Thursday, November 3, 2011

By Request, Vol. 1.

A while back I asked all my Twitter followers to suggest blog topics for me.  I received just one request, from friend and fellow blogger Kurt "Shirt" Grimes (he also answers to "Hug" and "Reginald Kensworth III").  What RK3 asked me to write about was the role and impact of the French in the American Revolution.  Now whether or not you continue on and read my oh so insightful analysis of the major geopolitical conflict of the 1770s is up to you, but whether or not you do I am reissuing my previous request.  If you have a topic you want me to write on, leave it in a comment on this post or tweet it to me and I will write up a post on it.  Now, on to the American Revolution.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Day in the Life

If you've known me for any substantive period of time you probably know that I'm obsessed with numbers and statistics.  Whether it's obsessing over a poll and its crosstabs, reciting off electoral vote counts like it's my job, or breaking down the finer points of the NFL's quarterback rating system (completion % - 30 x .05, yds/att - 3 x .25, TD passes/att x .2, 2.375 - INT's/att x .25, sum and multiply by 16 2/3 after adjusting any individual value less than zero to 0 and any greater than 2.375 to 2.375), I live and love anything numerical.  If I can put a number or value onto something, you can safely assume I will.

It takes a lot longer for one to get to know my more morbid side.  My morbidity is not an obsession with death: it's a fascination with existence and, more to the point, the absence of existence.  Where most scholars of history would ask a question like "what if Hitler died in the Valkyrie bomb plot" I wonder what if Hitler vanished the day of Valkyrie.  One day Hitler is the head of Nazi Germany, the next he's simply gone: no murder, no death, no investigations or retributions or even curiosity: the world simply goes on as if nothing has happened or is different.  That conception of existence and awareness intrigues me and it's an idea I constantly ponder over.

It's rare for me to be able to combine these two aspects of my mental framework, but one exercise of mine does just that.  It's a way in which I can place a quantity onto my own existence that I feel gives me a stronger indication of my own life's success and relevance.  This mental game is the question of how many other lives would be substantively different in my own absence.  As with the above history hypothetical it's not a question about death, but one of non-existence without any conscious recognition.

To me the well-lived, well-purposed live touches the lives of others in positive ways.  Sometimes it's in an overt way, but far more often it happens in a way easily overlooked, a way that, when absent, leaves a certain void that can't quite be described or identified.  Those little connections and impacts make this analysis admittedly difficult (it's so easy to undervalue or overlook the little moments in one's day that have meaning), but it's still an exercise of value to me.  The goal is simple: to increase this number as much as possible whenever possible.

Thus whenever this number declines it becomes cause for concern.  It tells me my life has entered a rut, or worse is in a decline.  It's a decline I've noticed recently.  When I look around at life and ask the question of how I'm impacting things for the better I find smaller and smaller numbers in my results.  I'm left to wonder where the relevance and impact of my own existence has gone.  It tells me I need to regroup and reload: find the things I should be doing and ways I should be making the world better but am not.

It's at this point in the process that I tend to wind up stuck: the application.  Applying this is not a number or a formula, it's an action or series of actions.  Sometimes the answer is so obvious even I can figure it out.  Too often it's an undefined answer, or one that's more difficult than I would like.  Making an impact can often be about the smallest of things, but it's far more tempting and appealing to focus on the large, overarching ideas and possibilities that would seem to have far more value but often do not.

As Socrates said from Plato's apology, the unexamined life is not worth living.  I am not writing to necessarily encourage my own way of analysis, as one who does not seek to assign a number to everything as I do likely would not benefit from such a way of analyzing.  But I do encourage everyone to find time now and again to step back from the breakneck pace of the world and ask where you are in your life, your goals, and your impact on the world around you.  The answers to these questions can guide your path going forward in unexpected ways.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Changes

First, thanks to everyone who read "Lies, Damned Lies, and We Are Ohio" over the last few days.  Being something of a numbers freak seeing a post with more than 3 times the views of any previous entry made me quite happy.  It's that post and the response from it that leads me to write this post.

This blog is changing in substance, and I wanted to let you all know why and what to expect from this site in the future.

The evening after writing last Thursday's blog, I received a message.  To summarize what happened, I was asked to contribute to Third Base Politics and I happily accepted.  If you haven't been a 3BP reader in the past 1.) You've been missing out on great Ohio conservative insight for a while and 2.) I hope you'll start reading it.  It has a well-deserved excellent reputation, and hopefully my posts won't drag that quality down.

The last few days I've debated what to do with this personal blog.  I could cross-post everything I write at 3BP and leave this the same, I could delete this all together, or do something in between.  In a rare moment of moderate thinking, I chose the third option.  If you want to read my political thoughts, go to 3BP for them.  While there may be a rare post I feel a particular desire to cross-post here, my political writing is confined to 3BP.  This blog will be my personal forum for thoughts on my life, pop culture, any other random topic I choose to write on, and of course esoteric "Dallas" references only Pamela Bel Geddes could fully appreciate.

It's been a lot of fun starting off my blogging life these last few weeks, so thanks to all who've been reading.  Hopefully 1 or 2 of you will keep reading this in spite of the lack of politics.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lies, Damned Lies, and We Are Ohio

Yesterday the Ohio Ballot Board approved proponent and opponent statements to be published in newspapers and posted at the polls at public expense for Issues 1, 2, and 3 this November.  This “approval” is little more than a formality, as the board lacks the authority to reject the submitted arguments provided it’s less than 300 words.  For the biggest fight on the ballot, Issue 2, you can read the proponent and opponent arguments here.  The proponent argument, written by 4 Republican lawmakers, lays out an argument for restraining the excesses of public sector unions’ collective bargaining through SB5, backing up several points with statistical facts.  Is it written in a way meant to politically persuade? Of course.  Every proponent/opponent argument since the dawn of time has been meant to persuade, and this is no different.  It wouldn’t be a good proponent argument if it wasn’t persuasive.  The “We Are Ohio” opponent argument however is a stream of lies and scare tactics union bosses and liberals have used for generations.

Reading the lies of big money unions that the public will pay to publish is an IQ lowering endeavor into fear baiting.  They lie when they say it puts people at risk and threatens police and fire fighters access to safety equipment.  The truth?  SB5 has a provision specifically declaring that bargaining for anything deemed safety equipment shall not be impacted by the law.  They lie when they say it hurts the nursing shortage and cuts their salaries.  The truth? First, there are no cuts to wages or benefits to any government employee mandated in SB5.  Current contracts remain in effect until their expiration, and the new provisions would only impact the next contract.  Even then, giving state and local governments a more level playing field in negotiations does not equate to some great slashing of wages/benefits.  Second, minimal staffing levels would be a condition of employment, an aspect SB5 declares is still subject to collective bargaining.  They lie when they say there’s some evil “loophole” being used to exempt certain people.  The truth?  No loophole exists.  The provisions contained in SB5 will apply to all state/local employees.  They lie when they say police, fire fighters and teachers “lose their rights and see wages and benefits gutted”.  The truth?  Again, no one’s wages are cut by SB5, and receiving superior benefit packages while paying less for them than private sector counterparts is not a “right”.  Providing greater parity between public and private sector is not the “gutting” of their compensation.  They lie when they say “big corporations” and “high-paid lobbyists” are attacking and blaming the middle class.  The truth?  Well, I could an entire post on the demonizing of lobbyists (noticed more than a few ‘champions of the people’ Democrats had no qualms getting food and drink from the evil AEP corporations’ “high-paid lobbyists” the other day), but the idea that asking government employees to contribute a little more to their benefits and placing mild limitations on bargaining is the same as “blaming middle class Ohioans” for the budget struggles is absurd on its face.  The only ones blaming others are the We Are Ohio writers who came up with this manifesto of lies and innuendo. 

This isn’t the first instance of unions lying about SB5, and I feel safe saying it won’t be their last.  If you’ve followed this issue at all no doubt you’ve heard unions lament how they were “shut out of the process”, how Republicans “refused to listen to them”, and that they “tried to negotiate”.  But facts are stubborn things, as John Adams said.  Six months ago union leaders told Democrats in the state legislature not to propose any amendments, declaring the bill unfixable.  Don’t believe me?  Read it yourself.  House and Senate Democrats fell in line and obeyed the union edict.  Translation: They shut themselves out.  They aren’t interested in negotiation: it’s all or nothing in their world.  Then there’s the “army of volunteers” and “grassroots organization” they love to tout.  Yes, they did collect about 900,000 signatures to put Issue 2 on the ballot.  Funny thing though: the “10 thousand volunteers” that collected signatures somehow cost them: http://youtu.be/Plz4DSIWDqg !!!  That’s right, one million dollars.  Seems volunteers don’t come so cheaply in the Age of Obama.  Now you might see that figure and ask “But Alex, where did We Are Ohio get a million dollars?  Some massive grassroots organization of concerned citizens?” First off I’d ask you why you think we’re on a first name basis.  That asked, I would point you to this analysis of We Are Ohio’s funding.  Yep, unions.  More specifically, union dues and fees funneled along.  Their top 10 donors (all unions) combine for $5,397,000 of cash and in-kind donations.  Individual donors? A little over $39,000, a whopping 0.56 percent of the 7 million total.  Grace Slick must be proud.  Not the counter-culture icon Grace Slick doing backup vocals on “Volunteers” in Jefferson Airplane mind you, but the “We Built This City” era singer for Starship, icon for anyone hoping to sell themselves out for big money.  Then there’s the “Stand Up for Ohio” rally last weekend.  On their Facebook page, when asked how many attended, their answer was “25,000!!!”  And just look at the thousands rallying (Note to “Stand Up for Ohio”: If you’re going to claim 25,000 attended an event, don’t link to photos showing a crowd of maybe 250, 300 tops.).  Every step of the way, “We Are Ohio” has built its campaign on a web of lies.

Why do they do it?  What motivates the lies?  One word: power.  Union bosses are in this fight all the way because they want power.  Not for “the people”, not for “the working class” or “union employees”, but for themselves.  Unions collect millions from workers and devote a large percentage of their cash not to promoting the interests of the workers they claim to represent but rather to promote the Democratic Party.  The collectivist mentality of liberalism is copacetic with the union line.  Where an individualist mindset sees the idea of merit pay based upon an established set of standards determined by peers in the profession a logical way to reward excellence, the union collectivist sees a threat.  If individuals are rewarded for their individual quality, blind loyalty to a large union claiming to represent their best interests makes no sense.  That’s also why unions hate the idea of layoffs based upon anything other than seniority.  People who have stayed in a unionized profession longer feel more loyalty and have been more thoroughly “educated” by union pamphlets and field reps than newcomers.  Never mind that seniority-based layoffs can lead to teachers of the year being let go, as evidenced here and here.  The truth is union bosses don’t give a damn how good any individual is as long as their collective grab to power is protected.  That’s why the name “We Are Ohio” makes so much sense in a way.  To these power brokers, they are Ohio, not you, not me, not “the working class” or “union employees”, but them, the leaders of the unions.  They’ve been able to wield significant power ever since 1983, and they won’t give up even a little of their political influence without a massive, worker funded fight.  It isn’t about protecting the people, it’s about insulating and manifesting their own power and influence. 

Election Day 2011 is less than 80 days away.  So far, unions and their millions of dollars have dominated the course of the debate on Issue 2.  But it’s time for we the people, the real ‘We Are Ohio’, to make our voices heard.  This is a fight not just over collective bargaining but over who leads and reigns in this state.  Do you and I and the great silent majority of Ohio rule, or does power reside with people who believe and declare that “Once taxes are paid to the government, that money doesn’t belong to the taxpayer anymore”? (thanks Twitter handle @Notgvn for the insight into the liberal union mentality) The fight against misinformation and innuendo will not be easily won, but the fight is worth the effort.  The reward is a step forward to Building a Better Ohio.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Who's Next

Just when you thought it was safe to pick a GOP candidate, into the race jumped Texas Gov. Rick Perry. The 3-term governor's entry, combined with the departure of America's insomnia cure Tim Pawlenty has added another twist to a nomination battle that has seen more plot twists and turns than Days of Our Lives during sweeps. Whether Perry turns out to be the next Ronald Reagan, the next Fred Thompson, or something in between remains to be seen. Nevertheless his entry has had the undeniable effect of opening the floodgates for others still looking at joining the field. Each has his or her own strengths and weaknesses.

-Sarah Palin: Governor Palin has been the great cloud hanging over the field for months. She brings universal name identification, a passionate supporting base, and strong fundraising prowess. Still, one can't help but feel her chance has passed. With Perry and Bachmann leading the Tea Party vote plus Cain and Santorum carving their own smaller shares, there does not seem to be enough oxygen in that wing of the party for another high profile candidate.
Palin also suffers from questions about her own resume. Does less than 1 term as Governor of the 49th most populous state (in your face Wyoming!) qualify Palin to be President? Does knowledge of how to kill a caribou from a helicopter translate to negotiating a trade agreement with Egypt? (If the agreement is regarding the exportation of tasty caribou meat, then absolutely.)
Still, one person is up at night hoping in the name of all things Joseph Smith that Palin runs: Mitt Romney. Yes, a Palin candidacy to further carve up the more evangelical, social issues driven voter would only add to the chances The Mitten would fit like a glove to more establishment voters and secure the nomination. However, Sarah Palin has proven before that she's never one to count out.

-Paul Ryan: In the past few days Congressman Ryan's name has popped up as one seriously considering a run for the Presidency. Rumors abound that Speaker Boehner, Governor Daniels of Indiana and others are urging the Wisconsin Congressman into the race. Ryan is the House Budget Committee Chairman, young, undeniably brilliant and a graduate of the greatest university known to man. In many ways, the total package.
But questions remain about this Doogie Howser MD of the GOP. Ryan has never run a race larger than 1/8 of Wisconsin and has almost no national media vetting under his belt. He lacks name recognition with many and has never endured the grueling level of campaigning one must engage in to win a Presidential nomination.
Still, Ryan's insider credentials would appeal to many more establishment minded GOP voters. For Willard "The Mitten" Romney a Paul Ryan bid would threaten to take a considerable chunk of his base in the party, further opening the door for a Perry or even Bachmann nomination. But if the econ guru from the land of cheese can answer the questions and doubts there's no telling how far he could go.

-Donald Trump: Ok, I'm largely kidding here, but Trump won't stop teasing a run. Trump has said if Trump doesn't like what Trump sees in the race, then Trump will something something, lots of noise Trump! Maybe he is exactly what America needs: after all, who better to lead a national drowning in debt than a man with more bankruptcies and failed businesses than there were seasons of Gunsmoke who still gets to walk around pretending to be a titan of industry? Yes, the Donald truly is the master of the 'I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today' school of economics. But J. Wellington Wimpy would have to find a way to expand his appeal beyond the Let's Turn America into a Reality Show segment of voters to ever have a chance.

Those are just three of the names still sitting in the wings. Others (Christie, Giuliani) are out there as well. For now it seems we still don't know who else might be itching to join Mitten and the rest in the fight for the GOP nomination.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Same Old Song and Dance

Yesterday the Iowa Republican Party held one of its largest fundraising events. We call it the Ames Straw Poll. Just under 17000 attended and voted at $30/ticket, most bought by campaigns & handed out for free to supporters. I will be the first to admit that this is great political theater. What it is not however is particularly meaningful political theater. 

The history of the event undermines its claim to relevance:

The first straw poll was held in 1979. The new event was not particularly successful, as turnout was low. Nevertheless the inaugural winner was George H.W. Bush. Bush would go on to win Iowa in 1980, but lose the nomination (and become VP to) Ronald Reagan.

Eight years later Bush was back, running to succeed Reagan. Surely the 1979 winner won again in '87, right? Wrong. Bush finished 3rd that year, with Sen. Bob Dole 2nd and Pat Robertson winning. (Yes, Pat Robertson of 700 Club fame ran for President.) Robertson did not win the Iowa caucuses though: that winner was Dole, with Robertson 2nd and Bush 3rd. Of course this had little impact on the course of the '88 nomination, where then-VP Bush won the nomination handily en route to the Presidency.

1995 was to date the only tie in Straw Poll history. Bob Dole, back again, finished in a first place tie with Texas Sen. Phil Gramm. Dole kept his frontrunner status, won the Iowa caucuses, and rode it to the nomination, while Gramm raised millions yet performed so poorly in Iowa and Louisiana he dropped out before New Hampshire.

The 1999 Straw Poll saw the largest turnout in its history as a 2-man battle raged for the victory. The winner was eventual nominee and Iowa caucus winner George W. Bush, but the man he battled was not John McCain but Steve Forbes. Forbes spent millions hoping to win the Straw Poll but would finish 2nd, while McCain was 10th, having not even declared his candidacy at the time.

2007 saw Mitt Romney the Straw Poll winner, with Mike Huckabee (the eventual Iowa winner) a surprising 2nd. Where was our 2008 nominee McCain? Despite having declared months earlier this time, McCain found himself in familiar territory...10th, behind 3 men who would drop out before an official vote was cast (Tom Tancredo, Sam Brownback, and Tommy Thompson). Indeed, combining McCain's '99 and '07 straw poll votes would only equal half the total of this year's 8th place finisher Newt Gingrich (184 combined vs 365).

Recapping, there have been 5 previous Ames Straw Polls. Of the 6 winners (thanks to the '95 tie), 3 failed to win the Iowa caucuses, 4 lost the nomination, and only George W. Bush actually won the Presidency. This year Michelle Bachmann and Ron Paul finished 1-2. When deciding how to extrapolate these results to next year's primaries and caucuses, keep in mind how little bearing past straw polls have had on reality.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Take a Chance on Me

Today seemed like a good day to test out some political humor.  With the GOP debate last night I thought an SNL-style remake was in order.  It might seem strange for me to poke so much fun at my party's candidates, but if you can't laugh at yourself and those like you who can you laugh at?  Hope you enjoy...

Bret Baier: Good evening and welcome from Iowa and the Republican Presidential debate! Let’s meet the candidates.  Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich
Newt: What kind of ‘gotcha’ game is the introduction stuff? Ronald Reagan wouldn’t stand for this, and neither will I.  I knew Reagan too, and Reagan always said to me “Reagan is as Reagan does.”
Baier: Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman.
Huntsman: Thank you Bret.  I’m a different kind of Republican than most here, and tonight it’s my privilege to tell you the party faithful how wrong you all are on many issues.
Baier: Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty
TPaw: I’ve made my case to you voters, and you don’t like what you see.  So I’ve decided something: if I can’t be the Republican nominee from Minnesota then NO ONE can be the Republican nominee from Minnesota. (glares at Bachmann)
Baier: Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann.  A woman.
Bachmann: Thank you Bret.  I look forward to defending my position as the strongest of the crazy candidates in this field, and to being the Minnesota candidate.  For there can be only one (glares at Pawlenty)
Baier: Alright you two, save it for when the cameras are on you.  Next is former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
Santorum: Thank you, and let me say that I am the only candidate who will talk about the real threat to America today.  That threat is gay polygamous marriages between humans and incestuous dogs.  Only I have signed a pledge to specifically confront this danger on day 1 in office.
Baier: Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
Mitt: Thank you.  Let’s face it, I’ve barely even tried to campaign and I’m still dominating every candidate on this stage.  So until that guy from Texas gets in the race, I’m here to look good and say nothing that can in any way offend anyone, anywhere, ever.
Baier: Congressman Ron Paul. (cheers) Ugh, I knew we shouldn’t hold this debate the same day as the free tin foil hat giveaway.
Paul: America, get off my lawn! (shakes fist)
Baier: And finally Michael Steele.  Oh wait, that’s Herman Cain. 
Cain: Thank you Bret, and don’t worry.  I have a 4-point plan on how to look less like Steele.  Just don’t ask me about any specifics.

Baier: Alright, it’s time to move on to questions.  Chris Wallace has a question for Speaker Gingrich.
Chris Wallace: Speaker Gingrich…
Newt: Hold it right there media boy.  I’m not here to play this ‘you ask questions, I answer them’ media mind game.  I’m here to speak to the American people.  America, remember Reagan?  I do, and I know the central issue of our age is the lack of people saying the name Ronald Reagan.  Well I’m not afraid to do it, no matter what Joe Media over there or all my former campaign staff think of it.
Wallace: Moving on , Governor Huntsman let’s be honest.  Can you name any reason for you to be up on this stage?
Huntsman: Well Chris, I can proudly I’m the only one on stage who can both an endorsement from Jeb Bush.
Wallace: You’ve been endorsed by THE Jeb Bush?
Huntsman: I’ve been endorsed by A Jeb Bush!
Wallace: Fair enough.
Baier: Next up, Byron York has an incredibly unfair and sexist question for the woman in the race Michelle Bachmann.  Wait, where did she go?
Bachmann: (reappearing) Sorry, migrane.
Baier: Governor Pawlenty, care to comment on that?
TPaw: Well this just proves what I’ve been saying about the Congresswoman’s lack of accomplishments.  I mean look at me: I am proud to have won the coveted America’s Least Interesting Governor award a record 5 times.  That’s the kind of record all Americans can agree they don’t really care about.
Wallace: Congressman Paul, a question for you on foreign policy.
Paul: Oh good, my time to shine!
Wallace: You’ve said that Iran should be free to pursue a nuclear program, despite the threat such a program would pose.  Care to retract those statements?
Paul: Absolutely not!  It’s our own fault they hate us anyway.  My solution is simple: it’s time we sold our nuclear weapons to countries that hate us, you know to level the playing field.  Payments in gold only though, none of this fancy colored paper I see people using.
Santorum: If I may interrupt, that is shameful.  Do you have any idea how oppressive Iran’s regime is?  Well, just look at their hatred of homosexuals!
Everyone: (turning to Santorum, in unison) Really?
Santorum: What?  I don’t have any problem with foreign homosexuals.  Just domestic ones.
Wallace: Governor Romney,when you ran Bain Capital you invested in a lot of companies, and we found three of them that closed shops in America and moved overseas.  Comments?
Mitt: Well Chris, it’s easy to point out the jobs lost here, but you fail to mention how many jobs those moves created in India and China!  I’d say more, but I really don’t need to draw attention to myself right now.  Why don’t you cut back to that Bachmann/Pawlenty fight again?
Wallace: Mr. Cain, how do you feel about the imminent entry of Governor Perry into this race?
Cain: That’s fine with me.  Just one more politician in this race.  One more politician who will defeat me soundly.

Baier: Any now it’s time for closing statements.  Speaker Gingrich?
Newt: Oh no, you won’t fool me with that one.  I have nothing more to say.  Reagan.
Baier: Governor Huntsman?
Huntsman: I have a dream friends, a dream of making America as great as the state I governed.  It’s about time all of America looked and felt just like Utah!
Baier: Governor Pawlenty?
TPaw: Frankly I’m tired of all this work with no results.  As long as you don’t vote for crazy eyes here (points to Bachmann) I don’t care what you do.
Baier: Congresswoman Bachmann?
Bachmann: By now you’ve probably seen the Newsweek cover that tried to make me look crazy, but don’t consider me crazy because of that photo.  Consider me crazy for the things I say.
Baier: Senator Santorum?
Santorum: America, 41 percent of Pennsylvania voters can’t have been wrong when they voted for me 5 years ago, nor can the 2 percent who support me in the polls today.  Thank you.
Baier: Governor Romney?
Romney: Our nation needs someone with business experience, and only Herman Cain and I have spent our lives in the business world so we’re your choices.  And let’s be honest, Godfather’s Pizza sucks.  I can literally think of 50 better pizza places without even trying. 
Baier: Congressman Paul?
Paul: GOLD!!!!
Baier: And Mr. Cain?
Cain: I'm not a politician.  If you want someone who "plays politics" or "has held elected office" or "knows where Washington D.C. is", then I'm not your man.  If you want something different, take a chance on me nation.
Baier: And that concludes our debate tonight.  Just remember America, you have to choose one of them.  Join us next week as we cover the steel cage match between Rep. Bachmann and Governor Pawlenty.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Who Wants to Live Forever

Something non-political for a change of pace...

As some of you know, I was quite sick a few months ago (and if you didn't, surprise!). To make a long story short, an intestinal tear combined with severe malnutrition hit me in early April and I nearly died. From a probability perspective I probably should be dead once one factors in the cascade of system disruptions and near failures that hit my body the first 10 days I was in the hospital.  But (spoiler alert) I didn't, and I actually recovered and got out of the hospital a lot faster than doctors were expecting me too.

Getting out and back to life, I've had so many family and friends comment on 'how terrifying' it must have been for me to be near death and 'how lucky' I was.  Hearing all this I realize how perhaps the only person in my sphere of family/friends/acquaintances who didn't see the possibility of death as something to be feared was me.  Before I continue I should note the following: I am not suicidal/have a death wish, I'm not depressed, and while my sense of humor occasionally goes into the morbid territory death is not something I obsess over.  That said, I don't see death or the inevitability of dying as anything to fear or shirk away from.

When I reflect on these past few months I see terror, but not from the thought of dying.  The terror was not being able to walk for weeks, having to relearn that and simple tasks like putting on shoes and dressing myself, the sheer exhaustion of 20 minutes of exertion trying to learn those things, and looking down and seeing a skeleton (my weight through all this bottomed out at 130.8 lbs, or 80 less than I weighed before entering the hospital). Living life without the physical or mental capability to achieve the goals I have for myself in this life was the terrifying part.  Watching time go by from a hospital bed and knowing the countless opportunities that slid away was depressing and terrifying.  And, for a person as deathly afraid (pun intended) of needles as I am, the constant parade of IVs, blood tests, and medication injections was continually terrifying.  All of those things were terrifying then and now, but not the specter of the Grim Reaper.  Death isn't something one can avoid or opt-out of, and if one believes in an afterlife as I do then temporal death is not the end of the existence.  So why should I have been terrified of it?

Ronald Reagan's high school yearbook quote was "Life is one grand, sweet song, so start the music." He was right: life is a wonderful experience full of highs and lows, triumphs and failures, love and loss.  But I would argue that it is death that makes life the wonder that it is.  Knowing that our time on this world is finite compels the spirit to achieve and make the most of what we can while we can.  If you knew that your life would be endless on Earth, there would be no voice in your head driving you onward.  There'd be no reason to reach for the sky: after all it would be there for you forever.  The drive to leave a legacy would be non-existent, the desire to have children to carry on one's lineage would be moot, and so many other aspects of life would lose their meaning.

I don't really think much about death, but when I do it's these thoughts that tend to dominate the thought process.  I didn't fear death when it was smiling at me and I don't fear it today.  All I know is that the omnipresent specter of one's physical end that exists for all of us helps compel me forward in life to seek out the goals I have for myself.  That so many around me saw death as this great terrifying thing still proves a little bewildering to me.  I am glad to be alive and to have more time to leave the legacy on this world that I wish to leave, but when the bell tolls for me I won't walk into that light with fear but instead with wonder and curiosity for what lies beyond.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Power to the People

Ohio and Ohioans are used to being the center of attention on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.  Every four years we hear ad nauseum about how “no Republican has ever won the Presidency without winning Ohio”, and indeed Ohio is a perennial swing state.  Our Congressional elections always feature multiple toss-ups and millions in advertisements.  In even numbered years it’s Ohio that helps drive the national political discussion.

In odd numbered years like this however, Ohio typically is afforded a breather.  No statewide or federal offices are elected, and the ballot measures tend to be fairly benign.  Unlike these past years, 2011 promises to place Ohio squarely in the eyes of national politics the same way we’re accustomed to in even numbered years.  Three statewide issues will be on the ballot in November, two having profound repercussions for both Ohio and the nation, and I would like to address all three.

Issue 1 is by far the least controversial of the three, and thus I’ll spend the least amount of time on it.  Currently a person cannot run for a judicial seat in Ohio once they pass the age of 70, and Issue 1 if passed would increase this limit to 75.  Needless to say, this isn’t exactly an issue that will drive the average citizen to get out and vote (though many Ohio judges in their 60s will feel otherwise).  Personally I see no reason for any kind of age limit on judges: Ohioans elect them all, and we should have every right to vote for a candidate of any age.  I’ll be supporting Issue 1 as a step in the right direction on this matter.

Skipping down to the last statewide ballot initiative, Issue 3 deals with a provision of Obamacare.  If passed, Ohio would declare itself exempt from the individual mandate aspect of Obamacare that dictates all Americans must purchase health insurance coverage from either private companies or the federal government.  To be quite honest I find this issue to be largely a moot point.  States are constitutionally prohibited from nullifying federal laws, and if the purpose is to provoke a court challenge of the individual mandate one already exists from state attorney generals (including our own AG Mike DeWine) and is working its way through the federal court system.  The primary issue at stake it would seem will be resolved by this case. If the individual mandate is ruled unconstitutional (as it should be in my opinion) then there’s no need for an exemption.  If it is upheld by the courts, then any attempt by Ohio or any other state to nullify a federal law will surely fail upon a court challenge. 

While Issue 3 might not have the kind of direct impact one would expect from a statewide initiative, the symbolic value of this vote cannot be overstated.  As President Obama and Congressional Democrats passed Obamacare last year they insisted that, once Americans had the chance to learn what was in the bill, it would see a gain in popularity.  It has been over a year now, and polling continues to show a majority of Americans opposed to the legislation.  Now Ohio, the definition of a swing state, will serve as a laboratory to test whether or not people will support the health care law after being given all the facts.  With millions sure to spent on both sides of this issue, passage of Issue 3 would be the largest and most direct blow to the assertions of Obama and the left on this matter.  If only to send a message, I will be voting yes to exempt Ohioans from being forced to purchase health insurance in clear violation of the intent of the commerce clause. 

As much attention as Issue 3 will draw, the main event this November will be the showdown over Issue 2.  In case you’re not from Ohio or have been living in a non-politicized cave these past several months, the Ohio Legislature passed Senate Bill 5 this General Assembly.  SB5 places limits on the collective bargaining privileges extended to some government employees in 1983.  More specifically, the main provisions include prohibiting government employees from striking, installing merit pay raises rather than automatic step raises based upon longevity, requiring government employees to pay 15% toward benefits and 10% toward state pension plans, limiting the amount of leave time one can accrue, and most notably restricting what employees can and cannot collectively bargain for.  I’ll touch on each of these briefly.

The prohibition of government employees striking mirrors that which already exists at the federal level.  When employees of the government strike, they don’t merely disrupt the actions and exchanges of an individual business: they disrupt the vital services that all people rely upon, from fire and police service to the education of children.  As President Reagan said in regards to the 1981 air traffic controllers strike, “Government cannot close down the assembly line.  It has to provide without interruption the protective services which are government’s reason for being.”  When government is on strike the safeguards of society are placed in peril, and prohibiting such action is a proper step for our state to make.

Although SB5 critics claim that merit pay is an unfair imposition and impossible to establish, one need only look to the private sector to see this claim for the fallacy it is.  The good lawyer charges more and makes more than the average or poor lawyer.  The good salesman (often through commission) makes more than the average or poor salesman.  The same goes for doctors, accountants, chefs, engineers, athletes, waiters (on tips), architects, and oh so many other professions.  In all these examples we can see that merit systems reward talent and motivate the individual to excel.  How then can it be claimed that such a system is punitive to those working for the public?  Indeed the good teacher/policeman/fire fighter should be thrilled by this change: they can make more under the proposed change than they would with a system based solely on longevity.

Asking public employees to pay 15% toward their own benefits is hardly an unfair requirement.  For those of you reading this from the private sector, you are paying on average 31% toward your own health, dental, vision, et al.  SB5’s requirement is less than half as much, yet government employee union bosses cry foul.  Government employees are not entitled to any better or worse than citizens in the private sector.

The limit on accrual of leave time is as follows: no more than 6 weeks of paid vacation time, no more than 12 paid holidays, and no more than 3 paid personal days annually.  Do some quick math and one realizes this adds up to 45 work days annually.  For my friends working for private companies, can any of you take 45 days off in year (excluding major medical reasons) and expect to remain employed by that company?  I feel safe to assume your answer would be ‘no’.  As with the preceding point, why should government employees be entitled to a level of benefits that no one in private sector could reasonably expect to receive?  The limit on leave time can hardly be described as exceedingly burdensome on workers.

Last but not least we come to the restrictions on collective bargaining.  Here it is vital to note what is and is not restricted.  Government employees will still be able to bargain collectively on matters related to wages, hours, terms and conditions of their employment.  Those things which are classified as management decisions (none of the former being such) would not be subject to collective bargaining.  Once again one need only compare this provision to the realities of the private sector to realize how moderated and reasonable such a provision is.  This is no less than what one would see in any company, and in most cases would qualify as more. 

These points are by no means exhaustive of their subjects, nor are they meant to be.  These however are the general outlines of what Senate Bill 5 does, apart from the lies and the rhetoric of those who have spurred on the campaign of misinformation about this legislation.  Why is so much money and opposition being foisted against it then?  That, dear friends, is a future blog all its own.  The point for today is that Issue 2/Senate Bill 5 provides reasonable and common sense modifications to the compensation and bargaining privileges of government workers.  In November I’ll be voting Yes on Issue 2 to help restore balance and sanity to government compensation packages.

In the coming months I will certainly be writing more on these issues (particularly Issue 2), but let this be an overview of where we in Ohio stand heading into the most exciting off-year election our state has had in many, many years.  On November 8th the eyes of the nation will be on the Buckeye State yet again, and what we decide will have far-reaching impact.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

MoneyGrabber

The current debt ceiling battle is a wonderful contrast of conservatism vs. liberalism and pragmatism vs. idealism, and why in both cases I fall into the camp of the former. 

Today America is weighed down by a national debt of over 14.2 trillion dollars and seemingly no way to dig out from under this mountain of IOUs.  While both parties have had a hand in the accumulation of this debt, it is under the current administration that our nation has seen an explosion of deficit spending not seen since the World War II era.  Democrats are so embarrassed by these levels of spending that they've refused to go on the record with their spending: we have passed the 800 day mark since our government has passed an annual budget.  Now we've hit our spending limit, and need to extend our debt ceiling to avoid defaulting on our debts.

But here we are 6 days from default and at a stalemate. But, as our President would say, let us be clear: the stalemate exists because Democrats alone are holding up this process.  For weeks now Republicans in DC have been negotiating against themselves trying to come up with a plan that will be enacted.  Rather than propose anything of their own, Democrats have stood on the sidelines criticizing GOP plans while offering no counteroffer to the process.  While Harry Reid has finally gotten around to introducing a plan on behalf of Senate Democrats, our President, the man supposed to lead the nation through tough times, has never proposed anything other than vague outlines at best. 

Anyone who followed the Hope & Change campaign of '08 should not be shocked by this lack of specific ideas from Obama, but I for one had hoped and prayed that two and a half years of leading the most powerful nation in the world would have given him enough wisdom to realize that a President does not merely fiddle and play games while the nation burns.  Unfortunately that is not the case.  In his address to the nation President Obama chose to give a partisan campaign speech rather than a thoughtfully considered proposal to solve the problem. 

Obama's continued objections to Republican proposals highlights the fundamental difference in how liberals and conservatives view our nation's debt problem.  To Obama and his fellow liberals, we must tax our way out of this crisis.  If we run a deficit it simply means that businesses, the rich and anyone else they decide to throw into that group at the moment are not paying their "fair share" and must be taxed more.  Never mind that the wealthiest 1% of Americans pay 2/5 of the income tax while making 1/5 of all income, or that America's corporate tax rate is the 2nd highest in the developed world, obviously they must be taxed more to fix our national debt.  I and other Republicans see things a little differently.  The problem of debt and deficits comes to us not because we tax too little but because we spend too much.  Bloated government agencies and boondoggles like the "Cash for Clunkers" program serve to exacerbate our spending problems and plunge us further into debt with nations like China.  The solution is to get off this spending train to destruction and truly assess what we spend and why, and find ways to cut back before it's too late.

With that said, this is not a process which can happen overnight, and that brings me to the battle within the Congressional GOP.  While the Bachmanns and DeMints of the party seem to feel that virtually no debt ceiling increase can be tolerated and that we can get all of what we feel is right immediately, this is simply too naive a concept for me to adopt.  It's time to assess where we are: Republicans control the House, but they do not control the Senate or the Presidency.  For anyone to believe that Republicans can achieve 100% of what is desired is foolish at best.  Speaker Boehner and the other Republican leaders in Congress understand this and will not throw out the good in pursuit of the perfect.  Boehner's proposal calls for an increase in the debt ceiling that comes in conjunction with spending reductions of a greater amount than the ceiling increase.  It does not raise taxes on anyone and it keeps our nation from default.  His plan constitutes responsible leadership and a recognition of what can actually be accomplished.  I hope that enough members of the House GOP will recognize that pragmatism must reign in this debate. 

America needs the pragmatic conservatism of the Boehner proposal to persevere through this present challenge.  Creating higher taxes cannot solve a problem brought on by a refusal to rein in spending, and destroying a proposal because one can only accept that which they consider ideologically "pure" fails to serve the national interest as well.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Now I'm One of Those "Bloggers" I Hear so Much About

So I'm finally getting around to blogging.  It only took me about 3 years to go from the "I should do this" phase to execution, which is in keeping with a lot of what I do.  As those of you who know me will assume, most of this blog will be devoted to my witty, insightful commentary on American politics, but I'll also be ranting about sports, movies, and anything that pops into my head that I feel like mentioning. 


Now if you don't know me so well yet, allow me to give a brief overview of who I am.  First I'm a passionate Roman Catholic who will defend my faith with every ounce of strength I have.  I'm a strongly conservative politico who puts fiscal issues above all others.  When people and businesses have minimal taxation and minimal regulation to burden them then opportunity and prosperity are maximized for the highest number of people. I champion the value of the private sector from within the public sector as a legislative aide for the Ohio House of Representatives. I will note that any and all postings here reflect only my own views and thoughts, and should not be applied to any other person or persons.  I love sports, particularly football and golf.  I'll frequently make fun of my favorite teams/schools (namely the Buffalo Bills and Notre Dame Fighting Irish), but I'll also never stop being a fan of either.  I tend to believe that good music died somewhere between 1985 and 1990, thus you'll find my music library overflowing with late 60s and 70s rock.  Similarly I love a classic old movie, something with a Humphrey Bogart or a Hepburn (Katherine or Audrey), though good movies aren't as dead as good music in modern times. I use a lot of quotes, from people or books or movies/music/TV, in the course of a day.  I've always thought that there's no reason to try and come up with a new way to say something when someone else has already said it well.  I love comedy, particularly the absurd or exaggerated.  I enjoy listening to others much more than talking, which makes some think I'm stuck-up.  I'm not, I'd just rather keep my mouth shut and have someone think me a fool than open it and remove all doubt. I enjoy making fun of people (almost always in a good-natured way), most of all myself.  I fancy myself a classic romantic still in search of that special someone. 

Well that "brief" overview wasn't as brief as I thought it would be, but if you're still reading I must have done something right. All in all a pretty dull first post, but fret not for I shall have plenty of more interesting things to say in the future.

To quote the legendary Bishop Fulton Sheen: Bye now, and God love you!