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Combat Vets Are Not Insane


Yesterday, Esteban Santiago-Ruiz, an Iraq combat veteran since discharged from the Alaska National Guard, opened fire in Ft. Lauderdale’s airport, killing 5 and wounding 6 more. He boarded an Air Canada flight in Anchorage and flew to Ft. Lauderdale. Upon arrival, he took his lone bag into the restroom, unpacked and loaded a 9mm pistol (along with two spare magazines) and then went into the baggage claim area of Terminal 2. It was there he went on his murderous rampage. Once he was out of ammunition, he assumed the position and waited for the police to arrest him.

Those are the facts. What we do not know is Santiago-Ruiz’s motivation, but two explanations seem likely. One, he joined a terrorist group and carried out an attack. According to news reports, he visited the Anchorage FBI office in November and said he was hearing voices that were telling him to join ISIS. The other probability is that Santiago-Ruiz is suffering from a form of schizophrenia, suffered a psychotic break, and the voices in his head told him to carry out this attack.

Based on the evidence so far, the second scenario seems the more likely – and that worries me greatly. For much of the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, the public perception of combat veterans was that they were all ticking time bombs. Movies like Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter and Rambo: First Blood were all Hollywood blockbusters and terrific viewing. Unfortunately, they all showed combat veterans as being psychopathic murderers when the reality couldn’t be further from that portrayal.

Already, news outlets and social media are reverting to that image of the combat vet when discussing Santiago-Ruiz’s actions. Yes, his aunt said he “changed” after his combat tour. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. Everyone I know who has been in combat is changed by the experience. Odds are, that Santiago-Ruiz suffers from PTSD. It’s a relatively common occurrence among combat veterans, and for good reason. Any experience where you spend months on end in life-and-death situations, where not only your life but the lives of your closest friends depend on your actions and reactions, is going to rewire your brain.

However, PTSD is not related to homicidal rage, nor does it even begin to closely resemble the type of psychotic break required to shoot up an airport. Indeed, the type of break exhibited by Santiago-Ruiz generally isn’t induced by combat, unless there’s a traumatic brain injury involved (from what we know thus far, it doesn’t seem he suffered one).

So far, these basic truths haven’t stopped the media from reverting to the tired “psycho vet” meme as an explanation for Santiago-Ruiz’s actions. That’s lazy journalism at it’s worst, and it’s too bad this is the route the media has chosen to exploit. I urge you to ignore any outlet that tries to push this narrative. Remember, combat veterans make up less than 2% of our population. They answered the call the rest of the nation ignored and put their lives on the line to defend the United States; a test of public service most would fail. To ostracize them over fake story lines generated for cheap ratings, is to cheapen their service and lessen our nation. Shame on those who would advance such stories, and shame on those gullible enough to believe them.


Hacking, Hacked


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On Friday, the Washington Post essentially recirculated a months old story about the DNC email leak and possible involvement of the Russian government. However, in the best interests of turning mole hills into mountains, they changed two aspects of the story. First, they claimed the Central Intelligence Agency is certain of the Russian government’s involvement. Second, they claimed the Russian government’s agenda was to deny Hillary Clinton the Presidency. In the ensuing days, the Democrats and neocon wing of the GOP have leapt in with both feet in beating the war drums against Moscow.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Russia is not a historic ally of the USA and Vladimir Putin is not a friend. We also know the DNC was hacked and thousands of their internal emails embarrassingly released in the weeks leading up to the election. We also know the organization that leaked the emails was not the SVR or FSB (the Russian clandestine services) but Wikileaks.

Here’s some other things we know.

  • The news outlet that released this scoop, the Washington Post, actively campaigned against Donald Trump throughout the presidential campaign. Since the campaign ended, it has actively sought to undermine the coming Trump administration before it even takes office. This includes attacks on the election itself, including attacks on the Constitution and feeding the false narrative that “fake news” led to Mrs. Clinton’s defeat. Interestingly enough, the paper has also claimed that most “fake news” is generated in Russia.
  • The FBI earlier released their own report regarding the DNC hack, concluding that while it was “probable” that the Russian government had a role, it did not find that role as consequential. It also noted a failed hack attempt at the RNC.
  • The CIA does not “leak” investigations through “unnamed sources.” First, the CIA cannot investigate anything on US soil. Doing so breaks US law. Second, anyone at CIA (other than political operatives with White House cover) wouldn’t dare leak anything. Doing so guarantees a life of turning big rocks into little rocks at Ft. Leavenworth.
  • Ordinarily, a story of this magnitude (cyber warfare directed against the US by our greatest enemy of the 20th century) would have had dozens of follow-on pieces from rival news organizations, all working to scoop the competition. Yet, so far, everyone from CNN to MSNBC to ABC to the New York Times has only quoted the original report.
  • Finally, the story appeared mere hours after President Obama (you know, that totally non-partisan paramour of righteousness) called for the US intelligence services to deliver a full report on Russian hacking activities during the election.

For the sake of argument, I’ll go  ahead and assume that the Washington Post didn’t publish a fabricated story. I’ll say they actually did have someone at CIA break their oath to leak this particular story. I’ll go ahead and pretend the likelihood that the CIA conducted the fastest investigation in history is just that. I’ll further pretend that the probability of story not originating in the Post’s press room but the White House Press Office is practically zero.

That still doesn’t leave us with much of anything. Why? Well, because the CIA report cited in the  Post’s story is all supposition. According to the anonymous source, the CIA “thinks” the Russian government worked through various international cut-outs and behind the curtain of the “dark web.” It “believes” the RNC was successfully hacked but the Russian government didn’t release any of the information they gathered (remember: the FBI said conclusively that the RNC was not hacked). Finally, the CIA “infers” that the motive behind this nefarious activity was that the Russian government wanted to ensure Donald Trump’s election. There is no proof, no smoking gun, no documentary evidence.

And yet, after all that, the brilliance of the Russian plan came down to this: the Russian intelligence services would have had to convince Putin that by showing us how the DNC systematically worked to deny Bernie Sanders the Democratic nomination, Americans would become so disgusted with those machinations we would vote for Trump.

If you’ve ever played chess with a Russian, you know how convoluted and implausible that is. What I wouldn’t doubt is the Russians planting the seeds of that kind of story, letting the American left trip over them and come up with the exact scenario now being presented. Why? Because the American left is nothing if not predictable, and undoubtedly still mad as hell about having their mail server hacked. Oh, that and Putin loves playing the American left for fools. He’s been doing it for well over 15 years now.

It’s either that, or a contrived news story originating in the Obama White House, with their obedient lackeys at the Washington Post doing the grunt work of publishing the latest bit of fake news to come out of the mainstream media. I’m not sure which. But either way, Putin wins. Kind of a last little “screw you, America” from our friends on the left before their God-Man leaves the Oval Office.

 


Hate Didn’t Elect Donald Trump; People Did


Exactly this —>”It’s easy to point to these small, impoverished towns and name racism, the second amendment or plain stupidity as the only reasons why these people would ever vote for a man like Donald Trump. I find this to be highly intellectually dishonest, though. To write this off as simple racism is to ignore the very real and very heartbreaking struggles small town America faces.”

Victoria Sanders

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Over the summer, my little sister had a soccer tournament at Bloomsburg University, located in central Pennsylvania. The drive there was about three hours and many of the towns we drove through shocked me. The conditions of these towns were terrible. Houses were falling apart. Bars and restaurants were boarded up. Scrap metal was thrown across front lawns. White, plastic lawn chairs were out on the drooping front porches. There were no malls. No outlets. Most of these small towns did not have a Walmart, only a dollar store and a few run down thrift stores. In almost every town, there was an abandoned factory.

My father, who was driving the car, turned to me and pointed out a Trump sign stuck in a front yard, surrounded by weeds and dead grass. “This is Trump country, Tori,” He said. “These people are desperate, trapped for life in these small towns…

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Obama’s Amnesty: Two More Cents


On Friday, President Obama shocked most of the country with his latest Executive Order. You know, the one that lit up the blogoshpere – his unilateral decision to stop deporting illegal immigrants who are attending school or served in the military. I figured as long as everyone else was chiming in on the topic, I might as well, too.

Let me begin by admitting that my thoughts on the illegal immigration issue run counter to most people on my side of the political fence. I think it is impractical and probably impossible to deport every single person who migrated to the US outside of the approved immigration policy. Did they break a book full of laws by settling here in that fashion? Sure, and for that I cannot see how any form of reward is proper. I certainly think that anyone who emigrated to the US (legally or otherwise) who engages in unlawful activity should be deported. I’m all for strengthening our border security, up to and including deploying the Army and Air Force with orders to shoot first.

Courtesy: Conservative Jokes

What we do with those who are already here, though, is a much trickier proposition. A big part of the problem is that there really isn’t a way of finding them all: they live mostly in the shadows. There isn’t even reliable data on how many immigrants are here illegally; news reports I’ve read over the past few days use numbers anywhere from 600,000 to 4 million. It’s as much a crap shoot as any statistic you will ever come across. I’ve decided that, essentially, the status quo is probably the best that can be done in their case. Unless they run afoul of the law or ask for social services, we can’t find them. Of course, if they do they should simply be sent packing. But otherwise, I’m content to allow them to stay in their shadow communities.

Often, when thinking in terms of immigration policy and standards, I look at things through my mother and grandmother’s eyes. They arrived here in1959, fresh from the Soviet bloc. As immigrants, they fully understood the challenges faced by other immigrants, regardless of origin, native tongues or anything else. They were both adamantly against illegal immigration, and understandably so. Even as political refugees, they had to go through a battery of tests and pre-qualifications before being allowed into the country. They thought it eminently unfair that anyone should just walk across the border and set up camp, without any need to prove they were willing to fully assimilate into American culture – or even demonstrate they had the skills to contribute to society.

What did they think about the children of illegal immigrants? They both felt that the Constitution should be amended or clarified to ensure that the children of illegals, even if born in the US, should not be granted citizenship. They and their parents should be returned to their home nations and sent to the back of the line, so to speak, and await their turn.

So, extrapolating (there’s your big word for the day, folks!) from that premise, I cannot abide allowing those children to stay here on any sort of amnesty program. I realize the people the President’s order targets didn’t arrive here of their own accord. I’m even willing to let them return to their home countries with a preference on the waiting list. But if anyone thinks this is the beginning of meaningful immigration reform, they are seriously deluded. After all, even under the executive order those illegals affected won’t be granted residency status – only an act of Congress can do that.

We need to recognize this for what it is: an act of political pandering from the President Who Perfected Pandering. The EO signed on Friday only remains in effect until rescinded, either by a new President in 2013 or by the current one when he realizes it costs him more votes than it gains. It wasn’t a grand statement on the mess our immigration policy turned into after Ronald Reagan’s own bit of pandering in 1986 (the Immigration Reform and Control Act). Had Obama actually wanted to enact some type of meaningful reform, he would have combined the EO with a legislative proposal – not a Rose Garden speech asking Congress to do something. You’ll also note that in that speech, the President didn’t outline what he wanted as a result of the reform he demanded, a curious lack of leadership that is in keeping with his style.

What should be of greater concern to all, regardless of where you live, is this fits a pattern of flaunting the Constitution in order to score a cheap political point. In addition to this latest EO, we have other extra-constitutional power grabs that seem derived of partisan political maneuvering. Things like indefinite detention, refusing to support DOMA, international assassinations – the list is growing daily. The President, any President, does not have the prerogative of deciding which laws to enforce. His job is to enforce the law of the land and if he finds one unacceptable, he can request Congress rescind it. This latest EO actually requires a variety of law enforcement agencies, from the FBI and INS to Homeland Security, to willfully ignore the law. Such a situation should never be tolerated by the citizens of our republic.


Merry Christmas!



Can We Get Real?


Every once in a while I come across a story that brings home how insane the world became. These stories used to pop up in my inbox once in blue moon, but either blue moons occur more frequently than in the past or somewhere along the way we lost our collective common sense.

Today’s submission for “Are You Kidding Me?” comes courtesy of several people, all of whom suggest an outright ban on Halloween. Yes, you read that right. Otherwise sane and rational people are up in arms over a centuries-old tradition of dressing up in costume, begging for candy and tossing the occasional rock at an abandoned house. The reasoning runs from apocalyptic, fringe religiousity (the type that used to be associated strictly to Jehovah’s Witnesses) to worries about police overtime.

Get a life, people. If you’re worried about your kid growing up to practice devil worship, then you obviously haven’t done as good a job teaching them your religious beliefs as you thought. If you’re worried about your teenage urchin wreaking havoc on local property values, odds are you haven’t done much of a job teaching them to respect other’s belongings. I strongly suspect that in both cases, you may have been the victim of an egging on some Halloween in the distant past. Whatever the cause, you’re allowing your “NO FUN ALLOWED” attitude to cramp a perfectly harmless bit of fun.

Whatever your hang-up is, get over it and let the youngsters bob for apples while dressed as Superman. You can sit there, shotgun in hand to ward off the evil ghouls and goblins that are bound to ring your doorbell. As for me, I’ll be happily handing out Hershey and Nestle products by the glow of a Jack o’ Lantern, giant stuffed spider on my shoulder.


Hurricane updates: Mayor Cory Booker calls for voluntary evacuations in Newark | 7online.com


Mayor Cory A. Booker, Members of the Municipal Council, Business Administrator Julien X. Neals, Newark Emergency Management and Domestic Preparedness Director Keith Isaac, Police Director Samuel A. DeMaio, Police Chief Sheilah A. Coley, Fire Director Fateen A. Ziyad, Fire Chief John Centanni and Acting Department of Child and Family Well-Being Director LTanya Williamson are calling for voluntary evacuations by Newark residents who live in low-lying areas due to the potential for severe flooding due to Hurricane Irene.

Residents living in the following low-lying areas listed below should move inland with family and friends first, before relocating to one of the citys temporary emergency shelters:

Raymond Blvd to Passaic River

Lockwood, Esther, Joseph, Cornelia, Lister, Albert Avenue

Libella Court

Riverview Court

Routes 1 & 9 to Turnpike to Passaic River

” Wilson” Avenue L” Delancey St” Doremus Ave” Avenue P” Foundry St” Roanoke” Doremus Place” Rutherford St” Curry St” Hyatt Ave” Avenue K” Stockton” Avenue I” Margaretta” Mary” Thornton” Herbert” Paris” Amsterdam

via Hurricane updates: Mayor Cory Booker calls for voluntary evacuations in Newark | 7online.com.


The Jury Got It Right


A little more than 24 hours have passed since the Casey Anthony trial ended with what most people see as a travesty of justice.

I happen to think the jury got the verdict right. Don’t get me wrong – I think that Ms. Anthony is guilty as hell, in some fashion, with the death of her daughter. However, American jurisprudence requires two things of a jury:

  1. The defendant is presumed innocent, regardless of the nature of the crime, intensity of media coverage or other outside factors.
  2. The prosecutor must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.
In both respects, the jury did their job. They did not convict Casey Anthony prior to the trial, nor were their most pressing questions answered by the prosecutor.
The prosecution failed to establish the essential facts in the case. They could provide neither time nor method of death. More importantly, they failed to provide a motive that the jury could find credible, given their theory of the case. The motive they ascribed to Ms. Anthony – she wanted her 2 year old daughter dead so that she could assume a party-girl lifestyle – is the motive of a narcissistic psychopath. In order to prove that motive (and make no mistake, despite all the forensic evidence, the case hung on motive), they needed to prove that Casey Anthony is, in fact a narcissistic psychopath.
The prosecution failed to do so. They were able to prove that Casey Anthony is a pathological liar – which is why she was convicted of four counts of lying. But rather than prove that she is inhuman enough to kill her own daughter, the prosecution only succeeded in demonstrating that Casey Anthony is a lot like the rest of  us. Somewhat self-centered, but hardly a narcissist.  Flawed and hardly a person of the highest moral character, but I think we all know plenty of people who fit that mold. As far as I know, none are child killers.
In demonstrating that she did, in fact, enjoy her time in the bars and clubs of Central Florida, the prosecution made a serious blunder. Rather than prove Casey only wanted to party, to the detriment of her daughter, they proved that she had child-care options when she did decide to hit the bar scene. The defense demonstrated while the Anthony family is more dysfunctional than The Simpsons, both Casey and her parents loved little Caley – in fact, it was Caley that was the binding force. If Casey wanted to be rid of Caley so desperately, there is no doubt that she could have simply packed her belongings and left a note on the fridge: “Gone to enjoy my life. Back in 20 years. Look after Caley.”
So, failing to dehumanize Casey Anthony – and in fact, making her seem just as human as most of our neighbors – the prosecution was unable to convince the jury of her guilt. The principle question of the case, why would a mother kill her own daughter – was left unanswered. And the highest principle of our court system (the one that says “It is better 1,000 guilty men go free rather than one innocent man stands convicted) was affirmed yet again.

A Soldier Died Today


Thanks to my friend and fellow Marine Howard Cooper for passing this along. Neither of us know who the author is, so I can’t properly attribute this poem. But while everyone else is still nursing hangovers or trying to get back in the flow of normal life, there are some of us who will not forget…

He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past
Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, every one.

And tho’ sometimes, to his neighbors, his tales became a joke,
All his Legion buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke. But we’ll hear his tales no longer for old Bill has passed away, And the world’s a little poorer, for a soldier died today.

He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife,
For he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life. Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way, And the world won’t note his passing, though a soldier died today.

When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great. Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young, But the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.

Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land
A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?

A politician’s stipend and the style in which he lives Are sometimes disproportionate to the service that he gives.
While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal and perhaps, a pension small.

It’s so easy to forget them for it was so long ago, That the old Bills of our Country went to battle, but we know It was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys, Who won for us the freedom that our Country now enjoys.

Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand,
Would you want a politician with his ever-shifting stand?
Or would you prefer a soldier, who has sworn to defend
His home, his kin and Country and would fight until the end?

He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us we may need his like again.
For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier’s part Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.

If we cannot do him honor while he’s here to hear the praise,
Then at least let’s give him homage at the ending of his days.
Perhaps just a simple headline in a paper that would say,
Our Country is in mourning, for a soldier died today.


We’re Moving!


Great news, everyone. I’ve been picked up by Enquirer.com!

Over the next week, I’ll be working to migrate this blog over to my new location, which you can find here. While that process is under way, I’ll be cross-posting, so for the next few days you can still find me right here. In the meantime, bookmark the new site and I’ll see you there!


Joe Fed Makes Twice What You Do (and for Doing 1/2 the Work)


More depressing news from Washington. According to this article in USA today, if you work for the federal government  you’ll earn; er, make about twice as much as if you worked in the real world.

I did some back of the napkin calculations to see how much money that wastes in a year, even assuming we need all of those federal workers. (I don’t think we do, but until we get the private sector hiring again, leave ’em where they are). The number is…staggering. This is based on the average fed worker receiving $121K in annual compensation, the number specified in the article.

(Number of federal employees x $121,000) / 2=estimated overpayments

(2,150,000 x $121,000) / 2 = $130,075,000,000.

That is 130 billion, 75 million dollars.

Or, as my dear departed Granddad would say, “that’s a shitload of samoleans!” (I never really found out what a “samolean” was, but I always assumed it was something mean that traveled in big packs – like government employees).

I don’t know about you, but if the Keynesians want to spend some government dough around, I’d suggest they have a way to pay for it without adding to the debt. Simply tell all those federal employees they’re getting a 50% reduction in pay. It would also accomplish something else: all those beauracrats would actually begin to understand what it’s like to take drastic pay-cuts, only to see your job disappear 6 months later.

We can only hope…


Today is more thank just another Sunday


Today is Sunday, June 6th, 2010.  For those of you forgot, 66 years ago it was June 6, 1944.

66 years ago, tens of thousands of young men stormed the beaches at Normandy in the greatest amphibian invasion the world has ever seen. It is known as D-Day.

Many of those young men knew they wouldn’t live to see June 7. But they stormed off their ships anyway, into all the hell that the Nazi’s could muster. Amongst shrapnel and bullets; mortars and bombs they came. Wading towards those beaches through the blood of their comrades, they came. As their buddies fell all around them, they came. And they kept on coming. All day, those brave young men from small towns and big cities, many of whom would never have seen an ocean of not for the war, dove into chest-high water and waded through all that and  more towards the beach. Nothing could stop them, for they were fighting for the very freedom of the world. Fighting to rid the world of the greatest menace it has ever known, National Socialism; Nazi Germany.

Those men won that day and slogged their way across Europe, liberating small towns and big cities that were both similar yet so very different from the ones they had left a world away. But they fought on, to liberate people who did not speak their languages or know their customs. But they shared one thing in common, the one thing that people everywhere share: a desire to be free, to determine their own destiny. That they succeeded was not a forgone conclusion at the time. Those brave young men who endured the tortures of Normandy and 10 months of fighting across Europe accomplished what no army had done before them.

There are so very few of these remarkable men left with us today. If you know one, please stop and say “Thank You” on this anniversary. If you don’t know one, visit the local VA Nursing Home – you can find one there.


I Shed a Tear


The Pride Hat

I awoke this morning to thoughts of old friends who left us too soon. It’s not an unusual occurrence; most mornings I wake thinking of the same men. When they died, they did not give in to fear; cowardice was not these men’s forte. Some died in battle, some preparing for battle. Two very good friends of mine died not in battle but the wounds they sustained in defense of liberty hastened their untimely departure from our world. One man was known simply as Tank. He was a large man, but in his later years his body had been ravaged by the effects of two bullet wounds and prolonged exposure to Agent Orange during two tours of duty in Vietnam. Today, I celebrate not only Memorial Day but the tenth anniversary of his passing. Although Tank never spoke of it, he was awarded a Bronze Star during his second tour. It wasn’t until his funeral that I learned how as a 23 year old platoon sergeant he ran back onto a hot LZ, taking a bullet in the back and one in the shoulder, in order to pull one of his men to the relative safety of a tree line. But anyone who knew the man wasn’t surprised to hear of his courage under fire.

This morning, as I thought of him, I shed a tear.

The other day, I watched my town’s annual Memorial Day parade. In addition to the Korean War and Vietnam vets, a detachment from the local Marine Corps reserve unit marched. As I looked at their eager young faces, I realized that most of those kids weren’t born when I earned my EGA in 1983. In fact, most of them hadn’t been born when I mustered out. Realizing that most of these young men will be shipped to Iraq or Afghanistan, I reflected on my own service. I joined to fight Communism, and like most of the world, I rejoiced when the Berlin War crashed to the ground. I truly thought my service had proven, in some small way, invaluable to the defense of the American way of life. Yet here I was, watching a new generation of Marines preparing to fight a new enemy. Had my service not been as valuable as I once thought? Had the men I had known during my service, men who had fought and died in battles around the world – had they died in vain? I decided that no, our service – their service – had been as important in our time as these brave young men’s service is today. And then I realized that none of those young men will return from their combat tours the same. Even if not scarred on the outside, even if they survive to return home physically intact, they will carry the memories of what they see and feel and endure for the rest of their lives.

And as I watched, I shed a tear.

Last night I watched the National Memorial Day Concert, broadcast from the National Mall on PBS. I listened as Gary Sinise and Dennis Haysbert recounted the final moments of Charlie Johnson’s life. I watched as a new generation of war widows were celebrated. I enjoyed the stylings of Brad Paisley. Like plenty of others, I rose to attention and sang the Marine Corps hymn during the Salute to the Services, and I rose to attention and sang again during “America the Beautiful.”

But many times during the concert, I stopped to shed a tear.

And I wondered, as prepared to try and sleep, will anyone awake on Tuesday and remember the sacrifices of the men who have fought and died to preserve the United States? It’s terrific that we have a day set aside to pay tribute to those men. And I don’t mind that we celebrate by doing uniquely American things – backyard barbecues, trips to the beach, baseball games. But I wondered, when Tuesday comes will my fellow countrymen remember those who ensured that the backyard barbecues could continue?

A little earlier today, I went to the neighborhood bodega. It was a routine trip to pick up a few items needed for my own backyard barbecue. Like many veterans, I have a “Pride Hat.” You may have seen one perched on a veteran’s head – a baseball cap on which are pinned his campaign ribbons. Mine is nearing retirement. It’s 14 years of service are evidenced by its faded color and the only thing keeping it together are years of starch used to block it. As a result, I only wear it on special occasions. Today being one of those occasions, I wore it on my walk to the bodega. On my return trip, a neighborhood kid – maybe 6 or 7 years old – stopped me and said, “Were you really in the Army?” I smiled and said, no, I am a Marine and we’re better than the Army. The little boy sat on his bike for a minute, seeming to take in this bit of information. The he stood, and said “Thank you” before pedaling off down the street.

I shed a tear. In fact, I’m still shedding a few as write this. Because I have my answer. For as long as children like this can find my service honorable, they will keep the flame of liberty alive. In so doing, the most important thing we can do as Americans to remember and honor the sacrifices of so many brave men will endure. We will continue to live as Americans, preserving our republic as the beacon of freedom and liberty for the rest of the world.


Dinosaurs among us: The USPS


The long awaited GAO report on the financial viability of the US Postal Service was released earlier today. Ok, maybe you weren’t on the edge of your seat waiting for it. But you should have been.

A little background, for those of you who haven’t been following the story:

The Post Office reported to  Congress earlier this year that it is facing the prospect of losing $238 billion over the next ten years. This becomes problematic because, unlike most federal agencies, the USPS is required to balance its budget. Congress made this stipulation when it semi-privatized the service in 1970. I say semi-privatized because the same statute made the post-office a monopoly and guaranteed that Congress would subsidize any operating losses stemming from “mandated services” with money from the general revenue. In 1982, Congress went a step further when they declared that income received by the USPS (from selling stamps and metering packages, primarily) was not tax revenue – therefore, the money raised by the USPS by conducting its daily business was solely to be used by the USPS for the purposes of its operating costs. This effectively split the post office’s accounting from the rest of the federal budget; almost immediately, the Postal Service began running deficits. However, the early shortfalls were quickly made up by arbitrarily raising postage rates.

This brings us to the modern-day, when changing demographics, technologies and competition for the lucrative package business have altered the postal landscape. When the USPS reported in March that they were on the verge of needing a massive cash infusion just to stay afloat, Congress did what it does best: commission an independent report on the state of postal services finances, and tapped the Government Accounting Office for the project. The news is both sobering and not unexpected.

The USPS is, in fact, facing a $238 billion deficit over the next ten years. That puts the US taxpayer on the hook for $238 billion in postal subsidies over the next ten years, unless way are found to bring costs into line with revenues. So what to do?

The GAO report notes three specific areas where USPS costs are out of control and out of whack with their anticipated business: employment, operations and pricing structure.

Workforce

The GAO report notes that the USPS currently has 300,000 employees, far more than needed to efficiently deliver the mail. It recommends reducing the workforce through attrition and outsourcing. It also recommends restructuring contributions to retirement plans to match those of other federal agencies. The latter two points would need concessions from the postal workers union – don’t hold your breath, especially with Democrats in control of both Houses of Congress and the Presidency.

Operations

The USPS is currently over capacity, both in terms of facilities and delivery routes. They recommend a series of actions, including reducing mail delivery from 6 to 5 days, closing excess post offices, moving post offices to self-serve kiosks and leasing space in retail establishments, closing unneeded distribution centers, and instituting “cluster boxes.” (A cluster box is a centrally located box that houses the mail boxes for a neighborhood).  All of their recommendations would require union concession and the Congress to change current statutes.

Pricing

The GAO recommends that the USPS restructure it’s prices to better compete on products where it has to, and raise rates where it has a monopoly. The key here is getting Congress to agree to end preferential pricing for money-losing, but statutorily required, services (such as 2nd- and 3rd-class mail). Yes, in case you missed that last point – not only does your mailbox get stuffed with “junk” mail, but Congress has mandated that the postal service cannot charge a fair rate for it. And it’s one of the biggest money-losers for the USPS.

The GAO report points out that the USPS business model is a recipe for disaster and cannot sufficiently absorb the dual impact of lower revenues and higher costs. (See General Motors for an example of how this business model succeeds).

Mail volume declined 36 billion pieces over the last 3 fiscal years, 2007 through 2009, due to the economic downturn and changing use of the mail, with mail continuing to shift to electronic communications and payments. USPS lost nearly $12 billion over this period, despite achieving billions in cost savings, reducing capital investments, and raising rates. However, USPS had difficulty in eliminating costly excess capacity, and its revenue initiatives had limited results. To put these results into context, until recently, USPS’s business model benefited from growth in mail volume to help cover costs and enable it to be self-supporting. In each of the last 3 fiscal years, USPS borrowed the maximum $3 billion from the U.S. Treasury and incurred record financial losses. A looming cash shortfall led to congressional action at the end of fiscal year 2009 that deferred costs by reducing USPS’s mandated retiree health benefit payment. Looking forward, USPS projects continued mail volume decline and financial losses over the next decade.

So what factors are leading to the declining mail volume? Well, the biggest is probably the Internet. 10 years ago, you would have to sign up to receive this blog as a newsletter delivered by your friendly local postman. In the same way, more and more of us are paying our bills on-line. (Personally, I’m on check 298 on  4 year old checking account – and I started on check 200). Even junk mailers are cutting back – they’ve discovered spam, which is actually more effective than 3rd class delivery. Catalogs by mail are another item that has taken to the internet. In my youth, we anticipated the quadrennial mailing of the JC Penney, Montgomery Ward and Sears catalogs. Montgomery Ward has since gone out of business, but the other two stopped mailing catalogs this decade. Secondly, at the time of the 1970 law, the Postal Service did not have any real competition, other than from local couriers in urban settings. It was not until UPS won the right of common carriage in 1974 that any real competition opened. Next came Federal Express (FedEx). The two package shipping giants have decimated the USPS’ package delivery services by shipping freight cheaper, more efficiently and faster than the post office is able. So, that leaves first-class mail as the only profit center left to the USPS monopoly – and it’s in no way profitable. (When was the last time you mailed a letter?)

Is it time to fully privatize the USPS? Well, the GAO report makes pretty clear that to do so would doom it to bankruptcy faster than you can say “boo.” Is it time to off-load the services to a 3rd party, or group of third party common carriers? They wouldn’t want it – especially with the same Congressional restrictions that have in large part sunk the USPS. Is it time to just say “so long” to the idea of the Post Office?

Probably not. Many USPS defenders point to the Constitution – particularly Article 1, Section 8 – as mandating postal delivery. In fact, that clause only gives Congress the power to “Establish Post Offices and Post Roads.” It doesn’t mandate that a post office be created. However, the fact that Congress did establish the first national post office with the Postal Act of 1792 I think demonstrates that the Founders understood the importance of a postal service to the dissemination of information and the conduct of national commerce. However, given the current state of the Postal Service’s finances and the finances of the nation in general, something needs to be done – and quickly. Here are my recommendations.

  1. Adopt most of the GAO report. The only section I have trouble with is their recommendation to reduce delivery to 5 days from 6. While those in urban areas have viable alternatives for weekend mail service, those in rural areas do not. (UPS and FedEx actually hire the USPS for rural package delivery, if it’s not a priority overnight package).
  2. End the distinction between 1st-, 2nd and 3rd class mail. If you have a piece of paper you want delivered somewhere, pay full freight. Or deliver it yourself.
  3. If the union won’t go along, Reaganize it. I’m referring to PATCO and the way President Reagan dealt with them when they struck in 1981. The same rule applies to the NALC and APWU. If they do not acquiesce in what are essentially reasonable demands by the USPS and GAO, they should all immediately be fired and replaced.

Harsh? Perhaps. The alternative is, however, for the post office to become another of those large, sucking  government agencies that robs the American taxpayer.


We remember what a real recovery looks like – and this ain’t it.


In this morning’s New York Times , Floyd Norris asks why Americans have a hard time believing that our economy has turned the corner.

Well, Floyd, the answer to that question is that when you wake up in the morning and have neither a job nor any real prospects of finding one, it’s hard to be optimistic. When you get requests from friends who’ve been out of work for more than 6 months for a little help in paying their rent, it’s hard to be optimistic. When your neighbor just sold their house for less than they bought it, because they were facing foreclosure otherwise, it’s hard to be optimistic. When your pastor pleads with the congregation for food donations, because demand at the food pantry has doubled in the past year, it’s hard to be optimistic. In other words, when you’ve played by the rules – went to school, got a job, raised your family, stayed out of trouble, paid your bills, etc. – and you’re still face to face with economic misery every day, it’s hard to be optimistic about the economy.

Norris tries to compare the current recession (although he argues that is a misnomer; since the recession ended in August) with the economic downturns of the mid-1970’s and early 1980’s, but forgets some inconvenient truths in his comparisons. Either that, or he simply ignores them. Although he claims that “If you are under 45, you probably don’t have much recollection of the last strong recovery, after the recession that ended in late 1982,” it seems as if he is one of those who is fonder of Justin Bieber than the Beatles. For starters, he has dates mixed up: as anyone who accurately recalls the recession to which he refers can tell you, that recession didn’t end until late 1983.

Dates aside, he looks at the economic indicators and finds striking similarity between then and now. What he isn’t doing is looking at the underlying cause-and-effect of policy actions taken by government and industry during that period. Nor does Norris really do an apples-to-apples comparison; it’s like somebody looking at a zebra and saying, “What a cute horse!”. He bases his campaign for optimism on three factors: a surging stock market, good unemployment news and increases in retail activity. He may be the first person I’ve read who actually thinks the news on employment has been good recently, but there may be others.

So, even if we grant that these indicators all point to a robust recovery (a dubious proposition, which I’ll get into later), there still is a difference in what these indicators are saying now versus what they said in 1983. In 1983, not only stock prices were increasing (in fact, between April 1983 and today, the Dow is up some 8,000 points, nearly quadrupling it’s value) but so was volume. That is, more shares were being traded at higher prices. People wanted in – they were optimistic that the economy had recovered and companies were going to start making money again. Today, even Norris admits that volume is at best stagnant. He seems reticent to have to admit that most of the market’s price surge is being fueled by money managers simply moving funds from one asset to another. His employment numbers are derived from the household survey, not the employer survey, and he claims a net gain of 1.1 million jobs for the first quarter of 2010. That is wildly divergent from the employer survey, which shows a net increase of only 162,000 jobs for the quarter. Given that there are currently an estimated 23 million Americans either unemployed or underemployed, that equates to 142 quarters (or 35 years) to get everyone back to work. Hardly inspiring news. And if, as he claims in his article, the recession ended seven months ago, it’s worth pointing out that job growth in Q4 1983 added 2.1 million jobs to the economy. That’s using the employer survey, so the apples-to-apples comparison shows that even with a smaller available work force, the recovery of 1983-84 was adding jobs at 9 times the rate of the current recovery. Add in that roughly 1/4 of those unemployed have been out of work for 12 months or more and that there are 6 potential employees for every job opening, and the two recoveries don’t compare favorably, at all. As for the surge in retail spending? It doesn’t take a genius to see what where we’re spending our money: while overall retail activity increased by 0.3%, spending on gasoline jumped 24% and groceries jumped 11.8%. While folks are spending on life’s necessities (and the cost of those necessities continue to increase), not too many people are going out and buying that new Maseratti.

So, what’s the difference in the two recoveries? Why was 1983 so robust, while 2010 is so…meh? The difference lies in the way our economy has been significantly restructured over the past 18 months. In 1983, upon assuming office, President Reagan promptly began initiatives that reduced government involvement in the private sector. His stimulus package involved spending money, as did President Obama’s; however, Reagan spent less money to provide incentives to employers and tax reductions than Obama spent on his plan. Reagan let companies that were in distress fail; Obama (and Bush before him) spent tremendous economic and political capital to subsidize and/or outright purchase failing corporations. There are two other huge distinctions, too. The Reagan budgets left us with a debt of approximately 28% GDP. The current administration will, by their own estimate, leave us with a debt of 118% GDP. Reagan moved swiftly to reduce interest rates and inflation, partly by strengthening the dollar – a debt as large as the one now being created can only lead to inflation and monetary devaluation.

So, Mr. Norris, if your wondering why Americans are so pessimistic, there’s your answer. It’s not that the recession is or isn’t over in our minds. It’s that we remember what a real recovery looks like – and this ain’t it.


HCR: Winners and Losers


As with all battles, the recent fight over Health Care Reform left us with winners and losers. But due to the sheer size, scope and complexity of this legislation, deciphering who won and lost isn’t easy. Certainly, those of us who feel that government is too large, consumes too much of GDP and has overreached the boundaries established by the Constitution feel he nation lost. Despite that, some groups will undoubtedly see a financial and/or services benefit from these new laws. Others in our society have just been given a swift kick in the nether regions. I’ll attempt to break this down as simply as I can. But, this is nearly 4800 pages of legislation – even I can get something wrong here.

The Winners:

Uninsured folks (well, some of them, anyway): The legislation promises to extend health insurance to 32 million Americans who currently go without. Some will receive direct government subsidies to help aid in purchasing, others will be enrolled by their employers (see more on this below) and the rest will be shoved into Medicaid (more on this, too).

Medicare Part D recipients: You now have an additional $250 in prescription coverage.

Drug Manufacturers: They get an increase in patent protection, from 7 to 12 years. That basically freezes out competition from generics, which gives the manufacturer more time to recoup their investment in R&D. Also, with so many more people enrolled in health plans and no change to the fee-for-service payment model, expect doctors to write more prescriptions than ever.

Try as I might, I can’t find anyone else who actually benefits from this…

The Losers

Small Business: Businesses with more than 50 employees will receive a tax credit to help enroll their employees in a health plan. The exact amount of the credit is ambiguous, but it could be as much as 50% of the per-employee cost of the plan. Sounds great, but if you don’t currently offer insurance to your employees and fall in the 50-200 employee range, you’ve just incurred a new expense.  And don’t think of enrolling your employees in any government sponsored plans: there are BIG penalties for even trying.

Medium Business: If you have 200 employees or more, congratulations! You’ve just been promoted to being a “Big Business” and as such, you are now required to offer insurance to all of your employees. But you don’t get the tax credit  – you just have to enroll them or pay ginormous penalties for failing to do so.

Insurance Providers: This may sound counter-intuitive, but insurance companies stand to lose in this deal. After all, they’re getting 30+ million new enrollees, most of whom (conceivably) are hale and hearty. But “insurance” will become a misnomer; these companies have now become de facto 3rd party payers. The policies they underwrite will no longer be able to exclude people with pre-existing medical conditions, nor will they be able to cap total per-patient expenditures. Ordinarily, a company would respond to these realities by raising premiums – but with the creation of a federal oversight board, insurers will face limits on how much those premiums can be raised. If insurers were operating on normal profit margins, most could probably withstand these non-competitive pressures. But most are working with razor thin margins already; this legislation could easily see a consolidation of the industry into 3 or 4 companies that have enough reserves to withstand he initial losses.

Persons with pre-existing conditions: You’ll need to wait four years before being assured you can receive medical insurance. Until then, you can still be frozen out. Worse yet, you may be forced into Medicaid – which would mean lower quality care than you may be receiving already.

The uninsured: This may seem like a misprint; after all, how can the same group both win and lose? It’s not so difficult. If you’ve chosen not to have health insurance due to cost or just because you don’t see the necessity. you are now royally screwed. Either buy it, or pay a penalty – of up to 2.5% of your gross income. Of course, you may just decide to say to hell with it and pay the penalty – if you make, say, $50,000 per year, the penalty amounts to $1250. Good luck finding coverage for less than that.

The Insured: If you’re part of the 90% or so of the nation that currently has health insurance, get ready to pay more and receive less. As mentioned, insurers will certainly need to raise premiums and co-payments to stay in business. At the same time, the number of medical providers isn’t dramatically increasing. If you thought long waits at the doctor’s office were the norm before, well…imagine even more patients cramming into the waiting room. Even emergency rooms can expect to feel the pinch: in Massachusetts, which unveiled it’s own version of insurance-for-all last year, emergency room visits have actually gone up, not down.

States: Ever wonder why the “Cornhusker Kickback” was demanded by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb)? It’s because of the increased number of people that are going to wind up on Medicaid, which is the medical insurance program paid for by the states. Yes, the federal government throws some money into the pot, but not nearly enough to cover the people already on Medicaid. Take a state with a relatively dense population, high medical costs and high unemployment, and this becomes a recipe for disaster (can anyone say “CALIFORNIA?”). Watch your state capitals closely – most states are going to need to raise taxes or create new revenue streams just to cover the costs.

Doctors & Hospitals: If you  were a doctor or hospital, you might think this was a great thing – until you read the fine print. Yes, you’ll get more patients who can pay, but what are they paying? Undoubtedly, one of the key items not spelled out but certain to happen will be reduced payments for services. Why? Medicaid, Medicare and private insurers will need to pay less per procedure in order to  stay solvent. The pot of money they have isn’t really getting bigger, but the amount they’ll need to pay out will be. Unless somebody has changed the laws of mathematics, that necessitates a reduction in per-service fees rendered. So, doctors will work harder and get less money. Also, without any effort at tort reform, malpractice liability insurance premiums are likely to increase. Talk about getting squeezed by both ends – no wonder medical school enrollments are down, for the first time in several generations.

The Upper Class: First of all, congratulations! Your rolls have now been swelled to include families making more than $88,000/year. I suppose in some parts of the country, that’s considered wealthy. But in most of our urban centers, $88k doesn’t get you much. Regardless, that is now magic threshold at which government assistance for medical coverage ends. Additionally, you now get hit with an additional .9% increase in Medicare taxes and a 3.8% tax on investments. (And yes, that includes Roth IRA’s).

Banks: What on earth do banks have to do with health care? I answered that, as well as why they now stand lose billions, in a previous post.

One final thought: there is another group that stands to gain from this legislation: trial lawyers. Considering the number of challenges being filed (as of noon today, there have already been 13), there are going to be more than a few making some big $$$.


Still 50-50


At latest count, there are 209 nay votes and 208 yeas on the Health Care Reform bill. Which means there are 14 members who haven’t committed yet.

We are less than 72 hours from the vote (unless Ms. Pelosi needs more time to dream up a new scheme). As I understand it, the phone lines have been jammed and we’ve crashed the House switchboard a few times. GOOD JOB!

However, the battle is not yet won. If you love freedom, despise tyranny and want the government out of your personal decisions, then now is the time to act. Call, write and email every representative and make certain they know how you feel.


This is how it all begins…


Hello, and welcome to the first installment of “Political Baseballs.” I’ll be divvying up my posts into three general categories: Sports, Politics and Tech. Why these three particular categories?

Well, the explanation is pretty simple, really.

First, I’m a sports junkie. Admittedly, this can (as all addictions) consume way too much of my time, causing my family to wonder if I’m alive or if the keyboard noises coming from my office are merely on Memorex. (If you’re old enough to remember that commercial, then you’ve come to the right place.) In particular, I’m a New York Yankees fanatic – the kind who would, if I won the lottery, buy an entire section’s worth of season tickets. But I also get nearly as hyped for the NFL and NCAA, although I have to admit the NBA has left me wishing for the days of Jordan, Laimbeer and Ewing.

Secondly, I’m an unabashed Libertarian. As such, I find a lot very wrong with American politics these days and can’t really find myself trusting anyone from either major party. As you read on through the coming days, you’ll notice I’m an equal opportunity slammer. I guess you could say I was a Tea Partier before there was a Tea Party – which, by the way, I don’t really trust, either. Too many Newt Gingrich’s involved with it for me to really consider it a “grass roots” uprising.

Finally, tech is my life (and after my wife) my biggest passion. Some people are early adopters. Some people make stuff so others can adopt early. I fall into the latter category. I’m especially involved with mobile web integration – for the uninitiated, that’s bringing the World Wide Web to you, wherever you are. So if you’re into mobile devices, the internet in general or just want to get your inner geek on, read on!