Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 In Review 5: “it’s the transparency, Stupid!”

Two years ago, the promises (or, dare I say, pledges) were as clear as they were frequently appearing in the news. We were told this administration would bring far greater transparency in its dealings and affairs.

To my amusement, when I began nosing through my notes for this "year in review" process I happened upon an Associated Press article printed March 17 with the headline, "Obama fails to open up records."

The story elaborates on the point by explaining that although President Barack Obama publicly instructed federal agencies to stop refusing Freedom Of Information Act requests via the so-called deliberative process exception – which allows the government to withhold records that describe decision-making behind the scenes – invocations of it have spiked.

During fiscal year 2009, top agencies cited the exception 70,779 times while in 2008 it was raised on 47,395 occasions.

The kicker is Obama ended-up having his promise kept for him by someone else in relation to transparency (albeit not in the manner he likely had in mind) due to the efforts of Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks operation.

My gut instinct tells me the White House hadn't intended to be transparent with the State Department's instructions to agents on pilfering the credit card numbers of foreign diplomats for the purpose of tracking which restaurants they patronized most often.

Say what you will about Assange and his ideological pursuits, he undeniably has succeeded in infuriating U.S. politicians on both sides of the out-dated two-party aisle.

If Obama can somehow tap into some of that bipartisan aggravation, he might stand a chance in November 2012.

2010 In Review 4: government IS distress

Among the items qualifying for the category Stories That Just Won't Die this year-wrapping-up is the saga of Grand Lake. The reports of people and pets becoming alarmingly ill and pictures of the green and blue slime in the water were in a state of continual supply.

But, just when the story seemed to be headed for winter hibernation, the State of Ohio put the ellipses at the end of the paragraph for us in the first week of December. A report in the Columbus Dispatch informed us the state will be declaring Grand Lake a “watershed in distress.”

One of the key points the distress status carries is the Department of Natural Resources will impose new restrictions on the use of fertilizers by area farmers. The concern is the manure they are using is running-off in too large amounts into the lake.

"Officials think the manure is the prime source of algae-feeding phosphorus and nitrogen in the lake," the Dispatch informs us.

It is the opening phrase of that passage which leaves me so incredulous: Officials think….

So even though it is well within the realm of possibility that compost for agricultural use is a key contributor to Grand Lake’s algae blooms for the past several years, the best that our generously-paid public desk jockeys can present us is, "We're not entirely sure, but we’re going to operate under the assumption anyway regardless of the impact on farming in the area."

As if the stress being endured by independent and local farmers wasn't enough as of late, now they get to enjoy the DNR breathing down their necks over how much crap they’re shoveling out.

What I am curious to learn is if any studies have been done to compare the potential impacts of crop fertilizer versus ChemLawn, et al. After all, it would be useful to bear in mind that commercial lawn fertilizers use predominantly nitrogen in their formulas.

And, people in Celina and St. Marys sure have some beautiful lawns.

Now in all fairness, the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation State Policy Director Beth Vanderkooi gave the plan her stamp of approval. Also according to the Dispatch, the plan did not receive any opposition during the committee hearing when it was presented.

Still, I cannot help but harbor doubts about taking a singular approach on this matter.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 In Review 3: the lie of Quantitative Easing

We have heard the decrees repeatedly over the last 25 months: we have to take these measures now or watch America go up in flames.

The most recent round of this prevarication has been QE2 (the second round of so-called quantitative easing), called-for by U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. We must have QE2, we were told, to stave-off deflation. Deflation, the experts insisted, will lead to greater difficulty in making our payments on the national debt and simultaneously cause the value of our goods to decline – thus further imperiling our economy.

There are several outright frauds contained within Bernanke’s justifications and the Obama Administration’s sales pitch for arbitrarily injecting an additional $600 billion of currency into circulation. The first talking point to debunk is the premise that deflation automatically equates to economic distress.

“Inflation” and “deflation” refer to the country’s overall price index for goods and services. Economic analysts attempt to take into account the rate of change in pricing for as many of the most common purchases made on as recurrent of a basis as possible.

Inflation is an indicator of the rate at which prices are going up. Conversely, deflation means prices are generally going down.

(Which leads me to an elongated side note: in my opinion, the present use of the terms “inflation” and “deflation” constitutes a deliberately deceptive oxymoron. Prices in all industries and economic sectors are perpetually in some state of adjustment. Rarely do they remain static anymore.
All one needs to do is contrast the price trends between automobiles and personal computers since 1980. Around that time, the average family car and the average PC sold for approximately $6,000. In the ensuing 30 years, most automobile model types which sold in that price range then now run almost $25,000 while the typical desktop PC sells for as little as $300.
Cars, for the most part, have inflated more than 400% while PCs have deflated to around 5% of their comparative market levels over the same span. This doesn’t even factor-in the differences in how both products have advanced in performance and quality during the same period.
A more accurate use of the two price index terms ought to be for indicating changes in the value of the U.S. dollar. Public dissemination of average, overall prices in America centers on a concept that is so abstract and misleading, the average person watching or reading the news usually gives little thought to the subject’s broader impact on their lives. What the average person has little difficulty grasping is the rise or fall in the value of something.
People may rarely devote significant energy toward contemplating fluctuations in prices, but when they hear the money in their wallets and bank accounts is losing value, that they will understand: followed by widespread calls for more sensible monetary and spending policies!)


So in the present context, the alleged concern is that prices in general are falling and thus creating additional difficulty for businesses of all sizes to meet their obligations (labor, supplies, other overhead expenses, etc.).

What Bernanke and other Keynesian disciples in Washington are deliberately leaving out of their discussions is the simple fact that in a free and open market costs will adjust in response to any deflation: when prices deflate, the result is we need less money to buy the same goods and services. It is the net result of the cost of living going down instead of up.

It is a ripple effect process that does require some time and patience while it cycles through the economy. But, a steady deflationary cycle in the U.S. economy would lead to an easing of financial stresses for the bulk of our working population and small business owners while proving to be a mixed bag of results for Wall Street.

This leads us to the next fraud being sold to the public. Actual deflation of the cost of living in our country would have to come from a robust, actively growing, and internationally dominant U.S. economy.

An official unemployment rate stagnating at just under 10% while banks are closing by the hundreds every month and the number of independent businesses nationwide continues to shrink demonstrate otherwise. Not that I needed to list those conditions: we just need constant reminding of the truth, if you ask me.

But, our capitol braintrust insists the truth should not impede their efforts to promote the false notion of widespread deflation. In fact, all the leading price indicators that reflect either the immediate or near-future costs for consumers have shown over the last two months quite the opposite taking shape.

Light, sweet crude oil is now over $92 per barrel – driving up the national average price for unleaded gas well in excess of $3 per gallon. Textile prices also are on the rise, especially for cotton products: this will inevitably balloon the cost of new clothing across the board. And, food also has been steadily rising as of late.

The trillion-dollar question inevitably arises: what is deflating in price in America? After all, if deflation is an actual problem then something must be dropping in price in our country. And, how many sectors of our economy are being affected?

The answer to that is “one.” And, it is real estate.

I cannot help but bristle just trying to type this next part but not enough of us are shedding light on it. Obviously, deflation concentrated in a single market sector where people typically invest will create financial hardship for a lot of folks. As a consequence, equally as vulnerable to such market forces are the banks issuing the mortgages and the larger firms which typically back them up. It is a trickle-up process that deteriorated into an upward-flowing deluge in 2008.

And this pierces right to the heart of why congressional Democrats and this White House have been so adamant in their support of QE2.

Guess who owns or guarantees well over 90% of mortgages in the U.S.: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Guess who – in December 2009 under the auspices of a Democrat-controlled White House and Congress (at the behest of Rep. Barney Frank and Sen. Christopher Dodd) – got their $400 billion line of credit at taxpayers’ expense extended into a no-limit credit lifeline: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

If real estate continues to deflate at its current pace, the already-microscopically-slim possibility of Fannie & Freddie ever getting out of the red will blow away in the breeze very soon without some artificial means of inflating prices.

This is not about economic recovery. It never has been. This is about staving-off a fiscal meltdown and its political consequences long enough to be able to shift the blame for swelling an already ungodly mess to near-catastrophic proportions.

The other motivation – and one our so-called leadership has not been shy about admitting – is that with all the trillions of dollars in debt we owe to foreign nations, printing money and devaluing our currency (in theory, mind you) will make it easier to buy back our treasury bonds down the road if their worth can be lessened enough in the short term. This crap-shoot strategy requires our economy to come roaring back to life quickly enough and at just the right time to spur a large-enough surge in tax revenue that would allow a spree of Treasury Note buy-backs before their value rises again in the international currency exchange.

In short, the plan to lower our national debt rests on ripping-off our creditors. What could possibly go wrong?

The miserable part is it doesn’t end there.

In the meantime, the entire remainder of the American populace is forced to live with the other consequences of devaluing our currency. There is the resultant inflation everywhere else as detailed above. Adding to it, however, is the fact crude oil prices will be driven even higher than they already have (and, as a result, gasoline prices).

This is due to the fact in the international market light, sweet crude oil is bought and sold strictly in U.S. dollars. That also plays a large role in why our dollar continues to be the international reserve currency.

Thus, as the value of the dollar goes, so goes the price of oil – but in the opposite direction. In essence, QE2 is driving gasoline into a self-feeding loop of inflation.

And as we saw in 2008, when the price of gas skyrockets every corner of our economy takes a beating.

For some reason, very few at the top of our society’s food chain seem alarmed by all this.

To think, the current administration was supposedly going to steer us away from the failed policies of the previous one. Conversely, all this gang has done is decorate them a little differently and inject them full of steroids.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010: Don’s look back at some of the year’s news, part 2

Author’s note: to be completely upfront and honest, these year-in-review essays typically are my way of finally writing about the topics that had lost their timeliness by the time I finally got around to attempt tackling them but were important enough – I felt – to warrant revisiting under some format down the road. These are stories that hold ramifications for what we can expect to see play-out in the coming year, retain a degree of poignancy as time has worn-on, had key points missed by the media during coverage of them, or were dropped from the news cycle much too quickly for my taste.

Governor-elect John Kasich’s choice to appoint State Representative James Zehringer as his director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) – a selection he made two weeks after winning the election – appears to be a mixed bag to me.

Due to my reflexively distrustful nature of any action by members of either major party, the Zehringer appointment wreaks of appeasement. As will be spelled out below, this state’s GOP establishment has a great deal of bridge building and repairing to be done with large expanses of Western Ohio’s electorate: a crucial effort for the party’s future success that has gone completely unreported.

Some of the tiles in Kasich’s path to nominating Zehringer were set in place because of other developments earlier in the year relating to another race for an Ohio statewide office: Attorney General. Or, rather, I mean the interesting shortage of candidates for that race.

Just in case my effort in sardonic wit isn’t working, my suspicions about Kasich’s selection are tied to the would-be candidacy of Hardin County attorney Steve Christopher for the office about to be occupied by Mike DeWine.

Unlike all the statewide election winners fielded by the Ohio Republican Party (ORP), Christopher was a bona fide Tea Party candidate. His ORP colleagues were merely riding the wave of voter dissatisfaction or – in the case of Secretary of State-elect Jon Husted – engaged in outright co-opting of the Tea Party symbolism and message (as prescribed in Trent Lott’s advice to RNC senators).

The connection between Kasich and Christopher is Mercer County – where Zerhinger calls home.

Christopher’s campaign efforts received a great deal of support from Mercer County residents active in the Tea Party movement. They extensively circulated his Declaration of Candidacy petitions in the months leading up to the February 18 filing deadline and collected hundreds of signatures for his campaign.

Now, to qualify for the Republican Party primary on May 4 he needed approximately 1,000 valid signatures. The preliminary count of total signatures turned-in at the Secretary of State’s office in Columbus was roughly 1,700 according to Christopher. A “preliminary count” was the result of just a cursory run-through of his petitions by the SoS staffer at the desk to get an estimate of how many signatures were being submitted for verification by the state.

Bearing in mind Christopher’s claim of approximately 1,700 signatures in all, imagine his surprise when he was informed that he had little more than 600 valid signatures from registered Ohio voters out of the roughly 700 signatures submitted, according to outgoing-Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.

Also much to the surprise of the people of Mercer County was the tally Brunner’s office listed as having originated from their area: zero.

Murmurs rippling through the Tea Party and Patriot groups in this region of Ohio suggest other counties where Christopher supporters circulated petitions also are on record as offering goose eggs in that statistic.

To most readers, I’m certain, the response being spoken or noted silently is, “So, why is this ORP’s controversy as opposed to all arrows pointing at Brunner?”

Well, when one considers we’re talking about a major political party that raised and spent over $100 million in one state on midterm elections and ordinarily looks for any reason to pillory any ranking member of the opposition as a means to scoop-up more votes, the ORP’s inexplicable, complete silence on this matter was deafening across the western counties. There was no demand for an investigation by a single state party leader and the ORP didn’t even so much as pay Christopher lip service out of support.

And, out of pure coincidence, over the course of his own signature-gathering efforts in 2009, State Auditor-elect Dave Yost switched gears completely at the request of party leadership so that DeWine could enjoy smoother sailing in the Attorney General primary. Oops, I almost forgot to include the fact that Yost initially began pursuing the Republican candidacy for Attorney General, not Auditor.

In addition, I’m sure Mike DeWine’s extensive connections after serving four years in the General Assembly Senate, eight years as a U.S. representative, two years as Ohio’s Lieutenant Governor, and 12 years as a U.S. senator played absolutely no role in Christopher coming-up short or in any way influenced anyone’s actions behind closed doors in Columbus.

Furthermore, I highly doubt that ORP Chair Kevin DeWine – who by pure happenstance is Mike’s second cousin – even for one second pondered pulling any strings at his disposal to help a family member enjoy an uncontested primary.

Those sorts of activities simply never happen in Ohio politics. It’s just all on the up-and-up.

Since term limits were implemented in 1992, Ohio has served as the single-worst source of evidence for anyone trying to argue for their passage elsewhere: the game of Musical Chairs being played by both major parties each time a beloved insider of theirs hits their respective term limit has grown into an increasingly acknowledged joke in recent years.

But, the ORP’s antics over the last year should serve as an unmitigated embarrassment to anyone who still votes Republican.

So, after all that background development, let’s take inventory of the trail of destruction left behind by the state GOP in terms of the electorate’s confidence in them. With at least one county – and likely more – here in Western Ohio we have dozens of community leaders still on the verge of foaming at the mouth as a result of the aforementioned storyline. As linked earlier, Tea Party leaders at the state level have been actively trying to wash their hands of any perception of affiliation with Republicans throughout 2010. And as I have witnessed in recent months, a growing number of local Tea Party groups’ leadership are beginning to share that sentiment. And, the town- and county-level Tea Party organizations are rapidly networking all the more with one another.

Between the Ohio Liberty Council, the Abigail Adams Project, and the local assemblies, more and more Tea Partiers (principally along the I-75 corridor) are priming themselves for a RINO witch hunt in the next several election cycles and possibly even a rebellion against the party altogether.

If the ORP fails to consider all that, there are going to be quite a few unpleasantly surprised Kevin DeWine cronies down the road – in Novembers falling on even-number years.

And that is where, in my opinion, Zehringer enters the equation. My instincts tell me someone on Kasich’s team – to some extent – is quietly aware their party runs the risk of losing significant numbers of voters in coming years in Western Ohio’s predominantly Ag counties.

Seeking out a local person for a high-profile administration seat such as ODA – I’m confident someone has postulated – may appear to be an ideal way to salve just enough wounds to avoid torpedoing state and local Republicans in 2012 and ‘14.

On the other side of the coin

None of this is meant to be an indictment of Rep. Zehringer himself. To play devil’s advocate, his nomination in fact is an intriguing one from a libertarian standpoint.

Based on what I’ve had the opportunity to read about him thus far, Zehringer seems to fit the bill of a small-government conservative: the kind for whom the Tea Party movement in general has been clamoring to see in such senior elected and appointed offices. The Associated Press article covering Kasich’s announcement specified that in 2009 Zehringer co-sponsored a bill designed to put the ODA on a track toward elimination.

Certainly on the surface, nominating someone to direct the Department of Agriculture who is known for wanting it dismantled would appear to be an effective scheme for winning-over a lot of Ohio Farm Bureau members.

Perhaps the Kasich Administration’s strategy is to make as many farmers happy as they can in addition to placating a few locals as a way to mitigate enough losses in voters to counter-balance any Tea Party backlash against the ORP – even if it should turnout to be a large-scale defection of previously reliable voters.

Monday, December 27, 2010

2010: Don’s look back at some of the year’s news, part 1

Author’s note: to be completely upfront and honest, these year-in-review essays typically are my way of finally writing about the topics that had lost their timeliness by the time I finally got around to attempt tackling them but were important enough – I felt – to warrant revisiting under some format down the road. These are stories that hold ramifications for what we can expect to see play-out in the coming year, retain a degree of poignancy as time has worn-on, had key points missed by the media during coverage of them, or were dropped from the news cycle much too quickly for my taste.

The more I have studied libertarianism over the past year-and-a-half (even in my hodge-podge manner), the more I have realized Republicans deserve as little of our confidence in managing public affairs as Democrats.

Few situations exemplify this as clearly as their inability – in the wake of their undeniably significant gains in Congress in the general election – to formulate a cohesive plan for doing what they pledged to voters they would do: rein-in government spending.

Among the best examples of the ludicrousness-to-come dribbled out of the mouth of our very own 4th District Representative Jim Jordan (for the sake of full disclosure, also my erstwhile yet victorious election opponent). In the days following the midterm election, he told The Lima News that, “It’s about symbolic cuts.”

Pardon me for a moment as I channel the spirit of Sam Kinison, but our country is hurdling toward a crisis with the national debt, our currency is on a path of devaluation that has one foreign nation after another calling for moving away from the dollar as the international reserve currency, all the while the resultant inflation is making life more and more difficult for everyone living paycheck-to-paycheck, and the best with which Jordan can come up is “symbolic cuts?!”

Now, as any reasonably informed person could decipher, the bulk of a discussion on symbolic cuts refers to earmarks. That would seem to make sense, would it not?

Meanwhile, in the other congressional chamber, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell continues to fight, tooth-and-nail, against a proposed earmarks ban in the Senate. Not that I’m surprised by his pettiness: considering this is the same political narcissist who fought with even greater fervor the candidacy of fellow Kentuckian and now-Senator-elect Rand Paul, a nationwide Tea Party favorite.

Paul, mind you, insisted all during the 2010 campaign and continues to trumpet after the election that there are no sacred cows in the budget. All areas of spending, according to Paul, must face cuts – as they should.

Most of his fellow Republicans, however, are working as diligently to make Paul feel like an island unto himself as they are to challenge the other major party’s recent stranglehold on legislative propagation. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is not why the voters of Kentucky sent him to Washington. This is the same party, though, which decried the Democrats’ circumvention of the will of the people during the deem-and-pass vote that sent the health care overhaul bill to President Barack Obama’s desk for signing.

The 112th Congress has not even been sworn-in and the GOP already is collectively behaving as though their so-called conservative revolution was nothing more than a pile of hype in a paper bag placed on someone’s porch and set on fire.

Obama considering Indefinite Detention?

This entry centers on a column I read through my morning musings:

Further muddling the shades of gray that is Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is this piece from Common Dreams.org delineating what those in President Barack Obama's circle of advisors are suggesting: establishment of a secondary legal system that entails indefinite detention of citizens through presidential executive order.

What is equal parts perplexing and infuriating (to the point of risking a return to my old Republican mindset) is the absence of outcry in the mainstream media. Were this being floated by a right wing administration, the opposition rhetoric would become a 24-hour news cycle in and of itself.

If you take the time to sift through my blog archive, you'll notice I wrote at length about being thoroughly uncomfortable with the fact we are aleady actively engaged in the practice of incarceration without due process: a.k.a., GiTMO.

I support the use of military tribunals for GiTMO detainees who are foreign nationals. They are not American citizens and thus are not guaranteed the same rights. Also, to some extent there are legitimate concerns over public disclosure of classified information in the process of conducting a public trial.

But, more than likely and in the same spirit of the WikiLeaks hysteria we would come to see during trials for most detainees that much of what is considered "sensitive information" likely is over-blown in its deemed importance.

But the reality is this: such discussions presently taking place in the White House prove the talking point that this administration is just the previous one on steroids. George W. Bush was a right-wing big-government crackpot whose policies kicked the door to socialism wide open for his successor. His approach to governance made Obama's nanny-state rhetoric on the campaign trail actually hold appeal for the masses.

It's time to vote Libertarian. We need to begin electing them locally come 2011 and then move the trend to the state and national levels in 2012.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Chris Zorich – timeless inspiration

In the Christmas holiday season, stories that inspire the soul and are borne from accounts of personal generosity regularly abound – usually without exception.

In 2010, America is a land in exceptional need of inspiration.

A growing effort to find it in the stories of our Founding Fathers has served as a welcome development this year. Other, more recent such features also have been spotlighted.

Not long ago, one of my all-time favorite athletes’ personal story came to mind. While in recent years I have focused my mental energies on spurning celebrity and athlete glorification, the chronicle of Chris Zorich is simultaneously uplifting, heart-breaking, and amazing.

Most of the details contained below are written from memory. My family for years had a subscription to Blue & Gold Illustrated, a periodical dedicated wholly to University of Notre Dame athletics – especially the football program. The staff at BGI published regular personal interest stories about the school’s players – particularly in the off-season issues. After rapidly establishing himself as one of Notre Dame’s top players of his day, Zorich would become a frequent focus of these articles.

He was born and raised in Chicago’s South Side, the only child of single mother Zora Zorich. They were abandoned by his father while Zora was still pregnant.

His childhood was one of constant adversity and struggle. Being mulatto, he dealt with rejection from both whites and blacks in his neighborhood. While he desired an education, he had to overcome a learning disability. And, the Zorich’s lived in the most impoverished of conditions.

Their situation in life forged a mother-son bond that was beyond comparison. It was in large part because of their relationship the younger Zorich managed to avoid gang entanglements as a child, despite the nature of their surroundings.

For many youth in an area such as the South Side, high achievement in sports or education were the only means of ascent from it. Zorich dedicated himself to both his education and athletics with equal zeal.

He was a standout football player at Chicago Vocational High School and in his senior year, 1986-87, was heavily recruited by numerous college programs. At Zora’s urging, he ultimately accepted the football scholarship at Notre Dame offered to him by then-Head Coach Lou Holtz.

Complying with his mother’s wish also was not an easy endeavor, as Zorich faced the inevitable commentary of naysayers. He was told repeatedly to go elsewhere, that he lacked the scholastic aptitude to maintain his eligibility to play football at Notre Dame, and he could never weather the school’s stringent academic standards.

Others advised Zorich – who stood just under 6-1 and weighed roughly 220 lbs. at the time – during his senior year of high school that he was too undersized to effectively compete for playing time with the Fighting Irish.

But, Zora was able to get Chris to promise her that his first priority was to graduate. She believed Notre Dame was the only school recruiting him that would hold his feet to the fire when it came to his studies and that if he finished his degree, no matter what became of his football career, his future would be secure.

He was sidelined by an injury his freshman year. But, he used the recovery time to dedicate himself to strengthening and conditioning as well as his course work. Not long after the start of August drills for his sophomore season, Zorich quickly established himself as the Fighting Irish’s first-string nose guard for the 1988 season.

Zorich would prove to be a dominant force on Notre Dame’s defense from the opening game against the University of Michigan Wolverines to the final regular season match against the USC Trojans and then the Fiesta Bowl versus the West Virginia Mountaineers en route to the first (and so far only) 12-0 record in Fighting Irish history.

In his junior and senior seasons, he would earn consensus All-American honors as a defensive lineman and be awarded the Lombardi Trophy his senior year as the NCAA’s top-ranked defensive player.

By the end of his final season in a Notre Dame uniform, Zorich had bulked-up to almost 290 lbs. and built a nationwide reputation as one of the most physically dominating and technically proficient football players in the college ranks.

With the scrutiny faced by collegiate athletic programs in the NCAA to maintain compliance with its rules, living conditions at the Zorich home remained unchanged, despite the enormous success Chris Zorich built for himself as a student athlete. This was chronicled, in part, in a BGI article centering on a trip home he took with teammate and fellow defensive lineman Troy Ridgley.

The piece focused on the friendship the two had formed, which in and of itself was interesting as they came from such divergent backgrounds: Zorich, a biracial young man raised in poverty in inner-city Chicago; Ridgley, a white teenager who grew up in privilege in the affluent town of Ambridge in western Pennsylvania.

If there was one key development for the Zorich family during Chris’ time at Notre Dame, it was Zora’s steadily declining health. A longtime diabetic, she was unable to afford insulin and other basic medical care.

Toward the close of the 1989 season, a number of analysts deemed the younger Zorich primed and ready for an illustrious pro football career if he were to pursue it a year ahead of time. Nevertheless, even with all the pressure to follow the growing trend of stellar college athletes bypassing their senior years to enter the NFL draft, Zora never stopped holding Chris to his word to see his education all the way to graduation day.

The end of his Hall of Fame-worthy college football playing days came on January 1, 1991, as Notre Dame faced the University of Colorado Buffaloes in a return to the Fiesta Bowl and a second-consecutive bowl match-up with Colorado. The Fighting Irish would lose that game 10-9 on a controversial clipping penalty that negated what would have been a potential game-winning kick-off return by Raghib Ismail with less than a minute remaining in the 4th quarter.

On the same night Notre Dame lost that bowl game, Chris Zorich would lose much more.

According to the article that ran in the ensuing issue of BGI, after the team’s return flight landed and he was able to find a ride to his home in Chicago for a brief spell of R&R before the start of the next semester, Chris entered their apartment the next day – bags still in hand – and found his mother lying dead in their kitchen with the television set still on.

The coroner’s office determined Zora Zorich had died on New Year’s Day shortly after falling into a diabetic coma. Her time of death was estimated to have happened roughly around or after the end of the game: she likely spent her last waking moments alive watching her son play his final game on national TV.

Zorich told BGI that after he found her unresponsive and came to the realization she had already passed, he sat on the kitchen floor, picked her up in his arms, kissed her, and told her, “I love you, Mom.”

He would be drafted that spring by his hometown Chicago Bears in the second round of the NFL draft. More importantly, Zorich kept his promise and saw his final semester through to the end, earning his bachelor of arts in American Studies. He would confess to BGI that he finished college with the minimum allowable 2.0 grade point average and did so with the help of extensive tutoring the entire time. But, he always successfully maintained his academic eligibility and truly earned his four-year degree.

Let us not forget: he did so after being repeatedly warned and cautioned as a high school recruit that he would never able to hack it at Notre Dame.

While Zorich would enjoy a successful NFL career – even earning All Pro honors after the ’93 season, injury would prevent him from playing beyond the fall of 1997 (his knee, if memory serves me correct). Shortly after his retirement from football, he re-enrolled at Notre Dame to begin working on his law degree, which he earned in 2002.

His professional life outside of football also has been filled with successes, including a position with the Chicago law firm of Schuyler Roche, P.C., where he distinguished himself through his work counseling clients on starting and growing their careers and improving their businesses. He also has established himself as an acclaimed motivational speaker.

Over the years, Zorich has received a multitude of civic, community service, and humanitarian awards and honors.

In 1993, he founded the Chris Zorich Foundation (which he originally titled the Zora Zorich Foundation in honor of his mother) to help low-income and poverty-level individuals and families through various community programs, particularly in and around Chicago. Among the foundation’s programs is the Zora Zorich Scholarship at the University of Notre Dame – distinguishing Chris Zorich as the university’s first student-athlete alumnus to ever establish a scholarship fund at his alma mater.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The nausea of Net Neutrality

The Federal Communication Commission’s decision to arbitrarily begin implementing Net Neutrality likely will be next piece of iron-clad evidence for this truism: the legal profession is truly recession-proof.

During a stretch of time when most vocations, professions, and other lines of work are taking a beating, all the activity emanating out of Washington, D.C., these last 20-or-so months is helping lawyers across America stay both busy and rolling in the dough. Net Neutrality will once again serve as a cog in America’s big legal machine.

The subject of so-called Net Neutrality has been ongoing for almost a year-and-a-half. A growing number of Progressives in this country have begun arguing that the Internet should be classified as a public utility and consequently placed under federal regulatory control. It already has been first a major point of contention in Congress as well as shot down by a federal appeals court.

Depending on to which talking head you listen, there are several key concerns lawmakers and federal regulators allegedly have in terms of recent practices by Internet Service Providers.

One of them is so-called tiered access for servers and routers – commonly described as “leverage price discrimination.” The primary alarm over this centers on the supposed potential for ISPs to make the price of bandwidth access too cost prohibitive for various online operations. In essence, this is an allegation that ISPs will begin creating cyber-haves and have-nots.

Another talking point that has come-up is a practice among ISPs where they allegedly are adjusting bandwidth access at-will with their customers. Proponents of this practice insist it is a technical necessity – certain online activities demand greater amounts of bandwidth than others.

One example that has been mentioned is a user (meaning your or me) who is downloading or watching a streaming movie needs more bandwidth in order to have optimum Internet service than some who is reading a blog.

What Net Neutrality proponents are omitting from the discussion (deliberately or otherwise) is the fact there is a multitude of ISPs from which we all can choose. For example, here in West Central Ohio if I’m unhappy with pricing or bandwidth management by Time Warner, I can switch to CenturyLink. If they tick-me-off, I am free to pursue the services of AT&T. If I don’t like how they’re managing the candy store, Verizon and Sprint would be more than happy to compete for my money. Depending on one’s area, the list goes-on from there.

As it stands right now, should any one or two (or even three) major players in the industry attempt the kind of high jinks over which alarmists on the Left are raising their furor, Internet customers will rebel. People will drop ISPs that push their luck on these matters and give their competition the larger market share they deserve.

Also, if there is one thing society at large has been able to deduce from watching government get bigger and bigger it is the fact private entities (and even a few non-profits) can conduct business far more efficiently than any part of the public sector.

At this point, there comes along the burning question: why is it so imperative for the federal government to exert authority over the Internet?

While many conspiracy theories abound and clearly Net Neutrality is a piece that fits multiple puzzles, the one thing I have yet to hear or read anyone mention is the first point I thought of when I heard the news of the vote among the FCC’s heads: it is the first step toward ensuring tax collections for online commerce.

As the Obama Administration continues to advocate for the Value Added Tax, the ability to regulate the Internet would be a major boon for Washington and its appetite for taxpayer money. Having witnessed the hit-or-miss nature of sales tax collections by the states on Internet purchases over the last 20 years, the legal precedent the FCC is looking to purloin for the rest of the federal government undoubtedly will wedge the door open for the Internal Revenue Service.

The only uncertainty on this thread is who will be the third agency or department to benefit? Off the top of my head, the likely candidates would be the Justice Department, Department of Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security.

Having had to stomach a compromise with House Republicans on extending the present federal tax rates and keeping the estate tax threshold at its present $5 million mark, I have no doubt the White House is in part laying the foundation for circumventing the will of the people once again.

Except on this order of business, the cost to us all will reach well beyond the extra pound of flesh extracted by our friendly neighborhood taxman.

I can’t help but wonder how many Telecom CEOs have the necessary lawyers on their speed dial. At the rate of activity we’ve seen during the lame duck session, job openings for legal aids may be the one field that outpaces medical in 2011.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

More to WikiLeaks than being adequately reported

In some respects, the WikiLeaks controversy has been a libertarian’s dream: thousands of government secrets ripped from the servers of na├»ve little Washington bureaucrats and splashed all over the world.

Libertarians (with capital and small-Ls alike) have come close to even jumping with glee over this story while some have ardently defended its founder Julian Assange.

In my first treatise on this topic I admitted to being of two mindsets about it all. It is undeniably satisfying to watch governmental arrogance get knocked-down two or three pegs. At the same time it would be woefully irresponsible to simultaneously ignore the inevitable peripheral consequences many of these leaks will bring-about.

While there is the obvious issue of heightened exposure to danger for our Armed Forces directly related to the security breach, antiwar libertarians also face an enormous Catch-22.

Let us not forget that part of the WikiLeaks process has been the release of thousands of diplomatic cables between the United States and other nations. Some of the contents of these communications have brought significant consternation to all countries involved in them.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t hampering diplomacy counterintuitive to the libertarian platform of avoiding foreign entanglements with our military?

My next point is a cautionary one, especially as it relates to Assange himself. I find the long list of Progressive organizations stepping-up to his defense quite unsettling. Especially telling when it comes to Assange and WikiLeaks is the fact his attorney (helping him deal with the criminal sexual conduct charges out of Sweden) is Mark Stephens, who just happens to do a significant amount of pro bono work for George Soros’ Open Society Institute.

Also, the more of his own words I read, the more uncomfortable I am with growing libertarian support for Assange. I’m particularly troubled by comments such as this he made to Time Magazine (published December 1): “Since 2006, we have been working along this philosophy that organizations which are abusive and need to be [in] the public eye. If their behavior is revealed to the public, they have one of two choices: one is to reform in such a way that they can be proud of their endeavors, and proud to display them to the public. Or the other is to lock down internally and to balkanize, and as a result, of course, cease to be as efficient as they were.”

In my mind, the key question becomes this: Isn’t it a matter for the people of America to decide and tackle, not a foreign interest?

We must remember: Julian Assange is not an American citizen. He is a foreign national. Yet, he is seeking to affect policy in the United States as if he were a ranking U.S. Senator, White House cabinet member, or senior political pundit.

Make no mistake, Assange’s efforts and motivations are ideological in nature. He discusses revolutionary ideology at length in the Time interview mentioned above.

What Libertarians in the United States must ask ourselves is if his vision of revolution for America and the world is compatible with our goal of constitutional revolution aimed at constitutional restoration.

If they are not, then how close do we wish to cozy-up to him?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

WikiLeaks creating predictable convolution

In my first installment regarding WikiLeaks, I did exactly what I suggested against: give in to bad rhetoric.

I was called-out – and rightfully so – on the passage stating, "I agree that some action deserves to be taken against [Julian] Assange," WikiLeaks founder. I allowed myself to give-in to the "kill the messenger" rhetoric that has been gaining ever greater circulation in recent weeks.

Even after local columnist Thomas J. Lucente, Jr., refuted that thought with a defense of the First Amendment, I insisted on countering on the grounds of protecting our national security. And, I did it blindly.

I'll admit that the temptation to resort to a useless argument of semantics and context presented itself: "'action… to be taken' doesn’t necessarily mean legal or covert; blah blah blah!"

Now, to engage in minutiae as I often customarily do, my mentioning of potential repercussions for Assange were really meant to be little more than a peripheral lead-in toward my larger point about the ineffectiveness of the Department of Homeland Security.

However, even a nondescript comment in passing such as that illustrates how easy it is to let old habits creep back in. If we believe in the Constitution, then it must apply at all times, not just when it suits our sensibilities.

And, to some greater or smaller extent, that may be part of the intent behind the entire WikiLeaks controversy. A lot of American and international far-left groups are steadily coming to Assange's defense. The Progressive Left – especially domestically – are notorious for their lack of genuine enthusiasm for constitutional rights.

Generating a crisis such as this at a time when White House staffers in the Federal Communication Commission are angling toward a bypass of both the Judicial and Legislative branches in order to establish so-called Net Neutrality regulations creates a perfect atmosphere to whip-up the general public into an angry storm of complicity.

Arguing for government action against Assange falls right in line with that mindset.

While his journalistic claims in this endeavor are dubious at best, in all fairness the same could be said for my crappy little Website.

If there is anyone who could legitimately face criminal consequences, it is Pfc. Bradley Manning, who violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice by improperly downloading the information in the first place and then passing it along to unauthorized recipients.

Even then, as I stated in my previous essay, too much regarding Manning does not add-up for me to believe he truly acted alone or possibly is little more than a patsy for someone else.

In the meantime, what the United States ought to do with Assange is what they should have done when faced with possible entry into World War I: declare that Assange – like that war nearly 100 years ago – is Europe's problem; let them deal with him.

If he is convicted on the criminal sexual conduct charges filed in Sweden, the best choice is to wash our hands on his situation and then brush him aside and into the circular file of history.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

WikiLeaks verifies as well as reveals

It has become the one story that could possibly overshadow the midterm elections in 2010.

The controversy swirling around WikiLeaks and its leading public face, Julian Assange, has grown to near-epic proportions. Up until recently, I have made a point to avoid forming and expressing a hard opinion on this story. I’ve been of the mindset shared by Glenn Beck and the folks at BigGovernment.com: I’m a bit torn on the subject.

Undoubtedly, the release of so much classified information invariably will have damaging effects on national security – which assuredly will trickle down to some extent onto our troops overseas. For this, I agree that some action deserves to be taken against Assange.

On the other hand, I am reluctant to assign Assange the title of Public Enemy No. 1 – as opposed to World’s Most (Over-)Glorified Computer Geek. If there is one thing American society has come to understand it is the potential danger for our government to enjoy the degree of secrecy it has in recent decades. Assange’s operation has taken a healthy bite out of that setup.

I’ve been holding out on commenting to any real length on this topic for several reasons, not the least of which has been to avoid the appearance of being anti-military. Also, knee-jerk reactions tend to contain erroneous conclusions on any given topic.

And then there is the fact – if I have heard in the news correctly – that to date WikiLeaks has released in excess of 90,000 documents and 250,000 diplomatic cables which totaled in terms of disk storage to nearly 5 gigabytes of data. No single human being has the time and wherewithal to even attempt to individually sift through all that information and glean from that body a definitive pattern of activity.

As a result, I have allowed myself to rely on traditional and digital media to sort out the story for me. Obviously, temperance is a must.

But, the news I’ve caught to date actually has done more – albeit unintentionally – than alert me to vast amounts of raw information being revealed to the world at large. It has served to verify a perspective I have held for some time: the Department of Homeland Security is a colossal waste of taxpayer money ($42.6 billion in fiscal year 2010) and does far more of a disservice than any perceived benefit to our society.

That was particularly reinforced by a McClatchy News article that ran last week in the Columbus Dispatch. According to McClatchy, one item published at WikiLeaks was a collection of information titled the Critical Foreign Dependencies Initiative. This project entailed analyzing public and private operations – in as many as 60 countries around the world – which are viewed as vital to U.S. interests, such as oil and gas pipelines, rare metal mining sites, undersea cable communication stations, vaccine production facilities, and other seemingly unrelated outfits deemed important to America.

The article mentioned how publication of the list “has infuriated U.S. officials.” The primary concern is that this Initiative now has served as a convenient index of potential targets for organizations such as al Qaeda.

What is being ignored, however, is the simple truth. This situation reveals the undeniable danger that comes with DHS’s core purpose: centralization of information relating to national security.

By compiling the CFDI laundry list of various sensitive locations – presumably collected through input from the customary source agencies and departments such as the Pentagon, State Department, CIA, and NSA – our brain-trust in Washington essentially made it that much easier for someone such as Private First Class Bradley Manning to compromise this aspect of national security in the most efficient manner possible.

Those around the world who are a genuine threat to do harm to the United States just had all the legwork done for them. Al Qaeda operatives, not having to be burdened with trying to steal sensitive documents on their own and then sift through the digital reams for any useful intelligence, have been freed-up to start directly putting this information to good use.

Essentially, with the unintended aid of Washington bureaucrats Osama bin Laden has outsourced his espionage needs.

Related side notes

Now, in addition to decrying the pitfalls of attempting to unify all the various sources of classified knowledge, I am reminded of my other charge against DHS: when lives were on the line, its collection of minds failed – at least twice of which we know – to meet that objective.

First, there was the Fort Hood massacre in November of last year. Both the U.S. Army and FBI (at the very least) had information on Nidal Hasan that warranted further investigation and surveillance, but as we’ve been able to see since then rampant political correctness prevented any effective action until after 13 of his fellow American soldiers lay dead.

Then, on Christmas Day 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to bring down a commercial airliner from the skies over Detroit. Both the CIA and State Department were aware of the “Underpants Bomber,” but this information was not effectively coordinated in the manner we have been led to believe we could rely on DHS to perform.

How much more failure do we have to have before we begin working on $42.6 billion in savings?

Next up…

The overall WikiLeaks story holds technical points that just don’t add up. Not the least of which is how a private first class (Manning) was able to get his hands on 5 gigabytes of classified information.

To put that in slightly clearer perspective, an Army Pfc. is an E-3 pay grade on a scale that ranges from E-2 to E-9. Basically, Pfc. Manning is (or perhaps before long, was) one rank above someone fresh out of boot camp (for my fellow sailors, remember that the U.S. Navy is the only branch of the service which does not automatically advance people to E-2 upon completion of boot camp).

The most pressing question at this point is where was his chain of command during that process? Also, how did the U.S. Army fail to establish security measures one would reasonably expect in order to prevent such an en masse download of files? Or, if there were such measures in place, how was he able to bypass them?

Common sense dictates something just does not add up.

One thing with Manning, though, is certain. This Pfc. has made a celebrity of someone (Assange) who is/was/is nothing more than a glorified computer geek. But, he certainly does have nice hair.