Saturday, August 31, 2013

Clear and Present Danger

 
 



Here we go again. Get ready for talking heads on both sides of the aisle discussing puts and takes of the War Powers Act. The War Powers Act was initially passed in 1941 for a very good reason. We needed to give our Commander in Chief that latitude and flexibility to engage our troops against a very dangerous and aggressive enemy. The enemies we faced in World War II definitely posed a clear and present danger to the United States.

Although the War Powers Act ran counter to our Constitution, it was a good thing for World War II. However, Congress decided in 1973 to fix some of this inconsistency by the issuance of the War Powers Resolution. Cutting through much of the legal jargon, it restricts the President as to how much and how deep a military commitment can be without prior authorization of Congress. In short, the President may act alone if he (or she) feels there is an imminent, clear and present danger to our homeland or foreign interests.

There are other caveats about how many hours the President has to notify Congress and how many days troops can stay in a battle theater. The bottom line is this - no matter who is in the White House, that Commander in Chief hates the War Powers Resolution, and Congress loves it. It has been violated by President Reagan in supporting the Contras, by President Clinton with our involvement in the Balkans, and President Obama in Libya. It appears it is about to be violated once again by President Obama launching cruise missiles into Syria.

I am reminded about a story from years ago. It is antidotal, so I can't verify the accuracy. At President Clinton's inauguration, there was a fly over of military jets. One of President Clinton's Hollywood supporters who was in attendance, was very anti-military. He looked up and said "What are THEY doing here?" A friend sitting next to him responded by saying, "Relax - they are OUR jets now."

Most presidents, including the current one, feel the military is at their disposal. The term "Commander-in-Chief" really seems to stick with most of them. However, our laws, our Constitution was set up for a reason. We have checks and balances. We do not have a King, we have a President and we have Congress. The two are separate in their powers for reasons only the wisdom of the Founders could have imagined. Regardless of what Ruth Bader Ginsburg tells people in foreign countries, our Constitution is a very good and wise document.

So if we decided to attack Syria without provocation nor with the prior consent of Congress, buckle up. There will be talks of illegal acts by the White House and some might even call for impeachment. It will not be the first time we have been at this dance, nor will it be the last.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Ghosts of Events Past...

 
 
 


"The path ahead is riddled with death and danger..."


As most of us have heard by now, our staunchest allies in "policing" the Middle East have developed a case of "hold on, lets wait just a minute". The UK is definitely out (based on yesterday's vote in Parliament) and the French are getting very wobbly in the knees. Meanwhile, even with Congress still on a very undeserved and lengthy break, over one hundred representatives have signed a petition to the White House which implores a House vote prior to any military action.

We have come a long way (in the wrong direction) since the Gulf War. In 1990 and 1991, prior to the start of hostilities, the White House put together a coalition of 34 nations, both from the region and outside the region. In addition they had United Nations approval, and most importantly, the support of Congress.

During the Iraq War, the coalition was much smaller. In addition, support from the United Nations was very tepid. The White House did get Congressional approval prior to hostilities, but the vote was much more contentions than the one for the Gulf War.

If we start hostilities against Syria, it could end up being the coalition of me, myself and I. It will be our war, our mess to clean up. The United States has long practiced "you break it, you fix it". Our involvement could be lengthy and expensive. Our only real "teammate" will probably be Israel as they well could be the victim of retaliation by both Syria and Iran. If Israel gets pulled into this war, take cover. Israel could easily look at this as an opportunity to "fix" Iran's nuclear program. In other words, things could get big and ugly in about two shakes of a lambs tail.

When my father was alive, he would often talk about the mistakes of getting involved in Middle East dust ups. He would tell me they have been fighting amongst themselves for generations, and will continue to do so for generations to come. It is in their blood. The only thing that really unites them are outsiders - you know, like Israel and the United States.

I have said before, we missed our chance to get involved enough to make a difference. We played the fiddle while many in Syria burned and died. I think it is terrible that people have died by chemical weapons. However, it is no more terrible than over 100,000 citizens being killed by conventional means.

If there is a lesson to learn from this entire mess, it is this - the United Nations has long outlived its usefulness. It is a shell of an organization - a true paper tiger. The UN is much more concerned about fluffy initiatives like Agenda 21 than keeping or restoring the peace. As we saw in Rwanda in 1994, and see today in Syria, the UN is as useless as a flat spare tire.

So I say this to our Commander in Chief - be careful sir, and remember how you railed against the former Commander in Chief for walking the same path you are now on. Look for the ghost of events past and learn from them. As they say in Idaho, we could be getting ready to jump in the river of no return - and that is a place we don't want to be.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Professional

 
 
 


"There is a big difference between a leader and a manager"
 


I have been a Vikings fan since the team was formed. However to be truthful, I was very tepid at first, as I was a Green Bay Packer fan. Most football fans in Minnesota were Green Bay fans prior to 1961, as that was the closest (and best) professional team to watch.

In 1967, the Vikings hired a Canadian football coach named Harry (Bud) Grant. He had a good reputation in Canada, but was somewhat unknown south of the border. It did not take long for the loyal fans to really take Bud to heart. He had a sideline presence which typified the Minnesota spirit. He would stand on the sidelines of the old Metropolitan Stadium in all kinds of weather. It would not matter. It could be 90 degrees or 20 below and Bud always looked the same. That steely gray stare, watching everything and everyone on the field of play.

Today, it is a much different story. We have players who look more like thugs than professionals. I was watching a game a couple weeks ago, and the big discussion was if a player could get tackled by his hair (which was down to almost his butt). Is it legal? The answer was yes - you could tackle a player by his four foot long hair. Give me a break.

When Bud Grant was coach of the Vikings, he was a player's coach. He had standards. I remember one time when the question came up if some players could wear "low cut' athletic shoes. Bud's response - "No - we will all look uniform at that is the professional way". Over the years he changed his stance on the style of shoes - but not much else.

Bud did not believe in "spiking the ball" after a touchdown. Bud's feeling - this is what we are here for. We score touchdowns because that is what we get paid for. In fact, Bud Grant felt that the privilege of playing professional football trumped almost everything else. When you were on the field wearing the purple, gold and white, it was an honor. To betray that honor was to betray yourself. You no longer had any place on Bud's team.

I miss the days of old in the NFL. I REALLY miss Bud Grant. He was a guardian of the past. He was the keeper of the game. He was the consummate professional in every sense of the word.

No thugs would have played for Bud. No druggies would have played for Bud. No player with a "tude" would have played for Bud. In the seventies when Bud coached, they were special times. I know the Vikings never won a Super Bowl. However, I would rather lose under a coach like Bud, than win under someone else. They don't make them like Bud anymore - and that is indeed a shame.

 

A rumor of war....

 
 

 
"Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war"

Julius Caesar
Shakespeare


The winds of war are once again starting to blow in the Middle East. There is a good chance we are going to launch a missile and air attack on yet another Muslim country which has not attacked the United States. Our current Commander in Chief, who was so critical of our former Commander in Chief for our involvement in Iraq, believes he is "justified" in launching an attack. Why? In his words yesterday, "...there could be a chance Syria's chemical weapons could be used on the United States."

When we went into Iraq, we did it for a number of reasons. One of which was the suspicion of WMD, the most prevalent being chemical munitions. How do we know Saddam had them? First off, just like in Syria, Saddam used them on his own people as well as the Iranians. In addition, our allies, former President Clinton, and our intelligence services all agreed. However, the main reason for going into Iraq is quite legal, and authorized by the United Nations.

On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait for the expressed purpose of annexation. United Nations Security Council Resolutions 660 and 662 condemned Iraq's invasion and annexation plans and called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces. Resolution 660 has never been rescinded by the United Nations. A United Nations ultimatum, Security Council Resolution 678, followed on November 29, 1990.  It stipulated that if Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein did not remove his troops from Kuwait by January 15, 1991 a U.S.-led coalition was authorized to drive them out. 
 
Early in the morning of January 17, Baghdad time, the U.S.-led coalition launched air attacks against Iraqi targets.  On February 24, coalition ground forces begin their attack.  On February 27, Kuwait City was declared liberated, and with allied forces having driven well into Iraq, President Bush and his advisers decided to halt the war.  A cease-fire took effect at 8:00 the following morning.
 
United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, signed by Iraq on April 3rd, 1991 spelled out the conditions by which the cease fire would remain in effect. From a viewpoint of how the United Nations charter works, if resolution 687 was violated, then resolution 678 (which authorized hostilities with Iraq) would be in effect.
 
As we know, it is well documented that Iraq has violated the terms and conditions of 687 numerous times. So many times in fact, that the United Nations passed an additional 17 resolutions condemning and warning Iraq to adhere to the conditions of resolution 687. To use an analogy, Iraq was on probation after committing a crime and violated (many times) the condition of probation. The results of Iraq’s actions were that Desert Storm (under resolution 678) would and should continue.
 
Holding Iraq in “material breach” of its obligations under previous resolutions, the Security Council decided to afford it a “final opportunity to comply” with its disarmament obligations, while setting up an enhanced inspection regime for full and verified completion of the disarmament process established by resolution 687.
 
By the unanimous adoption of resolution 1441, signed on November 8, 2002, the Council instructed the resumed inspections to begin within 45 days, and also decided it would convene immediately upon the receipt of any reports from inspection authorities that Iraq was interfering with their activities.  It recalled, in that context, that the Council had repeatedly warned Iraq that it would face "serious consequences" as a result of continued violations.
 
Iraq was warned numerous times to comply with resolution 687, culminated by the final warning in resolution 1441. The United Nations should have first imposed economic and military sanctions on Iraq and then followed that up with a resumption of conflict by a newly created coalition. Due to the inability of the United Nations to execute those remedies, the United States, along with a much smaller coalition than Desert Shield/Storm, went into Iraq and removed its government.

History and facts are stubborn things. Our involvement was just as justified as any involvement might be in Syria. Those on the Left who wanted President Bush tried as a "war criminal" need to bone up on current history.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wagging the Dog (again)...

 
 
 


"Hold on! I think I have seen this movie before!"




Back in 1997, a movie came out called Wag the Dog. It was about a president who just before his inauguration, found himself knee deep in a scandal. Instead of facing this scandal head on, he decided to hire a Hollywood expert and create a fake war. The purpose of this war was to divert attention away, far, far away from the scandal. It was great fun even if the movie did not do that well at the box office.

Flash forward to 1998. Then President Clinton seems to have been caught with his hand(s) in the cookie jar (so to speak). After multiple affairs, some rumored, some actual, "Slick Willie" decided to have some innocent sex (as some said) with a young intern in the Oval Office. When the President was found out, of course he lied about it. The lie was exposed thanks to a nasty little spot on a blue dress and the heat in the kitchen was turned up.

Then on August 7th 1998, some say by an act of mercy, al Qaeda, the terrorist group Clinton loved to ignore, bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Later that month, President Clinton authorized a missile attack against six terrorist compounds in Afghanistan and the El Shifa Pharmaceutical Industries factory in Khartoum. Although the Administration said at the time the factory housed chemical weapons for potential use by terrorists, many believe it was just an aspirin factory.

No big deal. And who cares if some Africans could not get much needed aspirins for a while. The important thing was two fold. First, it made us look like we did something. You know - taught the bad guys as lesson. Second (and much, much more important), it shifted the focus (albeit temporary) off the Monica scandal. Wag the Dog.

Now we have our Nobel Prize winning president getting ready to launch a barrage of cruise missiles on as many as fifty targets in Syria. It is thought that as many as 200 missiles might be fired at a total cost to the taxpayers of $300M. We want to hit Assad hard, but not too hard. We want to send a message, but not too strong of a message. We need to show the world that killing people with chemical munitions is wrong, but using conventional munitions to kill 100,000 citizens is tolerable.

However, the most important reason to spend $300M on cruise missiles and risk a larger regional war is this - the short attention span folks in our great country will forget all about the NSA, IRS, Benghazi, Fast and Furious, Debt Ceiling, Lack of Budget, Bad Jobs Reports, and so on. For a short period of time around Labor Day, we will wag that doggie like he has not been wagged for many years.

I wish some wise advisor in the White House would remind our Noble Prize winner of one basic fact of parenthood. Bad behavior deserves a swift and appropriate response - not two years after the behavior started. In addition, a follow up lesson would be this. If you are going to mess with a hornets nest, make sure you are not the one to get stung. To me, Syria, as well as the entire Middle East, is nothing more than one big hornet's nest.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Terminal Condition

 
 


"We tried to save the patient, but too much damage has been done for too many years..."
 
 
 
This morning, I heard that Morning Joe will be broadcasting from Detroit next week. It will be a show of "hope" on how the city got to be in this fix and highlighting people who are working to remedy it. I almost fell out of my chair. Now I am a big believer in hope - however, I also know when the cause it lost. Detroit is indeed one of our lost cities.
 
It took us a long time to get into this mess. Many years - really decades - of neglect and mismanagement has reduced this once great city from prosperity to blight. There is no quick "fix". It will not matter which companies are lured to the inner city to set up shop. There simply is no qualified workforce anymore. The people who remain in Detroit are victims of not only their own life choices, they are also victims of an entitlement government which promises too much and delivers too little. In short, they are not up to the task of working at any job other than the most menial.
 
How did we get here? It all started in the 1960's under the Great Society. Some things in the Great Society were value added to the country, many were not. Bottom line is this - the Great Society destroyed many families, especially in the black community. Since the 1960's, the pregnancy rate for unwed mothers has gone up like a roman candle. Once rare, now common. In certain areas of the black community, the rate is over 70%. Statistic after statistic has shown that single parenthood and poverty walk hand in hand. This is an immutable fact - not opinion, just fact.

Lets look at our nation's capital. It has for some time had the highest per capita spending for education. How high? For the 2009-2010 school year, the Census Bureau has determined the spending per student in Washington was $29,409!

Given that amount of spending, the results must be extraordinary. Not really. In April 2012, the Washington Post released this information:

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) show that 58.6 percent of the 5,058 students in the class of 2011 obtained high school diplomas within four years. That’s a nearly 20 percent decline over the 73 percent rate reported for 2010. The national rate is about 75 percent.

The irony of this statistic is the 60% who did graduate were very poorly educated due to inadequate curriculum and social promotions. By graduating poorly prepared kids does not serve them well. The thin veneer of an improperly awarded diploma soon becomes transparent in a competitive workplace.

One of the very few truth tellers on this issue is Bill O'Reilly of Fox News. O'Reilly's prognosis on the plight of our cities is simple - fix the family. Fix the damage caused by unintended consequences of the Great Society. Fixing the family will help stem black on black violence, reduce the number of unplanned teenage pregnancies and engage parents in the education process. O'Reilly contends that until the family is fixed, it will not matter how much money is spent and how many government programs are created.

Chicago, Detroit, Los Angels and even Minneapolis all have the same disease. And yet some know the cure. So long as we refuse to take the medicine which will cure the problem, more and more of our young people will be condemned to lives of poverty and despair. This is not fair to them, it is not fair to our country. We all deserve better.

 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

"Wearing the Fish"

 
 
 
 
 
"I really need to walk the walk,
so my walk and my talk are the same"




When I was in the Navy, one of the commands I was stationed at had a huge, full length mirror directly in front of the main entrance. This particular command was in Washington, so everything was at a high degree of "spit and polish". The sign over the mirror read as follows: "You are not in the Navy, you ARE the Navy". The message was simple. Before you left the command, you needed to make sure you were "squared away". When people saw you on the street, they did not see you - they saw the Navy. Just by being in uniform, you were in fact, an ambassador of the Navy. How you looked, and how you acted really mattered.

A few years ago at the church we were attending, a visiting pastor came to conduct a weekend training session. This pastor worked at a Christian radio station in town and many  listened to him daily. During one of his sessions, he asked how many people had the "Christian Fish" on their cars. Quite a few hands went up. He said, "When people see that symbol on your car, it says something. It says that you are different - different than the world. Not apart from the world, but different. When other drivers see your driving behavior match that symbol, it sends a powerful message. However, when other drivers see behavior
which does not match that symbol, a much different message is sent."

These words from the pastor really gave me pause to think. I am guilty as charged many times over. Just as there were times in the Navy I did not do my best representing the Navy, there are far more frequent times my behavior betrays my faith. One of our former pastors would always council us that "the world watches." The world is very interested in what makes people of faith "tick". They want to know if it is just a rhetoric game, or if there is something which allows people of faith to be different than the world.

My wife and I attended another weekend session at church where some pastors were brought in from different parts of the country. One young pastor was from Southern California. He had "gone out on the street" with video camera in hand and interviewed people at random. For the first group, this was the question asked - "What do you think of Jesus Christ?" The response was almost unanimous to the positive. Another random group was chosen and a slightly different question was asked - "What do you think of Christians?" The results were almost the opposite of the first question. The most common reason - hypocrisy.

The purpose of me writing this article this morning is not to preach to anyone - it is confess my shortcomings. I am a big part of the problem. I have fallen short many times on my faith walk and it not only hurts me, but also hurts the Kingdom. For that I am truly sorry. I have a "James 3" tongue which leads me astray more times than I can admit. I remain a broken vessel in many respects.

However with faith comes redemption, and today is another day. I will try to better than yesterday, and tomorrow do better than today. The evangelist Max Lucado has said, "Once saved, it is not enough to get into the life boat. It is expected that you will get back into the water and help save others". Thank you Max - very true words for me to remember. With God's help, I will do better tomorrow as well as today.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Giving Up...

 
 


"There is a huge difference between a hand up and a hand out"



A little over four years ago, we lost my wife's mother. She was a ten year survivor of small cell lung cancer. Making it for ten years with that disease was almost unheard of. She was a fighter that inspired us all. However, towards the end, she developed a rash of complicating health issues. Her path was usually home to the hospital, then to rehab, maybe back to hospital and then possibly to home. One day when she was in rehab, she was informed she had yet another infection and they needed to put her back in the hospital. She gathered the family and said, "Enough - I am throwing in the towel". Her body, her spirit could take no more. Less than a week later, she left us.

Not one person who knew what my Mother-in-Law went through with her health problems blamed her. Many would have given up long before she did. However, the kind of giving up I don't understand is what I have seen more and more as of late. It is the number of American people giving up on our country.

Last weekend when I was fishing with a good friend, he told me he had a bleak outlook for our future. This is the first time he had ever sounded so negative. He told me we have lost the country - there is little chance we can get it back. When I asked him to explain, he simply said this - "We have way too many takers, and not enough producers (makers). The country cannot survive that way".

I think he had a point. Last week on the news, I heard about the number of states where a person can make more money milking the system than working for a low wage. How bad was the story? First off, almost half the states (including Minnesota) fell into that category. However, the grand daddy of them all was Hawaii. Milking the system the right way could land you government benefits equal to a $60K/year job. Who is the heck would want to work given that option?

Many of us are familiar with the Lady Thatcher quote - "Socialism works fine until you run out of someone else's money." With the trajectory we are on, we will soon run out of "someone else's money". Borrowing and printing will just make things worse. Our nation became great because of people that produced. It became great because of people who had a dream and would take a chance. It became great because we as a people, believed in equal opportunity, NOT equal outcomes.

I have said this before, and I will say it again. My generation made this mess. It was not my parents generation - they set a nice table for us. Since my generation screwed this up (starting in the 60's), it is up to us to fix it for our kids and grandkids. WE CAN'T JUST GIVE UP! Demand more and better from our elected representatives! Reject the status quo which got us here! Demand TRUE change which will allow our next generation to experience TRUE hope!

No more smoke and mirrors. No more campaign talk. No more voting "present". No more passing the buck or blaming the past. FIX THE DAMN THING! We do all of us, deserve so, so much better. It is way too early for the golden goose to die...

Friday, August 23, 2013

My (Selective) Outrage!

 
 


"Sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes I get so mad, I could just spit!"
 
 
I have two neighbor who live close by. One neighbor (John) is a good guy. Our kids would play together, we worked at the same place, and our wives are good friends. The other neighbor (Joe), I have nothing in common with. As far as I am concerned, if he moved out tomorrow, all the better.
 
I am a stickler for following the cities rules, especially in how high your grass may become. If it is over 6", the city will come out, cut your grass, and then charge you for it. I am always measuring my grass as well as John's and Joe's. Sometimes when I measure John's, it is over 6". That is okay though, as he is still working and is very busy. When I measure Joe's and it is over 6", I call the city immediately to report him.
 
One day Joe confronted me. He asked why I always report him and not John. I of course, denied it. He then said to me, "It is as if you use a different measuring stick for each of us."
 
This little made up parable exemplifies how we act in our country today. For example, consider the following:
  • The unemployment rate has been abysmal for Obama's entire presidency. In particular, the black unemployment rate is only 12.6% in August 2013 (that is suppose to be good news).  However, for black teens, it is over 40%. If we had a Republican President, the Reverend Al would have marches scheduled all over the country to protest this injustice.
  • Trayvon Martin was killed in an very unfortunate series of events by a "white Hispanic" man. Our President, as well as Reverend Al, were outraged by the civil rights violation of a white person killing a black person. In the past week, we had a young white man from Australia killed by some black teens "just because they were bored", and a white World War II vet beaten to death by two black teens. The "roar" we heard after the Trayvon killing has been replaced by the silence on these two unjust murders.
  • During the last campaign, Sandra Flock went before Congress and said it would be "wrong" for her not to receive $15/month to help pay for birth control pills. When some Republicans gave "push back" on this issue, it became known as the "Republican War on Women". San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has perpetrated every misdeed short of rape on many women who work for him. The National Organization of Women, as well as the Democratic Party (except for a very few), have been silent on Mayor Filner.
  • In his first two years as President, the price of gas under G.W. Bush went up 7%. When gas was suppose to hit $3/gal, the press told us it would "kill the economy". On the other hand, under Obama, the price of gas went up 67% his first two years as President. It is still over $4/gal in parts of the country. The outrage from the press? Gone.
As we know, these are but a few of the many, many examples of our selective outrage. Hypocrisy is not even an adequate word to use anymore - these transcend hypocrisy. As far as I am concerned, I continue to be outraged at what should merit outrage. I am just as hard on both sides when they step off the curb. Biased outrage, is nothing more than partisan bluster.





Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Guns and Roses

 
 


"Guns don't kill people - people kill people. Not very PC today, but very true"



Last weekend my good friend Paul and I went to an outdoor gun range by his cabin in Wisconsin. We were just getting set up when another car pulled up. A man had come there with his Father, as he was going to teach him how to shoot. The man had very, very good range training and etiquette. My friend Paul and I also have good range training from our time in the Navy, but this man was quite a bit better than we were. The range experience reminded me of two things - 1) Target practice at a range is a whole bunch of fun and 2) Guns, used improperly, can be very dangerous - and very deadly.

Reading the Drudge Report yesterday, I saw an article about a shootout on the streets of Oakland. According to the reporting done by a Oakland news channel, these middle of the day shootouts have become much, much too common. Reading that, I thought "Well, that is Oakland - it does not happen here."

Then on the news last night, there was a story of a shooting in North Minneapolis - right in broad daylight. Three people were shot - one being a 14 month old child. What is the world is going on here? Don't people realize how dangerous guns are? Bullets are "dumb projectiles" - once they are released from the barrel of a gun, there is no guidance, no retrieval button. Innocent people can be hurt, innocent people can be killed. All ages, all races, all income levels.

What has happened to our society when a family cannot sit out in their front yard without the worry of being shot? Responsible gun owners are vetted every time they buy a gun, register the gun, and they go to a range and learn how to shoot. Responsible gun owners keep their guns properly secured at home to prevent theft or tampering fingers.

For reasons unknown to me, the first thing that happens when some idiot fires an stolen gun in a urban setting, calls are made for more gun control. Lets punish the folks who are doing everything right with gun ownership and usage. Meanwhile, nary a word is said about the unsupervised youth who takes a stolen gun and uses it on innocent people. The logic continues to escape me.

Guns and roses. It was a heavy metal group from times gone by. However, it also signifies our inner city gun culture. The misuse and illegal use of stolen guns often results in roses for the coffin of an innocent. Lets fix this. Zero tolerance for thugs using guns. Minimum ten years for any crime where a gun is used. Make it hurt. If you kill someone with a gun (that is not determined to be self defense), you go away forever. No parole, no early out.

I stand with the people of North Minneapolis, as well as folks in other cities who are tired of being innocent targets in their own front yards. This is no way to live - for anyone, anywhere.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Honest Brokers

 
 
 "At one time, a person's handshake was their bond - nothing else was needed"
 


Last year just before the ground froze, we had a knock at the door. I did not recognize the gentleman who was waiting for me. He said he had been here years ago and cut down some trees. Truthfully, I did not remember him. He told me he was driving by and noticed we had some dead pines just off my front yard. He had his crew nearby, and if I was interested, he would give me a "heck of a deal" on cutting down six trees, hauling them away, grinding up the branches, and taking care of the stumps. He shot me a price, and I agreed - it was a good deal. I asked what he wanted me to sign, and he said nothing. He held out his hand and he said "Lets shake". No contract, no legal mumble jumble, just a hand shake. His crew finished the job, it looked great, and I wrote him out a check for agreed to amount.
 
This is the way things use to be. A hand shake. No lawyers, no forms, just a person's word. The hand shake was nothing more than a symbol of that trust. If you broke your word, reneged on a deal, word got around quickly. Nobody would want to deal with you anymore. A person's word was his or her bond. Period.
 
Today, we are exposed to a cornucopia of false prophets and false promises. We see positions which at one time were crafted "in stone" all of sudden become very fluid. In a time where people crave universal truth and clarity, we are exposed to just the opposite. It is enough to make the most stoic of us, cynical.

A friend of mine is running for the state house in a district close to ours. My intent is to support her financially and with what ever she needs me to do. I have met her in meetings, I have followed her in Facebook. Last week I saw her again at her "meet and greet". My instincts about her were totally "right on". She wants her platform to center around one main value - TRUTH. We live in an age where falsehood has been shined up to look like truth. To hear a person of faith and conviction tell the world that TRUTH is the cornerstone, well, I almost started to cry and shout for joy at the same time. TRUTH is what makes honest brokers, honest.

I will support my friend who is running, but I cannot vote for her. Like I said, she is not in my district. If she was, there would be no question. Years ago the group Casting Stones had a hit Christian single called The Voice of Truth. Listen for the truth. Listen to your heart. Ignore the lies and falsehoods that bombard us daily. You will know where the truth starts and where the falsehood stops. We have had enough lies. We need the TRUTH. We need honest brokers. Most of all folks, we still need God.

 
 
 
  

Travel Budget

 
 


"Please, sir, I want some more"
 
Oliver Twist
 
 
I read in the paper this morning two very interesting articles. The first had to do with many government bureaucrats having their travel budgets significantly cut (excuse me, I need to dry my eye). The second concerns (due to the dreaded sequester) funding for thousands of children being cut for the Head Start Program. The is bad - our country had absolutely no money to do anything anymore - that is unless you are the Commander in Chief.
 
Now that our President is back from yet another taxpayer funded vacation, he will again be target number one for government hypocrisy. I have no idea how much this one cost, but I bet it will be high. The vacation to Africa (a "busman's holiday" we were told by the MSM) cost a cool $100M. As many in lower levels of the government whine and fuss like babies, the head guy has no problem spending money like it grows on trees.
 
This is a perfect example of the Golden Rule of government - "those with the gold, rules". Meanwhile, the rest of us poor slobs sit on Terra Firma and watch the flying chariot (that be Air Force One) take the first family to parts unknown for another entitled vacation. Not only do we fly the First Lady and the two girls by themselves for an enrichment experience, we also fly the first dog "Bo" by himself.

This is when the MSM really misses President Bush. If he abused the office as much as the current occupant, they would have him tarred and feathered in the press every single day. However, with this Administration, they need to stay muzzled.

How bad is the abuse? Fox news reports the following on the cost of operating Air Force One:

The U.S. military has provided an updated estimate on that cost, first published by a taxpayer watchdog group and confirmed by FoxNews.com, and the number is staggering -- $181,757 per hour. That's the price tag for shuttling around President Obama, who, as it turns out, has spent more days abroad in his first two years than any other president.

No, President Bush had his faults, but blatant hypocrisy was not one of them. He took 50 vacations during his two terms - all to his ranch in Texas. Total cost to the tax payers was $20M. That is one fifth of the cost of President Obama's Africa boondoggle. Go figure. 

The next time someone tells you the government has no money to do anything, remind them of the growing expense of taking care of our "Royal Family". There must be a money tree on the White House grounds....





 
 
 
 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Smoker's Cough

 
 
 


"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"
 
Smoke, Smoke, Smoke that Cigarette
Merle Travis and Tex Williams
 
 
Wow! I heard something on the radio when I was out cutting the grass that blew my mind! It seems that merchants in the border towns in North Dakota have been running out of cigarettes since Minnesota's new tobacco tax became law! I don't understand this. The good people of Minnesota were suppose to "suck it up" and pay the extra $1.60/pack to help out the cause. Good citizens would have done that - I just can't believe some Minnesotans would go across the border to another state to buy smokes at a cheaper price.
 
When our good DFL legislators came up with this scheme, it made good sense to me. Jack the price of smoke way up. The result would be people would not want to pay that much and quit or the ones who continued would throw scads of extra money into the state coffers. Some idiot asked "What if the price got so high, that nobody bought cigarettes in Minnesota anymore?" What a Nay-Sayer! Of course people are going to continue to pay the extra $1.60/pack.
 
Here is the bottom line. It is Econ 101. When the price gets too high for a product, different consumer outcomes are likely to occur. For example:
  • Outcome 1 - Quit smoking all together (no tobacco tax is collected)
  • Outcome 2 - Continue to smoke, but buy cigarettes from a lower tax state (no Minnesota tax is collected)
  • Outcome 3 - Continue to smoke, but buy cigarettes on the "black market" (no tobacco tax is collected)
  • Outcome 4 - Continue to smoke and buy cigarettes in Minnesota (all tobacco tax is collected)

There is a delicious irony to this tax increase. People don't have to smoke. They don't have to buy product in Minnesota. For every pack not purchased in Minnesota, due either to people quitting or buying product elsewhere, is a loss in state revenue of $3.33. The increase of $1.60 is only part of the total tax - counting everything, the state tax is $3.33.
 
True confessions. I am a former smoker. When asked the smartest thing I ever did in my life, it was marrying my wife. The dumbest thing I ever did was start to smoke when I was in the Navy. Smoking was almost encouraged back then. "Take a smoke break", 'Have a coke and smoke", were the orders given when a break from duty was given. Smokes were sold everywhere on base and the price overseas was 17 cents a pack. Still, it was my decision to start smoking - and it took my until I was 31 to quit.

I tell that story because one of the things that helped me quit when I did was the price of a pack of smokes. My wife was pregnant with our first child and I did not want to set a bad example. In addition, every dollar was important, and to pay 45 or 50 cents for a pack of smokes could not be justified. So I quit. Today with a pack of smokes costing over $5, I could quit in a New York minute.

As predicted, this tax increase is starting to backfire. It simply won't work. Only a small fraction of smokers will continue to buy cigarettes at the new price in Minnesota. When the revenue numbers fall far short of predictions, many will say "I told you so!" I might be one of them.

Our Broken Clock

 
 


"To you my children and grandchildren, I bequeath the following - nada, zip, zero, nothing"
 
 
Hey! What in the world? Who hijacked ye old Debt Clock? I guess someone did not like the time it was telling so that person(s) just hijacked the clock. Whoever said "time does not stand still", was not talking about the Debt Clock. I guess since $17B is considered to be a bad number, we will keep it just under that number for political purposes. Its okay - nobody will probably notice. That is, nobody except those who are paying attention.
 
This brings me to a side note. As you can see from the chart at the top of this page, the projected interest to service our debt by 2020 (a mere 7 years down the road), could be 28%. However, it is the Federal Reserve Board, that group of unelected bureaucrats who control the nation's purse strings, that can make that number move. In other words, just the hint of Quantitative Easing (forever) coming to an end at the end of the year, sent the market heading south faster than a snowbird in January. When the Fed decrees the days of "free money" have come to an end, head for the bunker. At the end of every party comes the hangover - and this one is going to be a doozy.
 
So what is the interest rate on a mortgage of $17B? A number with a whole bunch of zeros behind it. If you want a small example of what is coming, go out today and max out your Visa card. When the next bill comes, look to see what the interest charge will be for just one month. Some charge cards will also tell you how long it will take to pay off the balance if you choose only minimum payments. If you max out your Visa card and only make minimum payments, it will end up being your kids or grandkids to finish off.
 
Again looking at the chart at the top of the page, we are headed for a place where only 8% of every dollar will be allocated for discretionary spending. Wow! Can anyone predict what the Left will say about that? Hint - WE ARE NOT TAXED ENOUGH! We can ignore the trending and end up taxing like France - or we can cut back on what we have promised and end up with unrest like in Greece. Rather than look at Europe and learn from their mistakes, we have instead decided to follow in their footsteps. Even with healthcare, which is a DISASTER in Europe, has become our roadmap for Obamacare.
 
So here we are kids. In Star Wars, a Jedi mind trick was to say, "These aren't the droids you're looking for." In our world however, the "powers that be" are using other mind tricks to tell us, "Pay no attention to that broken Debt Clock." Meanwhile, the mad spending continues, and nobody seems to care about tomorrow.

I say this to my children and grandchildren yet unborn - I am sorry. You deserved better. My parents did not leave a mess like this for me. But I am leaving a huge mess for you. May you find it in your heart to forgive me and the rest of us, who either by commission or omission, destroyed your future.

Silence is not golden...

 
 
 
 
 
The world is
  A bad place
A terrible place to live
Oh but I don't wanna die ...

 

Reflections Of My Life

Marmalade

 
 
I am not pleased to write this article today. In fact, it sickens me to write it. A story, which is a big, big story, is not being covered as it should be. Our Administration has been very quiet - until this weekend. Even then, a mention of it became almost an afterthought. I am talking about the continual persecution of Christians and the vandalism and destruction of the buildings they worship in.

I have addressed this issue before. The carnage in the Middle East is wide spread and growing. The fighting is between the secular and the devout, tribes against tribes, and some very evil people against the very few Christians who live in the area. What irritates me the most out of what is happening in the Middle East, is the continual war on Christianity. This is an outrage. 

On Friday, The Huffington Post reported the following:

 "It's unclear how many churches have been affected during violence that has left more than 600 dead, but several non-governmental agencies have cited at least 50 church attacks in cities including Cairo, Alexandria, Minya and Suez. Many churches have been burned to the ground. Much of the violence has been against Coptics, a religious minority that represents about 10 percent of the 84 million people in Egypt. Attacks against Anglican and Catholic churches as well as Christian schools also have been reported."

I am outraged when I see any house of worship, even with faiths I do not believe in, desecrated or destroyed. If an Islamic Mosque was burned to the ground in our country, I would be leading the charge to bring the perpetrator to justice. And yet, with the treatment of Christians and their houses of worship in many Middle Eastern and Northern African lands, the silence is not golden. The world seems to have lost its voice.

Is the purpose of burning churches to permanently drive Christians from certain parts of the world? Is there no tolerance for other faiths? On his recent trip to Africa, our President chided some in Africa for not being tolerant enough to gay people. However, when Christian churches are burned in other countries, we seem to not get the same message from him. My expectation is to have the strongest possible condemnation from both the United Nations and the Untied States. In addition, ALL foreign aid should be suspended until this practice stops!

It is time to ratchet up the rhetoric on this issue. These buildings belong to God - they are the House of God and should be treated as such. Let us be silent on this no longer.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Caliphate or Chaos

 
 

 
Caliphate - Derived from "Caliph" - which is a title given to those who succeeded the Prophet Muhammad as real or nominal ruler of the Muslim world, ostensibly with all his powers except that of prophecy
 
 
What has been happening in the Middle East the past couple of years has been mind numbing. In February 2011, after thirty years of relative peace and stability, we saw our old friend and ally Hosni Mubarak forced out of power in Egypt. It was very dicey for a while. Some thought Egypt might erupt into civil war. However, the U.S. trained military stepped in and ensured democratic elections were held. To almost everyone's surprise, the Muslim Brotherhood was selected to be the ruling party. Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was voted in as the new leader. The table was then set for a major feud between the Islamists who backed Morsi and the secularists who after decades, grew accustomed to a more relaxed lifestyle. Less than two years later, Morsi is ousted, and all hell broke lose for a while in Cairo. Stay tuned for the next chapter in this volatile region. 

It is not just Egypt - it is Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Jordon, Iraq, and even into the Persian state of Iran. These are not homogeneous peoples. They come from different histories, different tribes, different religious philosophies. The only thing that temporally unites them is their hated for Israel and their chief backer, the United States.

To make matters far worse right now, we have the rise of ISIS. This is terror group so radical, they have killed more Muslims than Christians, Jews or apostates. Putting this ingredient into the witch's caldron has made a very dangerous area even worse.

Where is the United States in all of this? Right where we should not be - in no man's land. We found out the hard way that when we turned a blind eye to a long time friend like Mubarak, we allowed the genie out of the bottle. Egypt remains one of the biggest prizes in the Middle East. If it falls into chaos, or what some call a Caliphate, watch out. Using U.S. supplied F-16's, Egyptian forces could attack Israel from the west while other Arab states join the attack using other fronts. It could be a repeat of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, only much, much worse.

By the way, what seems to have been lost in the chaos is the dirty little secret buried in Syria and Lebanon. Syria has (although not fully reported by the press), tons of very lethal chemical munitions. It is also thought that Syria and Lebanon might have been the repository for much of Saddam Hussein's chemical stockpile when his fall was imminent. If ISIS gets their hands on this stuff, it could be lights out for many people.

With Iran, don't think for a minute just because there is new leadership the weapons program has stopped. The centrifuges continue to spin as the "red line" quickly approaches. We may be ignoring it, but Israel is not. Crossing the "red line" means war. We will then have to choose between defending our closest ally in the region, or doing nothing. A nuclear Iran should be as concerning to the world as a nuclear North Korea. For some reason, it is not.

The question remains - are we experiencing chaos, the start of a Caliphate, or the birth pangs of Armageddon? Whatever is coming, it is not good. We need to get off the golf course and pay attention. We need an "A" team working this, and working it now. This is not amateur hour or a training ground for newbies. If the Middle East erupts in flames, it will be bad for everyone, everywhere. The clock is ticking.
 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Our Electric Future

 
 
 


"I was going to plug in my government approved electric car, but the electricity is way too expensive..."


Interesting article this morning in the paper. It seems that the upper Midwest is shutting down some smaller coal fired plants, but some of the larger ones are going through massive and expensive upgrades. Why? Whether the Administration likes it or not, we need coal to produce power. We still get over 20% of all our energy from coal. In anybody's math, that is quite a bit.

Now here is a statistic the "greenies" in Washington never talk about. According to the DOE's website, "Demand for electricity nationally will increase by 40 percent during the next 22 years. This projection includes an optimistic reduction in electricity use due to increases in equipment efficiency." Wow! And we want to get rid of coal? What about solar - can't that step in and help?

In 2013, solar is still not ready for prime time. We currently get less than 1% from solar. It is not cost competitive with other forms of electricity. In addition, in Europe some of the subsidies for solar are going away. Net result - solar has become even less competitive. Solar is coming down in price - just not far enough. The biggest "killer" for solar right now is the lure of natural gas. Natural gas is abundant and becoming cheaper. No subsidy is needed to draw the electric companies to natural gas. From a cost standpoint, solar continues to take a back seat until someone invents a more cost competitive method to get solar power into the grid.

If we had clear thinkers in our DOE rather than fuzzy headed "greenies" from academia, they might look at our energy picture as a progression rather than a revolution:
  • Upgrade current "dirty" coal plants to be clean coal plants or natural gas plants
  • Re-open Yucca Mountain to house spent nuclear fuel rods.
  • Authorize the construction of new nuclear plants
  • Upgrade the electrical grid for efficiency and durability
  • Ensure the cost for electricity keeps declining as our national needs keep increasing
I have said before, solar WILL become a part of our energy future. Wind might - however, the current bird and bat killing technology is not a good fix. We have other methods which are "clean" that we have not even explored as yet. Years ago I read a paper on how much energy could be harnessed every day just from tides alone. The Bay of Fundy, up by Maine, has some of the biggest daily tidal changes in the world. However, all this is in the future. Right now, we are the Saudi Arabia of natural gas and coal. Lets use it, make it better, make it cleaner, and sell the excess to China and India.

I don't know about anyone else, but my electric bill is outrageous. It is way too high. Based on the amount of cheap fuel we have to power our electric plants, the rates should be much, much cheaper. That is the focus I want our DOE to have. That is the future I want - clean, abundant, very affordable electricity.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What's for supper?

 
 
 


"In our land of plenty, there is plenty for everyone..."
 
 

When I was growing up, when my kids were growing up, the same question was asked everyday about 4pm - "What's for supper?" It is always a fun question to ask and usually a fun question to answer. Beef, chicken, pork, fish or other - it is fun to try new ways to cook each of them. It is part of the variety of life we all cherish.
 
However, it was not too many years ago that question dared not be asked. Lets turn back the clock 200 years to 1813. 200 years is a big chunk of time in our country's history, but it is a blink of an eye for how long mankind has walked the planet.

In 1813, people lived a very Spartan existence. Meal preparation was who in the family was going to pick something (when in season), shoot something, or fish for something. Sometimes there was something to eat which had been stored in the house or the barn. Often however, similar to wild animals, people would forage for their food. Finding something safe and adequate to eat consumed most of every day for a family. To not find something to eat, meant the family went to bed hungry. If you strung enough of those days together, family members would weaken or starve to death.

Storing food was a big problem. The icebox, the predecessor to the refrigerator, was not invented until about 1850. Even after it was introduced in 1850, many still did not own one. The canning of food was a very new science. In 1812, Thomas Kensett established the first canning facility in the United States. However, for most who did not have access to this rudimentary form of food storage, proper canning over a wood fireplace was just about impossible.

There were no supermarkets to go to, there were no cars to get to and from town, there was no USDA to inspect food you might be able to buy from a merchant. In short, most people were on their own. Many were like their ancestors - hunters and gatherers. In fact, the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunter-Gatherers states: "Hunting and gathering was humanity's first and most successful adaptation, occupying at least 90 percent of human history. Until 12,000 years ago, all humans lived this way."

The next time that golden hour of 4pm comes around and you wonder what is for supper, think about our great-great grandparents. They were not concerned about sodium content, calories, or getting 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. They were concerned about keeping the family alive. A few years ago a pastor friend of ours told us the purpose of saying grace was not only to thank the Lord for the food, but to also ask for protection from the food. In 1813, food could nourish you, make you sick, or even kill you.

This is something to think about in 2015. As good as we have it, and we have it very good, what would happen if due to a man made or natural disaster, we could not obtain food. What would we do if we could not get food or potable water for weeks or months. Could we survive? Would our government take care of us? Do we have the skills to be hunters and gatherers again? When you look at your pantry before going to the store this weekend, think about that. How long could you last if the store was no longer an option for food.

In the meantime, enjoy the steak. It is after all, what is for supper. 
 


I am so bored.....

 
 

 
"I gave up on watching 'Short Attention Span Theater', because I got bored with that also..."
 
 

I get bored easily. Right now, I am very bored. There is nothing in the news cycle that interests me. I am tired of hearing about Obamacare, Benghazi, Fast and Furious, IRS, NSA, WTF - you name it. There is nothing that seems to light my fire anymore.

For example, this news story broke yesterday in The Daily Mail:

A lawyer representing one of the whistleblowers with knowledge of the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi last September says 400 surface-to-air missiles were "diverted to Libya" during the attack and fell into "the hands of some very ugly people." He continued,
"...
the U.S. intelligence community is terrified the missiles might be used to shoot down airliners — and that fear, in part, fueled the closing of embassies in the Middle East last week. They were afraid that there was going to be a missile attack on one of the embassies."

Yada, yada, yada. So what? Benghazi is so, so yesterday. It was a bummer some folks got killed, but you know - the world is not a safe place. And all this conspiracy talk about gun running and stolen missiles. That does not affect me anyhow. I am not planning a vacation to Libya in the near future.

Besides all of which, this story on stolen missiles in Libya is old news. Two years ago ABC reported on a broader aspect of the story:

Officials and security experts were concerned some of the thousands of heat-seeking missiles could easily end up in the hands of al Qaeda or other terrorists groups, creating a threat to commercial airliners. Though Libya had an estimated 20,000 man-portable surface-to-air missiles before the popular uprising began in February, the government does not have a clear picture of how many missiles they're trying to track down.

So what? If you are that worried about it, just don't fly. Case closed. Now, lets talk about the Twins and the lack of pitching they have this year. As far as Libya is concerned, I am passed it - it bores me. Some say I should be concerned, others say I should be panicked. However, the newspaper I read does not report it, so I am not concerned. Now, back to the Twins...

I am John Q. Public, and I approve, and fully endorse this article.