The inconspicuous news

The stories that might escape your attention for any number of reasons.

A Greek warning to Peace and Democracy

alexis-tsiprasTracy Rubin, a regular contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s editorial board, posted an interesting article on the recent election in Greece and its potential ripple throughout the European Union.  Rubin phrases her warning as one to the European elite, but the effects of widespread dissatisfaction throughout Europe, largely due to financial struggles and large-scale disenfranchisement, should be am alarm to every EU citizen.

Greece’s new Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, won the government’s top post by promising to renegotiate the austere economic measures imposed by the EU and International Monetary Fund in its 2010 bailout of the bankrupt country.  The causes of the collapse are not much different from those in the U.S. in 2008.

Free-wheeling borrowing and lending were the primary cause; but Greece’s overly generous public benefits programs were also a huge factor in the collapse.  Unfortunately austerity measures imposed on Greece in the bailout left many without jobs and even without heat .  Youth unemployment, always a catalyst for populist revolt and even the attraction of political extremism, reached 60%. Many of the same conditions can be found in Spain, Italy, France and other less well-off countries.

One only need refresh their 1920-40s European history to understand what the potential is for such widespread austerity, and the disillusionment it breeds, and to realize the kind of extremist behavior can result.

Boys and our toys

Yes, Virginia, some of us never, ever grow up completely.  Let’s just get that fact out of the way!

So what could be more appropriate on a Superbowl Sunday, than to relive one of those epic memories from those days before animated electronics and computer-generated graphics!  Those days of wiffle ball, street hockey, and electric football!

20150201_inq_fitz01-aThe game was tabbed as the closest a kid could get to real football without the risk of concussion or the need for future hip replacement surgery.  Until you flipped on the power and – as the author notes, the field looks like “a jarful of crickets had been released onto a hot skillet.”

Good memories surround the hours needed to properly set up one’s squad and maybe play a full quarter of football.  More time was wasted than in any other childhood activity that fascinated for reasons that puzzle us to this day.  But the memories? Irreplaceable!

Now for some really crazy numbers.  In 1947 over 40 million sets were sold.  But if you think interest in the game has died in those 70-plus years … An electric football newsletter currently has over 20,000 subscribers.  In 1999 a group from Philadelphia hosted an electric football competition and attracted 1500 participants!

Yep, us boys are loyal to our toys!

Moderates start pulling GOP a bit their way

The political reality in the Philadelphia suburbs is that, if you are a Republican looking for wide, cross-party appeal and win elections, you must present a more Moderate political view.  The same probably holds true in a lot of suburban communities surrounding large concentrations of urban Democrats.


Congressional Rep Charlie Dent (PA-15)

Such an approach helps to explain the popularity of such local talents as Congressional Representatives Charlie Dent and Patrick Meehan.

But another factor to consider is the political weight these Moderates might pull in a Republican Congressional caucus looking to grow their national appeal.  In recent weeks, Moderates in the delegation have been able to blunt some controversial legislation and political moves.

As Dent mentioned in a recent debate, “Week One, we had the vote for Speaker. Week Two, we debated deporting children. Week Three, we’re debating rape and incest. I can’t wait for Week Four.”

The rise of the Moderates might be worth watching.

Our Post-Election Quandary


Another Election Day is in the books.  We can stare at the carnage, the breakthroughs, the piles of cash thrown into the winds of political expediency … or we can look ahead to the challenges that will determine the political future.

I choose to look forward in this post, although those piles of cash … estimated at $4 billion for the 2014 general election … is a disturbing image in my rearview mirror.

Nationally, it was a bad day for the Democrats.  Losing control of the U.S. Senate (52-45 Republicans, 2 Independents, Louisiana’s race into a runoff) and now facing a 65-seat Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

No doubt this was a referendum on President Obama and his administration, most particularly his Leadership or more appropriately the lack thereof.  In some parts of the world, such polling would result in a coalition-busting dissolution of Government and the forming of new coalitions.

OK … So maybe I am glancing back at Tuesday’s carnage.  Maybe in a bit of satisfaction … but you have to know where you are to get where you want to go.

My post-election quandary can be stated quite succinctly:

My kingdom for a Leader!

In my home state of Pennsylvania, the same storyline – described above – played out in the Governor’s race, only this time in favor of the Democrats.  No confidence in Governor Tom Corbett led to a loss of support across all demographic groups except those over the age of 65.

PA Governor-elect Tom Wolf

PA Governor-elect Tom Wolf

Now that he’s been elected, the real problem for Tom Wolf is he is faced with the same Republican-dominated legislature that denied Corbett some of his most cherished legislative initiatives, like liquor privatization and taking action on the State’s unsustainable public pension problem.

How will Mr. Wolf provide Leadership for a legislature completely controlled by the opposition party?  (Hint: Don’t look to The White House for an example!)

Leadership … a quality many believe our President fails to possess in any way, shape, or form.  From his refusal to get acquainted even with the Democrats in Congress, his hands-off management style, an administration fumbling the basic functions of government, and his failure to take quick, decisive action in times of international crisis, President Obama set out the finest silverware when inviting the poll whooping Democrats received last Tuesday.

Leadership … the one trait you want any Chief Executive to demonstrate regardless of whether you voted for them or against.

Tom Wolf will have his opportunity to show what kind of Leader he can be.  Can he work with those across the aisle, as he must to be successful?  Will he be able to build relationships with his powerful political opposition?  Can Wolf set a tone of Leadership that will allow him to cultivate alliances with a Republican Legislature and get things done?

Wolf’s off to a rocky start, choosing divisive Katie McGinty, Pennsylvania’s former Environmental Protection Secretary, as his Chief-of Staff and throwing down the gauntlet on Medicaid expansion, which the PA Legislature is all too aware will only be partially funded by Washington after the first years.

Not exactly your political olive branches …

Cats are plain creepy!

Creepier only on the face of a politician …

The President, given what we have seen over the past six years, most likely will not even try leading with the fully Republican-controlled Congress.  He will give lip service to working together and the fine Art of Compromise.  But in the wake of an election where most Congressional Democrats treated Obama like he himself was Ebola-infested, it’s doubtful the message from Tuesday’s shellacking will resonate with the country’s Chief Executive.

No, it’s far more likely he will give Congressional Republicans his best Cheshire cat smile while all along fingering the nuclear option … government-by-executive-fiat.

Now despite my proclivity to criticize Democrats, nothing here absolves our esteemed Republican representatives in Harrisburg or in Washington, D.C. from showing a bit of Leadership themselves.  In fact, it would be a breath of fresh air if perhaps we can expect the same kind of across-the-great-divide behavior from our legislative majorities!

As a close admirer (?) of mine recently cautioned, taking those first steps should never require that one abandon core principles.  And I agree.  But core principles rarely get anything accomplished on their own.  They are anchors that should define one’s approach to policy.  It’s the recognition of those principles as a foundation for making sound decisions and – when appropriate – suitable compromise that result in getting The People’s work done.

And somewhere in between perhaps the twain shall meet!

As I searched for a pithy way to wrap this up, I wanted something that would best characterize the implications of what occurred in voting booths this week and how it defines our political near-future, particularly for Mr. Wolf and our Pennsylvania State Legislator.  (Unfortunately, I have given up on the D.C. crowd.)

Instead of referring to the wisdom of Aristotle, Benjamin Disraeli, or Napoleon Bonaparte, I stumbled on this little gem written just weeks ago by a Lt.Col. Stacy Clements, Deputy Commander, 821st Air Base Group in a commentary on Leadership from the cozy confines of Thule Air Base, Greenland.

To me, it says it all …

Leadership: It’s not about you, it’s up to you!

Some relevant excerpts:

As a leader, you need to take the initiative to solve problems, take action to get results, and take ownership of the responsibility for getting things done.

As a leader, your actions can inspire and influence others – or can create a toxic environment where work may get done, but not as effectively as it could be. To help and influence others, you need to be trustworthy and approachable; try to understand those you lead, what motivates them, and be open to helping them achieve their goals.

Don’t focus all your attention on the image in the mirror – focus your efforts on making things better and helping people become better. Remember, it’s not about you, but it is up to you.

Hopefully, someone will take the advice!

Allyson Schwartz a distant 2nd to State Dems

Watch out Rob McCord!

Watch out Rob McCord Democrats!
Allyson wields a Big Stick!

In news sure to warm the hearts of those who constantly wonder, “Where is Allyson Schwartz? What has she done for us lately?”, Pennsylvania Democrats not only failed to agree on an official endorsement for the April Pennsylvania gubernatorial primary, they dealt a significant blow to Schwartz’s expectations for wide-spread Party support.

In a showdown in Hershey on Saturday, Schwartz finished a 2-1 underdog to Treasurer Rob McCord (154-77) after two rounds of balloting.

In fact, Schwartz barely beat out York County businessman Tom Wolf, who garnered 59 votes!

Bummer …

Certainly, Allyson has been distracted lately, working hard and long into the night to get her 13th Congressional District constituents plugged back into the power grid, right?  I mean you have all seen and heard of her efforts, haven’t you?

Yeah, didn’t think so.

Maybe it was her vote in Washington, D.C. to cut food stamp subsidies by an average of $65/month per recipient that did her in.  Heck, even Senator Bob Casey saw the light after initially supporting the bill that included farm subsidies!

Needless to say, there are a lot of Pennsylvania Democrats now on Allyson’s Naughty List.  Just ask Nate Kleinman how much fun that’s gonna be!

Drivers, start your Engines!

PA 13th Congressional District

PA 13th Congressional District

Tomorrow night I hope to attend the campaign announcement of yet another candidate for Pennsylvania Congressional Representative Allyson Schwartz‘s (PA 13th Congressional District) vacated seat this November.

Her name is Beverly Plosa-Bowser.  If I told you I knew of her before receiving a mailed invite to her campaign announcement just this morning, I would be lying.

(UPDATE:  This head cold is probably going to prevent me from attending tonight.  Pretty sure I’m not going to feel up to it by the time I get out of work.)

The 13th District seat has been an impossible nut for Republicans to crack, having held the seat for all of 4 years since 1993.  Normally, one would surmise that Schwartz’s absence (and with it her substantial war chest and her take-no-prisoners politics) would make this row a bit easier to hoe.  But with a huge chunk of the district residing in ultra-liberal Philadelphia and plain old liberal eastern Montgomery County, I wouldn’t be caught counting any chickens.

Plosa-Bowser will surely have a great deal of company on the Republican side in challenging whoever the Democrats put up from their own crowded field of candidates.  Besides former 13th District Rep Marjorie Margolies (D), state Rep. Brendan Boyle of Northeast Philly; state Sen. Daylin Leach of Montgomery County; and Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have a lll thrown their headgear into the ring.

On the Republican side, joining Plosa-Bowser, is Dee Adcock who lost to Schwartz handily (like a lot of Republicans have) in 2010.  Personally, I am hoping Joe Rooney is willing to take another run at the 13th, but I have not found any indication that he is running in 2014.

Plosa-Bowers’ bio shows her to be a local product.  Her father was an assistant principle at Hatboro-Horsham High School; her mother a nurse.

She was one of the first women admitted to the Air Force Academy.  She served for over 30 years in the U.S. Air Force and USAF Reserve, rising to the rank of Colonel.  Plosa-Bowser served in Iraq, building a Security Cooperation relationship with Iraqi officials.

She retired from the Air Force in 2010 after being awarded the Bronze Star for her efforts in Iraq.

As always I am hoping for sanity to return to the 13th Congressional District in the form of sound Republican guidance in public sector economics, the national economy, and matters of National Security.  But in any case, the race is on and it oughta be a darn good one!

Welfare reform through Transitional Living Funds

U.S. REP Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18)

U.S. REP Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18)

OK, OK … I know a lot of people are having a really hard time digesting U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee‘s suggestion that the benefits many of the poor accumulate under “Welfare” should be re-branded to as “Transitional Living Funds“.

Now, putting aside the fact that few people – other than Liberals – would be tricked by simply renaming a Government give-away to some other seemingly innocuous term, I think Representative Lee is actually onto something!

The key to my intrigue is that very first word.

Of the three primary definitions of the word TRANSITION in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, let’s look at the most commonly used.  (The third deals with “musical modulation”.)

TRANSITION: 1. a : passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another :  change;  b :  a movement, development, or evolution from one form, stage, or style to another … 2. an abrupt change in energy state or level (as of an atomic nucleus or a molecule) usually accompanied by loss or gain of a single quantum of energy … TRANSITION

I think she’s on to something!

Transitional Living Fund would suddenly become exactly what they were intended to be for most healthy individuals not strapped with insurmountable life problems … a means for surviving extremely difficult times in life, where one stares into the bleak abyss of abject poverty through no fault of their own.

Those individuals by definition could now be expected – under this new definition of welfare – to change, to seek ways to improve their lot in life, and maybe – EGADS! – be held to a minimal level of Personal Responsibility!

They might be asked to do what any reasonable person would be expected to do when faced with severe life challenges.  They would be given a LIMITED period of time – Let’s say a year. – to TRANSITION themselves towards a better way of life; a plan for their future and their families future success; a job.

After that Transitional Period they would be expected to pass onto a more stringent period of Personal Progress.  Maybe they could still receive some of all of their TLF benefits PROVIDED that they continue to follow a program intended to find them a suitable job and their TLF benefits would be offset by whatever wages they are able to earn.

Think about it … Personal Improvement, a way out of the morass of poverty and helplessness.  Heck, it even sounds like Progressiveness!  And what Liberal doesn’t embrace that term?!?

Nah … It’ll never happen!

But a big “Thank You!” to REP Sheila Jackson Lee for trying!

Changing Hearts and Minds through Weakness

Leadership a foreign concept

Leadership – a foreign concept

Have to give President Barack H. Obama credit.  He has changed my mind on the prospects of taking action against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria in the face of alleged – and all but certain – use of chemical weapons against opposition forces and civilians.

My nut is not an easy nut to crack.  I have long-held the personal belief that the United States held a special place in the community of nations.  It’s a place – to my own thinking and values – where a World Superpower belongs.  It’s the role that goes beyond the kind of standard-setting usually the purview of the United Nations.  It’s the role of enforcing those standards of common decency when it comes to the bitter realities of armed conflict.

A lot of Americans will categorize this simplistically as the role of World Cop.  Many disagree with me on this premise, that our country should be involved in events overseas that appear to have little or no direct impact on U.S. interests.

Those sentiments are well-founded and reflect the commonly held belief that American military personnel and U.S. treasure should be risked only in those situations linked to National Security in almost all cases.  So maybe my viewpoint is quite firmly in the minority.

Yet it is a role that in my mind comes with being a World Leader and Superpower.  It is a role we have filled many times in the past in various regions of the world in varying degrees of participation.

images-1I am not fond of unilateral U.S. action.  I do not favor the use of American boots-on-the-ground, especially in a situation like Syria.  What I look for is an American-led process of Consensus Building; the development of a common sense and purpose amongst our primary allies, major world powers, and those countries in closest proximity to the danger and most likely to be affected by any widening of a regional conflict.

My view is of the United States as The Point Man on the diplomatic front and The Muscle when it comes to the military response for which we hold a decided advantage (i.e. technological, hardware, delivery systems, weaponry).  When it comes to boots on the ground, the only enforcement situation where this should apply – in my humble opinion – is as part of a multi-national approach to a controllable environment (e.g. Bosnia; Clinton 1999) or where an immediate U.S. response would be sufficiently overwhelming (e.g. Grenada; Reagan 1983).

Now when it comes to Syria, President Obama has sufficiently altered the course of my thinking in a situation where a struggling regime gassed an overmatched military uprising and a defenseless civilian population …

… for all the wrong reasons.

Introducing the Freedom Muffin!

Introducing the Freedom Muffin!

Suddenly, under his mislaid concept of “leadership”, the U.S. looks timid, indecisive, and unfocused.  American efforts to build an International Coalition of the Willing was shot in the foot by its biggest allie (Great Britain) before it even got rolling.  (WIll we have to rename the English muffin?)

The Office of the President – long The Decider when it comes to the use of U.S. military power in short, direct, and sometimes personal (Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, 1986) responses to violations of international norms – appears confused by Britain’s rejection and unsure as to what to do next.

Instead the country’s Decider punted the issue – just as British Prime Minister David Cameron did – to the Legislator.  From my perspective, this has the look of a President hoping someone will get him off the fish-hook he firmly set in his own mouth.  When you use terms like “red line”, you had better have a plan of action with several iterations to account for unexpected developments like your Biggest International Allie getting cold feet.

The alternative, fall-back strategy?  Apparently there wasn’t one.  Which leads one to the obvious question … Who was doing the Leading?  Right now, it looks like Cameron and the Brits.

Where's Margaret Thatcher when you need her?

Where’s Margaret Thatcher when you need her?

So now Syria mocks us.

To fill the role of International Leader, you must be convinced of your Righteousness; firm in your ability to Lead, even if it means you must lead without your closest friends and allies at your side; and when all else fails, you must be prepared for bold action if necessary and if supported by the facts.

These are the kind of considerations President Obama should have kept in mind before speaking of “red lines” in August 2012.  Obviously he and his National Security team didn’t.

And this is what ultimately changed my mind.

If you can not be a strong, prepared, flexible leader, you have no business  drawing lines; making promises; and scheduling attacks when you do not have the backbone for the toughest decisions … actually sending Americans to clean up the World’s ugliest messes.

God help the Syrian people …

‘Twas the Night before Furlough

Enjoy a little Christmas in July with me and my fellow Federal civil servants with this twist on an ageless classic.

Twas the Night before Furlough

Concept and execution if not the actual words

by Barack H. Obama

Santa Jack Lew with furloughs for you!

Santa Jack Lew with furloughs for you!

‘Twas the night before Furlough
And all through The White House,
Not a creature was stirring,
Barack had Droned the last Mouse!

Congress was nestled all snug with The Fed
While visions of Mid-Terms danced in their heads.
With Michelle in her kerchief and POTUS in his cap,
The First Couple was hankerin’ for a Hawaiian recess.

When on the South Lawn there arose such a clatter,
Barack leapt from his bed to see what was the matter!
Away to the window he stumbled and crashed,
Tore open the shutters, “Get me a ‘Publican to lash!”

Then towards him on the breast of Taxpayer Dough,
Came Chief-of-Staff Lew, the House Liaison in tow.
And what to befuddled POTUS appeared
Was the Promise of what all Liberals hold dear!

The conspiring driver, so witty and quick,
Had come with an idea to surely do the trick!
More rapid than pirates on good winds of trade,
Jack Lew had found the secret for more Treasury raids!

I'm not saying this looks like anyone, only acts like some.

Leadership?  Plenty of butts instead …

“Now Nancy! Now Harry! Wake Biden up too!”
“On Fienstein and Boxer!” clammored The Lew.
“Grab Van Hollen and Stoyer and Allyson Schwartz!
We know how to get those ‘Publicans by the shorts!”

Sequester”, Lew cried, “is how we’ll get what we want!
Higher debt, more money, no need for any cuts!
They would never let it happen, and we won’t cut a dime!
The ‘Publicans will fold handily. They do all the time!”

Then amid all the whooping, the hollering, the yells
Someone asked, “What happens if it freezes in Hell?”
“Don’t worry about that. Our Gambit is sound.
We’ll make the ‘Publicans bad guys. Make it painful as well.”

But The Voice was persistent, an answer was needed.
What of sequestration, if the goal goes unheeded?
Of workers, fixed incomes, and services rendered,
What if the ‘Publicans didn’t surrender?

The Democrats turned on that Voice with wild looks.
Who dare throw a wrench in their Debt Ceiling hook?
Joe Taxpayer had wakened in the midst of the hoopla,
Was asking who’d suffer should The Plan prove a faux pas?

‘Twas The President’s turn to show that he cared
For those who paid taxes and relied on their share
For their services rendered, and the wages they need
For mortgages, tuition, that new Healthcare decree!

The grip of a golf club was light in Barack’s hand
Like the fate of the Middle Class throughout The Land.
He had a kind face and whispered so sweetly,
“Let us worry of that, we’re The Power Elitely!”


The grip of a golf club was tight in his hand …

He was chummy and glib, quite full of himself
So Joe Voter shrugged off the misgivings he felt.
The Democrat leaders returned to their caucus,
Plotting and planning how to best drain the coffers.

In the end their Big Gamble, it soon fell apart.
Their opponents, the ‘Publicans refused to impart
Higher taxes without spending restraint and responsibility
Towards an Economy renown for its fragile instability.

Joe Taxpayer saw this, and wondered aloud
“The Gambit was futile, so let’s kick this around.
The budget’s important!  The worst case is here!
You can’t stand on principle, and at taxpayers sneer!”

But the Democrats were nothing if not committed
To getting what they wanted without being fitted
With ceilings and limits to what they could spend
Even if it was Taxpayers who suffered in the end.

“We need them to suffer, to really feel hurt
From silly cuts in Park services to the pay for their work!
So process those furloughs!  Don’t spare them any Pain!”
The POTUS was certain their pain was his Gain.

So as Barack headed off on another vacation,
He climbed up the steps of his tax-paid ‘portation.
And we heard him exclaim as he flew out of sight
“Happy  furloughs to all!  Thanks for paying The Price!”