Monday, May 30, 2011

Weiner served-up as Dirt-Bag du Jour

This weekend's breaking stories about the alleged online improprieties of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) are the latest highlight reel on a long-standing game that has been played in national politics.

For those who may be living in an even tighter bubble than I am, Weiner is purported to have attempted to send – via direct message on Twitter – a picture of his semi-upright Mini Me (albeit under the cloak of his boxer-style briefs) to a college coed in the Seattle area.

An amusingly appropriate (or, inappropriate) #Weinergate hashtag has inspired an enormous load of 140-character commentaries on the swelling topic of interest.

The fact remains, however, that Weiner is just one more in a growing circle of jerks among the American political class.

Actually, if you briefly snake your way through the political history of the last 20 years, it’s not hard to recognize the slow-growing score between high-profile players of the two major parties.

Up until the last few days, the Democrats held a bulging 5-3 advantage in the box score. This weekend, Mr. Weiner managed to stiffen-up this particular unwelcome advance in the competition by inching the score one closer to being knotted-up.

Let's review the swelling list of contemporary, high-profile unfaithful – starting in chronological order.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA) became the Left's first trophy by fooling-around on not one but two of his then-wives (he’s on wife No. 3 at the moment) – the affair behind his first wife’s back taking place even while she was hospitalized to have a benign tumor removed.

Former President Bill Clinton scored on the GOP's behalf by handling pork-laden legislation in the Oval Office with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Democrat Gary Condit, the erstwhile representative from Fresno, was known first for being a Blue Dog and then turning other parts of him blue with one of his staffers ten years ago.

Larry Craig proved to be possibly the most amusing instances of the swelling congressional members who have been unfaithful. The now-former representative from Idaho was arrested in Minnesota several years ago for trying to solicit some fun-on-the-fly at an airport men's room. What’s exceptionally interesting is the fact Craig had been one of the Republicans’ leading opponents of gay rights.

The following year, Eliot Spitzer, then governor of New York (previously the state's attorney general) proved to be the most pragmatic of the lot by simply keeping the local high-dollar call-girl registry on his speed dial. By the sound of things in the media, there was no shortage of dialing going on outside of Albany.

Two years ago, then-Governor of South Carolina Mark Sanford followed the bursting of the housing bubble by bursting the GOP's "rising star bubble." Sanford had quickly risen in prominence by fighting a federal mandate to accept Stimulus money through President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Soon after, it was revealed he had been pursuing his own stimulus through the benefits of a "friend" in Argentina.

A once-obscure (now former) representative named Chris Lee (R-NY) popped the cork on 2011's headlines of hedonism by becoming the first of a threesome of politicians to have news of their improprieties shoot all over the nation. Lee was caught attempting to hook-up with a woman via Craigslist, going so far as to send her a teenage-esque camera-phone picture of himself flexing shirtless in front of a mirror.

It's since been alleged he also pursued transgendered regulars of Craigslist. Perhaps he likes to find the same qualities in his illicit sex partners that he prefers in his doubles-tennis partners: experience players with the physical attributes to swing both directions.

Several short weeks ago as we all know, California's outgoing governor Arnold Schwarzenegger aroused new laughs as revelations of a 10-year-old love-child with one of his housekeepers splashed everywhere – revealing he had gone from the Governator to the Fornicator.

Representative Weiner now becomes the new tip of the spear.

As far as so-called scandals go, his story of sexual impropriety is actually fairly lame. What we have is a newlywed inserting himself into a midlife crisis that allegedly involves sexting a gal half his age – using a soft-core digital picture that would seem to say, "I'm kinda happy to see you."

Let's face it: the eye of this political storm centers on the social media equivalent of IHOP’s "pig in a blanket." Anthony Weiner is a veritable Steve Urkel among a collection of Joey Tribbianis.

Also, what separates Weiner – and his fellow camera-happy counterpart Lee – from the rest of the crowd is the fact with Newt, Slick Willy, Condit, Spitzer, Sanford, and Arnie we know they at least were getting some on the road to public shame and embarrassment. With Craig we are left to presume he must have got some previously since when he found himself in the grips of law enforcement it appeared he’d had plenty of practice at that handicraft.

Lee and Weiner, on the other hand, basically got caught trolling for hoes on the Internet – so not worth it, as I'm sure hindsight has illuminated for them by now.

All adolescent double entendres aside at this point, it is quite obvious (to me, at least) the fervor with which so many on the right have pounced on the New York Democrat's indignity is in response to the back-to-back embarrassments caused by Schwarzenegger and Lee to the GOP this year. The right had been jonesing for someone to rake over the coals of public opinion so they could regain some token, meaningless moral-high-ground points.

It honestly should go without saying that the next question on this matter is, "Does anyone, anywhere, anymore really believe there isn't a widespread, across-the-board character deficit in the greasy world of politics?"

As we can plainly see by the list above of revisited infidelities, there is nothing at all remarkable about Anthony Weiner. He is little more than the Dirt-Bag du Jour.

The majority of the focus on his willy-nilly cyber adventures is due to the fact he has been on a public campaign of righteous indignation over the last year that has had little to directly do either with his party's policies while they held across-the-board power in Washington or the DNC's platform.

Like it or not, Weiner should not be surprised by the conservative feeding frenzy. He invited much of it upon himself with his own accusatory finger.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A rant for the sake of ranting

Just when I thought it was safe to apply the brakes and let the engine's idle move the car forward at its own good pace, I find myself wanting now more than ever to straddle that line – as perilously as I can – between inexorability and infirmity.

If you have been to my Website recently or are among my social media contacts, then you are aware of my wife Marcy's recent leukemia diagnosis. As a result, I have found myself looking at how I can set aside politics as much as I can for the time being until her battle with Cancer is won – all without losing the momentum that has been built by the members of the Allen County Libertarian Party here in its inaugural year.

Very simply, it's a matter of priorities.

But then, this morning, I had my Howard Beale moment. I now can say, without hesitation or equivocation, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

On my way home from work, I made a brief grocery stop for principally the staples – as well as one or two other items. I went to the checkout lane with what would amount to two armfuls of groceries – thinking nothing of it beyond it being a typical jaunt to the store that ought to cost less than average.

And then the cashier read aloud the final tally. It is rare for me to feel the need to catch my breath. It takes a lot to shock me and even more to offend me. But, at that moment, I not only reflexively drew-in a short breath and held it I also had rapidly overcome the urge to absent-mindedly blurt-out an expletive relating to the waste product of domesticated, horn-bearing livestock.

Two months ago, a load of groceries such as what I purchased this morning would have run under $40.

My total on this day was more than $61.

And, this sticker shock moment was brought to you by Save-A-Lot, Inc.

During the strolls up and down the aisles I had two or three moments that prompted me to silently observe, "Wow, that went up in price."

But, I was there with a pretty brief list and deviated from it only by picking up cheese, two frozen family-size entrees, two cans of soup, and some canned fruit. It was the same kind of abbreviated shopping run at a discount, no-name-brand grocery store that I have been making for years.

After paying the charge I more aggressively in my head began itemizing the prices I saw this morning and comparing them to what I had been used to paying: with some items having been purchased just six or even three weeks prior.

My lunch meat and granola bars had not changed in price. These items I buy because it is much more cost effective to pack a lunch to work than buy it at the engine plant’s cafeteria. However, the same six-pack of pop – out of which I take one with me to work to defray the cost of buying the same quantity from the vending machines in the break areas – I had been able to buy there near the end of April had gone up 66 cents – from $3.33 to $3.99, a 20% jump in price.

At the beginning of last month, as part of a larger effort to fully stock our pantry, I remember the cans of evaporated milk ran less than 80 cents. This is an item that comes in handy every so often for cooking anything calling for milk, such as instant potatoes or fluffing your scrambled eggs. Today the exact same store brand evaporated milk cost 99 cents – another 20% leap in price.

The two cans of mandarin oranges I bought – in an effort to snack healthier and make subtle, incremental choices toward that all-important healthy lifestyle – were 65 cents each: up from the 59 cents I remember paying for them at the beginning of April. That is a jump of 10% for the price of an 11-ounce canned good.

A dozen large eggs cost $1.49.

A year ago at this time, a 48-ounce bag of rice and a 16-ounce tube of frozen ground turkey – two items I have been buying with great regularity for years – were just being bumped-up in price from 99 cents to $1.19. Today, the same ground turkey is $1.59 and the rice has ballooned in price to $1.79.

And there remain other examples from my receipt that are just as astonishing.

Mind you, all this retail apprehension took place at a discount supermarket (i.e., Aldi and Save-A-Lot), where people just looking to stretch their dollars go so they can feed themselves and their families without breaking the bank.

I shudder to think what has been happening price-wise at other locations.

All this background and all this build-up are meant to angle this diatribe toward one, seminal thought: when do we finally decide as a society that enough is enough?!

Now, I have no doubt there will be two or three people who will read this and reach the conclusion "the government should step in and do something about this."

If that is where your thought processes are taking you, then you have buried your head deep enough into the sand to crack your forehead against the bedrock beneath it. "Government stepping in and doing something" is precisely why America is poised to begin pricing itself out of existence.

And, all this is being driven most heavily by two factors: the price of gasoline and the rapidly descending value of the U.S. dollar.

Let's start with gas.

We have a braintrust in Washington, D.C., that is preaching supposed energy independence yet insists upon stonewalling all petroleum drilling efforts within the United States. All the while, every subsequent geological survey that has been published within the last few years has determined we have more oil under our ground than previously believed.

In fact, within our borders and territorial waters, there is enough untapped petroleum beneath the land and ocean floors that American oil producers can potentially outpace the production all of the Middle Eastern nations combined.

Instead, we are spoon-fed a fairy tale of alternative energy sources that will take years (if not decades) to perfect to a point where these industries can make any measurable impact on the costs of energy in America.

The previous administration in the White House bought into the green lie enough to enact (with the blessing of Congress) a ban on the manufacture of incandescent light bulbs. Once this ban goes into effect in this coming January, consumers will be able to choose between compact fluorescent light bulbs which contain toxic levels of mercury or the forthcoming LED light bulbs which will cost approximately $50 each once they hit the market.

Since the food we wish to buy can't get to our nearby stores without the transportation industry trucking it all hither-and-yon for our convenience, when the price of gas skyrockets like it has over the last year the cost of keeping all those Kenworths (et al) rolling down the highways inevitably finds its way into those pesky barcodes on our Cheerios and Weetabix.

The other major factor making our lives too expensive to live-out anymore is the all-out assault of stupidity on the U.S. currency. Between the Bush Administration's T.A.R.P. debacle, the Obama Administration's stimulus lie, and our ongoing projected deficit of roughly $1.6 trillion for this fiscal year, the dollar is being driven to the brink of worthlessness and being abandoned wholesale in the international currency markets.

All three of the preceding examples have required the United States Treasury to borrow more than $3 trillion over the past 2 1/2 years – and that doesn’t even include the debt which had to be incurred to cover the deficits for fiscal years 2008, 2009, and 2010 over the same period of time.

What too many people are not realizing is in all of these instances, in order for the government to pay out all these waste obligations, more currency than previously existed must be printed so that all the transactions associated with these federal appropriations can actually see money changing hands. The spike in the money supply invariably means the value of each and every U.S. dollar out there in the world retains that much less value.

To break it down into terms most people ought to be able to understand, when a number of items or goods are deemed to be a "collector's item" – whether it's a Mario Lemieux rookie card, first edition Barbie Doll, or original print Elvis Presley record – the fewer there are of these particular mementos the greater the value each one retains.

This exact same principle applies directly to our currency.

This isn't even the proverbial Economics 101: we are talking about basic, indisputable mathematics.

As companies in any and all industries here in America see their revenue streams gouged due to the drop in value of the money they presently have, in order to stay afloat they must adjust their prices to cover that shortfall in revenues.

That means their prices must go up – hence inflation.

And when you have the flood of money hit the markets across the world at the pace we have seen since autumn 2008, the analogous effect is best illustrated by the floods coming down the Mississippi River these past few days. The devastation is eerily similar as we witness people's lives and livelihoods washed away with the rising floodwaters.

And the truly insidious part lies in this all-important question: for what?

What is it we had to do that required jeopardizing the viability of the U.S. economy?

If the spigot enabling the flow of money that is the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Obama's Stimulus) can be shut off before the rest of its allocations can be spent, then it truly will be said that T.A.R.P. will go down in history as the single largest fiscal fraud ever perpetrated upon American taxpayers.

Very little of the $700 billion poured into the Wall Street entities which received them actually went into circulation with the U.S. The most egregious example of this was AIG, which received roughly $180 billion from Uncle Sam and then immediately paid the majority of that money to various financial institutions across Europe to which AIG was indebted.

Massive chunks of T.A.R.P. money – which Bush and leaders in both major parties insisted was necessary to save the financial sector and the economy – will never find its way into circulation within our own borders. Bankers and other financial corporate titans in Europe continue to reap the riches of a cash cow that will leave us all paying-off the interest out of our hard-earned tax dollars for decades to come.

The other major component of Bush's and Obama's combined fraud was the notion the federal government could more wisely pick-and-choose how to distribute and award a combined $1.5 trillion than the people of the United States of America.

Let's say for the sake of argument I agreed with the Washington braintrust that T.A.R.P. and the so-called Stimulus were absolutely necessary to prevent economic armageddon two-and-a-half years ago. If it were up to me, I would have taken that $1.5 trillion and evenly disbursed it to every household which was under mortgage at that time. Based on my research for this statistic, in the late months of 2008 that would be (very) roughly 50 million homes. So, with my plan, almost 50 million households would have received a U.S. Department of Treasury check for approximately $30,000 each.

Common sense dictates that in light of the urgent nature of the situation for both the U.S. economy and the international market, the vast majority of those recipients would have done the right thing with that money and paid enough to their respective lenders to at least get current with their mortgages. Most, I’m inclined to believe, would have used enough sense to even pay-off several additional months’-worth of mortgage payments – which would have helped those homeowners knock-down the principle of those debts, thus significantly reducing their monthly due amounts.

For some, $30,000 would be enough to pay the remaining balance in full and rid themselves of that form of debt.

At the very least, this activity would have led to a flood of about $1 trillion into the American financial sector as the people at-large began feverishly making payments to save their homes.

These speculations leave about half-a-trillion dollars still to be used, which (again) common sense dictates many of the recipients would have opted to buy a new car – thus eliminating the need for the automotive bailouts. Unspent portions beyond that would have led to a surge of cash flow in domestic retail markets and created a genuine recovery from the nightmare.

A small percentage, of course, would have gone into savings and other retirement/"rainy day" accounts. But even that option would have had positive benefits as still just $10-to-20 billion (just… *sigh*) out of all that would have shored-up the liquidity of banks nationwide and boosted confidence in financial markets.

And then, there is the largely unexamined positive consequence of tackling the 2008 crisis in the manner described above.

Over the course of 2008 through 2010 a total of roughly 8 million homes were foreclosed-upon (that doesn’t include the 1.3 million in 2007, when the housing bubble began to burst). For the purpose of simpler math (and due to the absence of the hard data on this) let's assume more than half of those mortgages had two (or even more) signatures (spouses, co-signing parents, etc.) on them.

Now, by bypassing the homeowners and lending $700 billion directly to the banks and other financial sector entities in the manner the Bush Administration did, nearly 15 million people since then now have a foreclosure hanging like an albatross over their credit histories. If you believe in a borrow-and-spend-on-credit economy much like so many politicians advocate today, this means there are now as many as 15 million adults who have been completely taken out of that portion of the economy. Their credit ratings are far too deep in disrepair for any of them to be able to establish credit again for the remainder of this decade.

This is the ongoing complication to the American economic picture that will play as significant of a role in preventing recovery as any other factor.

And no one is talking about this.

But, had anyone in the capitol actually taken a moment to think things through in the waning months of 2008 and handled the bailout intelligently – as opposed to the money carrousel that played-out – it would have served, unfortunately, to only cement in the minds of the general public this misguided notion that all the solutions to society's ills can be found in government action.

They're all experts, don’t you know.

Here in 2011, despite growing public sentiment against further expansion of government, to push to do just that continues to gain steam among our elected so-called leadership.

The push is on for greater control of our energy sources.

The push is on for greater control of the financial sector.

The push is on for greater control of our food supplies.

The push is on for micromanagement of the health care industry.

The push is on for unprecedented control over the Internet.

And so on…

So, let me get this straight, the same government that has:

Given us the compassion of the IRS;
Given us the efficiency of the U.S. Postal Service;
Given us the effectiveness of the Katrina response;
Given us the promptness of the Gulf oil spill response;
Executed a "War on Drugs" that has cost $1 trillion over 40 years and accomplished squat;
And has managed our children's education for the past 40 years…

This same government somehow can be counted-on to manage our health care, our financial sector, our nutritional needs, our energy supplies, and automotive companies?


What will it take? When are we going to finally come together as a nation and say, "Enough is enough?!"

And why, you may ask, do I want to see this take shape?

Because I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Moms and their timeless advice

I can't say for certain if my mother has truly gotten any wiser over the years (or, rather, decades) since I've been on this earth or if I just have slowly done a better job of appreciating her sage words as I've aged myself.

But, I recall from my childhood words of wisdom she always would direct at me whenever I got on a rant about someone with whom I was having difficulty at school, or a temperamental cousin, or anyone else.

Mom would say to me, "Pray for your enemies!"

I remember thinking – at the time – now that's dumb!

At the Catholic school I attended, we did daily prayer offerings for family and friends because they were sick, had fallen on other hard times, or approaching some big opportunity: the whole premise being to pray for their recovery and/or good fortune. During Sunday Mass, the prayer offerings seemed to be conducted under the same premises – with the addition of prayers for Church leaders and our elected officials so they may bring wisdom with their actions and decisions (don't snicker at that last example… the good intentions were undeniably pure).

All in all we were encouraged during our youth – both in school and at Mass – to pray on behalf of people for whom we cared or held some perceived vested interest.

So, the notion of praying for someone I disliked seemed rather counterintuitive.

But my mother – being a tremendously more patient person than I – bided her time as she kept telling me time and again, "Pray for your enemies."

And, I say she bided her time because finally, in my mid teen years, she gave me her evidence to support this paradoxical advice. Mom finally shared the story of our old next door neighbor, Mr. Dugan.

Even at that juncture in life I had retained scant memories of Mr. Dugan. Most of what I knew about him came from the myriad of stories I'd heard from my three older brothers as well as Mom. None of these stories were good.

Mr. Dugan was a heavy drinker, a terrible husband, an abusive father, and a general misery to have right on the other side of one's property line. He also was not shy about who saw and heard how miserable he could be. On at least one occasion, his abusive tendencies motivated Mom to walk back into the house, crawl in bed, and cry herself to sleep in the middle of the day.

Living next to Mr. Dugan was bad enough to inspire her to plant a row of Russian olive trees along our chain-link fence to serve as a buffer.

Over the years Mr. Dugan lived next door to my family, Mom said, early-on she began praying for him. She never asked God for anything specific. Mom just prayed for him.

And she kept praying for Mr. Dugan. The more time that passed, the harder she prayed for him – especially as my brothers got older. Eventually as tensions between our families grew and my oldest brother, Michael, was rapidly approaching the age of 18, Mom’s anxiety grew as well. She worried over what the legal consequences would hold for my brothers should a confrontation erupt once any of them were of adult age.

Mom kept praying.

Then all of a sudden, shortly after I turned 5, Mr. Dugan landed a great new job, packed up his wife and three children, and moved away.

We never heard from him again.

Ordinarily, one would think the fable ends here and the moral would be self-evident. But, as the late-great Paul Harvey used to say, "And now, the rest of the story."

Mr. Dugan didn't move all that far away, as it turned-out. His new job was a few miles farther north from where he had been working – yet not so far where he had a real need to relocate. But, while he had no apparent shame, he was at the same time a vain individual: the higher paying, better job meant "the old neighborhood" no longer was good enough and his home no longer was big enough.

The city to our north was rapidly growing and brand new subdivisions were springing-up there left and right – with bigger and nicer houses. The allure was too great for Mr. Dugan to pass-up.

We knew that much before they left. Six years later, however, big gaps in the storyline were rapidly filled-in for us.

The school district into which the Dugans moved participated in the same vocational cooperative (in some areas known as an intermediate school district) as ours. It was called Southeast Oakland Vocational Education Center (SEOVEC).

My brother Brian signed-up for a program at SEOVEC. He happened to be the same age as the oldest Dugan child, Scott. When Brian met several students from the Dugans' new school district, he immediately developed curiosity about our old neighbors and asked these students if they had happened to know them – and Scott specifically.

Upon hearing the name, they seemingly froze in their positions, glanced at Brian in a sideways manner, and gave him "the look." After a second of awkward silence they asked my brother, "How do you know Scott Dugan?"

Brian's new SEOVEC classmates relayed harried tales of malcontent involving Mr. Dugan and Scott. It turned out as he entered his teen years Scott was becoming a chip off the old block. He had begun to grow into a burly young man much like his father. He also was adopting his father's disposition and keen sense of social skills.

Bear in mind, in the late 70s and into the early 80s, the city where they moved – even though it was only a few miles north of Detroit – still predominantly had farmland and other rural expanses and was populated principally with what you could call "northern rednecks."

In short, these were people who didn't take kindly to new inhabitants bringing with them a bad attitude combined with a sense of superiority.

The kids didn’t take kindly to Scott. Consequently, no one took kindly to Mr. Dugan when he stuck his nose into his son's business once the local youth began administering their brand of frontier justice.

Mr. Dugan practically invited the town's youngsters to torque on him, failing to anticipate the hornets nest he was stirring-up. It hadn't occurred to him the folks in the area might not share the same sense of restraint demonstrated by us in the old neighborhood.

Quite possibly the coup de gras perpetrated upon Mr. Dugan happened one summer very shortly before Brian crossed paths with these young men.

Allow me to set this up: Mr. Dugan was quite the lawn freak. Now, our two homes – when he was still next door – were situated on a bend in our street. The position of our house as a result gave our property a trapezoidal shape and, accordingly, the largest front yard on the block.

Mr. Dugan, being so vain and as much of a lawn freak as he was, made it a habit of when he mowed his lawn to mow a portion of ours so as to create the appearance the property line mysteriously angled at some point – thus making his property look bigger.

The Kissicks, being a pragmatic people, quickly determined that if he wanted to do the extra work for us, there was no point in raising any fuss. We knew the truth: it appeared Mr. Dugan needed to "compensate" for something…

So, Mr. Dugan, being so OCD over the quality of his lawn years before the term "OCD" entered the greater lexicon of our society, eventually gave the local ne'er-do-wells of his new community the perfect target for their displeasure.

That summer, Mr. Dugan evidently was so dissatisfied with the appearance of his lawn he had it ripped-up and replaced with brand new sod. Very shortly thereafter, he took the family on a nice, lengthy vacation.

The next night, a few of the youth whose displeasure had been earned by Mr. Dugan and his oldest child paid their home a visit. They pulled up all his fresh, new sod and threw it in as big of chunks as they could wield on top of his roof. The next day, the area saw the start of a classic summer-in-Michigan, multi-day deluge. It was immediately followed by several days of cloudless, hot days of intense sunshine.

The heavy rains ran long, chunky streaks of dirt and grass all along the sides of Mr. Dugan's house and the days of unabated sun exposure baked it all in there for good measure.

For some reason, Mr. Dugan didn't share the other residents' humorous outlook on the situation.

From there, the circumstances only got worse for Mr. Dugan and Scott. Although, the level of creativity demonstrated during all the subsequent activity never quite matched the episode above.

Herein lies the real moral of the story. Whenever you feel the need to subject your neighbors to your social shortcomings and even air your own family's dirty laundry for everyone else living in earshot, be sure to bear this in mind:

Just imagine my mom praying for you.