The Power of Pancakes

pancakes2IHOP declared today to be National Pancake Day.  It says so on my Facebook feed, so it must be important.  It is also Happy Faschnaut Day, a.k.a. Donut Day.

National Carb Days are almost semi-religious holidays for corporate Big Carb evolving from fear for the dawning of the Christian Lenten season, where Catholics in good standing will forsake the siren calls of the IHOP/Dunkin Donut/soft pretzel triumvirate.

Well, maybe not so much the latter in this area.  That’s a Philly thing.  We can only go so far in demonstrating our devotion.  We barely survived edicts of meatless Fridays, which tended to put an economic crimp in the local cheesesteak economy.

In any the case, the point of this post is to celebrate the mystical properties of the pancake!  Any connection with National Pancake Day is purely coincidental.

I say this because I witnessed the Power of the Pancake this weekend!

The story has its genesis in the struggle of addressing the needs for elderly parent care.  There is never an easy solution to the question, what do you do when parents are aging to the point where more focused supervision is required?

My experience includes the breadth of care options available, from Independent Living through intensive, full-time managed care to end-life hospice services.  There are blessings and curses with each choice.

Our latest experience and challenge is the decision to invite our last parent to join us in our home.  My father-in law in a good guy, one I have always gotten along with though he has his blustery side and bouts with stubbornness.

When the choice was presented, I agreed easily enough, although there was a bit of anxiety about how such an arrangement might change a home dynamic with which we were all comfortable.  My wife’s piece-of-mind over a relative living alone was enough to persuade me.

KOQ-571.tifOur solution was to remodel our basement in recognition of my FIL’s desire to remain as autonomous as possible.  So autonomous in fact that his new digs are the nicest in our home (just in case your first impression was an episode right out of the King of Queens)!  The transition however has been anything but seamless.

We had to move him in earlier that expected and before his new palace was in move-in shape.  The remaining construction and approaching holidays made the situation a bit dicier, resulting in a hangover that threatened our expectations for limited disruption to the established household routine.

The difficulties which developed involved the usual sources of close-proximity conflict … mismatched expectations, fumbled communications, and the tendency to avoid rocking anyone’s boat at all costs.  Growing frustrations however required that the situation be addressed sooner rather than later; before the atmosphere we were trying to protect turned fetid, breeding anger.

I was tasked with being the Diplomat of Harmony.

My solution?  Breakfast!

nrAjVpmpU4T94vbK4Wmnt7_CmRKB49G7m-wiN6BxBqf03Octsc48KiZUqOpxXfhzNtnR=s151So this past weekend I invited my FIL out for breakfast at Hatboro Dish!  I did not tell him the reason for the invite.  Found out later he was suspicious, thinking we were going to through him out.  (Insert link for King of Queens episode)

Carol, not a fan of Big Breakfast, opted to let the guys hammer things out at an establishment full of sharp objects.

As we sat down, Jim dithered over the menu options.  I chose the bakery-quality cinnamon roll French toast, which is made by Lochel’s Bakery a few hundred feet up York Road, and Jim chose the pancakes … with strawberries … and whipped cream … soon to be marinated in maple syrup poured from a jar, not emptied from cheap plastic packaging.

Did I mention he’s diabetic?  However, it’s my belief that once you get to a certain age, you should be free to enjoy whatever you can, reasonably and safely.  I let him enjoy his loaded pancakes.

Once we finished our morning meals, it was time for The Talk.  Dreading the moment I put all my cards on the table, I wasn’t sure how Jim would take the challenge.  Changes had to be made.  But addressing them would not necessarily be easy.

What I found out though was that Jim was as unsettled about what was going on as we were.  We had a factual, very honest discussion of expectations vs. reality as it existed.  It was more relaxed than I had anticipated … a friendly, direct, unemotional conversation about how to improve the home situation.

Our discussion couldn’t have gone better.  Almost immediately function and comfort returned to our home!

Now this pleasant outcome could be attributed to a number of things -  personality traits, mindsets, shared values – that helped us at the breakfast table that day.  Either way you look at it, it’s hard to have a bad morning when looking over a stack of pancakes!

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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!

Montgomery County Republicans: Healing acts, and a recipe for Success

PA State Rep Mike Vereb

PA State Rep Mike Vereb

On a cold night in early December the Montgomery County (PA) Republican Committee took another big step towards dumping a decade of internal discord by the side of the road.  The rifts that seemed insurmountable only a few months ago, have been bridged and will finally begin to fade from memory.  The Party can push on to a brighter future.

And no peeking backwards is allowed …

As new Co-Chair of the MCRC Finance Committee, Bob Asher stated during October’s MCRC love fest, ” … we can’t have any more rearview mirrors on the bus.”  Asher, along with his Co-Chair compadre, Vahan Gureghian will form a solid backbone for future Republican success in Montgomery County.

The struggles that have faced the Montgomery County GOP in recent years have been expensive, costing opportunities for leadership of County Government; control of County Row Offices; and a growing disadvantage to Democrat registration numbers.  In addition, the infighting has cost the County GOP dearly in unity and focus.

Then suddenly the skies cleared; the feud was over!

In the days leading up to the annual MCRC dinner in October, that would feature an appearance by Governor Tom Corbett, the leaders of the Montgomery County Republican Committee put differences aside to form a much stronger alliance, and created a powerful mechanism for promoting Republican ideals that have made Montgomery County among the choicest counties in which to live.

Finance Co-Chairs Vahan Gureghian and Bob Asher with Governor Corbett

Finance Co-Chairs Vahan Gureghian and Bob Asher with Governor Corbett

Then out of the blue MCRC Chairman Robert Kerns submitted his sudden resignation leaving the County GOP leaderless at a crucial time, a crisis that threatened to undo all the progress the Party had recently made.

And into the breach stepped Pennsylvania State Representative Mike Vereb!

Vereb has served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since 2007, and has run successfully for re-election in 2008, ’10 and ’12.  Previous to his successful run for the PA State House, he worked in the West Conshohocken Police Department and served as President of the West Norriton (PA) Board of Commissioners.

Now, I haven’t been much of a regular attendee at the Montgomery County Republican Committee events despite my membership as a Horsham Republican committeeman.  High-powered politics is not my forté.  I prefer to observe, comment (Hence the blog!) and support in whatever way I can those whose values and policies I agree with.

Those who stumble from time-to-time on this tiny slice of the internet super-megatropolis may be familiar with some of my more pointed rants and ravings when it comes to issues like wayward Liberal logic or deception, poor leadership, and – more recently – the dangerous tendency by my political party when it comes to marginalizing its moderate wing of thought.

If it comes to this, so be it!

If it comes to this, so be it!

That last point is one that’s been weighing on my mind for quite some time.  For me, the issue illustrates just how willing the GOP is – on both regional and national levels – to take seriously the depth and breadth of viewpoints existing within those who labor for the ideals the Party represents.

It has been a discouraging to hear constantly that only Big C Conservatives speak truly to the important issues of the day.  That, if you do not share their vision, you are not pure somehow as a Republican.  That only those who hold tight to the hard Right vision are worthy of expressing their views.

Worse from my point-of-view, it’s really very, very bad politics, particularly in a region where so many Moderates live, work and raise families.  And when it comes to Electoral Math, it certainly does not improve the chances of success Nationally.

It was with this mindset I resisted the idea of attending Mr. Vereb’s unchallenged rise to the MCRC Chairmanship.  That was until he made a somewhat personal appeal that I attend such an important event. (OK … It was simply a personal Facebook plea, but nonetheless …)

So on a chilly night in early December I schlepped out to the Westover Country Club to see what would happen for myself.  I wanted to HEAR the message that would come from the prospective Chairman.

I was quite pleasantly surprised!

Chairman Vereb recognized that the Party had become complacent, living off past victories, and not consistently or effectively communicating its message.  It’s a message that should ring loudly for many, including our Democrat neighbors, who have chosen Montgomery County as the place to live for its good schools, safe communities and low taxes.

The message to be stressed is that these things do not occur by accident.  That such development was the result of excellent leadership, sound policies, and effective management.  That throughout the County these successes resulted from decades of Republican stewardship.

The strategy worked quite well for Horsham Republicans on Election Day 2013.

imagesThe message should be a tone-setter for all efforts to promote Republican leadership, the foundation for MCRC efforts to win elections in those areas where the Party’s leadership has a demonstrated record of Success.

At this point of Vereb’s speech, I still wasn’t really totally listening.  It was what Mike said next grabbed me and convinced me the County GOP is headed towards much, much better days!

” … the best interests of our party must always come before personal agendas. … we must be inclusive and welcoming not only of different ideas about how to effectively promote our party and its candidates, but as to what the practical policy goals of our party must be.”

Music to my ears … But the best what yet to come.

“No political party ever expanded its base by requiring unquestioned adherence to a single ideology or perspective. … We are residents of a diverse county in one of the most diverse states in our nation …”

A lesson with which those at the highest reaches of the Grand Old Party will someday have to come to grips.  To win elections – and with that the opportunity to lead, to shape, to find success – the Republican Party has to maximize its philosophical reach to those of moderate economic and social viewpoints.

“Demanding uniformity from our fellow Republicans will only invite electoral losses and policy disasters.  However, by accepting reasonable differences of opinion we will be better positioned to achieve our overall goal of electing Republicans who will make sure government operates efficiently, effectively and is responsive to the interests of hard-working taxpayers.”

Now, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure whether Vereb was speaking of outside political fortunes or the exorcism of past Committee sectarian conflict, but I chose to interpret his message on the broader political stage.

The simple fact is that Republicans can not be politically successful in the four suburban counties surrounding Philadelphia without embracing some moderate social and economic views.  So the MCRC must find a way to accommodate such thinking in concert with traditional Big C Conservative ideals.

A challenging task?  Certainly … But Mike Vereb’s take on diversity, inclusiveness, and Republicans of all stripe working together to extol the civil virtues of Republican leadership to voting taxpayers, who enjoy living in Montgomery County, sure sounds like a recipe for Success!

A Moderate trapped in RINO land

UnknownNo one wants to be unpopular, unwanted, or – worse - to feel used and abused.  Yet for a significant portion of the Republican Party, many are encouraged to express their political beliefs only on Election Day.  But when it comes to discussing the direction of the Party nationally and the Country in general, they better toe the most Conservative of party lines or prepare to be labeled.

For the past several years, it has become clear to self-described “moderate Republicans” that we are to sit quietly in the back; keep our thoughts to ourselves; and let the “real” Republicans make the grown-up decisions!

Yes, we are the RINOs (Republicans In Name Only).  And it’s getting more than a little tiring.

Used to be that various permutations of the Republican value set were welcomed in the development of the GOP platform.  We share the same values that fought slavery; checked the spread of post-WWII Communism; and punished the protagonists of radical Islamic terror.

We were welcomed in a strong coalition that valued – above everything – an efficacious American system of government.  Smaller bureaucracy, productive budgets and spending, and compassionate solutions to social problems were the mantras of Goldwater and Reagan that we all worked towards.

It was a coalition of minds, accepting of moderately divergent views toiling in unison on core values we all shared.

rino-republicansNow, you dare not step off the strict Conservative reservation or risk the dreaded RINO label!  This is an issue I have spoken of before in frustration at the lack of cooperation nationally and the loss of American governance.

In a recent article for the Providence Journal, Froma Harrop asked where have all the moderate Republicans gone?

Oh, we are here all right, hunkered down in our fox holes; reluctant to poke our heads above ground level.  We seem to make such inviting targets.

Many like me, who live in largely suburban-metropolitan areas where some of us have evolved politically over time from the Liberal leanings of youth towards more conservative views on matters of economics and national ideals, have taken solace in the age-old adage that “All politics are local.”  We work to keep our communities on sound fiscal footings, our schools and municipal infrastructures efficient and lean, our neighborhoods safe; and try to apply those same principles to County and State government.

But we dare not speak of our moderate approaches to social issues and the process of pragmatic governance, particularly on a National level.  Because if we do, we know immediately where we stand with the more assertive Voices of the GOP.

RINO!  You would think we were traitors to The Cause.

Certainly, if The Right wanted to portray us as CINOs (Conservative In Name Only), I wouldn’t complain.  CINO sounds more pleasant than RINO too!  But in the “good old days” you could indeed be less than Big C Conservative and still be considered a stand-up Republican.

Not so much any more.

Harrop makes a point which I believe go directly to the GOP Losses in the last two Presidential elections.  Both John McCain and Mitt Romney were weak (McCain) or weakened (Romney) candidates once they went head-to-head with Barack Obama.

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Shouldn’t be what a national Republican primary looks like

McCain was a horrible presidential candidate, although it’s difficult to believe he could have beaten the first African-American candidate regardless.  Instead, he was simply the last Crash Test Dummy to survive the 2008 GOP Primary Candidate Roast.  It wasn’t even that he was “conservative enough” to win the Party’s pageant.  He was simply smart enough to stay on the periphery and survive the carnage.

In Romney’s case, for an election he should have been well-positioned to win, he was faced with the choice of moving hard to the Right to win the nominating campaign.  Then he was faced with the prospect of a convention revolt to bring in a more Conservative nominee.

When he had finally nailed down the GOP’s endorsement, he was not only unrecognizable as the successful, bipartisan Governor of perhaps the most Liberal state in The Union, he had stumbled into several verbal traps that plagued his campaign throughout the National Election!

Defeat snatched from the jaws of Victory!

Used to be our moderate positions were viewed as the route to effective compromise, the bridge from one Far Side to the other Far Side.  The way efficient Governance was effected.

Not so much anymore …

Now we’re the ones stuck in No Man’s Land watching the rockets screaming over head between the Right and the Left.  That is when BOTH sides aren’t trying to outflank us and pick us off!

True story …

In the Spring of 2012 and the run-up to the Presidential Election, I was asked to participate in a TV show involving a round-table discussion of political issues, where two Democrats were to be paired off against two Republicans.  It was a small local cable access station in Abington, PA; and the gig lasted all of two shows before the Producer up and retired.  But I was flattered, and it was a trip just to be asked.

The experience was fun.  I held my own despite the nerves.  But it was clear that I was the more moderate of the two Rs participating that night.

After the first episode taped, my far more Conservative Republican counterpart and I went out to eat.  And our dinner conversation revolved around our various positions on a number of political and social issues.  When I wasn’t asked back for the second episode, but was mistakenly sent an e-mail with the agenda for episode 2.  I checked around and found out that my spot had been taken by a much more conservative Tea Party member.

The message – to me at least – was pretty clear.  Not Conservative enough …

Does he look scared?!?

If it comes to this, so be it!

Returning to Harrup’s question, my theory is that the RINOs – us RINOs – have tired so much of the frenetic fire fights, many of us have simply dropped out of the National Debate.  We draw fire from one side simply through association with a more conservative set of governing ideals with which we agree.  Then we get outflanked by those who believe us to be not “conservative enough” across the board.

No longer is it good enough to say we support a strong National Defense, the right to bear arms, and the need for sane, sustainable economic policies.  No, we must toe the entire line, including those positions on social issues which many of us believe weaken our beliefs in the sanctity of Individual Freedoms.

Every new iteration of the GOP seems to pull farther and farther away from us.  The Tea Party has a funny way of concerning itself with issues that never would have crossed the minds of the original Boston Tea Party contingent.

Libertarians appear to be the most attractive alternative until their dogma on international relations and geopolitical theory threatens a short-sighted return to a 1920s mindset, which turned into a World War disaster in the decades to follow.  And who wants that?!?

So what’s a RINO to do?

  1. Keep working the Local political scene to protect what you have and keep your streets and neighborhoods safe.
  2. Promote those core Republican values as they relate to Government, Economics, and the Rights of the Individual.  You may not agree with the recent strategy and tactics of national Republicans, however that’s no reason to abandon the economic values and limited government approach that makes the most sense locally.
  3. Don’t back down from the kind of conservatism you believe is best for the Country as a whole.  Moderate is not a dirty word!
  4. Cooperate at the County and State level with fellow Republicans and like-minded Democrats to promote Business growth and expansion, more jobs, lower taxes, and compassionate solutions to social problems.
  5. Be mindful that taking pride in the concept of Individual Liberty requires the Freedom for individuals to define their own way of life on their own terms, according to their own set of values.
  6. And above all, always wear your helmet and body armor; and keep your head down!

If you appreciate the core values of true Conservatism, remember that it’s easier to instigate change from the inside.  A true Conservative would not leave because they are disenchanted with Leadership.  They fight for what they believe in!

There's power in numbers

There’s power in numbers

The Corbett approach to Medicaid sanity

images-2

Once a month the Horsham Republican Committee meets to discuss political developments – both local and regional; to strategize on political organizing within Horsham Township; and to update the Committee on issues of Party management.

To be honest, the meetings can be a bit dry, and that’s even if you’re a bit of a political junkie.  It’s not often that we get into REAL political discussions that provide interesting insights into the issues of the day.

This past Wednesday was different with a small but animated gathering of committee representatives (who represent township Republicans in matters of Party interest), local Republican pols, and the local Party leadership.

My keenest interest is always with the progress – or lack thereof – in Horsham Township’s redevelopment plan for the NAS-JRB Willow Grove property.  At present the Horsham Local Redevelopment Authority (HLRA) is awaiting the approval of its redevelopment plan, which was submitted in the Spring of 2012.

It’s been a year-and-a-half, and no decision as yet from the U.S. Navy.  The Federal Government, which must review and approve the plan before fully vesting the HLRA with redevelopment authority, indeed takes its time when mulling over any decision.  In this case, the Navy, charged with the responsibility of conducting an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has met delays in completing their evaluation.  The plan – due this Fall – will not be ready until Winter at the earliest.

Which means, look for it in the Spring or Summer.

The Navy blames the effects of sequestration.  But frankly, as a federal employee, I can speak confidently that, if it wasn’t the effects of sequestration, it would have been something else that would delay such a huge and complex evaluation.  No, not unexpected at all …

Several other issues were also touched on briefly as updates from Harrisburg.

  • Movement on Pennsylvania’s transportation bill, which is seeing progress in the State House after the Senate passed their version earlier in the year.  The biggest hurdle would be in reconciling the two versions as passed, particularly to the level of funding.  There are roughly $5 billion in infrastructure improvements that have been underfunded for decades and well overdue for remedial action.
  • Pension reform at the State level is getting much discussion.  With the State’s two pension plans (state employees, public school employees) underfunded by $47 billion (!) and projected to grow to $65 billion without action, Governor Corbett has moved pension reform to the top of his list of priorities.  Currently, the biggest reform under consideration is moving new employees in both categories into 401(k)-type programs that are similar to those found in the private sector.
  • A brief discussion on the national Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) revealed one persistent problem in Pennsylvania’s rural health services … Finding doctors to work in the less income-lucrative areas of rural Pennsylvania.  This has long been a problem nationwide, not just in PA.  One solution, proposed by the Corbett Administration in its recent proposal for expanding Medicaid as part of its ACA compliance, is a student loan forgiveness program for any doctors who agree to spend a specified amount of time in Pennsylvania’s more doctor-needy areas.
PA Governor Tom Corbett

PA Governor Tom Corbett

The discussion I found most interesting this night dealt with the recent Corbett Administration proposal for expanding Medicaid.  Some of the facts and issues covered …

  • All state-run Medicaid programs vary in benefits and costs from state-to-state.  The terms of Medicaid coverage are negotiated by each state individually.  Passage of the ACA effectively “locked in” every state’s specific Medicare program in whatever form it existed at the time.
  • After eight years of Ed Rendell’s Democrat Administration in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s current Medicaid program is one of the most generous – if not THE most generous – state program in the U.S.  This goes a long way towards explaining why some states, such as New Jersey and Arizona are more willing and able to accept the ACA-mandated expansions required for full state participation in federal-run healthcare exchanges.
  • Currently the State and Federal governments combine to spend about $19 billion a year to cover 2.2 million Pennsylvanians on Medicaid!  $19 billion …!!
  • The federal government’s ACA Medicaid expansion financial contribution maxes out at 90% after three years of fully funded coverage. That 10% unfunded liability equals an additional estimated  $200 million – as a minimum – that will have to be covered by the Pennsylvania state budget!
  • Even before any ACA-mandated Medicaid expansion, Pennsylvania estimates Medicaid costs will grow by $400 million in fiscal year 2013-2014.
  • A Rand Corporation study showed that Pennsylvania would save roughly $154 million a year by not expanding Medicaid coverage.

So it’s pretty easy to see why the Corbett Administration is not all that anxious to get on board an ACA-mandated Medicaid expansion.

As with the Philadelphia School District’s annual funding crisis, the Corbett Administration has taken a very responsible approach to any expansion of the financial commitment falling to Pennsylvania’s tax payers.  The Governor realizes that without reforms accompanying this constantly growing financial responsibility, the economic health of the State will be threatened.

images-3In the Philly school crisis, by which you can calibrate your calendar each year, additional funding was offered to the City through negotiations with Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration.  The catch was that the settlement required reforms that call for concessions by the Philadelphia teacher’s unions.

Concessions are necessary on the cost-side of the Philadelphia school issue, if the cycle of funding crisis followed by funding crisis is ever to be broken.  You should not be surprised in realizing that funding solution never really had a chance to succeed.

As for the Medicaid expansion, the facts are that without serious reforms in the way the Pennsylvania program is managed, the state’s’s tax payers and businesses will be on the hook for that rather significant $200 million hole in the Pennsylvania budget … on top of the projected $400 million shortfall for FY13-14 … plus all other projected increases.  Cost reform is essential to Pennsylvania’s future fiscal sanity.

There’s also the very real possibility that the Federal government may not be able to uphold even its 90% Medicaid expansion funding as promised.  And what happens then? 

For these reasons, the Corbett Administration’s approach to the ACA federal exchange and Medicaid expansion proposal should be lauded as the kind of fiscal sanity one should expect from their Governor.

One Conversation I’m unable to Avoid

This is one conservation so many believe we need, but not like this.  It’s a conversation we really ought to have; but no one wants to have it for this reason.  The conversation should be informative and problem-solving, not confrontational and vindictive.

It should be honest.  It should be direct.  There should be no finger-pointing, no accusations, no belittling any lack of proper terminology or cultural understanding.

We should be reasonable and pragmatic.

I wrote the above in the days following the Sandy Hook tragedy.  I smirk at the sentiments expressed there now, as if there was a chance this “discussion”, which was more like shouting that started within minutes of the Breaking News reports hitting the internet,  could somehow be non-confrontational, without vindictiveness, without finger-pointing.

A few months earlier I wrote of the immediate reaction to such senseless violence shortly after the Aurora massacre.

But this time I just wanted to get some thoughts together with the intention of waiting until after the funerals for the victims at Newtown, CT were concluded.  But in the meantime, most reason on both sides went out the window, ensuring only that no one would really listen in an attempt to solve anything.

To refresh everyone’s memory, I’m not a gun owner.  Never was one.  But I am considering getting the required permit that would allow me the option of acquiring a gun should I think it necessary or preferable somewhere down the road.

I had been considering this for quite some time, as a method of protection should it be needed … down that road.  You never know.

I live in a bedroom-suburban community with plenty of local police protection.  Never felt threatened by crime or potentially isolated by disorder.  But if something were to happen – personally or in a larger social sense – you want to have options.  So I consider obtaining a gun permit a responsible thing to do, even if I don’t follow through right away with a purchase.

I would simply have kept my own personal options opened.

So yes, I am a non-gun-owning appreciator of the 2nd Amendment, as stated in that Bill of Rights as an adjunct to the original U.S. Constitution.  And yet, after what happened a few days before Christmas, I can’t help but think something has to change.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on guns, gun law, or current restrictions on what’s allowed or not allowed to be owned.  I have heard or read some things on guns, which as presented here should be taken at face value.  If I’m wrong, I’m sure someone more knowledgeable will correct me; and I have no problem with that since I’m clearly not an authority.

However, this discussion cannot be solely about guns, weapons capabilities, ammunition and clip capacities.

It has to include school safety and the optimistic concept that declaring a “Gun-Free Zone” somehow makes our children safer.

One of my first reactions, when horrors like this originate from within a family setting, is to ask what the parents/guardians were doing, not doing, thinking, and otherwise managing the individual and their mental health status in the time leading up to the crisis.

In this case, the parent responsible died as a result of what steps she took – or didn’t take – to get her son the help he needed.  But without all the details of what transpired, it’s a dangerous jump to conclusions to simply blame that parent.

And so, we have to speak of our handling of mental health issues, where caregivers and parents stand the risk of – at some point – being overwhelmed by their charges.  In this vein, I offer the following story of a mother faced with an increasingly violent, hostile 13-year-old son.

(Much has been written about Long’s blog post since it was published.  The internet exploded with reactions – both sympathetic and highly critical – to her story.  I offer no judgement, and only skimmed a few of the responses to her saga.  My point here is to simply present it as an example of what some parents face – aside from parental choices and skill sets – when dealing with a growing child with potential mental health issues.)

You should read it to get a sense of helplessness some parents face when dealing with a seemingly uncontrollable child.  How would any Parent(s) react to the challenge described by this single mother?

  • Having to make sure your younger children have a safety plan when the eldest acts out is no way to live.
  • What happens when that hostile but manageable son becomes too big for his mother to counteract or control?
  • Is tossing her son into the criminal justice system, as one social worker suggests, her only option for help?  Obviously it cannot be the best option for either Child or Mother.

So many – if not all – mass shooters are found to have some form of mental defect.  What is the mental health system’s responsibility in all this?  Are we paying now for those decisions over the last few decades that made treating these individuals in society’s mainstream?  Are we reaping the consequences of shuttering those institutions that were infamous as hell holes for the mentally ill?  Could we have done this better?

Again, I’m not an expert.

I would be the first one to admit that suggesting we need armed guards or police inside our schools is an extreme reaction.  But then I look at some schools in cities like Philadelphia, where well-armed police take up station each day to prevent violence during arrivals and dismissals.

And then there’s the evolution among law enforcement on the proper response to “live shooter” situations, be they in a school, a theatre or a mall.

Unlike the Columbine shootings, where police waited outside the school to assess the situation as the shooting went on, police now actively attack the attackers … with guns and violence – if need be – in order to bring the shooting to an end.  It’s been learned to be better to confront and stop as soon as possible, as opposed to sitting and hoping for the return of sanity.

And suddenly, the armed school guard idea doesn’t sound all that wacky or reactive.  Problematic and risky?  Yes.  Wacky or without merit?  I don’t think so.

When we advertize schools as “gun-free zones”, regardless of the merits of the intent, one of the consequences is to essentially highlight schools as “soft targets” where an attacker knows he can kill and accomplish his dastardly goals virtually uncontested.

But don’t get me wrong.  I’m not pushing that as The Answer either.  But we should be completely honest about our expectations when it comes to the safety of our children.

The knee-jerk reaction is to blame the guns.  But they are just the tools most easily accessed and used.  Certainly we can do a better job keeping guns out of the wrong hands.  Yet no system of prevention is foolproof.

It’s easy to argue that certain changes in the types of guns, accessories, and ammunition should make a difference.  And yet as early as 1927 a school board official in Bath Township, MI was able to murder 38 elementary school children, 6 adults and injured another 58 without even touching a gun!

Again, I offer no claim to being an expert on guns, their types, or the accessories that make them more efficient weapons; but tightening access to them, whether designed to keep criminals or dangerous personalities from using them appears like a no-brainer.

High capacity ammunition clips are already illegal to own.  No one can walk into a store and walk out the same day with an assault weapon. Except supposedly you can at certain gun shows.  That – I can agree – should stop.  But then where do you go?

Now consider the fact that our own Government – such as in the “Fast and Furious” controversy – cannot seem to get out of its own way when it comes to the most lethal weapons and access to them by the most dangerous criminals.  When one hand has knowingly pushed the most dangerous weapons to those very same criminals, it’s incomprehensible that anyone would expect the law-biding to willingly surrender their access to those very same weapons.

Obviously, restricting gun access is not the panacea so many think or wish it to be.

And once you get to that point, you realize this problem is a lot more complicated than the mad man’s choice of weapon.

The Art of Fiscal Cliff-Diving

Too far out front to be from D.C.

Way too bold to be from D.C.

There was a point in my life - a long, long time ago in a land far away – that I waited not-so-patiently for late Saturday afternoons when I could hijack the family TV (NEVER during a Notre Dame football game!) and flip on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.  WWS was a hodgepodge of traditional, niche market sports such as the Penn Relays, amateur boxing, international soccer (Remember now, this was the 1960s.) and some really arcane competitions like barrel-jumping.  (Who doesn’t enjoy a good barrel-jump crash?!?)  and the iconic cliff diving competitions from La Quebrada, near Acapulco, Mexico.

Cliff diving – it appears - is making a big comeback!

No, this version does not include majestic vistas of bright sunlight glistening off blue water as a backdrop to a group of whacked-out daredevils perched on a rock sitting perilously close to a huge cliff that looks a mile high even on black & white TV (the 1960s … Remember?).

No, this fiscal cliff diving version just includes the whacked-out daredevils.

No Speedos, please

No Speedos, please

Now admit it … Wouldn’t you just LOVE this fiscal nonsense as REAL cliff-diving?!?  Are you a bit twisted, just enough that you would enjoy this political pissing contest just a little bit, if it included the possibility that John Boehner, President Obama, Harry Reid and – please, please, please – Nancy Pelosi could possibly … just maybe … go SPLAT at the bottom of the shallow end???

Hmmm … But that would leave Joe Biden in charge.

Well, this is hypothetical; so let’s push that thought way, way back into that Dark Space we reserve for the Zombie Apocalypse, IRS audits, and Nicki Minaj.

Where was I?!?  Oh yeah … cliff diving …

Full-length burka only

Full-length burka only

Anyways, cliff diving competitions use of method of score-keeping that emphasizes style, creativity, and a difficulty factor in lieu of how many jumps you make before going SPLAT or the number of broken bones should you survive.

That’s the way I would score it.  But remember, I also like a good barrel-jumping crash!

Now, regardless of where you stand on the impending Thelma & Louise act (Obama as Susan Sarandon’s Louise, of course) currently being played out on the cliffs overlooking Washington, D.C., it’s best to be prepared when it’s your turn to Follow-the-Leaders over a perfectly good cliff.

Frankly, I really could not care less about the Fiscal Cliff.

My long, long-standing federal employment never required me to pay into or rely upon Social Security (Thank God!).  So not only did I NOT benefit from the Bush tax cuts, which were applied to Social Security taxes, I will not suffer from their expiration either.  And maybe … just maybe … we actually NEED this to happen.  Afterall, 51% of the Electorate did not give a rat fart about the Economy during the November election, so why worry about it now?!?

Yes, in that regard I am a bit selfish.

The reality is that BOTH parties would probably benefit from a hand-holding cliff dive, no doubt screaming “WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” all the way to the bottom.  President Obama could then brag that he faced down the terrible Republicans, who realize that raising taxes in a bad Economy is a really stupid idea.  (Apparently so does The President, since he couples his demand for increased marginal tax rates on the wealthy with a $50 billion stimulus package.)

The Republicans – on the other hand – can claim they never gave in to the anti-economy, income-redistributing Democrats.  (Is there really any other explanation for taking from the rich with one hand and pushing out a stimulus with the other when the “real issue” is supposed to be deficit reduction?)  All told, The President’s proposal amounts to a $1.6 TRILLION in new taxes and spending, and $400 billion – or 2.5% of the total $16 TRILLION of National Debt – in deficit reductions!

As one critique described it, “Four hundred billion in spending cuts is like forgoing the monogrammed towels in the 16th bathroom of a 52,000 square foot house.”

So, if you too are willing to embrace the possibility of becoming a mushy piece of fiscal fish food, now is the time to consider your approach to Taking the Dive.  Will you scream like a teenage girl on the Tower of Terror?  Will you stick out a stiff upper lip and leap with resignation and a modicum of dignity?  Or will you dive with flair and style, performing a triple flip with a full twist while singing Madonna‘s classic, “Material Girl (Guy)” all the way to the bottom?

And if you’re wondering how it all came to this, to ridiculous deficits, to abject failure in Leadership for addressing the excess in deficit spending, to the notion that raising taxes on 2% of the population – as if forgoing the monogrammed towels – is a “solution”, then simply check out the story this week coming out of Detroit’s City Council.

Hey, $200 million here, $200 million there … What’s the BIG DEAL, right?  At least we now know why Detroit voted Obama … To bring home “the bacon”!

Tocqueville, South of France (1992)

Tocqueville, South of France (1992)

As historic French cliff-diver, Alexis de Tocqueville is rumored to have said,

“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government.  It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself free stuff * out of the public treasury.”

(* OK … He actually said, “… largesse …”. )

With that in mind, allow me to recommend the following in cliff-diving hints and suggestions:

1.  Never hit the water head-first, as dives above 85 feet can result in concussion.  (How high exactly is a $16 trillion dollar stack of Benjamins?!?)

B.  Select a spot along the cliff with an unobstructed view all the way down to almost certain Death.

4.  No Speedos for men.  Women?  Topless, of course.

iii)  Poise precariously on the smooth rock of Economic Sanity; time the incoming wave of debris from the Eurozone; and push away violently from this amazing fustercluck.

p.  Immediately assume the simple pike position; feet wisely pointed down; and extend the middle digits on both hands as you sing the following verse from Sarah Johns’ The One in the Middle:

And now I’m giving you the one in the middle,

The one that’s a little bit longer.

And I have another one on the other hand,

So I can say it even stronger. 

Pomegranates Eating Tasty Anthropoids

Every so often on my way to work, as I enter Philly via Cheltenham I come across a red Prius – a Hybrid no doubt – sporting a red bumper sticker that states

Usually I just get a chuckle out of it; shake my head; and move along.  That’s just my first reaction however.  I might also ponder what reason or purpose these creatures would serve, if not those so clearly expressed on the back of my favorite red Toyota Prius hybrid. How might I classify such purposeless creatures?  And I resist the temptation to say “Democrat”!

(Sorry … My post-election resistance is still low.)

But since the last time I saw the aforementioned bumper sticker, it has been tugging at my brain like a persistent 3-year-old.  I simply can’t shake the nagging question of what exactly such Tasty Animals were intended for, if not Exploitation by Man. With another Thanksgiving approaching, a holiday when many a stately bird is sacrificed in the name of the National Family Holiday, it seems to be an appropriate time to consider this problem.

Two’s a secret; three’s a conspiracy …

It’s an interesting conundrum, with many little twists and turns that really make you think about the ecosystem Man inhabits and his effects on said system.  But in the interest of Full Disclosure, I have to be honest in admitting I really, really, really love a good ribeye!  Especially one done on a very hot barbie, where the fat cracks and sizzles as it melts and adds that unmistakable flavor to moist, tender beef …

Geez, I’m sweating …

Anyways, I’m always struck by the compassion and sensitivity of the Meat is Murder (MIM) crowd.  They are passionate.  They are committed.  They are plainly speaking from the heart for those species that cannot speak for themselves, that cannot lobby their rights, that are truly at the mercy of Man.

But let’s think about that one …  Would it be any different if Man wasn’t the dominate species?

Pomegranate-enslaved humanoid

In researching the subject of Meat is Murder, I ran across the following argument, “Suppose a species larger and smarter than man existed on Earth.”

What if the Pomegranates were perched at the top of the food chain?

(I know … pomegranates?!?  Bare with me.)

My guess is that a lot of us would be lying low in the weeks running up to Thanksgiving, should our sweet human meat enjoy the status as the National Foodstuff of Master Pomegranate’s Black Friday Eve.  But if that were the case, it would – most likely – be a condition that developed over the course of Nature’s millennia.

Unless of course, we speak of an alien Pomegranate species from another galaxy, roaming the star systems in search of good fertilizer and moderate growing temps; pillaging this Big Blue Marble; and feasting on local populations.

In either case, the Pecking Order would have been established – as it always is – based entirely on which species was stronger, more adaptive, of greater intelligence, and possessing the more highly developed kitchen cutlery.  The Stronger hunt and kill; they domesticate the Weaker species; some they would eat; some they would ride; some they would use for clothing or entertainment.

Pomegranates: proficient breeders whose offspring are capable of forming intricate designs in the wild

Of course, from our point of view this situation would suck.  It would especially suck if it happened at the hands of alien Pomegranates that supplant us at the peak of the Big Blue Marble food chain.  All of us turkeys-in-waiting would be cursed with the KNOWLEDGE what was at steak.

Sorry … Couldn’t help myself.

But let’s not kid ourselves, if Pomegranates took a page from the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, they would do what they wanted with us.  This is until we stopped them.  No touch-y feel-y existentialism would likely alter the end result – Cranky Giblets!  (Just in case, here’s how to avenge Humankind.)  This is – not surprisingly – what our REAL, current carnivore competitors do TO US when we wander into their oh-sh*t-where-the-hell’s-the-truck/boat territory.

Survival of the strongest …

Now the MIM crowd would argue that Man - as the more intelligent species - should be much more sensitive to the plight of the lesser animals.  Perhaps we were back when Man was still living in caves and limited to eating nuts and berries.

I tend to believe that the definition of Animal Husbandry changed dramatically and irreversibly when that first caveman found out what fire roasted meat tasted like.  From then on, the over-riding quest became finding the best way to roast, grill, bake, or broil the perfect piece of meat.

Don’t let this …

And as anyone who has tried to go back to the Nut ‘n Berry route after years of steaks and breast meat can tell you, it ain’t all that easy trying to put THAT genie back in the bottle!

And while we’re at it, why would The Line be drawn at Animal/Vegetable by the MIM crowd?  What about the feelings and sensitivities of our plentiful Plant life?!?  Nope, the MIMs don’t want to go there!  How could they possibly push BOTH concepts of “Meat is Murder” and “Salad is Murder”???

Yet there are numerous studies on the intelligence, reactive capabilities, and even communication behavior of plants.  But the MIM crowd doesn’t want us marching down that road … Recoiling at the screams of the Chick Peas as they are conveyed in the millions towards the HummusMasher 8000!

… or this happen to YOU!

No … No … Picking among species we are “allowed” to eat would defeat the purpose, because no truly sensitive, well-adjusted, in-tune with Nature being should be able to do that!  So, we are left to our own devices in determining the whys and hows of an Animal/Plant line of demarcation.

But here’s the Key Point …

You can be certain that if the Pomegranates truly ruled The Planet, and along the way developed a taste for Human spareribs; we’d all be hiding right next to the turkeys in the weeks leading up to Black Friday Eve!

Has anyone seen Bob Casey?!?

The only place to find Senator Bob Casey

In Pennsylvania, we’re deeply concerned.  It seems that one of our U.S. Senators is MISSING!!

At first, no one was very concerned.  After all, Senator Bob Casey wasn’t exactly a Public Presence anywhere in Washington, D.C. – let alone in Pennsylvania – for almost the entire SIX YEARS that he’s been Pennsylvania’s lesser light in U.S. Senate.

Go ahead and take a minute … Think back as far as you can over the past six years and ask yourself, how many times you have heard of Bob Casey accomplishing anything for Pennsylvania or anything for the country?  How many times have you heard Senator Zero speak out to you – as Pennsylvanians or as Americans – on the important issues of the day?  What has he DONE during his SIX YEARS in the U.S. Senate?

For comparison look to the public profile of Pennsylvania’s other U.S. Senator, Pat Toomey.  If you pay attention, you will see him cable and TV news outlets, advocating for those programs and actions he believes would improve the country. Whether you agree or disagree with Toomey is immaterial; he is out there putting his reputation and political future on the line!

Senator Zero – The REAL Bob Casey

Bob Casey?  His biggest contribution as a U.S. Senator has been as a Silent Supporter of President Obama’s policies and programs, including Obamacare, the Economy with its 12.3 million people out of work, the National Debt which is up from $10 Trillion to $16 Trillion, and the decisions to “distance” the U.S. from Israel.

Then ask yourself, Where has Senator Casey been on the important social issues of the day?  Issues like women’s choice or gay marriage??  As a devout Catholic, Bob Casey believes Rowe v. Wade should be overturned and is opposed to gay marriage.  Yet a review of Bob Casey’s website shows NOTHING on EITHER subject.

You want to know why you won’t find them?  You won’t find them because Bob Casey knows many Democrats, those who will vote this Tuesday for President Obama, would not normally vote for an anti-Choice, anti-gay marriage candidate!

Bob Casey would rather stay SILENT than take a public stand that would potentially damage his Political Prospects!

.

Tom Smith … Facing the Issues. Bob Casey? Not so much …

Tom Smith is a self-made man, who mortgaged everything he had to create Jobs and Opportunity in Pennsylvania.  He managed several successful Businesses through tough economies in highly regulated industries.

As a fiscal conservative, he wants to simplify the tax code and to reign in out-of-control Federal spending.  As a successful creator of energy jobs in Pennsylvania, Mr. Smith is in favor of developing American energy opportunities to provide jobs for Americans.

Visit the Tom Smith for Senate website to learn more or to make a donation to the American Red Cross for those affected by Hurricane Sandy.  You can also check out Tom Smith’s DETAILED plans for the Country on his issues website.

You may not agree with Tom Smith on every issue; but at least he’s not shy about telling you where he stands!

Then, when you leave the Smith website, take a wander over to Bob Casey’s website for the three-sentence blurbs he provides on the important issues in this country.

Just don’t expect anything on Women’s Rights or LGBT issues.  They aren’t there, and for good reason.

Senator Zero – The REAL Bob Casey

Now ask yourself, is this the kind of Senator Pennsylvania needs?

The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter S. Thompson

To be honest, I didn’t expect to get much of value out of my first foray into the world of Gonzo Journalism, a phrase coined by Hunter S. Thompson describing the journalistic technique of living a story to the point where you become part of the story itself.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the unorthodox way Thompson lived and wrote his subject matter.  It is crazy, off the rails, irreverent, pointed, and irresponsible.  But it works!

With the constant references and first-party accounts of repeated drug use, Thompson’s are not the kind of books you leave lying around for your impressionable school-age children to read.  The journalism included in The Great Shark Hunt harken back to a day when any behavior was fair game.

Thompson was a journalist at a time when society was going through a number of monumental changes.  The 1960s and ’70s were times of social upheaval wrapped in an unpopular war that ignited a new generation looking to break the molds of its predecessors.

Hunter S. Thompson was a high school dropout due – not surprisingly – to delinquency and a criminal conviction.  He joined the U.S. Air Force after his release from a 60 day sentence (31 days served) for accessory to robbery.  He never graduated high school as a result, but found his stride as a writer while in the military.

What became abundantly clear quite early in his Air Force hitch was that his interests and intellectual honesty were not well suited for a military establishment.  Eventually he splashed on the literary scene with his first Gonzo Journalism work Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, a first hand look at living and riding with one of the country’s more notorious organizations.  He became a staple of Rolling Stone magazine after they serialized Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey into the Heart of the American Dream that took a critical look at the failure and demise of the ’60s counter-cultural movement.

Thompson’s works were new to me before I picked up The Great Shark Hunt: Gonzo Papers, Volume 1.  I was all of 13 years-old in 1969, when the counter-culture hit its apex at Woodstock, just one year after the debacle of the ’68 Democratic Convention.  I was never a big reader of Rolling Stone in those days, only occasionally picking up an issue to read specific articles.

The Great Shark Hunt is a collection of Thompson’s works as they appeared in Rolling Stone, The National Observer, The Chicago Tribune, and Scanlan’s Monthly (an obscure periodical that was published in 1970-71).

What I found most enjoyable and interesting was the trip down memory lane Thompson provides to those of us old enough to remember the events and happenings from that era.  From the political upheavals in South America in the late 1960s, through the decadence on display at the early Super Bowls and in the infield at the Kentucky Derby, to the fall of the Nixon White House and the Liberal disappointments with the presidency of Jimmy Carter.  In between Thompson also writes about iconic personalities such as Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, Olympic skier Jean-Claude Killy, beatniks and the last days in the life of Ernest Hemingway.

The most enjoyable articles for me were those where I learned something new or was able to view a memorable event long remembered from a different perspective.

  • Thompson’s view of Richard Nixon’s fall as the result of the Watergate break-in and cover-up are particularly jarring.  To say he hated Nixon would be a gross understatement.
  • Under the category of Some Things Never Change, Thompson describes how his hometown – Louisville, Kentucky – went from broken down wasteland to jewel of Federal urban renewal, but with the ominous twist of economic segregation.  As the title of the 1963 piece, A Southern City with Northern Problems, might suggest, you could pick Louisville up and place it in just about any city in this day and the same conditions and results could still be found.
  • Thompson being no fan of Richard Milhouse Nixon, you might be surprised that he wasn’t all that enamored of Jimmy Carter either, at least not until he heard Carter deliver a Law Day speech at the University of Georgia in May 1974.  Thompson was so impressed by the social insight displayed in Carter’s speech that he carried a recording of the speech throughout the 1976 Presidential campaign, playing it for anyone who would sit still long enough to listen.
  • In a series of articles over a period of time Thompson provided an interesting explanation of how the beatniks of the early ’60s gave way to the radicals and hippies, who then retreated into their world of Let-it-be after the debacle of the ’68 Democratic Convention.

The only story I missed that might entice me to look for another Thompson tome was his first-person account of that conflagration in Chicago.  Those were horribly interesting times when two far different cultures clashed over politics and an unpopular war, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy cast a pall of violence.

In a way not at all surprising, Hunter S. Thompson committed suicide on February 20, 2005 with a gunshot to his head, after a prolonged bout with painful medical issues.  His suicide note to his wife, Anita, was entitled Football Season is Over:

No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax. This won’t hurt.

I guess at some point, I’ll have to pick up Dr. Thompson again.