Friday, May 31, 2013

Summer Rerun

 
 
 



"Why does it seem like I have seen this movie before?"
 


Some say every President gets it. Others say it is unavoidable. Whatever the case, it seems that this summer will be another consumed by "scandal palozza". If it looks like we have seen this movie before, we have. Once, during the Nixon Administration, it led to a resignation. Other times, it has led to barrels and barrels of ink being used by the print media.
 
One of my favorite scandals was "Monica-gate". The reason it stuck with me so much is the contrast it demonstrated between the Reagan term and the Clinton years. Whether you liked him or not, President Reagan respected the office he held. The story has been told many times that President Reagan could dress semi-casual in the White House, but whenever he stepped foot in the Oval Office, he put on his suit coat. The office called for that - it was the most important office in the free world, and President Reagan knew it.
 
Flash forward to the Clinton years. We went from 12 years of Reagan/Bush using mature adult advisors to this young, inexperienced group of semi-lefties (I say "semi-lefties" as compared to what we have today, they were light weights). Even though the rumor mill had been consumed with many extra marital affairs committed by the new Commander in Chief, nobody seemed to give a rip. Bill had an eye for the fairer sex, and everyone knew it. However, the straw which seemed to break the camels back was when Bill decided to have a fling with an intern. Not just a fling, but had oral sex right in the office where President Reagan would not enter unless properly attired.
 
First off, Wild Bill cheated on his wife. By the way, there was hard DNA evidence to prove it(remember that dang blue dress?). Then, when he was confronted and put under oath, President Clinton lied. In different times, the country would have thrown the bum out just for perjury alone. Not in the 1990's however. The lap dog press started running dialogs about "what is sex, really". The electronic media was full of pundits saying "Oral sex is not really sex". Many parents were forced to have frank and uncomfortable discussions with young children to try and explain what in the world the news was talking about.
 
How did this all turn out in our brave new society? Well, President Clinton had Articles of Impeachment drawn up against him. He was impeached by the House, but not removed from office. Feminists came to his defense - what he did with Monica was acceptable because Bill had done so much for the "woman's movement". One feminist even offered to give Bill another "Monica" just to show him thanks. The country was so mad at the House Republicans for going after poor old Bill, they lost seats in the next mid-term. Go figure.
 
What does that have to do with today? Plenty. Other than the IRS violation, nobody outside the beltway seems to give a damn about the other scandals - however, they should. It seems that much of our population now belongs to the "short attention" crowd, and corruption in Washington has just become a given. The House Republicans could once again be looked at as "bullies" for going after the President and pay a price in 2014.
 
Summer reruns - everyone hates them. This one however, will further define our country. Liberty itself is at stake. Soon, many will have to choose between the entrochment of tyranny or the preservation of liberty. Unfortunatly, not caring, or not paying attention will be a vote for tyranny. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The New Vehicles?

 
 


"If you are going to build a better mousetrap, you better first make sure it can catch mice..."
 

"Holy crap! What just happened?" This was the question one citizen from Euphoria asked another. "I don't know - it boggles my mind. How can people be so stupid!" replied his friend as he almost choked on his organic latte. They had just watched a story on MSNBC (a staple channel in most coffee houses in Euphoria) about the latest vehicle sales in America. The response after seeing this story ranged somewhere between "shock and awe" to total disgust.
 
Both of these fine young gents (who have been fully indoctrinated since the first grade) thought the President was going to get our country on track. If you have to have a car (and most people should not - they should walk, ride an incumbent bike, or take light rail), there are many three cylinder "smart cars" to choose from. In fact, one trendy car has a huge solar powered fan on the roof and rumor has it this little "beast" can get up to 100 mph on bio-fuel and corn oil. Big, gas drinking cars have ruined the planet - we now have global warming, global cooling and global everything. This is bad.
 
For some reason (which most people in Euphoria cannot understand), the top 5 selling vehicles in America (again) are 1) Ford 150 Truck 2) Chevy Silverado Truck 3) Honda Accord 4) Honda Civic and 5) Dodge Ram Truck. Three of the top five are trucks, most all of them having a V-8 engine! Why America, why?
 
To my simple friends who live in Euphoria, let me please try and explain this to you. In America, we work hard and play harder. When we go on vacation, we like to recreate. We like to fish, water ski, pull campers, and tour this great land in RVs. In short, we like to pull stuff behind our vehicle. You can't even pull a Radio Flyer with a Kyoto-mobile. We have heard all the crap that has been thrown our way about living vertical in the collective and getting rid of our toys. The sales figures in April showed our response to that logic. Not only were trucks in the top five (again), but their sales were up anywhere from 25% to 40% over the previous year!
 
So to you fine people of Euphoria, please feel free to social engineer yourselves to death. As for me and my peeps who live out here in God's country, we will continue to fish, camp, and explore to our heart's content. When I am driving my V-8 Chevy through gorgeous countryside this summer, I will savor every gas gulping minute of it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Disconnect

 
 


 
"In 2013, there is absolutely no correlation between Main Street and Wall Street..."
 

"I really like Jim, but he always seems so disconnected." How many times have we heard that about some person. Right now the statement could be rewritten to say "I really like the economy, but it is so disconnected from my economic situation." For many people, reading the economic section of the newspaper is like reading about a distant planet. The rich are getting richer and the poor are falling off the economic map.
 
It seems like every day the stock market sets a new high. We can discuss the reasons for it - if it is due to a better economy or just a side effect of the Fed pumping zillions of dollars into the economy. I think it is a bit of both. The irony is now Obama is being credited for being in charge when we have had the largest stock gain in history. Nothing he has done to the economy leads me to that conclusion. The other irony is Bill Clinton is now in second place with the biggest run up in stocks during his term.

For those who are not invested in the market, here is the static reality. The jobless rate remains at around 14%. That means that one out of nine people in our economy remains underemployed or unemployed. In addition, many of the new "jobs" that have been created are service sector - lower paying and low or no benefits.

Housing is another indicator of the haves and the don't haves. If you are fortunate enough to own a house and be above water with your mortgage, the refinancing rates are other worldly. Many rates today are in the 2% to 3% range. If you are underwater and qualify for HARP rates, you can get new rates in the 3% t0 4% range. However, if you are underwater and do not qualify for HARP rates (still millions are in this category), you are stuck with a "white elephant". Worst case, you will lose your house to foreclosure; best case, when you will sell your house, you will take a bath.

The economy is growing on pins and needles right now. We still have the PIGS issue in the Euro Zone (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) which many think is a ticking time bomb for us. In addition, while we are distracted with everything else going on, our debt clock continues to spin like a top. Neither party has the guts to really take this one on, so the thinking is our debt will top $20T by the time the President's term is up. The cost of servicing that debt using normal interest rates will take the wind out of any economic sail.

So if you have money in the market, enjoy it. Some "blue sky" economists think the Dow could rise as high as 20,000 before the correction comes. Remember the lesson from 2008 - what goes up, must come down. Or better yet, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The straw that broke the camel's back...

 
 


"I can't takes it no more..."
 
"Slip" Mahoney
The Bowery Boys
 
 
 
In the past few weeks, we have heard it all. The responses by the citizenry has ranged from OMG to WTF and back again. Our leaders, true followers of Trotsky, Alinsky as well as the dynamic duo of Cloward and Piven , have really done it this time. We are now in the middle of "scandal-pallozza" and the hits just keep on coming. Oh, if only Mitt had won the last election and created these scandals. Impeachment would have been out the window, only to be replaced with tar and feathering (or worse).

There are so many serious issues going on, it is hard to know where to start. I have been hearing pundits talk about these for weeks now, trying to make sense out of the ramifications of each of them. My gut feeling is this - they are all very serious. Each of them, starting with voter intimidation in 2008, to Fast and Furious, to Benghazi, to AP,  to James Rosen, to (it just keeps going), are all serious.

However, the one which will break the camel's back is the IRS issue. I have thought about this long and hard. This is an issue which crosses party lines. This is an issue about an agency of the United States Government which has become an evil juggernaut. This is an issue where we crossed line which protects our liberty from tyranny. Every year we open our financial kimono to an agency which is suppose to treat us with the same fiduciary care as an accountant does with a client.

What we have learned about this agency, the one which most people fear is this - it has become vile and corrupt. It has become worse than corrupt - it has become political. What the IRS has done is beyond comprehension. How the IRS senior management behaved in front of Congress is beyond arrogant. How the IRS treats the citizens of this country (who pay their salary) is beyond belief.

This organization needs to be defunded, reorganized and realigned. Right now it is a cancer in our government. The President should be OUTRAGED this ever happened - however, he is not. He thinks with minor punishments and some "tweaking", it can be fixed. Our tax code has become a mess - it needs to be scrapped and replaced with a very simple and fair flat tax. We don't need legions working in this agency. We don't want this agency taking care of our new health care law. From the man who promised us "Hope and Change", we need to demand change in the IRS - not just little change, but wholesale change.

If these other scandals end up being "swept under the rug", we need this one to stick. We need to tell the "powers that be" that enough is enough. We need to let them know that this one is the straw that broke the camels back.

 

We have been dissed!

 
 


"Vandalism is never art - it is just a crime, plain and simple"
 

Now that Memorial Day is over, it is time for me to go on another rant. In my working days, I traveled to, worked in, and visited many cities both in this country as well as other parts of the world. One of the things that I have noticed is there is no universal code in how people treat the cities in where they live. Some cities are immaculate with no vandalism or graffiti. Others, like Minneapolis, not so much.
 
When I sit at a railroad junction waiting for a train to pass, I can't help noticing how many railcars have graffiti scribbled all over them. Some are older cars - others are so new, they look like it is their first day on the job. They have been defaced by someone who had absolutely no right to do so. They have been "tagged", painted, or messaged by someone taking advantage of a railcar no being watched or monitored 24 hours a day. In short, what happened to these railcars was a criminal act.

Lets use a new tanker car as an example. Currently, the railroads can buy a tanker car for somewhere between $50k and $60K. Almost as soon as a tanker car is delivered, it goes into service. With the oil boom in North Dakota, as well as the shortage of pipelines, there are a great many tanker cars coming into service. Almost immediately, many of these cars are "tagged". This is an act of disrespect to the people that own them and use them. It is an act of disrespect for all of us who have to observe this garbage when we are waiting for a train to pass.

My feeling is all graffiti is a crime. It is not art, it is not helpful to disadvantaged youth, it is just plain a crime. I would like these criminals to be caught and punished. I don't want them to receive community service, or to paint a mural on a wall somewhere in the city - I want them fined and put in jail. It cost a lot of money to remove graffiti, and even after removal, the item painted seldom looks the same again.

The next time you are driving around town and see a wall, overpass, railcar, or whatever that has been defaced, ask yourself this - is this okay? Do you want to live in a city where the criminals are allowed to run free and do what they want? Do you want to live in a city where visitors come in from other countries and see this type of garbage? I have been in other cities where I did not see one speck of graffiti anywhere. It simply was not in the DNA of the people who live in those cities to tolerate it.

Just like when some butt headed kid drives over a nicely groomed lawn leaving tire tracks that last for weeks, graffiti is a total sign of disrespect. In the old days, people who disrespected the community were taken to the city square, humiliated and punished. Maybe we need to get back to those days - that punishment seemed to work just fine.
 
 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Grandma and her flag...

 
 



"For many in the greatest generation and before, Memorial Day will always be Decoration Day..."
 
 
My Grandma Ruth was born on May 31st. She was always very proud of that fact. She was very proud of that fact until 1968 when Congress took her holiday away from her. You see, my grandma was born on the day when Decoration Day (now Memorial Day) was suppose to be on. She was so proud, that every May 31st, she would wear a large red, while and blue flag pin. Then she would insist on having her picture taken on Victory Memorial Drive.
 
If my Grandma was still living, she would be well over 100 years old. My memories of her as a grandma are very special. She was loving, fun and a great cook. She and Grandpa Walt had 7 grandchildren and they both did a very good job in spoiling all of us. Like many of her generation, my grandmother did not have a lot of schooling - however she had enough to know how special our flag was. The fact that she was born on a national holiday was a blessing to her almost too good to be true.
 
My grandmother always wore her flag pin on special occasions. Not just Memorial Day, but Christmas, birthdays, you name it. In early 1970 when I was leaving to serve on Okinawa, my grandmother wanted to come to the airport to see me off. Yes, on her coat was her flag pin. It was a special time for her, and she wanted me to see that the flag pin was on her coat. At the top of this post you can see a picture of grandma with me at the airport - flag pin and all.
 
It does my heart good to remember my grandma and that flag pin. In a time when so many besmirch our flag or do not give it the reverence it deserves, my grandma always treated it as if it meant something very special. After grandma passed, the flag pin ended up with my mother. When my mother passes, I will make sure the pin stays with the family - either with myself, my sister, or one of my cousins.
 
Every Memorial Day, I think of my grandma. It really does not matter if the day is recognized on May 31st,or on a three day weekend. The meaning of the day stays the same. Memorial Day means the flag pin my grandmother always wore with pride; it means the time to celebrate with family; but mostly it means the time we remember those who should be celebrating with us but cannot. They cannot because they gave us the ultimate gift - the gift of freedom. As with any gift, this one came with a price - and we will never forget, nor take for granted the price which was paid.

The Changing War on Terror

 
 


"Freedom still is not free..."
 
 
This past week, we were informed by our President that the War on Terror should be about over. In fact, President Obama called for an end to a "boundless global war on terror". He wants to (again) close Gitmo, cut back on drone strikes, and basically take the whole terror thing off the nation's radar. I guess it was fine he told the American people this - my only question is this - did he also tell the bad guys?

We have heard many times in the past decade from terrorists the main reason they will win is time. Where we are in the "Instamatic" society of impatience and quick results, the terrorists measure time in centuries. Once we leave Afghanistan, the Taliban will be back, along with Al Qaeda. Now that we have left Iraq, the bad guys who "stir the pot" are back in business causing sectarian unrest and bloodshed. Once we let our guard down domestically, we will be in line for more bloodshed to both soft and hard targets.

In the 90's when President Clinton was in charge, we also tried to ignore the gathering storm. When the WTC was bombed in 1993, we caught the blind sheik almost immediately. We threw him in jail instead of questioning him. He was part of the much larger plot and we did not know it. When the USS Cole was bombed, we knew it was Al Qaeda. They were becoming more emboldened. Still, we did not see the storm clouds on the horizon getting darker. It took a beautiful late summer day in September of 2001 to wake us up. By that time it was too late - almost 3,000 of our citizens paid the ultimate price because the people we put in charge could not read the tea leaves.

Now that 9/11 has faded into distant memories of some, it is just like yesterday to the bad guys. They are probably counting on us becoming bored with the War on Terror. In fact, they are delighted our current leadership hates the term. We would like to rename it a softer, gentler something or other, as not to offend. We don't want to be hated anymore. Well, guess what - we are.

What we have seen in Ft. Hood, Boston, London and yesterday in Paris, "soft targets" are on the terror menu. However easy soft targets are for terrorists, they are still looking for the big, splashy hit - maybe even bigger than 9/11. The best thing we can do to help them out is pretend they are not here, or no longer want to hurt us.

It is not just here where our guard is being let down. The savage attack in London last week was done by people who had been identified on the British terror list. All lot of good that did to the unfortunate off duty soldier who had his head hacked off in broad daylight. The people who have been arrested for that attack should be sent to Gitmo and water boarded. We need to find out if more of these type attacks are coming.

No, the War on Terror is not over. It continues today and will be here tomorrow. To unilaterally surrender will be suicide. Our freedom never has been, or never will be, free.

 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Growing Menace...

 
 


"War is hell. There is no glamour, no glory - it is just plain hell"


George had just put the tractor back in the barn. That would be the last time he would be sitting on it for a while. The fall harvest was in and the fields were tilled. The crop was ready and so was George. Having just turned 18, he was going into town tomorrow to enlist in the Army. George had wanted to go last year, shortly after turning 17. His dad said no - he would not sign for him. Besides, with his dad's continued hip problems, George was needed on the farm. George knew that if he left to go fight, his folks would have a hardship on the farm. But this was important - Hitler was a menace to the world and so was Japan.

It was 1944. The war was not going well for either side, really. The Russians had bogged down the Nazis on the western front, and last month in June, the allies really caught Hitler with his pants down on D-Day. The battle in the Pacific was something else. It seemed like the Japs were dug in on every island from Hawaii to Tokyo. They were brutal, relentless fighters and would often fight to the death rather than surrender. It seemed to George there was plenty of war left and he could not be late to the "party". After enlisting, George went though a very abbreviated training camp, and then it was off to the Pacific.

It was mid-July and George was on a troop ship heading west. Rumor had it they were going to Guam. This was going to be a tough fight, but not as tough as the future fights will be. The closer the allies got to the homeland of Japan, the stronger the resistance will be. However, Guam is very important. If the allies could take Guam back from the Japs, the next step would be something much closer to Japan. In all likelihood, the next step could be at the doorstep of Tokyo - the prize of Okinawa.

George was part of the 77th Infantry Division. They had a proud heritage going back to World War I. The time had come to land on Guam and take back what should belong to America. The Marines, with their landing craft, hit on one part of the island. The Army with no equipment like landing craft, had to wade ashore on another beach head. 

For the first time in his life, George was being shot at. He was scared - as with many young men his age, he was scared to die. He knew on the other side of the gunfire was a young man from another country who was trying to kill him. Just as George would need to try and kill the person firing the gun. As he was making his way across the coral and through a hail of bullets, something hit George in the face. "Am I shot?" he wondered. No - it was a piece of skull bone from the man in front of him. The soldier directly in front of him had just been shot in the head. George froze as he looked at seconds ago had been a living, breathing man. The right side of his head was gone and the wound was turning the water around him red with blood.

"Move, move, move!" the voice behind him said. George continued to struggle through the coral until they hit the beach. He was numb with fear, but kept going. The gunfire was intense and George looked for anything to take shelter behind. The only thing available on that beach were the bodies of U.S. soldiers who had just been killed.

The battle for Guam lasted for weeks until in August the last of the Japanese were killed. In true fashion, surrender was not in their DNA - only death. The loses to the division were heavy, but there was no time to reflect on the dead. With Guam now secured, the next stop was going to be something that was even a bigger prize -  an island on the Ryukyu Chain called Okinawa.

George and most of the division stayed on Guam until early 1945. Their job was to ensure the Japs had been totally removed from the island. In addition, Guam needed to be re-established as a forward operating base for the upcoming battles. The division had been notified to get ready for a new operation - code named Iceberg. The allies were going to Okinawa and the battle was going to be taken to the Emperor's doorstep.

The battle for Okinawa started in April of 1945. It was huge. It turned out being the largest amphibious assault of the war. It was like the battle for Guam, only on steroids. The Japs had known this battle was coming, and were dug in like nobody's business. It was a long, and bloody affair - lasting almost three months. However, in the end, after very heavy loses on both sides, the island fell to the allies.

George did not live to see that great victory. On the second day of the campaign, he stepped on a land mine and was killed. He would never again have the chance to smell the fresh air of an Iowa spring. He would never again be able to play cribbage with his dad after a full day of farm work. He would never be able to inherit the farm, as his dad had promised so many times. No, George died on a beach, full of sand, coral and blood, to ensure the land he loved to much remained free.

It is for this Memorial Day we remember our fallen heroes such as George. Young men and women who gave all for the rest of us. Young people who never really had a chance to live the American dream they fought and died for. Thank you George - and thank all of the brave souls which gave us the gift we can never repay.


Friday, May 24, 2013

Old Friends....

 
 


"Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly
How terribly strange to be seventy...
Old friends, memory brushes the same years, silently sharing the same fears"
 
Old Friends
Simon and Garfunkel
 
 
Joe sat slumped over in his wheelchair. Ever since his last stroke, he now has significant weakness in his left side. He knew that before long one of the aides would come over and help him to sit straighter and more comfortable. "What has life come to?" Joe thought as he waited for the aide. "I was able to drive my car, cut my grass, pay my bills. Now I can't ever go to the bathroom by myself or sit normally in my chair." Soon the aide came, said some nice things and helped Joe get into a better sitting position.
 
Joe and Mary had three kids. They all turned out fine. Two are married and the third one is divorced. Between the three of them they have five kids. Both Joe and Mary took turns on who could spoil those grandkids more - Mary usually won hands down. Mary left Joe seven years ago after her second bout with cancer. In some respects she was lucky - she did not have to spend her final days trapped in a body that did not work.
 
Joe's kids mean well, and he does not want to sound harsh. But he gets lonely. One lives out of state and the other two stayed local. All have good jobs and the grandkids are involved in a variety of activities. Mary and Joe were always very active in the kids and grandkids lives. Sports, school plays, fix up jobs and daycare were all in the mix. Both he and Mary loved the family stuff and could never get enough of it. But those are now days gone by. Joe's new reality is simple - he can't drive, he can't help, he can't even talk right anymore. He misses Mary more than ever and he misses family time almost as much. Right now, it is just Joe and his memories and thoughts - lots and lots of memories and thoughts.
 
Two weeks ago, one of his kids came to sit for a spell. He did not bring his wife or kids as they were busy doing something else. The visit meant the world to Joe - even though short, Joe savored every moment. He knew when his son walked out the door, it might be weeks before he would see any family again.
 
Joe would often think back on his life. Three years in the Army during Korea, and then forty years as a auto parts salesman. He did not make a fortune, but made enough to provide for the family. He was a good salesman, and loved trading stories and jokes with his customers. Once he retired, Joe and Mary only had a few years before the doctor found the lump in her breast. After all that radiation and surgery, they really felt they had licked this thing. Unfortunately, they were wrong. When it came back, it was in her brain and the cancer did its vile work quickly. Mary was dead two months after the cancer returned. 
 
Not long after Mary passed, the family visits got fewer. They picked up again once Joe had his first stroke. He was able to move into an assisted living arrangement and needed just a little help. When the second stroke came, it was a game changer. He was now in a care center and needed help doing everything. Joe tried to be realistic - "This is all just a part of life" he would often think. But is was still hard. He had lost so much - the love of his life, his independence, and now his family. Joe could handle everything handed to him except the loneliness.
 
When my wife and I go to visit the care center where my mother now lives, we see a lot of folks like Joe, Mary, or Ruth. They all have many stories; they all have histories. None of them chose to be where they are. At one time, they were just people living life, working, having kids and paying bills. The worst thing we can do to these people is marginalize them or forget them. They are our parents, our grandparents, our former neighbors.
 
These fine folks all have names as well as history. We enjoy talking to them, even if they are not able to understand. They are just people who at the end of their lives are looking for a little more meaning and some companionship. One day, if we are fortunate enough to live that long, we will be there also. We will be looking for companionship. We will be looking for family visits. We will be thinking of friends - sometimes making new friends, and other times remembering old friends. Old friends - that is what people like Joe really are - just old friends. We should treat them as such.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

The boy and his rocket ship....

 
 



I miss the Earth so much, I miss my wife
It's lonely out in space
On such a timeless flight

Elton John
Rocket Ship
 
 
Every night, when the young boy went to bed after brushing his teeth and saying his prayers, he would look out his window and wonder. The sky would often be inky black allowing him to see thousands of stars in the "astro canopy". In his mind, he could visualize himself in a rocket ship traveling to a far off planet to visit strange lands and see strange sights. He knew it was possible - before bushing his teeth every night he would read a chapter in one of his Tom Swift books. Some of his books were read so much the bindings were starting to fray. That was okay however, as Tom Swift was his hero.
 
As the young boy grew, he found out one of his neighbors was a professor of Astronomy at the local University. The professor built a huge telescope in his back yard - one of the largest back yard telescopes west of the Mississippi. On clear nights, with his parents permission, the boy would go over and visit the professor. The boy always had many questions, and the professor was kind enough to answer most of them. Together they would look at the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn and the redness of Mars. The boy could count almost every crater on the Moon and one very dark  night, he even saw Uranus. It was a wonderful experience for a hungry mind.

The boy remembered the launching of Sputnik, Echo, Space Lab and all the other small steps in getting to outer space. On clear, dark nights, he could sometimes see Echo cross the sky plane with a naked eye. Those were exciting times! One of the reasons Project Echo was so interesting to the boy was this satellite was built in Minnesota. It was huge to have something this important be built so close to where he lived.
 
As the boy grew into manhood, he entered the Navy. He never lost his fascination for the stars. While in San Diego in 1969, the young man had a minor operation at the Naval Hospital. As he watched television during recovery, he was able to see the first moon landing. He would never forget it. It was a promise come true. President Kennedy had told the nation we would go to the moon in that decade. Even though the president was assassinated, we still made it. Against all odds, we made it to the moon and back again!

After the Gemini and Apollo came the Shuttle. After seeing countless episodes of Star Trek on television, this could be the first step in becoming part of the United Federation of Planets! The man, who was not so young anymore, would watch in wonder every time a shuttle would take off from the Cape. To get this behemoth off the ground and into orbit was a marvel to say the least. It was science at its best. In his lifetime, the man had seen much of the science fiction from Tom Swift become science fact. Stand by Captain Kirk - we are on the way!

The man retired, and unfortunately, so did a big part of NASA. The Shuttle Program, which had once produced so many wonders, was now over. Our space program was reduced to "hitch hiking" on Russian rockets. We have some people on the International Space Station, but that is about it. No missions to the Moon or Mars are on the drawing board. NASA, which once created the stuff that dreams are made of, is now just a part of our history.

Yes, the boy who became a man is me. It is with sadness that I write this story about the demise of our space program. It has been said by many, the two organizations which really work well in our country are the military and space program. 

This weekend I will go to see the new Star Trek movie Into Darkness. Even though it has been decades since I was that young boy looking out my bedroom window, I can still look up on a clear, dark night and think about travelling to far off stars and planets. Since I can't have the science fact of space right now, I will once again settle for science fiction. Yes, this is the stuff that my dreams are made from.

 
 
 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Tipping Point

 
 


Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette
Puff, puff, puff and if you smoke yourself to death
Tell St. Peter at the Golden Gate
That you hate to make him wait
But you just gotta have another cigarette
 
Merle Haggard


Judy took another drag from her cigarette. At 50 years old, her feet were starting to feel it. All she had ever done in her life was wait tables. She was good at it, but the pay was lousy. In fact, ever since 2008, the bad economy started showing up in her tips. In the old days, when she received either a low tip or no tip, she would curse the customer under her breath. "Cheap bastard. Don't you know this is how I make my living?" However today, it is a sign of the times - people just don't have the extra money.

As a lifelong Democrat, Judy was excited when after eight long years of George Bush, a Progressive Democrat got back into the White House. To make things even better, two years ago Minnesota elected a real Democrat for Governor. Finally, to put frosting on the cake, the last election saw the Republican "stone wallers" get voted out and replaced with solid Democrats. "Now we are getting somewhere. Now things will start to improve!" 

As she sat at the table outside the restaurant, reality was starting to set in. First off, her employer of fifteen years cut her hours down to 29 from 40. He apologized - told her it was the economy. However, since the television in the "greasy spoon" was on most of the day, she knew the real reason. As much as she liked her boss, she knew he was cutting her hours to ensure he would not have to provide health insurance. What the hell good is it to have this huge new health law if she can't get coverage where she worked? Now she would have to go through a "exchange" next year and buy her own coverage. When they find out she smokes, she will be paying top rates. "With what money?" she thought.

Then there was her family. Her mother has dementia and is in a nursing home. Judy had recently been informed that due to ObamaCare, her mother's Medical Assistance would be receiving reduced reimbursements. The memory care where her mother lived was forced to close. She would now be put in an older wing of the care center with a room mate who she did not even know.

Judy's son is another story. A union plumber, he has been out of work for over a year - when things got slow, the seniority thing bit him in the ass. He has a live in girl friend with a young daughter and now his unemployment is about to run out. His girl friend did not work as they could not afford child care if she did. Now that child care workers can unionize, the price of day care will be even higher.

To make matters worse, she was excited during the campaign last fall as Democrats (along with the Governor) talked about "soaking the rich" and then raising the minimum wage. About damn time! Those rich folks don't share and they keep getting richer while people like Judy keep falling further behind. However, now that the session is over, here is what Judy is left with - the same wage at $7.25/hour (plus lousy tips) and her smokes going up $1.60/pack. "What the hell was this? This is not what I voted for!" At a pack a day, the new tax on cigarettes will cost her an additional $50 a month! Sure, the rich got hit, but so did Judy. To make matters worse, the Governor said he was going to use the extra money from the cigarette tax to pay for some damn football stadium! She was going to have to pay what lazy assed billionaire owner refused to pay! Besides, as with most sports, Judy hated football.

Judy's break was almost over, and she was ready to go back inside and get to work. She took stock of her situation - no health care which was promised to her, the same minimum wage which had been promised to change, and higher taxes on smokes which was never talked about. She was pissed off at the system, but more pissed at herself. After getting rid of her no good husband of 20 years, Judy swore she would never get "taken for a ride again". Now she realized she had been taken for the ride of her life. Instead of things getting better with Progressive Democrats, her life is now so much worse.

Morale of the story:

Be careful for what you wish for Judy............... and remember this.................................
ELECTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES!!!!


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Twisters

 
 
 




The Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale - became operational on February 1, 2007 and is used to assign a tornado a 'rating' based on estimated wind speeds and related damage

 


Ever since I was a young lad, and my parents had taken me downtown to see The Wizard of Oz, I have had a fear of tornados. For that time, the special effects used in the movie were amazing - the tornado looked so real and what it did was terrifying (it was created by making a tornado out of a 30 foot wind shape cone sock that they use at airports). Many sleepless nights followed after seeing the movie for the first time.

Flash forward to 1996 when the movie Twister was released. At the start of the movie, we saw a family farm in Oklahoma get ravaged by a monster tornado. It was so strong, it sucked the door of storm shelter (along with poor old dad who was trying to hold it down) into the center of the vortex. We find out as the movie progressed the storm which finished off dad was an "F5" tornado - or as one of the movie characters called it, "the finger of God".

For many of us, tornados are as fascinating as they are terrifying. They seem to come out of nowhere, do incredible damage, and then leave. A very peaceful sky can suddenly become the personification of darkness and destruction, and then hours later, become peaceful once again. They are a game changer for many families and communities. Not only can they cause death and injury, they can also erase everything standing in a matter of seconds.

What happened yesterday in Moore, Oklahoma is a perfect example of the horrors a strong tornado. For a town the size of Moore, the death toll is staggering. The NWS estimate of this twister now stands now at EF 5 - a mile plus wide monster with wind speeds of 200 mph. Storms that reach this magnitude do something awful to a community - they "scour" the land. In other words, when a EF 4 or EF 5 twister makes a direct hit on a structure, there is absolutely nothing left. Nothing above ground usually survives.

Moore, Oklahoma has been hit before - hard. It was hit in May 1999. The damage from that storm was terrible. The damage form yesterday's storm was worse. What I don't understand is this - Moore sits in the middle of "tornado alley" and has seen numerous storms in the past. After the 1999 storm, why were structures not rebuilt with underground survivable storm shelters?  Especially the schools. The horrors the first responders are finding in the school that "pancaked" defies description. Children should not have had to die in storms that had become much too common in the Midwest during May.

After the grieving is over, the dead are buried and the injured have recovered, lets rebuild Moore with the idea this type of storm will happen again. Codes should be re-written where every shelter, be it a home, school, store or whatever, has a survivable underground "safe room". Strong killer storms have happened before, and they will happen again. People should not have to die.

 
 



Monday, May 20, 2013

The NEW Soylent Green

 
 


"Soylent Green is people!"
 
Back in the 1970's there was a popular dystopian movie called Soylent Green. It was a far fetched movie about a world where food was becoming scares and the value of people had diminished. The plot of the movie was the Soylent Corporation had come up with a new nutritious food wafer called Soylent Green. At the end of the movie we find out all the wafer contained was recycled people. Part of your life was to die to feed the others.
 
The more I learn about the new health care act, the more it has become clear to me it is the new Soylent Green. Every year, the value of each of us diminish in the eyes of ObamaCare. If we are in our 30's, and have value to the collective, our lives are worth medical investment. If we are in our 70's and retired, we offer little value to the collective - we are expendable. In fact, the best value older folks can offer to the collective is to die - quickly and inexpensively.
 
It is simple math. Most of us incur the brunt of our medical expenses in the twilight of our years. These expenses are a back breaker to a Ponzi Scheme program like ObamaCare. There is absolutely no way this program can survive without rationing. in fact rationing has already started when you see how the financials of the program were determined. Hundreds of billions were taken out of Medicare to fund a big chunk of the program. Soon there will be a "cap" on how much one person can take out of the program. If you are unlucky enough to contract a chronic disease, there will come a point where your options will be hospice care or nothing.
 
All one needs to do is look to Canada or the UK to see how this works. Waiting lines and rationing are the natural off spring of nationalized health care. All this while bankrupting the country. People who enthusiastically endorsed ObamaCare will find out the hard way how this program will really work. If you are lucky enough to be healthy, good for you. If you are not blessed with the best of health, good luck.
 
My personal viewpoint is the Administration had done a lousy job of selling the viability of this program to the American people. It could be they are lousy salesmen - or, it could be what they are selling is in reality the new Soylent Green.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Dazed and Confused

 
 


"Those who stand for nothing, will fall for everything"
 

An updated post from eighteen months ago...

In my adult life, I have seen three Democratic presidents serve. I did not vote for any of them. However, I did have hopes for Jimmy Carter as he was a former Nuke Officer in the Navy. My thinking was with that background, he should be a different kind of Democrat. He was different all right - he was worse. Maybe one of the worst presidents in our history.
 
Then came Bill Clinton. I detested him politically, but there was something likable about him. Not real likable - just a wee bit, because he was a "Bubba". His policies sucked, but he was smart enough to know how to "play" the Republicans. He was on the non-stop campaign trail and was good at it. He and the Republicans worked together, had mutual success, and everyone made money. The market went up, and the housing bubble formed. However, while we were all at the party, Al Qaeda bombed the World Trade Center as well as the USS Cole. Little did we know much more sinister actions were just around the corner. 
 
Today, we have Barrack Hussein Obama - maybe the worse president since Jimmy Carter. He had absolutely no executive experience to qualify him for this most important job. He is an ideologue, a former community organizer, a college professor. His first term was a disaster and his second term is getting worse. He ran up more debt than all his predecessors combined. He was low fruit on the tree to be taken out when he ran for a second term. However, as in 2008, the candidate in 2012 (Mitt, a very good man) never went for the juggler. President Obama, the most beatable candidate in decades, coasted to an easy victory. Now months into his second term, the handwriting is on the wall that this term will be worst than a disaster.
 
How the Republicans keep getting defeated by weak candidates is beyond me. For one thing, the Republicans have got to quit looking like "deer in the headlights". Be truth tellers. Stick to your principles. The conservative story is a good story to tell. People don't want "Democrat light" - they want something solid to believe in.

In Minnesota, the Republicans lost the Senate, the House, and the Governor's mansion because they were not true to their beliefs. The people saw the size of taxes and government to up when the Republicans were in charge. They saw the Republican Party almost go bankrupt due to financial mismanagement and then a very public extra marital affair by a party leader. Whereas the Democrats were offering candy to everyone, the Republicans showed absolutely no vision whatsoever. The person running against the Senator up for re-election did not even quit his day job to run. He was a good man who ran a terrible campaign.

If the Republicans want to be serious "players" again in both state and national politics, they need to up their game. STOP WALKING AROUND LOOKING DAZED AND CONFUSED!" Tell the conservative story in plain and simple English. Don't make excuses for what you believe in - make the argument and win it. Trust me - it will be like shooting fish in a barrel. The other side is vapid and vacuous in their arguments. Take no prisoners - make the case and win it.

Now is the time for the Republicans to really "grow a pair". What has happened in the country and the state has been a disaster. We need to take it back. We need the adults in charge. We need to win.
 
 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Arrogance of Power

 
 


"The truest characters of ignorance are vanity, pride and arrogance"
Samuel Butler
 



If you missed the House IRS hearings on Friday, I encourage you to watch it. There is very little I can say to add to the spectacle of this hearing. It was the arrogance of power on steroids.

On Thursday, May 16th, ABC news reported the following:

"With a three-headed monster of controversy and scandal chasing the president this week — Benghazi, the IRS, DOJ’s monitoring AP —  House Speaker John Boehner said today that an “arrogance of power” within the Obama administration threatens to unravel the American people’s dithering confidence in government. “Nothing dissolves the bonds between the people and their government like the arrogance of power here in Washington, and that’s what the American people are seeing today from the Obama administration — remarkable arrogance,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said."

Things are bad when ABC news gets on your case. However, not as bad as when NBC jumps on the pile. On May 13th, during the seldom watched Morning Joe show, the following was said by Willie Geist during the roundtable discussion on the IRS scandal:

“There’s been many overblown claims of tyranny and abuse of power from the government over the last few years,” Geist jumped in, pointing to the “we’re coming for your guns”-type narrative. “This is tyranny. If this is the government, a nonpartisan agency coming after specific groups, this time it’s real.”

For NBC to say this on ANY show, especially a MSNBC show, this was huge. Could it be the bloom is finally off the rose? Could the main stream media finally be waking up? This exchange took place days before the Steven Miller grilling by the House Ways and Means Committee. If Miller had been smart, which he is not, he would have hidden his arrogance and tried to be contrite. However, this leopard could not help but show his spots. I am sure he will be back for round two, only this time the panel will have more teeth in its questions.

An old expression is "Oh, how the mighty have fallen". I really don't see how the Administration can escape the damage this multitude of scandals will do to them. It is my hope the IRS will get kicked off the ObamaCare program. They have shown a lack of honesty and competence to handle such a task. If that is the only outcome of the IRS scandal, that would be a good thing. However, I see much more coming out of this.

For the Republicans, now is the time to be brave. For the Democrats, now is the time to be fair. ALL should be outraged at what has happened. The shareholders are watching. We are citizens, not subjects. We demand better from our government. We demand liberty, not tyranny - and certainly not arrogance.

The Sickness of UnitedHealthCare

 
 


"To be a successful contractor for the Government, a company must be both responsive and responsible"
 
 
I first I must confess my bias - I am no big fan of UnitedHealth. I have not been a fan for many years. Even though some may disagree, my opinion about this giant, for profit insurer is simple - they are much more concerned about lining their pockets than patient care.
 
Lets begin this story with "Dollar Bill". Dr. William McGuire, who served as UnitedHealth’s CEO from 1991 to 2006, received at whopping $286 million severance when he retired.  Just to be fair, it is not just UnitedHealth that paid this kind of severance. Four CEOs who collected more than $100 million in severance pay also worked in healthcare industry. However, "Dollar Bill" received the highest.

This is an extraordinary amount of severance for one person to receive. However, it gets worse. Dr. McGuire earned the nickname "Dollar Bill" for a good reason. In April of 2006, even the Star and Tribune got on his case for money grubbing:

"'Dollar Bill' has made lots of news with cash-and-stock paydays that have topped $100 million in recent years -- and he's still sitting atop stock options valued at $1.6 billion. McGuire's admiring outside board members -- 10 of whom have become millionaires through the sale of their own appreciated stock in recent years -- have defended his league-leading compensation on grounds that the giant health insurer's stock price has been a superb performer."

At a time when many of the working folks were struggling with rising health premiums, this miser was sitting on over a billion dollars of options! It does not end here. Don't forget Lois Quam. Quam is married to Matt Entenza, a staunch DFL minion who ran for governor in 2010. Matt did not win the party endorsement so he did not have enough money to launch a huge campaign. So he had his wife help out. Even though she did not make as much as "Dollar Bill", she still made an extraordinary amount of money from UnitedHealth. She has since left UnitedHealth with a severance which is probably higher than most will ever see or receive.

Then the unthinkable happened. According to an announcement on AMEDNEWS.com:

"The country’s largest private health plan is getting bigger, by nearly 3 million members and $1.4 billion in income during the next five years, thanks to a contract to administer Tricare benefits for active and retired service members and their families."

Since the transition to UnitedHealth, things have gone terrible for vets who rely on Tricare for service benefits. Many think UnitedHealth "bought in" to the contract. My own experience with UnitedHealth on Tricare Prime has been bad. Slow response, inconsistent answers. To make matters worse, I recently received a letter informing me I would be dropped from Tricare Prime on October 1st, because "I live in the wrong area". After 21 years in the Navy, I earned that benefit. UnitedHealth and I are now at war.

I have no use for this company. As a citizen, as a vet, I will do whatever I can to make ensure they follow their new government contract the letter of the law. Our vets deserve better than UnitedHealth - so, so much better.


 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Happy Summmer Everyone!

 
 


"These are the things dreams are made from..."
 


Many of us that live in the northern climate spend many waking moments day dreaming. We mostly dream about what life will be like once the (seems like) eight months of winter is finally over. Some have a lake escape to go to. Others have a yearly visit to their favorite resort. The real lucky ones have a friend with a cabin. As soon as that last flake of snow melts, dreams are set to become real.
 
All of a sudden, dreams are on a collision course with reality. The family truck is pulled out of the garage and the boat is cleaned up after hibernating all winter. Everyone is packed up for the first trip up north. The boat is hooked up to the family truck and it is off to the gas station to fill up with gas. The family truck has a 32 gallon tank and the boat has a 15 gallon tank. Both are mostly empty. As the happy family arrives at the neighborhood gas station, they look in shock to see the new price of $4.30/gallon. How can that be? All winter long it was reported that our country is awash in oil and gas reserves.
 
The truck is filled up and takes almost 30 gallons of liquid gold. Then the boat. The boat still has some gas in it from last season, so it only took 12 gallons. The 42 gallons of gas purchased just to get going cost the family $180. Since the cabin is way up north, it will cost almost as much to fill the car and boat to come home. Over $300 just for a weekend up at the cabin. The cold hard slap of reality has just taken the dream out of a fun summer.
 
As has been reported, this latest SNAFU was caused by a "scheduling problem" with two refineries in Chicago land going down at the same time for "maintenance". In reality, it could have been anything. For example, the speculators are just waiting for the expected eruption in the Middle East. Gas would be over $5/gallon over night if the spot price of a barrel of crude oil hit $200. Or in mid summer, a Cat 4 or 5 super storm headed into the Gulf and shut down all the off shore platforms, gas would skyrocket.

However, the real cost driver would have come if the Administration was able to get Cap and Trade legislation passed. A big part of Cap and Trade is the carbon tax. This tax is a disincentive to use carbon based energy. As an example, one study showed that the carbon tax on a gallon of gasoline would be $2. Rather than our family paying $4.30/gal to go up north for a weekend, the cost would be $6.30/gal. That would put the fuel cost for a weekend up north at around $400.

Most Americans would agree to extra gasoline taxes if the outcome was more exploration leading to lower prices. However, the extra money from the carbon tax would only go to more government largess. The big winner is big government, the big loser is the American family, just trying to live out a simple dream.

Our lack of a solid energy policy has been a millstone around our neck since the 1970's. Since then, we have spent over a quarter of a trillion dollars in the Department of Energy and have nothing to show for it. We still are stuck over the same barrel (of oil) as we were forty years ago. The price of energy drives many of our costs, including fuel, housing and leisure.

Hope and change? It is time for a change. It is time to restore our dreams. It is time to get real. Our hope and change is really hoping for a change in some kind of energy policy that restores our dreams.


 
 
 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

This really gives me gas....

 
 


Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!
 
Wizard of Oz
 
 
A few months ago, one of my conspiracy minded friends told me this - "Now that Obama has been re-elected, just wait. Gas is going to skyrocket!" Now if the truth be told, nobody distrusts the President more that I do. However, I did not buy into this goofy theory. Boy, was I wrong.
 
Today, when I saw the price of gas hitting $4.19 all over town, I started to snoop around the internet. The only explanation I could find was NIMBY (not in my back yard). Translation - two refineries went down in Chicago at the same time for "upgrades", and they would not be back online until mid-summer. The reason "NIMBY" was mentioned was simple - we would have more refineries, but nobody wants one of those "stink pots" close to where they live. Bottom line - we have not had a new refinery built for decades.

To this sophism, I say crap! We have plenty of remote land owned by the government, much of which would be suitable to build a refinery. We have seen this movie before when a sudden spike of gas is blamed on refinery capacity. If this is truly a problem, we could have fixed it long ago. Right now we have more proven oil reserves than in the Middle East. We should be exploiting the Bakken Reserve for all it is worth. It is the biggest find since the north slope of Alaska. It is nuts that we are sitting here midway through 2013, looking at $4.25/gal for gas.

What can be done? Take our energy situation seriously for a change. We know we are in the twilight of fossil fuels. Soon, we will have energy sources that come right out of a Star Trek movie. However, for the next few decades, we need out domestic fossil fuels. To deprive our citizens of this abundant resource for the sake of a small, yet vocal minority, is madness. Our country became great on energy, and will only remain great by developing more energy.

This afternoon my wife and I were out buying garden supplies when the price spike hit. For some reason, Costco still had gas for $3.77/gal. What we saw when we drove by Costco reminded me of the gas lines of the 70's under Jimmy Carter. It was panic buying. Folks, this is a self inflicted wound! It does not have to be this way. DEMAND our energy! We deserve it! We own it! For a starter, we need the Keystone pipeline approved now!

We deserve better. You deserve better. We wait too long for good weather to have it ruined by artificially high gas prices. It is our energy - lets claim it. Enough is enough.
 
 

Just a Word from the Bird

 
 



Yesterday was a big day for the Very Angry Bird. Early yesterday morning, the blog hit 10,000 views and kept climbing throughout the day. It was a humbling experience. Many times I expose not only my faith and political views, but also life experiences (some of which have been revealing about my many quirks and weaknesses).

First a bit of blog history. My first blog was called Maximus Garrulous (big talker). It dealt mostly with faith matters and it was fun to do. However, it never really caught on and thus became more of a journal than a blog. Flash forward to 10 months ago. A good friend from high school liked some of my rants I would post on Facebook. She thought I should try a blog. At first, my reaction was "been there, done that". However, on second thought - what the hey. In July 2012, the Very Angry Bird was launched.

A few facts about the last 10 months:
  • As was stated, over 10,000 views
  • 302 postings
  • Read in the United States and 9 other countries (Russia in second place)
  • Did first novelette (The Worst Case) using the blog
Where do I go from here? More of the same - hopefully better and more insightful. I am currently working on a longer book than The Worst Case. I would like to have it out by this fall. My experiences being retired Navy, retired industry ranging from defense to IT, (and many, many hard knocks) play a part in many of my posts. I do try and vet my facts to ensure my postings are as accurate as possible.

So, for those who read the Very Angry Bird, thank you. I will continue to be a political and social critic using not only facts, but also a pithy attitude. With the crowd we now have in our Federal and State governments, the well of subject matter is very deep indeed.