Monday, December 31, 2012

Oh, What a relief it is...

"Plop, plop, fizz, fizz - Oh, what a relief it is!"

Well, it is finally here. Year's end. Rather than looking back on what has been done and regretting what has been left undone, we have to prepare ourselves for the fiscal cliff. Not the consequences of such - no, the non-stop, wall to wall news coverage. Not only the news coverage, but the Washington D. C. blame game. As if we did not have enough reasons to drink on New Years Eve, this issue is enough to make a drunk out of Carrie Nation.

We trip into this new year with nothing but unresolved issues. It reminds me of me at an early age. When I had a bunch of ugly homework assignments to do and did not want to finish them, I would pretend they were gone and focus on something more pleasurable. I think the Freudian way of looking at this was my Id would out-muscle my Super Ego. Unfortunately, there was always a day of reckoning. Accountability. Consequences.

Starting on Wednesday, there will be many that just want to move on. In fact, the President was on Meet the Press talking about what was really important to him. Benghazi? Fiscal cliff? Upcoming debt limit? No - gun control. Gun control and immigration reform feed the Id for our President. His Super Ego knows that fixing this sick economy should be front and center. Four years ago when the economy was really sick, the President's Id allowed him to focus on Liddy Ledbetter and ObamaCare. The result? Four years of anemic growth, chronic unemployment and one more out of control entitlement. This four years could be deja' vu all over again.

So tonight as we toast in the new year, feel sorry for the baby 2013. It will not be treated as well as it deserves. Adult thinking and responsibility will continue to be in short supply. The leadership and stewardship in our country has been replaced by hundreds of rounds of golf and lots of days of vacation. The fighting will continue and more will want us to either cherry pick or re-write our Constitution as well as the Holy Bible. Yes, 2013 could be a rough ride for all.

Tonight, I will lift a glass to toast in the new year. Tomorrow morning however, will be a different story. Reality will have set in. The party will be over and the hangover will start. I will be looking for something, anything, to give me plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh, what a relief it is... 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Church Wars


Once upon a time in this galaxy, not that very long ago....
Before I start this tale, I must first make a disclosure. When it comes to churches, I know of what I speak. I have served on two church counsels, a church Treasurer, worked at a large church as Executive Director, been a Director of Stewardship, Social Ministry, and Alpha Ministries, as well as taught confirmation for five years. In other words, I have seen under the covers, looked behind the curtains. I have seen the good, the very good, the bad and sometimes the ugly. Not to sound jaded, even though I have not seen it all, I think I am close.

First the good. A wonderful church that we belonged to in the outer suburbs had a habit of doing truly wonderful things. I was serving on the church counsel at our former church when my family started to dribble away. First it was my older daughter who found this wonderful youth program at this church; then she took my youngest daughter over there; my wife, dying of curiosity followed soon after. I was left sitting in the pew by myself. I decided to venture over to this church and find out what the big deal with the church was about.

Right off the bat, my wife introduced me to the Senior Pastor. There was something about him that attracted me like a moth to a flame - he was bold. He asked me to go to lunch with him the next week so we could talk. We met, and he shared his vision for the church - in particular, Social Ministry. His vision for taking care of the least of us was far from timid. After the lunch was over I made my decision - we would leave the church we were members of for the past 15 years and join this new church.

This new church that we just joined to had a habit of doing the most amazing things. Bold ideas followed closely by bold action. A relevant church - a church that made a difference. I had just finished reading a book called Why men hate going to church. Bottom line - church was boring to most men. Not relevant. Want to serve? Be an usher. This new church however, choose to involve everyone, men, women and youth, in daring things. The church put on a Passion Play with live animals, they had weekend events such as Come to the Well, where well known authors and theologians would visit, speak and mingle with the congregation, they hosted Quake, an annual meeting for church leaders from all over the Midwest to discuss important faith based topics.

However the very good with this church was how they served - and serve they did. They hosted a free vacation bible school for all to attend - no questions asked. The church worked with the local food shelf as well as four or five grocery stores to collect food for the needy every March. It involved hundreds of people from the church and the amount of food collected was staggering. There was a festival, free of charge, in the autumn called Harvest Fest. It was an open house, come as you are, a celebration and party hosted by the church. There were rides, games and events. Just about everyone at the church was involved. There were also many other events that the church either hosted or was involved with. People at the church had a passion for serving, they had a passion for each other. As the Senior Pastor would say, this church was a place to love and be loved, serve and be served. In my oldest daughter's words, walking into our church was like "walking into a hug".

Now the bad. Churches, like anything else, need care and feeding. In the case of the church, the care and feeding is lots and lots of prayer. Churches are constantly under attack - spiritual attack. The more relevant a church is, the stronger the attack. In particular, church leaders are the biggest targets and suffer the strongest attacks. A great divide started to grow within the church. Part of it was from the synod that had just adopted radical new views on emerging social issues. The other part was the Senior Pastor had retired and the new Senior Pastor had a different vision. Things became so bad, a divorce took place. Half the church left to start a new church. The wonderful things, the bold things, the relevant things that made this church special - gone.

Now the ugly. There is very little interface between the two churches. Some remain very bitter towards the others. Grace and forgiveness, that we all learned about and practiced together, became history. The old church has become a traditional church - men can become ushers once again. The new church has the burden of being unable or unwilling to reconcile with the old. We have little to do with either church - we, along with many others, were casualties of this war, collateral damage resulting from a bitter divorce. Our wonderful church broke into two churches, both broken with many broken hearts and broken dreams remaining on the field of battle.

In the movie Camelot, once the round table was broken, and before the kingdom went to war with itself, King Aurthur shared the wonders of Camelot with a young man. I also feel the need to tell the tale of our church as it was. As sad as I am our church is no longer, I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to have been a part of something very special - something that really mattered. I will never forget it. The Senior Pastor, who brought us into that church, will always be my pastor in my heart. He showed me, as well as many others, that church is much more than just dressing up on Sunday morning. Church done right is truly a bold place - it is a place to "love and be love, serve and be served". 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Happy New Year! (really?)


"Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?"
Well, it is coming to an end. 2012 has come and gone. It was not a totally bad year, but not that swell either. Our vacation to Atkin was all but washed out due to the monster flood that hit the North Shore. Our young cat, Morty, died unexpectedly. Our back yard, which we worked on so hard in the spring, suffered under the ravages of the late summer drought. On the plus side, we had an excellent vacation to Pensacola, we were able to get my mother situated in a very nice care center, and the world did not end on the 21st of December.
On Tuesday, we start the new year. 2013. Many times in the past, I have looked forward to the new year as a new start, a new beginning. This year however, is different. I see trouble ahead for our great nation. I keep thinking back to the George Orwell book 1984 where "groupthink" was practiced by the masses. This country is in deep, deep trouble, and many in the ruling class are in denial. Our debt is crushing us, and yet nobody seems willing to take the medicine that will fix it. We have become so deeply divided, that the smallest of issues often result in political cat fighting. Very little gets done and we are inches away from being "ungovernable". In short, whether it is acknowledged or not, we are in a mess - a hot mess indeed.
We are going to start the new year off with a bang. Besides not being able to get along with each other, we also have lost the ability to get important things done on time. Due to our excessive procrastination, we are coming up with an unprecedented series of "cliffs" as soon as the new year starts.
  • Fiscal Cliff - What started out as kind of a joke many months ago, is now just hours away from reality. It has paralyzed our creativity, stifled our civility and further divided us economically. Many know what the real solution is, but fear prohibits them from disclosing it. To be a truth teller in 2013, will likely result in social and political isolation.
  • Debt Ceiling - Drug addicts. We are no better than drug addicts to spending. Every thing we have tried in the past to slow this juggernaut has not worked. We are now speeding towards Greece and the "powers that be" will be insisting we raise the ceiling one more time. Our drug addiction continues and the treatment centers are closed.
  • Sequestration - As someone in the Defense Department put it, "the upcoming sequestration is self amputation". The cuts are going to hurt. However, they must be made or our debt will climb even higher. The real culprits to our debt crisis however, continue to escape the scalpel. Run away entitlement spending is killing us, yet nobody seems to care.
  • Longshoreman Cliff - Meanwhile, as we were watching everything else go crazy, Longshoremen are getting ready to stage a nation wide strike at all our ports. So what? With our imbalance of trade, it will not take long for shortages of all kinds to start. Will our pro-union Administration invoke Taft-Hartley to stop this? Not hardly.
  • Milk Cliff - Due so some outdated 1949 law which needs an annual fix via the Ag Bill, milk is about to shoot up in price. The reasons behind it are so complicated and so ridiculous, I choose not to go into it. All I can say is this - if you decide to learn more about this issue, it will further reduce your confidence in how our government works.
So as we enter the new year, the first few steps will be rocky ones. When faced with a struggle, our parents would tell us to deal with it, as it would "kill us or cure us". That is how I feel about the upcoming year. January will tell the tale of the tape. How we handle these huge mountain of issues will foretell how the rest of the year will go. Am I an optimist or a pessimist on 2013? Neither - I am a realist. Since we refuse to learn from history, we are condemned to repeat it. Our financial stomach ache will only get worse until we collectively stick our finger down our throat. Buckle up folks - I think the ride will be bumpy as soon as we return from the holidays.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Adventures in Paradise


"Sometimes Hawaii is not like the brochure"

Famous travel agent warning

Between the ages of 9 and 12, I was transfixed by a television series called Adventures in Paradise. Along with 77 Sunset Strip (which started in 1958), those two shows were like a drug to young men like myself. Whereas 77 Sunset Strip was a show about a Los Angles private eye firm (remember "Kookie"?), Adventures in Paradise took place in Tahiti.

I don't know or remember how much of Adventures in Paradise was filmed on location, of if the entire show was filmed elsewhere to look like Tahiti. It really did not matter to me - I was a nine year old kid. All I know is this - I would go to bed after watching that show thinking about laying on a beach all day filled with ultra white sand and azure blue water. It became part of my "bucket list" at a very early age. I wanted to go there so bad, it hurt.

Flash forward to 1987. I was working at a company which sold MIL SPEC data storage devices to our government as well as some foreign governments. A partner company I was working with in California had the Royal Australian Navy as a customer. We would travel to California, meet with our partner company, and sometimes a representative from Australia would be there also. I loved it when someone from Australia came. I loved the way they talked, I loved their mannerisms. As an adult, I really wanted to visit Australia, but I feared that would never happen. That is one that would be part of my bucket list and would probably stay in the bucket long after I kicked the bucket.

One day I received a call from our partner company. "Change of plans. We are moving our operation to Sydney to be closer to the customer. Also, to save money, the Australians want to negotiate directly with your company to eliminate extra burden costs". I was speechless. How in the world was this going to work? It was the end of the year, and my department's travel budget was all but gone. The next thing I know, through the power of company politics, I was called into my manager's office and told to "get a passport - you are going to Australia".

I was due to leave after a busy Navy Reserve weekend. I got home Sunday night, unpacked my Navy stuff and repacked for a two week trip to Sydney. Monday morning my wife took me to the airport where I met up with the other two men going with me. We left mid morning  and once we landed in Los Angles, we transferred to the Qantas terminal. The plane we were going to take to Sydney was an odd looking jet. It was much smaller than a normal Boeing 747. It was short and squat and called a 747 SP (Special Plane). It was the only passenger jet available that could make it from Los Angles to Sydney without a refuel. We took off before midnight and began our very long 16 hour flight to the "Land of Oz".

It was a great trip. We got the legal and engagement documents done early and then came to agreement on price and delivery. We were done early and going home. Christmas was right around the corner so I was ready to leave, to rejoin my family. We were booked on a regular jet for the flight home, which meant we had to stop for a refuel. I asked the lady at the flight counter where we would be refueling and she said "Tahiti". Suddenly, my life flashed back to when I was nine years old. I was going to paradise! I could not believe my luck! First Australia, and then Tahiti!

We took off from Sydney and headed east over the Pacific. I was very excited. In just a few hours we would be landing in Tahiti. Just before landing, the pilot came on the intercom. "Ladies and gentlemen. When we land at Tahiti, please take any valuables with you before you deplane. Many of the locals who will be cleaning the plane are thieves. Also, there is civil unrest on the island, so the French military will handle you during our four hour lay over". What? This can not be! The television show was not like this. I had a bunch of souvenirs to give to the kids at Christmas. Now they were to be stolen?

We got off the plane and had to walk across the tarmac. It was hotter than blazes and it was not yet noon. The French "peace keepers" took charge of us and they were anything but kind. In fact, they were down right rude. They all had automatic weapons hanging from their shoulders and looked like they could use them. We were herded into a room with no air conditioning and had to stay there for three hours. Our possessions were searched, we were questioned, and worst of all, treated like criminals rather than passengers. We were finally able to get back on the plane and took off. Nothing of mine was lost, stolen or broken, except my life long fantasy of Tahiti.

Now when I watch the new version of Hawaii 5.0, I think "Wow - would it be ever nice to live there!" It looks so good, so colorful, so inviting - especially on a Hi Def television. Then I remember Tahiti. I remember that old adage from the travel business - "Sometimes Hawaii is not like the brochure". Or in the case of Tahiti, just the opposite.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Kickin' the Can...


"Never do today, what you can put off until tomorrow..."
(famous satire humor)
Over the weekend, my truck started to leak oil. I called the local dealership and he told me I could either bring it in to have the leak fixed, or just change the oil and put in some STP. By doing the latter, it would be easier and less expensive. The truck would still leak, only not as much. In fact, after the STP wore off, the leak would be as fast, maybe faster than it was before the treatment.
Over the weekend, I decided to start a diet. This new diet is going to be easy. In fact, I don't even have to lose any weight. The new diet will allow me to keep gaining weight, only not as fast. There are no goals or rules on this diet, so even though my weight gain will not be as fast, it can revert back at any time.
Actually, over the weekend, even though it was a holy time, I did quite a bit of thinking about the unholy mess we have in Washington. With 138 hours remaining until Jan 1, 2013 (yes, we are now down to hours), we have different factions in the two major parties trying to come up with tiny solutions to a huge problem. Every solution mentioned so far does not put a dent, not a scratch, in the problem. I have said before, this problem took decades to develop with many hands forming it. It is not going to be fixed by a 138 hour band aid.
In the midst of all my ruminations and mulling on this very important issue, it hit me like a bolt from the blue. How do we know if any solution we come up with will work? Will it be "stout" enough to make a difference? Answer - the National Debt Clock. Everything, every gimmick, every financial trick we have tried in the past has not fooled the old debt clock. It just keeps spinning away. Every fix  we have had has been the diet with no weight loss. In short, every solution we have tried has been a non-solution.
Hold on. What I am about to say will sound very basic, maybe too simplistic. Some might even say naive. It boils down to this - for us to know if a solution is truly a solution, the debt clock would stop spinning. Period. For a fix to be a fix, the bleeding first needs to stop. In other words, the debt clock would have to stop. Then for the fix to be truly effective, the debt clock needs to start moving backwards. The speed would not matter, it would just have to move in reverse.
How big of a move would this have to be? Consider this - so far this fiscal year, we are spending money faster than last year. Our deficit this fiscal year will eclipse the whopper from last year. Our deficit this year could be as high as $1.7T! So if we carved out only $1T  this year alone (and NOBODY is talking about that amount), the debt clock would continue to spin forward. The $1T to $4T we have heard people talk about is for a period of ten years. Like I said, not a dent, not a scratch.
Just this morning for the umpteenth time I heard a pundit say "Oh, I wish we could come to some sort of agreement so we can get on to the meaningful things like guns, immigration and energy". What!!?? This is not important? Truth be known, to really fix this, so it is not an annual stop on our fiscal calendar, will take all year, maybe more. It will change the way we tax, collect taxes, spend and account for spending. It will change everything. It will be a THE game changer. Fix this Mr. President, and it will be your legacy. To not fix it, and we continue to spiral towards Greece, will also be your legacy.
"Kick the can" is not longer a game kids play - it the way we do business. Our fiscal mess is the way it is because we like diets that allow us to gain weight. When a "deal" is finally cut, keep a jaundiced eye on ye old debt clock. If it continues to spin wildly, remind your representative in Washington the job is not yet done. Many are ready to pop the champagne cork, but before you take that first sip, first look under the truck to make sure the oil leak has stopped.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Greatest Story


"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life"

John 3:16

One early winter evening, a little over two thousand years ago, something truly wonderful happened. As had been prophesied for centuries, a young woman and her husband came to a small village in the Middle East to seek shelter and a room in order to deliver the baby the woman was carrying. In this small village, the man and his wife discovered there was no room at the inn, and if they needed a place to stay, they would have to share it with the livestock in the stable. That night, in the stable, amidst all the filth and animals, a truly wonderful event happened that changed the world forever.

For unto the man and woman, a child was born. This child, born in the most humble of all surroundings, was to become the one that would bring hope to the hopeless, joy to the joyless and life to the lifeless. He would be known by many different names to many different people – Rabbi, teacher, counselor, Jesus, Savior and friend. He came into a world plagued by sin, to lead people, all people, to a greater glory. He was the Son of God that became known as the Son of Man.

It is for this man, this Son of Man, that we celebrate His birth every December. It was His birth that started the greatest change that the world has ever known. It is His birth that gives us all our purpose. Regardless if we know it, or if we acknowledge it, we are all tied to that event that happened so very long ago. As many times as we have heard this story, we never cease to be profoundly moved by the magnitude of the gift that has been given to us. What He has requested in return, is that we love, forgive and serve each other as He has done for us.

His story needs to be told many times throughout the year, but especially at Christmas. Besides loving each other, Jesus also wanted us to be tellers of this wonderful story. It is at this time of year when we are surrounded by family, friends and love, that we think back on the Christmas story – truly, the greatest story ever told.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

It's ALL Good...


"Oh what a beautiful morning,
Oh what a beautiful day,
I've got a wonderful feeling,
Everything's going my way"
Rodgers and Hammerstein

Today, I woke up with a song in my heart! Not really. I did however, wake up deep in introspection about this very busy month. Much has happened this month and much is yet to happen. With as much negativity as we have been exposed to, this morning, a very simple thought came to mind - it really is all good.

Not to sound like a Pollyanna, what does that mean? For example, consider the following:
  • Hey - the world did not end yesterday. Many people secreted quarts of stomach bile worrying about this for months, maybe years. We all woke up this morning and things were still here.
  • We are going over the "fiscal cliff" in less than two weeks. Who cares? For those who have really studied this situation, the cure, for it really to work, is going to be very painful for most of us. We might as well (financially) stick our finger down our throat, throw up, and get it over with. Bad news does not get better with age, and going over the cliff might end up being the best thing for all of us.
  • We made it thought the shortest day of the year. Not only was is the first day of winter, many also think of it as the first day of early spring as the days will now start to get longer. Yea!
  • As I write this, I am sitting next to my wife who I have been married to for close to 40 years. We both had birthdays this month and are healthy enough to enjoy doing and sharing things together. Not a day that goes by, that I am not grateful for this wonderful woman whom I share my life with.
  • Having just done a posting on our Constitution earlier this week, it gave me pause to remember how grateful I am that I live in this most wonderful country. With all the warts and bruises we sometimes get coming to consensus by governing, I would not trade it. We are blessed beyond measure to live here.
  • As proud as I was of my girls as they were growing up, I am even more proud of them now that they are young women. Not only for the accomplishments they have earned in their professions, but most importantly, their hearts. The joy that my wife and I receive from them is truly the gift that keeps on giving.
  • Christmas is next week - the ultimate season of renewal. For those who believe, it is the time to celebrate the birth of Christ, the most special of seasons. For those who do not believe, it is still the most festive of times. To me, that is the magic of Christmas, maybe that is the hidden gift for us all. It is the time when many believers, or other wise, become more Christ like in how they treat others. It is truly the most wonderful time of the year.

Just some thoughts to share on this frigid morning. We will soon set out on our day, doing some final chores before the Christmas celebration begins, and still try to carve out time to reflect and enjoy. Is it good? Absolutely, today I look around and say, "It's ALL good".

Friday, December 21, 2012

Divided Government


"Sometimes I think the world is divided into those who have a comfortable relationship with power and those who have a naturally adversarial relationship with power"

Arundhati Roy

Could be a rough day on the corner of Wall and Broad. It has nothing to do with the world ending or not ending; it has nothing to do with Winter Solstice; it has nothing to do with Christmas coming next week. No, it has everything to do with Wall Street giving back the unearned gains from "thinking" the fiscal cliff negotiations were making progress. As of last night, it sure looks like we are going to hold hands, and in Thelma and Louise fashion, drive over that darn old cliff together.

So now we have done it. It is our fault. If we had just not voted for divided government, everything would be fine right now. We did not have divided government the first two years of Obama's first term. We did not have these kinds of problems. In fact, because of the huge majority in the House and a veto proof Senate, the Dems were able to get just about everything they wanted. Heck, we got Obamacare. Nobody read or understood the bill, but who cares? The important thing is we got it. If the Republicans were in charge of the House, do you really think it would have passed as is? NO! For one thing, WE WOULD HAVE READ THE BILL!

It has been said when the Republicans are in charge, they act like deer in the headlights. Whereas when the Democrats are in charge, they act like participants in a drunken orgy. Neither does well going stag to the party. As much as people HATE divided government, with all the bickering that accompanies it, it is the best way to get things done. It is painful, it is ugly, but it works.

Back to last night. As much as we all like the Speaker, he has been "danced around the May Pole" in the fiscal cliff negotiation. He made a cardinal sin - he compromised on principal and then the next step was only to what degree the compromise would be. This became unacceptable to the true believers. The President on the other hand, gave up nothing. No spending cuts, no ideas for the future, no promises, nothing. The 3 - 1 ratio of spending cuts to revenue increases became 1 - 1 and then 0 - 1. As much as I like the Speaker, I give him a solid "F" for this outcome.

As much as people want to blame our divided government for the failure of the fiscal cliff negotiations, I say thank God we have it. If the Republicans had lost the House, here is where we would be - everyone making over $250K getting a big tax hike and not one dime in spending cuts. Our real problem, as represented by our National Debt Clock, would continue to spin like a top. Now that this charade is over, and we are going off the cliff together, we can work on coming up with REAL solutions to this REAL problem. All this talk about coming up with a quick superficial agreement and then moving on to immigration reform and gun control, was so shallow, it was disingenuous. To REALLY fix our fiscal mess will take months, maybe more than a year of damn hard work. EVERYONE will be affected in some way or another. The party is over and it is time to pay the band.

Divided government? I love it. Even though the day traders on Wall Street are crying big tears right now, the solution which will come out of divided government might be the thing that saves us. We need to take the drunk out of the liquor store and start treatment. The time is now, the place is here. Enjoy the holidays and come back to work in January with sleeves rolled up, ready to work. Be prepared to stay in session as long as it takes. You work for us, stop spending our money like fools, and fix the problem. You asked for this job, you won the election, now earn your pay.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

That Darn Old Constitution!


"Give me Liberty, or Give me Death!"
Patrick Henry
Even though I learned about the Constitution while in high school, as I have grown older I have developed much more of a respect for our founding document. Not only the document itself, but also the wisdom of the men who put it together. One of the things I have come to realize is that most of the amendments, as well as the document itself, is a reaction to the tyranny the early inhabitants of the colonies endured living under the British.
Actually, we should be very grateful to the British and how they ruled us before we became a country. If they were benevolent, we might never had sought to be an independent country. However, it was the tyranny of the British which lit the fire for Independence and allowed our founders to sculpt such a magnificent document. Possibly not knowing it at the time of inception, this document was designed to be timeless.
That being said, I am amazed at the every growing number of people in this country which believe our Constitution is dated or outdated. It needs to change with the times - like maybe becoming a "living document" rather than the cornerstone of our liberty. Recently, we even had one of our Supreme Court justices go to a foreign country and advise them to use another constitution as a guide instead of ours. When I read that, you could have knocked me over with a feather.
Of all the parts of our Constitution, the one which comes under fire the most (especially now) is the Second Amendment. I like to refer to this one as the "hunting amendment" just because it has absolutely NOTHING to do with hunting. However, many times when the "chattering class" or the "low information voters" start talking about revision or repeal, they equate this amendment with hunting.
First a couple of facts before I continue. The purpose of the Constitution was not to allow us or give us powers, rather it was to define and contain the powers we give to our government. That has been proven time and time again. Next, the purpose of the Second Amendment was specifically to keep the government in check. What our founders knew way back then was this - the first step in tyranny is take the guns away from the people. When our country was young, the people had the same type of guns the government had - nothing less, nothing more. The fact that folks also used their guns for hunting was incidental.
We have rights and we have laws. We have the right to bear arms - that is sacrosanct. If we misuse that right by robbing, assaulting or killing innocent people, the person responsible will be punished in accordance to the laws we have on the books. What many on the Left don't understand is this - laws can be changed and should be enforced. A right, as guaranteed by our founding document, should never be changed or eliminated.
I am a gun owner. I belong to the NRA. I have a carry permit. In the service, I qualified as an expert marksman with both rifle and pistol. Most importantly, I understand my right to buy and use arms as well as I understand the law should I ever misuse them. I cherish this right as well as the rights I have under the other amendments of our Constitution.
That "darn old constitution"? Not in my book. It is that magnificent document crafted for us by the wisdom and courage of our founding fathers. It is my duty to preserve and protect this document so we may in turn pass that down to our children and grandchildren. It is the cornerstone of our liberty. It is the cornerstone of American exceptionalism. It is a beacon of light for the world to see - and hopefully, imitate.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Fine Hot Mess...


"Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive!"
Sir Walter Scott
Well it is here. For most that have been paying attention, the report released on the Benghazi mess came as no surprise what-so-ever. Probably the most damning part of the entire report was not the cover up. It was the "lack of imagination" in preparing the Benghazi outpost for social unrest, terror attack and protecting our human assets. This report was not the end of the story, rather it was just the beginning. Yes, many more questions than answers remain.
Tomorrow there will be hearings on the Hill to peel back the onion a bit further. The star witness will not be there. As goofy as this entire episode had been, the reason Secretary Clinton will not be there is the most goofy. It seems last week she came back from one of her trips with the "trots", got dehydrated, passed out at home and hit her head. This resulted in a mild concussion and was declared "exempt" from testifying on the 20th. Back in my service days, the response would have been "I am calling bulls**t on that one!". Next week is Christmas, then break, and then she is done. Gone. The new Secretary of State will be sworn in.
However, the fact we still have a dead ambassador and three other Americans remain. As well as a bevy of unanswered questions. In fact, some questions might even reach higher than the Secretary's post. For example, this cock and bull story about the video tape being responsible for the carnage came from somebody - and not James Clapper. This was the company line. It was critical that the American people thought the "Arab Spring" was a rousing success and Al Quada was on the run. Neither were true. In fact, one of the items that keeps floating around is why the ambassador was in Benghazi in the first place. Was it he was trying to retrieve U.S. supplied weapons from the rebels? Were our people killed by our own weapons? Why no rescue when the cries for help were so loud? Why did we have any embassy staff in the country of Libya when it was clear they could not provide us safety? Why did the Administration stick with the cover up so long when it was clear it was false?
This is not going away. Some think that the memory of Brian Terry will soon be forgotten as Fast and Furious is being over taken by other events. Not so. As Fast and Furious was malfeasance by the Justice Department, Benghazi is also maleficence by the State Department. If the President knew about the truth with either of these events, that is a big problem. If we was so distant that he did not know about either of these events, that is just as big of a problem. Dead Americans, with parts of our government being run like a Three Stooges movie without the humor. A big problem - a hot mess.
We need to hear from truth tellers. We deserve the truth. We can't hide behind the fiscal cliff, immigration reform or gun control. Stop the act, stop the charade, tell the truth. We deserve no less.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The End of the World


"It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine"

Oh crap! The end of the world is scheduled for Friday and I am not prepared! I am in a world of hurt (no pun intended) as I have done nothing to get ready for the big event. How do I know it is ending? Simple - the Mayans told us so. Wait a minute - maybe they did not. They did run out their calendar on Friday's date, but no mention of the end of the world. In fact, some are saying the calendar end date is really 200 years from now. In any event, the world may end on Friday - or Thursday - or Monday - or 4 million years from now.

We have seen a bevy of movies as of late describing the way we will meet our end. We have been hits by asteroids, meteors, comets, solar flares, alien invasions and so on. And we can't forget the SUVs which cause global warming. So much global warming, super storms would develop. If you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, you would freeze solid. No wonder we are paranoid about December 21st.

Lets suppose is was true and we have known about it for a while. How would we have lived our lives? Total hedonism? Passion and/or compassion? World wide travel or hunkered down. Years ago, the church we attended did a sermon series called One Month to Live. If we were told (for whatever reason), we had one month to live, what would we do? How would we live that month?

Many of us, myself included, have a habit of clicking off days without paying much attention. We get up, we do stuff, we have supper, we go to bed. When we get to Friday, we try to remember all the things we have done during the week. More often than not, it is just a blur. Rather than treating every day as a gift, a fragile, precious gift, our days become part of the blur

A man I knew many years ago once told me every night before bed he thought about the interactions he had during the day. In his prayers, he asked for forgiveness for not only sinning against God, but also people he had not treated as he should have. The ones he could not remember or was aware of, he gave a blanket prayer for forgiveness - he wanted to make sure he finished the day "clean". Most of all, we wanted to ensure that each day, every day, he would do better than the day before.

We don't know why the Mayan calendar ends on Friday. Maybe we will never know. We do know this - they never made any claim the calendar ending had ANYTHING to do with the end of world. Hollywood has us prepped for the worst by showing us movies for years that depict horrible things. The Lord on the other hand, has promised us that "no man know the hour, knows the day" that Christ will return. We can take this opportunity to reflect on life, our lives, and the fragile nature of such. Once again, we found out last Friday how fragile life can be.

Will the world end? Absolutely. We just don't know when. All we know is this - every morning when our feet hit the floor, we have a full day of opportunities waiting for us. The only tragedy we face is if we don't take advantage of those golden opportunities. On Friday morning when you get up, enjoy the day!

Monday, December 17, 2012

We built this house...

"Where we love is home - home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts"

Oliver Wendell Holmes
As I grown older, I have thought more about our lives together. The years have come and gone, and shortly we will be celebrating our 30th year in the house that we built. It was just recently I have been thinking about our house. I know, it is easy to take our dwelling for granted. However, our house, once we made it our home, became a part of the fabric which is woven thoughout our family.
Our first home was a small "starter house" in a fairly new suburb of the Twin Cities. It was a fine home for us and we had neighbors which we became very close to. I was working by the airport in Bloomington ,which made my commute daunting at best. However, as the old saying goes "live where you want to live and work where you want to work". That rang true with me. I loved living in the northern suburbs and I also loved my job.
My wife worked about 20 miles north of our house. Many of the people she taught with had bought acreage lots and built over sized houses. Whenever we would visit one of them, I would look around in wonder at all that land! Not only the land, but trees galore. Out buildings to store tools and toys in were like eye candy to me. When we arrived back home after one of these visits, I could not help feeling "cramped". Also, with the town houses behind us evolving into Section 8 housing, I wanted to ensure our house did not slide into decreasing property values and the problems associated with it.
After we had our first daughter, I suggested the three of us do something nutty. Lets drive north a few miles and look at lots. It sounded like fun, so we piled into the car and started what could have been a fool's errand. One of the first places we found had recently been developed into 2 1/2 acre lots for sale. It was in the middle of huge strand of mature red pines and was beautiful. We talked to the developer, got some information and left. The thought in my mind was that now that these lots were were on the market, they were going to sell like hot cakes. The thought in my wife's mind was lets keep looking.
The lot in the pines which really had my interest was a larger than the rest. The lot was too small for the developer to split into 2 lots. I loved the location of this lot, and in my mind's eye, I could visualize how a house would look nestled into those lovely pines. My wife however, was not on board. Logistics were discussed. My already long drive would be longer, but my wife's would be shorter. That was fine with me. After some husband/wife negotiations, we agreed to put some money down on that 4 acre lot in the pines.
We brought both sets of parents out to see the lot. The consensus by the elders was their kids were nuts. The lot was in the middle of nothing and had no cities amenities close by. No sewer or water, so a well and septic would be needed. With dozens of reasons not to do it, we decided to buck the wisdom of our elders as well as common sense and do it anyhow. We found a design for a four level split, made some modifications, and "inked" a deal with the developer, who was also a builder.
We moved in the summer of 1984, shortly after our 10th anniversary. It was strange. I was not around much when the house was being built - I was in Washington D.C. working on a protracted negotiation. I would come home on the weekends, drive out to see the progress on the house, and then leave again. Our builder was honest ,so even with not being around much when the house was built, it turned out just fine (with a few minor adjustments).
After we moved in my travels continued. After a grueling week in Washington, surrounded by the concrete jungle, I would fly home on Friday night. Once home, I would strip off my suit and just listen to the quiet. On Saturdays, after chores, we would sit on the deck and enjoy the solitude of the woods. Our new house had shortly become not only our home, but our recluse as well.
Years went on, our second daughter was born, and the girls grew up in our house in the pines. Each girl had their own room and decorated them to reflect their personalities. We celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, our daughter's marriage and other festive events. The house was part of our joys as well as our sorrows. We made improvements, added out buildings and developed our back yard into a landscaped wonderland. Eventually, both girls who had grown up in this house, left for lives of their own.

The house in now emptier, and certainly much more quiet. Both of the girl's former bedrooms have been "remade" into rooms for different purposes. The back yard which was once filled with swing sets and portable swimming pools, is now a sanctuary for birds, deer and wild turkeys. We know that our time in this house will be over sooner rather than later. Before long it will be time to move into something smaller and easier to care for. When that day comes, it will be hard. This house, like so many others, are chuck full of family memories. Laughter, tears, joys and sorrows will always be part of the history of our house.

We built this house. We built this house to be much more than a house - we built it to be a part of our family, our home. The almost thirty years we have lived in this house have sped by like thirty minutes. Truthfully, I have enjoyed just about every minute of it. In the words from the song by Crosby, Stills and Nash, "Our house is a very, very fine house..."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Stars in the Crown


"And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars."

Revelation 12:1
When my Mother-in-law was alive, her favorite expression when she wanted you to do something nice she would say, "please do it, you will get another star in your crown". Last Thursday, I once again thought about "stars in the crown" when we attended the Christmas party held at my Mother's care center.

It was a wonderful event. It was not only for the residents, but also their families. All the ladies had their hair done and were dressed as festive as their current wardrobe allowed. In the six months my Mother has lived there, I have never seen so many families visit at one time. All had families there for this most festive of occasions - all but one lady.

She sat at our table with three other residents and families. Some residents had not only children, but grandchildren and great grandchildren as well. There were hot snacks, punch and coffee and live music. One of the staff saw the lady with no family was sitting by herself. She pulled up a chair and sat next to her. She talked to her and then got up to get her a plate of food. Everything was going fine until the man playing the music decided to play "Blue Christmas". The lady with no family stopped eating, put her head down and started to weep. The staff person put her arm around her, hugged her and held her tight, as if she was her own mother. Such a small act of kindness, but what a huge impact. The weeping stopped and she again could enjoy the party. Stars in the crown.

The next day I thought about the party. I thought about the small act of kindness that that meant so much to just one person. It let me reflect on my friend Paul from many years ago. He had a passion for youth development. His motto each day, every day was to make a positive influence in someone's life. Usually small, sometimes the impact was bigger than small. A man of faith, he felt it important that when we touch someone's life, it is a good touch with a positive effect. Sometimes a positive effect can be a small as a kind word, a harsh word left unspoken, or just a smile. Other times, it is amelioration of suffering by offering food, a hot meal or shelter. Each day, every day, a positive influence. Stars in the crown.

One of the gifts we have been given is healing. As we go though life, we are given uncounted opportunities to help, to heal. Every year's end I reflect of what I have done and left undone. I think of the opportunities I have let slip by. To help, to heal, but for many reasons, I did not.  I will redouble by resolve to do better in the upcoming year. I think about love, what the Master taught us about love, and how important it is for all of us.

Opportunities will continue to reveal themselves in the upcoming year. My goal, my prayer is that where I have turned a blind eye in the past, I am able to see in the future. A gift of the highest order is the gift of letting us help, of letting us give. By taking advantage of that gift is where we will earn stars in our crowns. Of this I am most certain.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Night that Jesus Came

This article is one I used on my previous blog. It was taken from Worship.Net on March 24, 2005. It is a true story that was orginally printed in a southern newspaper in June 2001(author unknown). I felt in light of what happened yesterday on the East Coast, this would be appropriate for today.

There was a atheist couple who had a very sweet little girl...they never told her about the Lord and did their best to discredit or entirely keep all knowledge of the Lord from her... One night when the little girl was only five years old, her parents fought viciously with each other. It certainly wasn’t the first time she had seen any fights break out between them, but this time was by far the worst, and it scared her terribly. In the end, her Father shot her Mother and then turned the gun on himself. This little girl saw the horrors of it ALL... She was then made a ward of the state and was sent to live in a foster home. The foster mother was a Christian woman and took the little girl to church with her every Sunday. However, the first day of Sunday school, the foster mother informed her teacher that the little girl had never heard of Jesus and to have patience with her. After hearing the little girl’s sad story, the teacher agreed... During the course of Sunday school, the teacher happened to hold up a picture of Jesus and asked her class, "Does anyone know who this man is and why He is so famous?" The little girl held up her hand and mystified as well as rather intrigued, the teacher called on her with a kind smile. The little girl smiled back and then the smile faded and her eyes took on a very sad and far away expression as she answered in a small voice barely heard, "I DO know who He is because that is the man who was holding me the night my parents died."

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Vocabulary Test for Modern Times

"If you raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires, you'll do nothing to address the debt and the deficit. And the thing you might do is you might finally put this economy over another cliff"

Joe Walsh
I love history. History is something we can always learn from. As often as not, if you are paying attention, you will see history repeat itself. I think we about to see that happen again.
Shortly after the President was sworn into office in Jan of 2009, the economy was in tatters. It was going to take some major effort and elbow grease to put things back on a half way normal track. The country was focused on this and believed the President was also. Then out of the blue came Lillie Ledbetter and OmabaCare. The whole jobs and economy thing took a back seat. With the midterms of 2010, the people spoke once again - get busy with the economy. Nothing happened. The debt limit negotiation turned into a fiscal cliff and sequestration nightmare scheduled to appear at midnight, December 31, 2012. After the November elections, with a slim victory in hand, the President began a tepid negotiation with the Speaker on resolving the upcoming nightmare.
How is history repeating? To fully resolve our financial issues, we need major surgery on the tax code, entitlements and others. To do this the right way, it will take the better part of the second term. It needs to be priority #1, 2, 3 and 4. However, on the news this morning, Politico reported that shortly after the inauguration in January, the first priority will be immigration reform. Our financial fix will need to be lower priority. People can't seem to remember how we got here in the first place - it was called "kicking the can down the street". In addition, the vocabulary has become fuzzy. We understand how to soak the rich, but the other terms have been forgotten or redefined. It is for that purpose I need to give a vocabulary test.
Annual Deficit - This is the amount of money on a fiscal year basis, that we spend more that we take in for revenue. At our current rate of spending, this number could be as high as $1.7T in GFY 13.
National Debt - This the amount of aggregate deficits the country owes. As of today, the debt stands at $16.372T. Unless we are able to control our spending this fiscal year, it could be as high as $17.7T by Sept 30, 2013.

Unfunded Liabilities - This somewhat unreported number is very important, especially as we discuss entitlement reform. The liability of all federal programs, including the entitlements, is slightly over $100T. The number is calculated by taking the expected outlays for the next twenty years and comparing it the projected revenue coming in.

Unfunded Mandates - Every regulation, rule or statute coming out of Washington has some kind of cost. Some costs are very small, some are huge. Very few, if any of these regulations are accompanied by funding which will help offset these costs. As many of these which have hit the business community the past four years will seem small compared to what is expected in the next four years.

Interest - So far in the first two months of GFY 13, we have paid $38B in interest to service our debt. Every year when the total debt goes up, so does our interest expense. If we were not in the time of almost "free" money, the interest amount would be astronomical.

States - As more and more blue states teeter on bankruptcy, they will be looking to Washington for help - a bailout. Many of these are driven by underfunded pensions. This could be a huge number.

Unexpected - There are always the bumps in the road. For example, Super Storm Sandy already has a price tag of $60B which is being shoved towards the feds. Look for this number to grow.

Unknown - The 600 pound gorilla on this one is Obamacare. This could be the grand daddy of the new cost drivers.

Well that is it folks. Unfortunately, most reading this article already know these definitions. It is the "chattering class" in Washington that needs the lesson. So far, they have earned an "F" in this class.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The 7% Solution


"I've learned it's always better to have a small percentage of a big success, than a hundred percent of nothing"

Art Linkletter

Relax folks. This article has nothing to do with the 1976 Sherlock Holmes film. As fun as it would be to write a review on this movie, it is not my intent. No, the "7% solution" is what the fiscal cliff negotiations seem to be coming down to.

This fiscal cliff negotiations should be huge. We are talking about our country spending more than $1T every year than we take in for revenue (taxes). In FY 13, which just started on October 1st of this year, our spending has really picked up. In fact, we are spending so much, so fast, if we continue at this rate, we should rack up a deficit this fiscal year close to $1.7T! It is so much money, most people cannot comprehend the staggering amount and end up tuning out. But it is there. Eating into our productivity, corroding our dollar, and then costing us billions in debt servicing.

As we approach the half way point in December, it seems all the discussions have centered around raising the tax rates on the top two percent. In other words, if we accept the offer on the table and raise the top rate 39.5%, it would solve only 7% of the problem. This is the new "7% solution". I have said before, if we could just take the politics out of this discussion and have it be a math issue, the "7% solution" would not be on the table. In budget negotiations of the past, the strategy was been lets raise the rates and we will have a future Congress address the cost cutting. It never happens. Some of the longer memories have taken over and the Republicans are not going to fall in the trap again.

So where do we go with the "7% solution"? Absolutely no place. It is a non-starter. First off, all the hyperbole about the "rich" not paying their "fair share" is a canard. For example, in 2009, the top 1% paid over 20% of all personal taxes collected. Effective next month, the top 20 percent will be hit with an average of $6,000 in new Obamacare taxes. The New York Times reports that 85 percent of the new levies will be footed by the top one percent of the tax payers.

We can only use the top tier as ATM machines for so long before they figure something else out. For example, they can leave. They can pick up their marbles and set up operations elsewhere where their capital is appreciated for what it can do for the host countries GNP. Or they can quit. They can shutter their doors, lay everyone off, and live off the fruits of their labor. There is no law that states the rich have to work and produce.

As long as the "7% solution" is the only solution being talked about, we will be having the same discussion going into the new year. If we go off the fiscal cliff, good. If some have to pay more, all should pay more. Truthfully, our budget mess is so large, so vast, it will take not only everyone's taxes going up, but also draconian cuts in entitlements, as well as lesser cuts in defense and discretionary.

There you have it. This is my take of the "7% solution". If you want to see a "7% solution" with real merit, go to Netfilx and rent the 1976 Sherlock Holmes movie.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Candyman vs. Dr. No

Dr. No

"It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and the broken promises"

Chief Joseph
It sucks to be a "Dr. No". It is more fun to be Santa Clause or "The Candyman". I thought about this contrast during the election. As the old expression goes, Republicans aim for the head and Democrats aim for the heart. This was self evident leading up to the November election. Not only did "Dr. No" tell people the truth that  in the future we could not afford as many goodies, the fact that "Dr. No" had been successful and was worth a bundle did not help the optics. "The Candyman" on the other hand, knew the right notes to hit. The newer version of the  promise of a "chicken in every pot" had been resurrected, and resurrected in spades.

The rest of the story is history. An adoring public looked up to "The Candyman" as if he was more than human, almost divine. It is true that the economy was in shambles, but who cares? It was not the fault of "The Candyman". "The Candyman" had told us for years that the problems plaguing the country were the fault of that "know nothing cowboy" from Texas. Not to worry however - no matter how bad things are, "The Candyman" had a plan. Plus, if it were not for the allies of "Dr. No" putting up road block after road block, many of our problems would have been fixed during the first four years. "The Candyman" promised us once again that the next four years were going to be much, much better. We were all going to finally get change - the change we could believe in!

Back to poor old "Dr. No". He should have had the wind at his back going into November. "The Candyman" was truly "low fruit on the tree" - easy pickings. Not only was the economy in the tank, but the U6 unemployment number had been stuck at 15% for months. Food stamps were at an all time high and the housing market was still a mess. To top things off, the Fast and Furious issue was still unresolved and the new Benghazi scandal had just erupted. "Dr. No" felt that even with "The Candyman" promising the moon  (plus the stars) to the more gullible class, victory was within reach!

Then something bad happened. "Dr. No" had committed the unforgivable sin. He told the truth. You see, "Dr. No" is a very moral man and had a difficult time lying. He was caught on tape saying that the 47% of the people who pay no income tax would have a tough time voting for him. He was correct. He had told us that the income tax code needed to be redone resulting in two or three rates with very few deductions. The meant most people who were now paying nothing, would end up paying something. To make this work, all needed to have "skin in the game". By telling the truth, "Dr. No" had poured his own cup of hemlock. Advantage, "Candyman". Game over, "Dr. No".

The moral of this story is thus - many of the people who make up the masses have become addicted to fables. They have been told the same stories and given the same promises year after year, and yet still fall for the lies. Allies of "The Candyman" have made "boogiemen" of those on the other side who do not deserve it. Yet many of the "low information" (as Rush calls them) voters still believe the lies. Personal responsibility and accountability have been replaced with unfair outcomes. It is not our fault - it was the "boogiemen".

With truth tellers in short supply, I don't know what the future will be. There are many lined up to take the place of "The Candyman" once his term is up. The stories are practiced, the promises memorized. The lemmings are multiplying, and the stage is set. "Dr. No" is gone, off to do something else. There will be someone else to take his place next time around. Did "Dr. No" really lose this last election? Yes, but the real loser was the truth.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Truman Show or Social Media?

"Good morning, and in case I don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!"

Truman Burbank
The Truman Show

True confession # 1. Every once in a while I see a movie which is so unique, so good, I end up watching it many times. One of those movies was The Truman Show, staring Jim Carrey. The movie is loosely based upon an idea from an old Twilight Zone episode named Special Service. The plot is very simple. The main character, Truman Burbank, had his entire life, starting at birth, observed 24 hours hours a day, 7 days a week by an adoring public. Truman was unaware that he was nothing more than a fish in a fish bowl. The town he lived in (Seahaven) was in reality a fake setting built under a huge dome. There were thousands of cameras filming every move that Truman made. In fact, people even watched Truman when he was sleeping. In short, every aspect of Truman's life, from the huge to the mundane, were a part of this never ending saga. There are many other nuances to this movie that I will not go into just in case someone has not yet seen it. I will not be a spoiler.

True confession # 2. I am a member of the Facebook community. Not only am I a member, I totally enjoy it. I love sharing and I love reading about other people's lives. Once in a while I will respond to a Facebook friend's post. I enjoy the pithy comments as well as the serious, the political as well as the mundane. I really like stories about families, the loves as well as the hurts, the joys as well as the sorrows, the challenges and the triumphs. In short, Facebook is a microcosm of life itself.

This being said, there are also times I am amazed at how much deeply personal information people release into the Facebook arena. I have seen vulgarity, hateful loquacious statements, anarchist rants and worst. I have also seen paragraph after paragraph of some of the most insipid ramblings. I have seen people talk about being gone on vacation from this date to that date, telling the world that their abode will be empty and vulnerable to intrusion. In short, rather than opening a window to their soul to the caring and concerned, some open the front door of their lives to all - friend or foe.

So the conundrum I have been pondering is this - where is the line between Facebook being a sharing tool rather than allowing us exposure similar to Truman? How much sharing is too much? Is what is being shared germane to anyone, or is just a form of journaling? Has Facebook become a longer version of Twitter?

In the movie The Truman Show, once Truman discovered he was inside the goldfish bowl and nothing was real or as it seemed, all he wanted was "out". There were things he considered private and did not care so share with the world. We should also practice that construct when using Facebook. As nice as it is for sharing, there are things that are private, and should remain that way.

That is all I have to say on this topic. Until later, I will say what Truman taught us when leaving his false confine - "Good morning, and in case I don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!"