The potential of disappointed patrons of Victoria's Secret is something that I have yet to consider the ramifications!)  Acceptance of such supposed 'theories' (which have yet to show me proof and are liable to change) leaves me in a position where I don't know whether I want to scream, laugh hysterically, or both ... alternately.

Since I no longer have a column for a weekly in a newspaper, nor a career in connecting the printing press with the loading dock at a daily newspapers, nor even one of selling machines that put inserts into newspapers, nor even one as simple as putting magazines together with staples or selling machines that do  (I used to pump gas and check oil years ago as well, but remember we're talking about the last century); the problem of reaching answers to these somewhat amazing, but terribly amusing situations is weighing even more so on me than the current issues political issues of the Middle East, in North Korea, or in which of out last Presidential candidates is in the most trouble with the Congress, the Mainstream Media, or the FBI, (or all three).

Now I haven't done much of this blogging in a couple of years; and in the time since, have learned that my judgment on many things may, in fact, be far from sound ... through lack of regular use (though I ultimately believe in it).  It gives me cause to question such things and obtain (and test) other opinions.  Now I have always been willing to listen to such things, but never been known for requiring as to them.  Now I may have to try to give it a shot ... in proof that I have changed positively (at least this once). 

I'm not a big fan of encouraging turning random control while writing mode, but what the hell.  So while the floor appears to be open, take your best shot ...

Monday, September 4, 2017

He's Back!

It seems. at least according to the movie previews, that 2017 may be the year of the comeback!  At least that's what we should probably take from all of the re-makes, updates, prequels, and sequels that follow all of the latest movies either in production,  or those preparing to be shown in theatres around the country. 

Having previously abandoned my so-called electronic life for some period of time (and for what I felt was a good reason), I now find myself with the urge to participate once again in this circus of life, and to perhaps emerge from this previously static state.

(And such a return seems strangely appropriate during this last Hallmark Holiday of the Summer).

My absence from such pursuits has had a good reasons for occurring.  I had some recent health situations (that do not bear repeating, even under torture believe me); and the dull-witted excuses I may have long used as an excuse, may in fact, may have become part of the actual reasons for the problem. 

Never allowing reason (in however misguided  a form it might seem) to get in the way of anything that I might do or say however, I have put out a call (figurative, of course) to the now largely separated staff of "Just Blowing Smoke (those formerly locked in the attic in Toledo, OH or Mission, KS)  to see if an occasional effort of 're-integration' might be possible.  Having no will of their own (let along a mind) a number of them have agreed, and I think we can entice most of the rest to do so, once we find them (in their various haunts).

It is therefore my intention to do so. And in the spirit that all things eventually come back (even the bad movies), to re-open this blog as a consequence.

It's probably not fair at this point to comment too much about any politics (but I'm sure that I probably will anyway).  I also promise to bring back anything and everything else that suits my fancy at any time or need that it requires.  I hope that you will be able to enjoy these latest efforts, and will forgive me for the use of  mental muscles that have probably gotten flabby from long disuse.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Au Revoir Facebook  defines the french term Au Revoir as "goodbye for the present", or "until we see each other again".  Using it here therefore, seems a doubly fitting way in which use the previous generation of electronic interaction (blogging) as a way in which to bid a fond farewell to the latest (and probably next soon to be abandoned) version of such communication.

Oh don't get me wrong.  Facebook has had one a hell of a run.  As a method of social networking it has probably grown to level that any but a few of its creators probably would have hoped to give it credit for, to a point where the fortunes generated for those early believers means that none of them actually needs credit again. 

Unfortunately, far too many of us (their willing addicts) have taken the unique opportunity provided by the software giant to stay close with friends and family amidst the constant changes and occasional memorable moments of our increasingly separated lives, and turned it into little more than a 24 hour a day version of on-line rudeness, silliness, and non-stop self-aggrandizement.  (This effort being no real exception to that rule.)    

In my humble opinion, Facebook has over time, become little more than a Pythonesque Parody of itself (with apologies to Monty).  Anything 'social' within its Newsfeed has long since degenerated into a bunch of ill-written and mostly unsubstantiated rumors masquerading as news, copious amounts of unnecessary and unwanted political advocacy, shamefully recycled efforts to gather attention from the originality of others, and shameless attempts to gain a disguised form of advertising.    

Further, it has far too often become little more than a venue in which we are all expected to acknowledge and accept partisan prejudice (spewed by both sides and in equal amounts) in the form of mostly recycled or dated memes with a check mark of approbation offered in the same way (and often with the same enthusiasm) that we once used to pass on a chain letter.  

When all of the fraud and nonsense is removed from it in fact, little of value remains in the content of the average Facebook News Feed (much like the average daily newspaper) and the remainder can be largely ignored (much like the content of the average daily newspaper).  That an electronic partnership now appears to be growing between that same obsolete industry and the Facebook News Feed as a 'new source' of pubic information, may in fact prove the uselessness of both in a sordid symbiosis left as an especially ludicrous form of 'adding insult to injury'.


As I fast approach the end of another decade in my own life however, I find that this realization carries with it an intention to use such a milestone as a threshold.  Somewhere between now and that day in fact, I intend to pronounce a Steve Martin 'Citizen's Divorce' on my existing Facebook union.  While few if any may notice my departure (or care), I hope that in doing so, I may at least have the satisfaction of reducing my daily dose of blood pressure medication.  

For those of you so disgusted with my public rejection of these latest societal norms that you feel the need to 'unfriend' me, please feel free to do so if you must.  I apologize ahead of time for not noting your personal rejection, but with my failing memory and the planned infrequency of my visits, I will probably find myself limited to a vague regret and a quiet tear as I take notice of an already declining friends list approaching extinction. 

For those few who instead might actually miss my occasional feeble contributions to the social dialogue (both of you), I likewise apologize for appearing to give up so easily on this electronic relationship.  Please know that the fault is entirely mine.  It's not that my time is so precious that I can't afford to waste some of it, but I that my BULLSHIT detector has become far more troublesome to deal with of late and wading through the Facebook mountains of it in order to get to your efforts may simply have become too difficult to overcome my feeble efforts.

I intend to make no formal departure announcement beyond this, as doing so would provide far more importance to an event that probably deserves none.  Know as well that it's unlikely that I will comment on those rare occasions that I do log on as I go through the electronic detoxification process, since doing so would be counter-productive to my stated mission.  

I will not delete the software or the account however, as I hope to occasionally utilize the service to check on the goings on of family and friends in the way that I thought that the service was originally intended for.  As for the rest of you and it my Facebook friends ... 

Au revoir ...


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.