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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Potpourri: Comments on the passing scene

From the “Aha” department: Judicial Watch reports that “Department of Justice attorneys for the Internal Revenue Service told the organization on Friday that Lois Lerner’s emails, indeed all government computer records, are backed up by the federal government in case of a government-wide catastrophe.”

However, attorneys also said it would just be too dad-gummed hard to go through the backup files to look for evidence of possible criminal behavior. Imagine that: an emergency backup of the entire government, so that if the entire government computer system were to be destroyed, all the information is protected, but it’s so disorganized that you can’t easily find anything. Doesn’t that make the backup essentially useless? Was this system designed and built by the same people that gave us healthcare.gov?

Do you suppose that none of the people at the IRS who claimed the emails had been forever lost knew about this backup? Really? 




*****

Raising the minimum wage by $2.85 an hour to $10.10 an hour effectively imposes an “unskilled labor tax” on employers of $6,170 per worker, according to the American Enterprise Institute’s Mark J. Perry. That includes not only the increase in wages, but also increases in FICA, Medicare and unemployment taxes.

A survey of 400 U.S. Chief Financial Officers conducted by Duke University finance professor Campbell Harvey shows that a substantial increase in the minimum wage will, as so many have said for so long, cost jobs, as well as reduce job benefits and increase outsourcing.

The survey showed that in response to a $10 per hour minimum wage:
    •    Sixty percent of the firms said they would lay off employees.
    •    Forty percent said they would slash benefits to employees.
    •    Seventy percent said they would increase contracting, outsourcing, or moving actual production outside the United States.

A report on the study by the National Center for Policy Analysis notes that, “Businesses will not simply absorb these costs; they will look for ways to minimize the $6,000 tax by reducing the number of workers they employ, cutting workers' hours, halting additional hiring or finding ways to use automation to replace work done by employees. Employers may also cut employees' non-monetary fringe benefits rather than eliminate their positions.”

*****

Since President Barack Obama ended the War on Terror, America’s new efforts to combat, er … fight, umm … deal with terrorism has a new name: “comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.” This strategy has already produced more than 150 airstrikes in Iraq that killed ISIL/ISIS fighters, destroyed weapons, and allowed Iraqi and Kurdish forces to reclaim key territory. Thank goodness we are not involved in another war.

The president announced that with allies and Congress, America will lead a broad coalition in a counter-terrorism strategy called Operation Double Bogie to roll back this terrorist threat (from behind?).

*****

While drug smugglers and who knows what other filth sneak in and out of the U.S. over the non-existent southern border, Border Patrol agents busy themselves making birthday cakes for illegal aliens who have crossed the border into the country.

This information comes via Pinal County, Ariz. Sheriff Paul Babeu, who appeared on Neil Cavuto’s “Your World” program last Thursday on Fox News Channel.

The sheriff said, “I can give you a window into this administration because just a month ago, while all this was going on, we heard, myself and countless sheriffs in Fort Worth, Texas, heard … how wonderful it was these Border Patrol agents, federal law enforcement, had a birthday cake for this 13-year-old Honduran, and he’s never had a cake ... I called him on that, and said, ‘how on earth have we arrived at this point where it’s become the job of our Border Patrol agents, who their sole purpose should be to protect our country and secure our border, is to do what you just said, to have a birthday cake for a 13-year-old Honduran?’”



*****

From the Nervous Hospital, Unhinged Ward: Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) claims that Democrats are not “fear-mongers;” but said on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” “It would be very important for the Democrats to retain control of the Senate,” she warned. “Civilization as we know it today would be in jeopardy if the Republicans win the Senate.”
 

*****

Earlier this year came news from Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that we face increased risks from human-induced climate change. These new risks are, of course, the result of CO2 in the atmosphere, which now has more CO2 than it previously had. Over the last 100 years the number of CO2 molecules in a given quantity of air is up from 3 to 4.

No wonder they are concerned: that represents a 33 percent increase in CO2!

That sounds like a really serious problem, until you realize that the quantity of air in this equation is 10,000 molecules. We now have 4 molecules of CO2 per 10,000 air molecules, instead of 3. The amount of CO2 in the air is now 4 ten-thousandths (.0004), up from 3 ten-thousandths (.0003). Catastrophe has descended on us; we are surely doomed.

Thursday, September 11, 2014



Editors Note: What follows originated in 2006, and is repeated in 2014.

2,996 is a tribute to the victims of 9/11.



On September 11, 2006, 2,996 volunteer bloggers joined together for a tribute to the victims of 9/11. Each person payed tribute to a single victim.We honor them by remembering their lives, and not by remembering their murderers.

So reads the introductory material on the 2996 Web page. I was assigned James Arthur Greenleaf, Jr. I was the 1357th blogger to sign up for the 2,996 Tribute project.

The name of each 9-11 victim was been assigned to a blogger.

This project was a very moving one for me. In searching for information on Jim Greenleaf’s life, I was deeply touched by who this young man was.

James Arthur Greenleaf, Jr., age 32, native of Waterford, Conn. Mr. Greenleaf was a foreign exchange trader at Carr Futures and died at the World Trade Center. He was a resident of New York, N.Y. Mr. Greenleaf was a 1991 graduate of Connecticut College, he was the son of Mr. And Mrs. James Greenleaf, Sr., and the former husband of Susan Cascio, a 1992 graduate of Connecticut College.


The following was posted by Mr. Greenleaf’s mother on Legacy.com

April 6, 2002

My Dearest Jim,

Almost 7 months have passed and not a day goes by that I don't think about you. Some days I pretend that I just haven't seen you in long time and that you will be visiting soon. I know that it will be a long time till we see each other again, but it does help on the bad days.

Just this week Dad and I received 2 letters from old friends of yours recalling some great times that they spent with you and they wanted us to know what an impact you had on their lives. One letter we received said that she had children of her own and just hoped that some day they might grow up to be the kind of person that she remembers you as being. What a
wonderful tribute to the fine man that you were. You touched so many people and I'm sure that you had no idea of how others thought of you.

I know that I kissed you and told you how much I loved you every time I had the opportunity to, but I wanted to say it to you today again.


I love you so much,


Mom


Peter, Bryn and I talk about you all the time and remember all the wonderful times we spent together.
(Patricia Greenleaf, Waterford, CT)


Quilt graphic thanks to Kim at United in Memory

The James A. Greenleaf, Jr. Memorial Scholarship Fund has been established to honor and remember a dear family member and friend who lost his life as a result of the catastrophe which occurred in New York City in 2001. The fund will be used to provide financial assistance to students attending St. Bernard High School.


Dave McBride also hopes to help others by honoring the memory of his long-time friend with the 5th Annual 5K River Run For The Fund. The race, which takes place this Saturday, May 13th at Ocean Beach Park in New London, is part of the Greenleaf Memorial Foundation, which also incorporates an annual Golf Tournament and a Memorial Dinner. McBride and James Greenleaf were best friends since high school, graduating from St. Bernard in 1987.

Sadly, Greenleaf lost his life because of the terrorist acts that occurred as he was working in New York City on the morning of September 11th, 2001. In a tribute to Greenleaf, his family and friends created the James A. Greenleaf, Jr. Memorial Scholarship Fund, Inc., with proceeds used to award full book scholarships for 8th grade students to attend St. Bernard High School. The organization received approximately 30-40 scholarship applications annually, which require a formal essay and teacher recommendations that are reviewed by the Foundation’s Board of Directors. The fund also hopes to increase its scholarship offerings either to St Bernard students or other local students who will be attending college.


 Leave a message in honor of James Arthur Greenleaf Jr.

From: Lisa LaGalia Date: 11/19/2004 Message: Hi babe it me. Still not better without you. Can't you take me there where you are. We should be together
From: Maureen Griffin Balsbaugh Date: 08/29/2005 Message: At every one of your events. We know you are there in spirit....laughing.

This comment was left just a few days ago:

Thank you for posting information on Jim Greenleaf. We went to high school together. During the three years, we played football and ran track together. We ate many lunches together. 

 
With my return to the US in 2007, I have been able to attend the annual golf outing twice. The outpouring of help given by friends of Jimmy is very inspiring. His scholarship is helping many children attend St. Bernard H.S.

Thank you for the great site.
John

PS As an aside, we lost another high school friend that day, Eric Evans. He was in one of the towers when they fell. Both gone but not forgotten.



Jim Greenleaf, rest in peace.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

When you are self-absorbed, you can’t see the forest for the trees

Life provides lessons for us in unusual ways. Occasionally, it is someone totally missing something obvious that provides the lesson. Here is a very good example of that.

A photograph posted on Facebook shows a woman holding up a sign. The sign says: “I have a Master of Arts degree in Women’s Studies. However, the only job I can find is as a bartender at a local restaurant. I owe over 60k in student loans. I am forced to rely on food stamps and WIC to support my son. Is this the ‘American Dream’ I worked so hard for? I am the 99 percent occupywallstreet.org.”

The lesson is there for all to see, but the woman – let’s call her “Ms. OWS,” – not only didn’t learn from her experience, she didn’t even suspect there was a lesson there. That experience was only an opportunity to complain that America hasn’t provided a better life for her.
The lesson that unless you are independently wealthy or have someone to support you while you go to school, you don’t borrow 60 grand to pursue a degree in a subject area that will not equip you to support yourself and your child and pay for the education that you have just received totally escaped her notice.

Like the make-believe class college kids used to joke about, “Underwater Basket Weaving,” Women’s Studies, is not a viable career field. To prepare for supporting yourself you study accounting, engineering, computer technology, law, medicine, chemistry, elementary or secondary education, or one of the other majors where jobs are available. But Ms. OWS, probably without a gun to her head, instead chose Women’s Studies.

The Occupy Wall Street movement with which Ms. OWS so closely identifies, includes some pie-in-the-sky idealism, like:
    •    The right to economic justice, including a living wage for all, regardless of the job, or the level of skills or experience one has
    •    Debt forgiveness for all debts
    •    Free college education
    •    Open borders

These goals are not merely unrealistic; they are dangerous. None would be good either for the country or for its inhabitants. Someone has to pay for the higher wages, the free college education, and the debt forgiveness, and that won’t be the people who think about life like Ms. OWS does; it will be the people who approach adulthood responsibly, and prepare to take care of themselves.

Movements like Occupy Wall Street seem to attract those disaffected souls who, for whatever reason, have not learned what life is about, expect to be provided for, and become indignant when life does not provide to them the rewards to which they believe they are entitled, due to nothing more significant that they were not aborted and draw breath.

Like Ms. OWS, they float through life indulging in the things they like, neglecting to seek out things that will prepare them for life as a responsible citizen, and then contributing to society and the wellbeing of our country.

Perhaps it’s not entirely their fault. We have a segment of our society that imagines it is possible to achieve Utopia, and a large group of pandering vote-seekers all too willing to promise it to them, and who provide a few goodies at taxpayer expense in return for votes and a cushy career in government.

And then there’s government, itself, at all levels. Even in cases where young people show some initiative, and take steps to help themselves, they are often thwarted by bureaucratic absurdity, as in these examples reported by The Daily Signal:

** Chloe Stirling started a business in her kitchen called “Hey, Cupcake!” In addition to selling her goods to friends and neighbors, she donated some to charitable events, including a fundraiser for a student with cancer, and delivered cupcakes to residents in a senior home. Not good enough! Illinois health officials declared that she lacked the necessary permit to operate and told her to close up shop.

** A zoning official in Holland, Mich. shut down a 13-year-old’s hotdog stand because he was supposedly competing with nearby restaurants.  Nathan Duszynski had planned to sell hotdogs to raise money for his disabled parents. The boy’s mom has epilepsy and his dad has multiple sclerosis. Within minutes of opening his stand, a zoning official ordered him to cease operating because he lacked a license.

Bah! Humbug!

Is this a great country, or what? On the one hand there’s a substantial number of people who think they are entitled to whatever they think they are entitled to, and lack the motivation to get off their duffs and earn their rewards, and on the other hand people in government stupidly apply rules to punish young people who take the initiative to earn something through work.

But then there was a pleasant breeze of tolerance and common sense wafting its way north from Dunedin, Fla. where 12-year-old T.J. Guerrero operates a lemonade stand to raise money for summer activities with his friends and family. After one neighbor complained to the city, Mayor Dave Eggers visited the stand, enjoyed some lemonade, and praised the youngster’s initiative.

Perhaps all is not lost. But we must be vigilant.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Ferguson, Missouri, is really a story of inappropriate reactions

The death of a black teenager at the hands of a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and the events before and after the shooting, have raised many questions: about race relations, about the behavior of police, about the militarization of local and state police forces, and whether and to what extent the self-serving and often-biased behavior of the national media makes things worse.

The most important thing about this episode is that no one really knows what happened, except the 18 year-old male, who is now dead, and the police officer who shot him.

Maybe the black residents of Ferguson are correct in their belief that the police officer murdered an innocent black teen.

If the police officer did indeed kill the boy without justification, or used excessive force, he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Several times this column has pointed out examples of unjustified and stupid use of force by law enforcement officials at all levels. Police must be held to account when they break the law, or injure innocent people, just like the rest of us.

But perhaps other information that shows the young black male as something other than the “gentle giant” he has been portrayed to be is correct. And if so, that also has to be taken into account.

In such emotional situations as this one, people’s initial reactions are usually based upon their existing attitudes about those involved. Perhaps they believe white police officers are biased against black residents. Or, perhaps they believe the worst of the black people involved. And, the stronger the emotions involved, the stronger the reaction to the situation is likely to be.

That seems to be precisely what happened.

The majority black population in Ferguson immediately believed the white policeman murdered the black youth, while others believed the worst about the black youngster and thought the police officer was justified in shooting him. Black residents demonstrated and protested, leading to police responses that mostly made things worse.

There are pieces of information floating around to support both the black youth and the white policeman, but what is lacking is being able to know which of all of these various pieces of information are credible and which are not. Investigating crimes frequently takes time, and first impressions about what happened are often wrong.

If they are devoted to objectively and accurately reporting events, news organizations can help settle initial emotional reactions. But if other considerations take precedence, the way news outlets handle events can stir things up further.

One issue is that of proportionality: as serious as this situation is in Ferguson, Missouri, one must ask the question of whether in the universe of important events this situation truly justifies the hundreds of hours of breathless, up-front coverage given to it by the dominant news outlets?

The Media Research Center (MRC) is a 501(c)(3) media watchdog organization, which is one of several organizations that looks and reports on the performance of the national media. Brent Bozell, MRC’s founder and president, comments: “You’ve got a hundred blacks [that] have been shot by white cops. What happened to the other 99? Why don’t they merit coverage?” And then, “You’ve got 5,000 blacks killed by blacks. Why isn’t that news?”

Both are fair questions, and important questions.

In cases such as the Ferguson shooting death, Mr. Bozell rightly says that “this is where the media, more than ever, need to be disinterested, neutral observers.”

There’s enough tragedy in this story to go around. The parents, relatives and friends of the young black man whose life is now over obviously have a tragedy to cope with. But so do the relatives, friends and co-workers of the white policeman.

If we analyze how the national broadcast and online media, and major daily newspapers operate, it is evident that news organizations often glom onto a story based not just on the news value of the story itself, but whether the story fits in with certain of the dominant media’s favored narratives. A story about a white cop shooting a young black male has greater media appeal than a story about white man killing another white man, or a black man killing another black man.

Further, too often it is a matter of who is first with something, not who gets it right. The online and cable/broadcast outlets have to furnish 24 hours of content a day, and if you ain’t first, you ain’t in the game. So any little tidbit of new information becomes a headline, or “Breaking News.” And it is not unusual for these “urgent” items to be relatively unimportant, or may be either iffy or flat out wrong.

Quite a lot of the accounts we have seen, heard and read in the news are incomplete, contain unverified elements, and sometimes are biased. The media may eventually report the unvarnished truth, or not, but the chaos that occurs in the interim stirs emotions on all sides, and obfuscates the truth, which is precisely opposite to the responsibility the news media have to serve the public.

Good journalism demands more, much more, than this.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Obama: Osama bin Laden is dead. The terror threat is gone. Ooops!

Early in 2012, a State Department official commented that the war on terror was over, and about a year later President Barack Obama repeated that idea.

With that declaration began an active effort to cleanse the national dialog of the idea of Islamic terrorism and the use of any words used to describe it. The term “War on Terror” was replaced with the euphemism “Overseas Contingency Operations,” and the murder of 13 people at Ft. Hood by a Muslim U.S. Army doctor was termed “Workplace Violence.”

Since terrorism was no longer a threat, Mr. Obama removed our troops from Iraq, and reiterated his pledge to close our terrorist detainment facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and do something with the accused terrorists being held there. In fact, five of them were traded not long ago for the suspected Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl.

But now reality again rears its ugly head. ISIS or ISIL, Hamas, Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda, Ansar al-Islam … names that are synonymous with brutality, mayhem and murder, are prominent in the news, and we frequently hear about cutting off fingers and hands, and mercy killings of people for their crimes, or beheadings and mass executions for the indiscretion of not believing as the members of these organizations insist that you must believe.

Recent events in the Middle East and Africa have shown the brutal, uncivilized acts committed by the savages in these organizations more frequently than ever before. The war on Christians and against Israel reached levels that broke through the administration’s well-developed immunity against the reality of Islamic atrocities and terrorism, and has refocused their attention on it again, at last.

Hamas dug tunnels from Gaza into Israel to murder Israelis with rocket-propelled grenades, it fires rockets deliberately aimed at civilian areas and protects its rockets by hiding them in schools and other public structures, resulting in the deaths of more than a thousand Palestinians when Israel targets places from which attacks have been launched. USA Today reported that Hamas firing squads publicly executed 18 Gaza Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel. Later, gunmen in black Hamas garb lined up seven hooded men and shot them dead as hundreds watched.

“Northern Nigeria's riot police training academy has been overrun by Boko Haram Islamist militants,” a witness in Borno state told the BBC. “Boko Haram is blamed for the killing of more than 10,000 people since the start of its militant Islamist offensive in 2009 across northeastern Nigeria,” said the Daily Kos online.

CNN reports that in the areas of Syria “controlled by ISIS, public floggings and executions have become commonplace. Most recently ISIS has battled other opposition groups in fighting that has left well over 2,000 people dead.”

“The militant Sunni group ISIS has said it is establishing a caliphate, or Islamic state, in the territories it controls in Iraq and Syria. It also proclaimed the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as caliph and ‘leader for Muslims everywhere,’” according to the UK Guardian online.

But Iraq, Israel, Syria and Nigeria have no patent on this savagery, and our essentially non-existent southern border is an invitation for that evil to enter the U.S. Some Islamists probably have “sneaked in” legally through airports.

Members of ISIS/ISIR in Iraq have said they will raise their black flag over the White House. People in the know in the United States believe this threat is not an idle one, and that we must take action to prevent attack from within.

This threat highlights the absolute idiocy, recklessness, and irresponsibility of the Obama administration’s “hands-off” policy on the southern border, and means our government has no idea who is coming across the border or how many Islamic terrorists are here already.

Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told an Oklahoma TV station that ISIS has now set its sights on Americans and targets on U.S. soil. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, told a Pentagon press briefing that “because of open borders and immigration issues,” ISIS/ISIL is an “immediate threat.” “We're in the most dangerous position we've ever been in as a nation," he said.

A former CIA officer told CNN that ISIS is already on this side of the Atlantic. "I have been told with no uncertainty there are ISIS sleeper cells in this country," Bob Baer said. While CNN reported that two U.S. officials had refuted his claim, the network said the officials are worried that ISIS militants with passports might travel to the U.S. to launch attacks on American soil.




“The West are idiots and fools," one ISIS fighter told a Reuters reporter. "They think we are waiting for them to give us visas to go and attack them,” and implied that attacks could take place through sleeper cells in both Europe and the United States. 


The war on terror isn’t over at all, and it never was, except in the Never-Never Land that is the Obama White House. The critical question is whether Mr. Obama will free himself from the bonds of his ideology and satisfactorily address this very serious threat.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Honor and integrity take a back seat to politics in Austin, Texas


In April 2013 in Travis County, Texas, where the capital city of Austin is located, District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested for drunk driving. Her blood alcohol level was almost three times the legal limit (.08 is the threshold, and her level was .23), and there was an open bottle of vodka in her car, in violation of the state’s open container law.

Dash cam and police station videos, which are available for viewing on YouTube, show Ms. Lehmberg failing sobriety testing and taunting arresting officers and even threatening them at the police station. One of the officers described action that took place off camera in which she kicked doors and acted violently. Her bad behavior also included rudeness, being uncooperative, and pointing her finger like a gun. And eventually she had to be placed in a restraining device. Reports say her behavior could have earned her a felony charge for assaulting a police officer.

Ms. Lehmberg pleaded guilty to drunk driving and served about half of a 45-day sentence, but said she would not resign from her position of trust as DA.

Ms. Lehmberg has been battling alcoholism for some time, according to reports. Alcoholism does not automatically preclude a person from being a public servant, even a prosecutor. However, someone whose alcoholism leads to an arrest for driving drunk, a crime that too often ends in the death of innocent citizens, followed by the poor behavior demonstrated by Ms. Lehmberg, has proved himself or herself to be unsuitable for the role of prosecutor. Put in the best possible light, it both looks bad and smells bad: You simply cannot have a confessed drunk driver as a prosecutor.

Among those who think Ms. Lehmberg should have stepped down is Texas Governor Rick Perry, although he has no official authority over county DAs.

Following her refusal to step down, Gov. Perry said he would cut $7.5 million in state money from Ms. Lehmberg’s Public Integrity Unit unless she resigned, which he later did through a line item veto. By law, the governor has veto authority.

For acting in the best interest of the people of Travis County, a jury decided it was an abuse of his power, and indicted Gov. Perry on two felony counts.

An Austin attorney filed a lawsuit to remove Ms. Lehmberg from office, but last December a judge ruled that she could keep her job. That attorney has now filed an ethics complaint against her, citing alleged unreported campaign contributions Ms. Lehmberg used to defend herself in the removal lawsuit totaling $227,000.

As it turns out, the Public Integrity Unit has a history of politically motivated prosecutions that failed for lack of substance. Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson was indicted, but never tried, and Republican Congressman Tom Delay was indicted, tried, convicted and then had his conviction overturned on appeal for lack of him having actually committed a crime. It appears the Unit is more concerned with generating political results favoring the Democrat Party than it is with integrity. Sen. Hutchinson may run for governor, and Mr. Delay had earned the hatred of Democrats through his activities. It is not a stretch to use the term “corrupt” in describing at least some of the Unit’s actions.

It’s interesting that the source of the action against Republican Gov. Perry arises from the very office that he defunded because its head, the convicted and jailed drunk driver Rosemary Lehmberg, refused to do the right thing and resign. You see, Travis County, Texas, is heavily Democrat, and Ms. Lehmberg is a Democrat.

Liberal law professor Jonathan Turley had this to say about the indictment: “In this case, the special prosecutor [who answers to Ms. Lehmberg] seemed to pound hard to get these square facts into these round holes. A bit too hard for such a case.” And Democrat political advisor David Axelrod termed the indictment “sketchy.”

Mary Anne Wiley, General Counsel for Gov. Perry, said in a statement following the indictment: “The veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution. We will continue to aggressively defend the governor’s lawful and constitutional action, and believe we will ultimately prevail.”

The grand jury process is secret and entirely controlled by the prosecution, and the accused has no opportunity to argue charges made by the prosecution, and in fact is not even present during the process. Which is the reason for the now-famous observation that through the grand jury process you “can indict a ham sandwich.” It is instructive that the staunchest defenders of the grand jury system are prosecutors. Gov. Perry would no doubt prefer to replace the sour grapes on his ham sandwich with Swiss cheese.

During the arrest procedure, Ms. Lehmberg repeatedly accused police of ruining her career by arresting her for being three-times-the-legal-limit drunk behind the wheel. Then, her Public Integrity Unit goes after a sitting governor in a way that results in the Governor having an indictment and a mug shot on his record. Whose career was really damaged by a third party? And who benefits from this episode of gutter politics by Democrats?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Local schools increasingly under the thumb of the federal government

A video produced and distributed by Restore Oklahoma Public Education (ROPE) contains information that should concern all of us. The organization focuses on local control of education, and highlights issues it finds objectionable. This video highlights a survey being given to 6th graders at St. Mary’s Parish, Louisiana without parents’ knowledge or permission.

It features a mother, Brooke Falgout, who has pulled her daughters from St. Mary’s public schools after she learned of objectionable questions on a school survey one of her daughters had taken upon entering the 6th grade, which the daughter didn’t mention to her mother because she didn’t want to upset her. However, Mrs. Falgout became concerned when another mom told her about the survey.

She said the survey asked questions such as:
    •    Have you ever looked at porn? How did it make you feel?
    •    Would you ever take pictures of the girls in the locker room and put them on social media?
    •    Is your mom a good mom? Does she spend time with you?
    •    Do you get snacks after school?
    •    It asked personal questions about mom and dad, their family life and “how it goes.”

She thinks such questions are out of line, and suggested that a 6th grade boy who never thought about porn before, and didn’t know what porn was, has now been made aware of it and as a result may be interested in it.

When she asked school officials about the survey, Mrs. Falgout said they told her that the kids really didn’t have to answer the questions. But she said they were given the survey and most likely did read it, and may not have realized they shouldn’t answer the questions.

Mrs. Falgout said that the school caused a breach between her and her daughter, evidenced by the fact that her daughter was reluctant to even discuss the survey with her mom.

Information presented at the end of the video explains that these surveys “are normally given to satisfy federal data collection for the Office of Safe & Drug Free Schools and also an FCC Internet ‘safety’ requirement.”

The ROPE video advises parents to tell their children to refuse to take these surveys, and that “parents have the right to educate their children in the way they see fit. Public schools cannot force children to do anything against the wishes of the parent.”

There are competing perspectives on this particular issue and others of similar nature. The important question is, which topics are genuinely the proper business of school officials, and which are clear invasions of the privacy of individuals living in a free society?

The public schools operated by the individual states are increasingly under the thumb of the federal government, as the statement in the video demonstrates.

Another example of unwarranted and unwelcomed intrusions comes from the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which took effect July 1. This law makes illegal “any foods and beverages sold to students on school grounds that are not part of the Agriculture Department’s school meal programs.”

Prior to this law taking effect, the USDA only controlled food in school cafeterias, but the new law expands federal control to food anywhere on campus during the school day. While it hasn’t yet banned school bake sales for fund raising, Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, indicates that eventually it will, and also will eventually control food sold at school sporting events any time, at any location.

Given the abundant evidence of federal over-reaching, it is not beyond comprehension that some day if you have forbidden food products in your glove compartment or trunk on school property, you might have violated a federal law.

The federal government believes it can dictate to schools owned and operated by the individual states what food they may or may not serve, among other things. Is there any limit to the government’s hunger to control everything? Apparently not as long as federal money is involved, and schools do rely heavily on federal funding.

It gets worse: A Richmond, Virginia pre-school sent a message home to parents, part of which said: “I have received word from Federal Programs Preschool pertaining to lunches from home. Parents are to be informed that students can only bring lunches from home if there is a medical condition requiring a specific diet, along with a physicians note to that regard.”

Just how the federal government regards the freedom for Americans to make basic decisions about life is revealed in an argument government attorneys put forth defending the Food and Drug Administration’s ban on the interstate sale of raw milk: “There is no 'deeply rooted' historical tradition of unfettered access to foods of all kinds … Plaintiffs' assertion of a 'fundamental right to their own bodily and physical health, which includes what foods they do and do not choose to consume for themselves and their families' is similarly unavailing because plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to obtain any food they wish."

That statement is breathtaking in its ignorance of our history and values, and in demonstrating the boundless arrogance of the federal government.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

What to do about lawlessness: Impeach? Sue? Explain away? Celebrate?

The governmental system of the United States of America was carefully designed to prevent the sort of oppression that the colonists had fought and died to escape in the Revolutionary War from arising under the new government. The Framers reacted to an intolerable system where the people were totally at the mercy of the king and the parliament, without a real voice of their own.

Toward that end, the Framers created a tri-partite government with a legislative branch, an executive branch and a judicial branch, each with its specific and limited powers, and each with abilities to limit the power of the other two branches through a system of checks and balances.

In this system, the Congress, and only the Congress, makes law. The executive branch is charged with implementing and enforcing the laws that Congress makes and with operating the government efficiently. The judiciary, through the Supreme Court and other federal courts, has the sole power to interpret the law, determine the constitutionality of laws, and apply the law to individual cases.

This system of government is by design inefficient, with separated powers and checks and balances to prevent a tyrannical majority from running roughshod over the minority.

But even this well-thought-out system isn’t perfect, and the Democrat Party demonstrated that in 2009 and early 2010 when the 111th Congress with Democrat majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed the Affordable Care Act with no Republican input in the bill’s creation, and no Republicans voting for it, and a Democrat president signed it into law.

It seemed not to bother the Democrats that by their action they had thwarted the integrity of the constitutional system the Framers had so diligently and prudently created, despite their having sworn an oath to uphold it. To the contrary, they celebrated their dubious victory.

Add to that a president who uses his position to take actions the Constitution does not authorize him to take, and in fact specifically precludes him from taking by granting exclusive law-making authority to the Congress. Congress, in fact, or at least some members of Congress, seems content to allow the president to do this, even though by him taking these actions and by Congress allowing it, the executive branch renders the legislative branch a purposeless relic.

Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution begins: “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.”

And from the horses mouth, so to speak, whitehouse.gov proclaims: “The power of the Executive Branch is vested in the President of the United States, who also acts as head of state and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. The President is responsible for implementing and enforcing the laws written by Congress ...”

The president’s job is to implement and enforce laws. He is not authorized to unilaterally decide which laws to enforce, or to change the provisions of laws. Congress makes laws and amends laws.

While the president has latitude and flexibility in operating the government, any action he takes contrary to written law or constitutional intent may be challenged as unconstitutional.

Peter Wehner, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, writing in Commentary magazine online, comments: “Examples include (but are not limited to) unilaterally delaying implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate, issuing health-care edicts that undermine the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, making unconstitutional ‘recess appointments’ to the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, refusing to enforce current immigration laws related to illegal immigrants who were brought to America as children, and waving welfare work requirements.”

“I suppose the temptation to act as a potentate is understandable; but it also happens to be illegal. The president, after all, has the constitutional duty to “’take care that the Laws be faithfully executed,’” Mr. Wehner added, referencing Article 2, Section 3.

Since Congressional Democrats seem to subscribe to the “ends justifies the means” school of thought, they are perfectly content with the president’s lawlessness, and the media has done a good job of demonizing Republicans for opposing that lawlessness.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), notes that the House has passed 356 bills that have piled up on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) desk awaiting Senate action. She told TheBlaze that 98 percent of those bills were passed with bipartisan support. Two hundred of them were passed with unanimous support from the entire House chamber and more than 100 were passed with 75 percent support of House Democrats. Yet the Democrat controlled Senate ignores them.

And, before the government shutdown, House Republicans passed bills to avoid the shutdown that the Senate never acted on by, and there was no effort at compromise. And still the media, the president, and Democrats in Congress keep telling us that Republicans aren’t doing anything.

If Democrats in Congress won’t stand up to the president’s over-reaching, honor their oath of office and protect Congress’ constitutional authority, and continue to oppose legal action and impeachment, by their inaction they will have abetted the evolution of an imperial presidency, returning to United States the tyranny that existed before the Revolution.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Does stopping corporate inversions require a stick, or a carrot?

The Obama administration and Democrats in Congress have recently focused on corporate “inversion” as something needing quick attention. In an inversion, a US company starts or buys into another company in a country with a lower corporate tax rate and then calls the new country home, enabling it to avoid some taxes in the US. Although US companies still pay the same rates on US income, the lower rates apply to income earned abroad.

The Congressional Research Service reports that there have been 47 inversions in the last decade, and Business Week online identified 14 since 2011. The administration brought the issue to the fore with a letter from Treasury Secretary Jack Lew saying that inversions ‘’hollow out the U.S. corporate income tax base.”

The issue has both practical and political importance, highlighting the lower amount of corporate taxes collected, and also providing politicians who may be or become candidates for office a populist issue to exploit, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., considered a potential presidential candidate.

Leaders of both political parties on the Senate Finance Committee – chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah – agree that the tax code needs major reform, however, the two parties have different approaches on exactly how to accomplish that goal.

Peter Merrill, a director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, testified before the Finance Committee and discussed how US corporate taxation rules compare to those of other countries. He named two areas of the US tax system that “fall far outside international norms: the high corporate rate, and the worldwide system of taxation,” both of which he said make it more difficult for US companies to compete in global markets. Citing increasing competition from other nations, he said in the last 15 years the number of US companies on the Forbes Global Top 500 list has dropped by a third, from 200 to 135, and noted that the US corporate tax system contributes to this decrease.

The US corporate tax rate is the highest among major economies, Dr. Merrill said, more than 14 points above the average for the other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, and nearly 10 points higher than the average for the other G7 countries. And he noted that while other countries have substantially lowered their tax rates since 1986, the US raised its rate to 35 percent in 1993.

President Barack Obama wants Congress to enact corrective legislation that is retroactive to May, arguing that the proposal will stop companies from rushing into deals to avoid lower taxes. And he accuses these corporations of being economically unpatriotic.

Reuters reported that Mr. Obama said in remarks at Los Angeles Technical College: "Even as corporate profits are higher than ever, there’s a small but growing group of big corporations that are fleeing the country to get out of paying taxes.” And he added, "They’re technically renouncing their U.S. citizenship, they’re declaring their base someplace else even though most of their operations are here. You know some people are calling these companies 'corporate deserters.'”

Other prominent Democrats echoed that sentiment. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., quoted in The Wall Street Journal, characterized these companies as "deserting the U.S. in order to dodge their obligations to the country and American taxpayers."

Senate Finance chairman Wyden wants to make it harder for U.S. companies to move their headquarters abroad, and commented, "… corporations must understand that they won't profit from abandoning the US." Secretary Lew joined that view, calling for a "new sense of economic patriotism."

Attacking companies as “unpatriotic” because the US tax system is punitive and encourages them to move overseas to lower costs is both hypocritical and dumb. They are legally operating within the complex and confounding framework government provides for them, and are trying to maintain profitability in an increasingly competitive global market.

Democrats want action taken now to limit inversions, but there are sound arguments that this will make things worse. Putting duct tape on the tax code instead of rewriting it and making it comprehensible and sensible is why things are such a mess. Comprehensive tax reform is the best solution.



It’s not for nothing that the Democrat Party has been tagged “the tax and spend party.” They go happily along championing high taxes to fund politically popular programs without any apparent clue that their policies frequently do more harm than good.

“Comprehensive tax reform would reduce deductions and lower tax rates for everyone," said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

The way to encourage businesses to stay in the US and expand, or relocate to the US is to make it desirable for them to do so, and have a tax code that says “we want you here.” That means slashing tax rates to competitive world levels, stop taxing foreign income and eliminating some deductions.

Businesses provide goods and services that people want and need. They also provide jobs that enable people to afford things they want and need, and they pay taxes that support governments at all levels.

Business is the goose that lays the golden egg. Democrats need to understand that instead of beating the goose, they need to nourish it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Israel continues to survive irrational hatred and violent attacks



Christians and Jews know from studying religious texts that the Hebrews lived in what is now Israel roughly 3,000 years ago, and many independent sources confirm their occupation of that land three millennia ago.

Even the Quran, the Islamic equivalent of the Bible, notes: “Sura 17, The Children of Israel (Banî Israel)” in the Khalifa translation, and perhaps others, as well.

Charles Krauthammer provided context in The Weekly Standard in 1998, commenting that “Israel is the very embodiment of Jewish continuity: It is the only nation on earth that inhabits the same land, bears the same name, speaks the same language, and worships the same God that it did 3,000 years ago. You dig the soil and you find pottery from Davidic times, coins from Bar Kokhba, and 2,000-year-old scrolls written in a script remarkably like the one that today advertises ice cream at the corner candy store.”

The land occupied by modern Israel is small, about the size of Wales or half the size of Costa Rica, and is located roughly on the site of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, except that these ancient kingdoms also included what is now the West Bank.

Israel is 263 miles long and varies from 9 miles wide at the narrowest point to 70 miles wide at the widest point. It is a little larger than Connecticut and a little smaller than New Jersey, and is home to approximately 8 million Israelis, 5.5 million of whom are Jews.

Israel is bordered on the west by the Mediterranean Sea, and its contiguous neighbors are Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, with Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran not far away.

Israel is smaller than any of its neighbors, both in geographic size and population. The nations that surround it don’t like Israel or Jewish people. “Death to Israel” is in fact a common sentiment among those nations and their people. This sentiment is reflected in a BBC poll last year showing Israel as the fourth least popular nation on the planet, behind Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea.

This perception is based largely on the fact that there are more voices in the region where Israel and its enemies reside demeaning Israel – those would be the voices of the “Death to Israel” crowd – than there are Israeli voices telling the other side of the story. It is not so different than going to Boston and asking which American League team residents think is the most unpopular, and finding most named the New York Yankees, not the Red Sox.

As the saying goes, the more you tell a lie, the more it is believed, and with the help of dishonest reporting, the lie spreads far and wide.

In fact, while the enemies scream “Death to Israel,” Israel only asks for peace, and has made numerous concessions towards that goal, only to be slapped in the face with violent attacks.

The current fighting follows an unprovoked attack on Israel by Hamas. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Hamas “is the largest and most influential Palestinian militant movement … [and] is a Sunni Islamist group and a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization violently opposed to the state of Israel.”

The murders of three Israeli boys and the murder of one Palestinian boy initially stirred tensions, and Hamas unleashed a barrage of rockets on Israel to kick-start the conflict.

The differences in how the two sides operate could not be starker: Hamas fires rockets aimed at civilian-occupied areas; Israel targets Hamas compounds, militant command centers, weapons storage facilities and tunnels into Israel and Egypt.

Thus far, more casualties have occurred on the Palestinian side of the conflict, due in part to the Israeli Iron Dome defense system used to protect their citizens by intercepting rockets aimed at population centers. Hamas, however, is said to store rockets in homes and schools, and reportedly uses civilians as shields against attacks on the storage areas.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the two philosophies: “We are using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they're using their civilians to protect their missiles."

Such tactics help explain the greater number of casualties among Palestinians, and Hamas turns this into anti-Israel propaganda, helping to propagate Israel negative image worldwide.

Steven P. Bucci, who served America for three decades as an Army Special Forces officer and top Pentagon official, writes that “before the Israelis strike a building, every home in it gets a call on its landline phone, as do all the cell phones associated with the inhabitants of the building — the cells additionally get text messages — telling them that in a few minutes the building will be targeted. Finally, to make sure everyone gets the message, Israel drops a dud bomb—one containing no explosives—onto the roof of the structure. … There is no instance in modern military history where a force has taken greater measures to give the innocents as much chance to get out of the way.”

The broad hatred of Israel and love for its enemies is irrational. Despite this, Israel behaves honorably in defending itself against repeated attacks, holds its own against the haters, and survives.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Illegal immigration problem is largely a federal government creation

As a result of inadequate security measures along the southern border, the Obama administration’s leniency toward illegal entry into the country, and the idea of amnesty for illegal immigrants, the long-standing border security problem is now at crisis level due to the recent tsunami of Central American young people arriving in the US.

These kids left their homes in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador because of horrible conditions in those countries, entered Mexico and traversed the length of the country in an arduous journey frequently highlighted by unspeakable abuse, and crossed the border into the US.

That so many thousands could accomplish this ought to be more than a casual curiosity. Don’t you wonder how these young people can get into Mexico and travel more than a thousand miles through the country to the US border without being arrested and imprisoned? This question is particularly curious considering what happened to the US Marine war veteran Andrew Tahmooressi, who merely made a wrong turn at a confusing intersection on the border, accidentally ended up in Mexico, was arrested and has been in a Mexican jail for nearly four months. How do thousands of these kids who willfully enter Mexico illegally avoid arrest when an innocent wrong turn and a few minutes in Mexico gets Sgt. Tahmooressi put in jail?

However they manage it, when they cross the Rio Grande, the youthful illegals follow instructions to the Border Patrol station and turn themselves in. "They know that once they get to the station, we are going to give them paperwork and we are going to set them free into the United States," said Chris Cabrera, a leader of the local chapter of the National Border Patrol Council, a labor union representing U.S. Border Patrol agents.

"Most of the time, they're getting released to relatives in the U.S.," he said. "There's nowhere to put them, so they're released on their own recognizance and have a pending court date. I'd say between 95 and 97 percent of adults or youths don't show up for court."

So, due to a “soft on deportation” government attitude that serves as an invitation to people in Central America, and a fatally flawed US border policy that allows illegal aliens to easily enter the country by the thousands, they illegally cross the border and shortly thereafter disappear into the ether.

This huge influx has secondary effects that are potentially much more problematic: their presence forces border agents to be transferred away from the border so they can handle the kid tsunami, making it even easier for others to come in, such as members of drug cartels, members of MS-13 gangs, human sex traffickers, and people from the Middle East, China and Russia. Who knows what horrors these people may intend to unleash on our country?

Despite this disgraceful reality, the whitehouse.gov website tells us: “… today border security is stronger than it has ever been."

We are also told that deportation of illegals is at record levels, but Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson admitted before the House Appropriations Committee that “a very large fraction” of deportations aren’t really deportations, but instead are “turn-backs” at the border. Categorizing “turn-backs” as “deportations” paints a rosy but inaccurate picture: actual deportations are down sharply.

Let’s be honest: With his pen and his phone Barack Obama takes care of the things he thinks are important, like trying to lessen the damage of the Affordable Care Act, even if doing so is not legal or constitutional. Everything else he tosses aside with simplistic denials, or third grade humor, like "Maybe they'll need a moat. Maybe they want alligators in the moat."

He could have fixed the porous southern border and stemmed the influx of illegal aliens entering the country, but instead his actions made the situation worse, because fixing this dangerous problem is not important to him.

Mr. Obama wants nearly $4 billion in “emergency spending” to take care of these youthful illegals, but the situation does not qualify for emergency spending. The border crisis isn’t “sudden, unforeseen and temporary,” as the law requires.

Even so, the plan as outlined puts precious little of the funds toward securing the border, and lacks details on how the program would work, and how the money will be spent.

This situation has to be remedied as soon as possible. Some laws must be changed so that illegals from Central America aren’t treated more liberally than those from Mexico and Canada. Then secure the border.

Building a wall on the border, like a fence around your property, helps you control who comes in; it is an act of sovereignty, of common sense. Support it with agents and observation methods, and a second fence, if needed.

Instead of inviting people to come here illegally with a message that they won’t be sent back, send a message that will discourage people from seeking to illegally enter the country.

Americans are compassionate people who truly desire to help those in need, but we cannot do so at our own peril, as is the case with promises of amnesty and reckless border policies.