10-17-14 Vote Kasich Early and Often

John Kasich is going to win re-election as Ohio’s Governor in a few weeks. If he doesn’t, it will be the biggest popular vote surprise since Barabbas. Down 22 points in some polls, his opponent all but gave up months ago and has been sending his financial support to other candidates. Nevertheless, it is imperative for conservatives to show at the polls and cast their votes for Kasich.

A narrow victory for an incumbent candidate is a warning. A landside victory is a mandate. After a narrow victory over Ted Strickland to win his first term, John Kasich started out as if he had a mandate only to quickly learn that the 49 percent that didn’t vote for him were willing to fight.

Emboldened by the fledgling Tea Party movement in 2010, Kasich took office eager to transform Ohio into an incubator for small government policy. Like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, he set about the necessary but unpleasant task of challenging the right of public unions to collective bargain. Unlike Walker, Kasich included policeman and firefighters in his challenge.

Walker has won in Wisconsin so far, if you call constant death threats and the invasion of Madison by foul-smelling beatniks winning. Kasich’s initiative, however, proved a bridge too far. Ohio voters repealed it by referendum a year into his first term. The loss slowed Kasich but didn’t stop him as he proceeded to balance the budget anyway.

Opponents may argue that he balanced said budget by cuts in funding to local government. As a member of local government, I’ll say that we’ll find a way to get by. I think the saying goes “Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die.” So it goes with cutting government handouts. If local voters want to fund local government more, they always have that option – and isn’t that where the option should be anyway?

Under Kasich’s leadership, Ohio’s budget was balanced while its income tax was slashed and its inheritance tax eliminated. There is no reason for wealth to flee to Florida anymore, although the wealthy cold still might. Further, the over-collection by the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation has been properly returned to employers.

All of this makes Ohio more attractive for business and investment. A criticism of Kasich is that all the jobs being created during his administration are in the big cities. Well, that may be so far. But the things he has accomplished and the things a landside election mandate will allow are critical to counties like ours that border Indiana, a right-to-work state with private insurance for worker’s compensation. Why is Honda in Indiana and not here? Math.

Kasich hasn’t been a conservative robot – he has sometimes let common sense trump bravado. His base questioned his Medicaid expansion. But some perspective: By passing enabling legislation as Ohio did, the expansion can be easily undone after the initial commitment. If the referendum process would have been used to expand Medicaid, as it was used to protect public unions, it would have been a much more difficult thing to undo as Obamacare falls apart over time.

Perhaps more questionable to diehard conservatives lately is the allowance of Common Core education into our state. This has led to a protest-vote campaign against Kasich this fall. I sympathize with those who wish to purge the party of collaborators and RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) – the Democrats didn’t create a $17 trillion debt by themselves. But I would urge some measure of trust for Kasich, who, otherwise, has made the fights he was elected to make in his first term. I would further urge the opponents of Common Core to mimic the public unions and use the referendum process. (Stop by for my signature if you do.)

This election needs to be a mandate, not only for the sake of Ohio, but for the sake of Van Wert County. Ohio needs right-to-work legislation, privatization of worker’s compensation insurance, and elimination of the income tax. Seven states have no income tax – all seven are in the top ten of Forbes magazine’s “Most Business Friendly States.”

Kasich will win the election – that’s not the point. If the conservative base wants second term accomplishments, it needs to be a landslide.

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10-3-14 A Public Servant Retires

A few questions on how things are done at the county level: What is the procedure for annexation? How is a mutual agreement for ditch maintenance initiated? What steps are necessary to discipline a county employee? How are construction projects advertised for bidding? How is government property sold or auctioned? What is the first step of the tax abatement process?

In the Van Wert County Commissioners’ Office, all of these questions and several others funnel into one ultimate question – How do we handle that, Larry?

Larry Clouse, the Commissioners’ clerk for the last thirty-five years, will put in his last two days on Monday and Tuesday next week. He has forty-one years total in county government, working also as a clerk in the Engineer’s office.

For those of us who work predominantly in the private sector, hearing a government employee refer to his or herself as a public servant sometimes has the same effect as fingernails meeting chalkboard. The phrase implies that the person would do the job without the associated pay and benefits.

But anyone who has worked with him over the years would apply the tag “public servant” to Larry Clouse. He has, for three-and-a-half decades, by all eyewitness accounts, given bureaucracy a good name. If federal and state government employees would conduct themselves as Clouse has all these years, you might find yourself happy to pay your taxes.

When one possesses particular knowledge and is the only one in government who does, human nature tends to make one arrogant. I won’t go into a string of adjectives to describe Larry for those that don’t know him, but I will say that anything that is the polar opposite of arrogant would be apt.

You might say, “But Commissioner Wolfrum, you have been Larry’s boss the last year and a half. Of course he would seem accommodating to you.” Oh, dear reader, I was once not a commissioner or even anybody in particular.

About fifteen years ago, I was a twenty-something that thought it would be fun to publish an independent newspaper. I called it “The Whig” and put it out weekly and did most of the writing under different pseudonyms. A certain paper publisher got his start in the paper business writing for that weekly rag under his own pseudonym, but I won’t out Kirk here.

At that time, the Commissioners’ office was dealing with moving the probate court, waste water on Richey Road, and a few other issues that had me visiting their office regularly. I didn’t know Larry before that time.

But I remember being surprised when I learned where he actually worked because he had, in every one of my dealings with him, went so far out of his way to supply me with useful information for my stories– even after I disagreed with the Commissioners of that time in a few of my articles and even though I had few subscribers.

He never wanted quoted himself and still refuses to be involved in politics (which may be how he’s survived about a dozen different groups of commissioners – I told him it was ironic that this last board turned out to be the best – in classic Clouse fashion, he didn’t agree, but he didn’t disagree, so . . .) Even this week Stan and I had to drag him in to do the radio program that will air Sunday morning on WERT.  He is the rare government employee that actually cares more that government functions correctly than who is in charge or who takes credit for it.

And the last thing he wants is any acknowledgment, so we’re going to try to give him some. If you worked with Larry or just knew him over the last forty years, there will be a reception at our office from noon to two on Tuesday, October 7, his last day (and birthday).

You better stop and see him then, because you may not be able to find him again after that. He’ll be somewhere in America or Canada probably, but other than which direction he’s going to head initially, I don’t think there’s a plan. Isn’t that what we’re all working for? To understate, Larry Clouse has earned it.

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8-1-14 JIM JORDAN COMING TO TOWN AUGUST 22 AT 11:30

            A month ago, Commissioner Lichtensteiger and I were having a conversation about how to breathe new life into the Van Wert County Republican Party. It would seem that in a county leaning nearly 80% to the right, any production under the Republican banner should be generating several times the interest and attendance of those cozy lunches of recent gatherings past.

Some proposed changes we kicked around included more inclusive meeting times and venues. Lunch meetings, for example, have the effect of eliminating most working people. And since most non-union working people tend to be conservative, that’s one big chunk of potential Republicans that can’t assemble.

And if the working middle class could assemble, they might not feel comfortable doing so at a country club – not everyone likes pretensions intermingled with their politics. It would serve Republicans well to divest themselves of that image of the Party of the Wealthy anyway. Personally, I’d rather the Party meet at the Junior Fair Building in the evening.

But first and foremost, we agreed that what the Republican Party here vitally needs is a dynamic speaker or two. On that front, I had one person on my wish list – U.S. Representative Jim Jordan. The Congressman from Urbana represents the neighboring 4th District, which includes Lima.

Commissioner Lichtensteiger has a gift for making such things happen. He thought Jordan was a great idea and had the Congressman’s people contacted within days. Jordan happened to be in Mercer County for a breakfast on Friday, August 22 and Thad arranged his arrival in Van Wert later that day at 11:30 A.M. for lunch. (I know what I just said about lunches, but you have to take what you can get when someone’s willing to come outside of his district to speak.)

Suddenly, we had a rising star, perhaps the rising conservative star, in the Republican Party coming to town.  The venue was moved to the Wassenberg Art Center in hopes of accommodating what we hope to be a large crowd.

For those who don’t watch FoxNews or are unfamiliar with Jim Jordan’s career, he is currently leading the investigation into the IRS scandal – the scandal without a smidgeon of corruption but with six simultaneous and unrelated hard drive crashes. Had it not been for Jordan and California Congressman Darrell Issa, the whole matter might have been dropped when Lois Lerner took the Fifth.

The IRS hearings aren’t just political grandstanding for Jordan, and I’ll tell you how I know that. Back in 2011, John Boehner cut a deal with President Obama to raise the debt ceiling. Jordan led the conservative opposition to the deal. In that same year, because Ohio was losing population, it was scheduled to lose a congressional district. Boehner’s camp made the threat that if Jordan didn’t drop his opposition to the debt ceiling increase, his congressional district would be eliminated.

Such redistricting not only would have ended Jordan’s term in the House, it likely would have ended his political career. Jordan didn’t back down – but eventually Boehner did (on the redistricting anyway, not the debt ceiling.) Now, there are credible calls in the party for Jordan to run for Speaker of the House and oust Boehner.

Last month, the National Taxpayers Union Foundation named Jordan as the most fiscally responsible of Ohio’s Congressman, noting that Jordan had supported over $183 billion in net budget cuts. The Tea Party momentum stalled in 2012 because of a host of weak candidates spouting off on social issues. Jordan has the intelligence, influence and track record to reignite enthusiasm for what the Tea Party originally stood for – the concept of limited government.

Because this will be a lunch gathering, tickets need to be sold to help estimate the crowd. The cost is $8 and that includes the lunch to be served by Gibson’s Barnyard Barbecue. McDonald’s isn’t a whole lot cheaper than that for a meal anymore and, in further comparison, at this lunch, the speaking you hear will be that of one of the leading politicians of our times, not of an angry young mother yelling at her kids to “Knock it off!”

The County Central Committee will be selling tickets, but if you don’t know who those people are, email a request to vanwertconservative@yahoo.com with your address and phone number and I’ll make sure you have access to tickets. Tickets will also be available at the Commissioner’s Office. Of course, you can always just show the day of the event but that can’t guarantee your food or seat.

For everyone who wants to do something to support the notion of limited government, this is the chance, and all you have to do is show up. Take an hour off work if you have to – I’ll get you a validation card if that will help with the boss. The bigger the turnout we can generate here, the bigger the story it is and the more it impacts the movement Jim Jordan, more than any other Ohio politician, has come to represent.

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7-25-14 THINK DIFFERENT PART IV – THE NEW REVOLVING LOAN FUND

The County recently discontinued the Microenterprise Loan Fund by converting it into a Revolving Loan Fund. The reason for this involves the default rate of the prior and the possibilities provided the County through the latter.

There are now two Van Wert Revolving Loan Funds, the old one, which remains managed by the City of Van Wert, and the new one managed by the County Economic Development (ED) Office. There’s no real drawback in having two funds. There is, however, some large upside in what we have planned for the County’s Fund and a model available from one of our neighbors to demonstrate its potential.

There are multiple reasons why Mercer County continually has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state while having one of the healthiest population growth rates – no boon, no bust, just steady. But perhaps the biggest is what it has been able to do with its Revolving Loan Fund. More on that success below.

First, the concept. There are multifarious grant and funding sources to keep straight in the County’s strategic plan. I’m going to give the simple version of how we’re arranging it and how this new Revolving Loan is central to it. If you’re the kind that can delve into numbers, agencies, and mind-numbing specifics, contact the County ED Office – Sarah is much like you.

The Revolving Loan program itself works this way: Let’s say a business needs $100,000 for a piece of equipment. A county can apply for a grant from the state to make that loan. The borrowing company then makes payments on the loan straight into the lending county’s Revolving Loan Fund, not back to the state. As the county receives the money back, it can lend it out again. The loan, as the name would suggest, revolves.

But Revolving Loan Funds can also be used to supplement other projects, like infrastructure and revitalization. On our immediate horizon are two projects for which we have submitted grant requests: $300,000 for Ohio City’s storm sewer and $300,000 for the City of Van Wert’s downtown. While we don’t currently have a business requesting the $93,000 in the County’s new Revolving Loan Fund, we can utilize that money in these projects.

Using the Revolving Loan money in this way not only increases funding for each of those projects, but because it appears that the County is investing more of its own money to expand the scope of work, each of the $300,000 applications become more attractive to a grant committee. We find out next month if we win either of these grants.

Worried about spending all the Revolving Loan Fund money? Don’t be. That’s exactly what the state wants done. If we’ve depleted our fund and there is a new request from a business, the County can apply for a new Revolving Loan grant. The state gets the money pipelined from the federal government – it just needs a good reason to dole it out.

Organizing and perfecting this process is where Mercer County, under the direction of Jared Ebbing, has been borderline genius. It has made over $12,000,000 in loans over the last two decades, creating over 1,600 jobs. With administrative fees and loan repayments, the Mercer County ED office now has $35,000 in revenue – monthly. The Revolving Loan Fund managed by OSU Extension on behalf of the City of Van Wert, in contrast, has made $3,000,000 in loans and created 200 jobs in that same period.

There are three prime goals in creating this new Revolving Loan and our general strategic plan. First, and foremost, we want to create a climate for steady growth. Unemployment figures came out this week and they were, as usual, misleading. Although our unemployment rate went up, there were 300 more people working. As long as more people here are working every month at good jobs, that’s healthy growth no matter the labor force participation denominator.

Second, we would like the economic development office to become more than self-financing with grant administrative fees so taxpayers don’t foot the bill with local dollars. We’ve been able to finance most of the work in our new office so far through grants. By learning to do things that consultants have been previously paid to do for us, we’re well on our way.

Third, we want development available to all businesses and the entire county. Ridgeview Hospital will be adding another 150 jobs in the coming months – that makes three hundred in a year and a half with even more possibly coming. One shouldn’t discount what can be done utilizing the strength of an entire county as Mercer does. Using Revolving Loan money to help build infrastructure will loom large in this.

The Mega-Site is one idea – maybe 2,000 jobs overnight but with the drawback of the county being dependent on one large employer. Another idea is to gain 2,000 jobs slowly over the next decade with diverse employers – possibly with even some of our brightest kids staying home to begin new enterprises. What is detailed above is how such things are done – at least how it has already been done one county to the south.

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7-18-14 WHAT WOULD REAGAN DO?

Believe it or not, I had this week’s column outlined in my head before the Malaysian jet was shot down over the Ukraine this week. I happened to be reading Ronald Reagan’s autobiography last weekend and was ready to write about the different approaches to leadership Reagan took as compared to those of the current President.

In my house, FoxNews is usually on somewhere in the background. (Yes, I know I’m getting my news with a conservative bias – I trust myself to filter it.) I came home Thursday night to footage of the speech Reagan delivered in 1983 following the Russian downing of a Korean passenger plane. Megyn Kelly was contrasting that with President Obama’s response to the current disaster, where he hinted at tragedy before telling some jokes and heading off to a fund-raiser, not to be heard from again that night. Other Fox personalities also noted the contrast.

Well, it wasn’t the example I was going to use, but it’s exactly on point with what I had been planning to write. I just missed the chance to be prophetic.

The topic: leadership and politics. Our current President is intensely interested in one and seemingly annoyed at the obligations of the other – I’ll let the reader pick which so as not to be labeled a racist. (Be careful how you choose reader, very careful.)

This isn’t about ideology. FDR was every bit as good at accomplishing his goals as Reagan was at accomplishing his.  Knowing what to do intuitively, being able to convince others to come along, and having the resolve to move forward despite bad polls – that’s the subject here. Reagan made hugely unpopular decisions in his time but carried them through until they proved right.

Reagan won the Cold War and he saved millions of lives in the way he did it. It wasn’t like the killing of Osama Bin Laden where the President had no more to do with it than saying “Go!”  The whole strategy of bringing down the evil empire came from Reagan and his staff. It was innovative but it was also political dynamite – very easy to criticize in the short-term. Early on, Reagan took a bath in the polls.

In retrospect, the decline of the Soviet Union might seem to have been inevitable. In 1981, nothing seemed inevitable. After four years of appeasement under Jimmy Carter, we were well behind the Soviets in the arms race and everyone on both sides was scared feces-less.  But Reagan noticed how globally stretched on credit the Soviets were (similar to where we are now). If America utilized its superior economy to outspend the Russians in arms, the Soviet Union could very well collapse trying to keep up.

The Left screamed for arms reduction, as if the Soviets were ready to agree to such a thing. They labeled Reagan a warmonger for the dramatic increase in military spending. It would have been politically expedient to change course, but Reagan didn’t. Eventually, the Soviet Union did collapse, unable to financially maintain the grip on its empire. We won the most critical war this world has known so far without firing a shot.

Reagan dealt with his enemies decisively, but he was just as decisive in handling friends. The Iran-Contra affair involved Israel selling arms to a moderate element in Iran that was helping to negotiate the release of hostages held by terrorists. When Oliver North illegally diverted some of the money from the sales to support the Contras opposing communism in Central America, a scandal ensued.

What did Reagan do? He immediately appointed a special prosecutor, knowing that it would be the end of his National Security Advisor John Poindexter, who knew of the transfers. Any appearance of impropriety in government beyond the few bad actors was promptly eliminated. You could trust the Reagan government.

Reagan’s famous tax cuts that led to a decade of prosperity were passed through a Democratic Congress. In contrast, President Obama passed the Affordable Care Act without one Republican vote, creating the bitterest bi-partisanship in this country’s history. He now refuses to work with Congress at all – it’s too difficult.

The President refuses to hold friends accountable, prohibiting some from answering questions about the IRS and Benghazi and allowing others to arrogantly ignore requests for information. He changes course on tough political questions – like he did a few weeks ago on immigration – when his big donors disagree with him.

His international strategy is a puzzle wrapped in an enigma. What will be our response to the jet downing? What can our allies or enemies expect from us? Who are our allies and our enemies anymore? What is our long-term strategy with Iraq, Iran, Israel and Russia? Is there one? Even if it’s non-intervention, why isn’t that clear?

With Reagan, you knew where he stood on an issue as soon as you asked him. When air traffic controllers went on strike, they were fired. Air traffic controllers didn’t go on strike anymore. When IRS agents illegally targeted conservatives, Obama was outraged. What happened next? Nothing. Not one person held accountable.

That old footage of Reagan has to make the staunchest liberal long for the days when the country’s leader exuded commitment and strength. Whatever this leader has been exuding for five and a half years, it doesn’t resemble either of those two things.

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7-11-13 FOR A STRONGER 4-H AND A TAX CUT

In the Commissioners’ office, we hear complaints daily about this or that government office. We also hear complaints daily from this or that government office. If you are looking for a job where you are constantly bombarded with praise and good news, this ain’t it.

One of the few government-sponsored programs – maybe the only one – with virtually universal support is 4-H. (And by saying that, I am guaranteed messages on my phone by Tuesday telling me what’s horrible about 4-H.)

4-H is Ohio State Extension’s premier program. Largely identified by its livestock shows, it also promotes youth studies in computers, cooking, public speaking – something for just about everyone who wants to be involved in learning outside the classroom.

OSU Extension promotes our local 4-H through its agricultural offices out at the Fairgrounds. This office is taxpayer supported through a levy that generates about $200,000 annually. Extension’s economic development office has separate funding.

Extension recently approached us about putting this levy on the ballot for renewal – it is up at the end of next year. County Commissioners, pursuant to Ohio Revised Code, have to approve the levy before it can be voted up or down by the electorate, meaning we have the only opportunity to request specific changes. You will get a simple yes or no option in the voting booth.

Outside of 4-H, there are other Extension programs supported by this levy. Before putting it up for renewal, we have some questions about the programs that aren’t 4-H.

My fellow Commissioners are from the agricultural community. They polled a small sampling of people only to discover what we already suspected- that Extension’s role as disseminator of information to the farming community has diminished with the rise of technology. The role of the Extension Agent has been largely replaced by Google and various local reps from within the ag industry.

4-H is still viewed as the indispensable Extension program. With this in mind, we have requested that the levy be redesigned to strengthen 4-H locally and perhaps cut unnecessary programs. It is also a concern that since we finance Extension more than our neighbors, that Van Wert County taxpayers are being burdened with providing services to the entire region while other counties skate.

If there is a perceived need for other Extension programs besides 4-H, we haven’t heard it yet – feel free to contact us. As of now, it’s our inclination to request that the 4-H program be more heavily funded and the others less so. Much less so, perhaps.

If we were to put the same levy up for renewal, that would be handing $200,000 to OSU Extension to spend as it sees fit. It has been a focus of our office to make sure that if an outside agency is receiving local funding it has accountability to local taxpayers. Common sense, you say? That simple premise has led to exhaustive objection.

But we are at a point where we can turn a corner with Extension generally. A new regional director started last month, Cynthia Torppa. In our few communications with her, she seems committed to tailor all branches of OSU Extension to the needs of our community. This is in contrast of the past regional director who seemed determined to tailor all our needs to fit the goals of Extension.

A key to good fiscal conservatism is cutting unnecessary programs when you don’t have to. The levy as is doesn’t cost the individual taxpayer a big pile of cash, but it costs the county as a whole one such pile. If the levy is halved, $100,000 is immediately put back into the hands of Van Wert County taxpayers. If we can work with Extension on such a levy that still strengthens 4-H, then that’s what we intend to give to voters instead of a mindless renewal.

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7-4-14 INDEPENDENCE 238 YEARS LATER

Why would you trade 1 tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants less than 1 mile away?” – Mather Byles’ quote from colonial times used in the movie “The Patriot”

Despite popular misconception, America was never meant to be a democracy. A pure democracy, also known as mob rule, rivals a dictatorship in its lack of protections for its citizens. We were meant to be a constitutional republic.

It is noteworthy that our first national document is titled “The Declaration of Independence” and not “The Declaration of Separation” or even ”The Declaration of Revolution”. We started by declaring ourselves independent, stating that we were born free, able to pursue life, liberty, and happiness as we individually saw fit – and we meant to keep it that way.

238 years later, the Progressive movement, after a century’s incubation, has manufactured the consent of the mob into the greatest force of anti-independence our republic has known – a stronger force of subjugation than King George ever sent. After all, the British taxes we rebelled against were trivial compared to the rates we pay today. He may have had his redcoats, but even in his madness, George never dreamt punitive schemes that could rival the EPA or the IRS.

The Progressive mob, with free cell phones in one hand and a ballot in the other, re-elected a blatantly failed president. It does not care if its policies have disastrous long-term effects – maintaining independence is not its goal, not even in its top ten. It only cares that some people have more and others have less. Its only guiding metric is that hazy subjective target of fairness. And nothing short of total surrender will satisfy its demands, as was demonstrated in its response to two Supreme Court decisions last week.

In one case, Hobby Lobby and other closely held corporations were found able to refuse to insure what are basically abortion drugs. Hobby Lobby still must insure 16 other birth control options. Progressives claim this extremely limited ruling to be part of the conservative “War on Women”, even though half of the fertilized eggs killed by the pills would eventually turn into women. Pretended outrage ensued.

The other case found that a few home health care providers in Illinois don’t have to join a union. What about the indentured servitude of all employees forced to pay union dues contra the freedom of association guaranteed in the First Amendment? If you want to see what a real fight against public unions looks like, read Scott Walker’s book “Unintimidated.” This ruling was laughably limited but again, pretended outrage ensued.

These decisions were hailed as victories for conservatives. If these are what constitute conservative victories, then the mob has already won. These rulings are worse than nothing at all because they pretend to be something and only serve to rally the mob.

The Constitution is no longer the safeguard against the mob that it was intended to be. Conservative justices, in their reluctance to overturn precedent, will never reinstate its protections. They struggle to declare even the obvious, as they did last week, in the face of the Progressive media storms. Liberal justices only await the discovery of the next loophole to expand government. Brother, it’s a rigged game.

Americans generally don’t know what the rest of the world does – that independence is not the natural state of things, tyranny is. And, ironically, after all this time, the biggest threat to American independence is its incredible success, a success so great it has created the luxury of apathy. Even a $17 trillion debt fails to intimidate in the face of the inescapable inertia created through our past liberty.

Our independence is a Catch-22. Those who appreciate the freedom for which our founders fought tend toward just wanting to be left alone. That spells trouble for organized movements, as the Tea Party discovered when it was hijacked by some poor candidates and a few unapologetic racists. Freedom needs a guiding force.

We all live better than King George did 238 years ago – even the poor have cars, electricity, microwaves, and in-door plumbing. The ultimate goal of the Progressive mob is that we forget that independence, not entitlement, is why this is so – and they are advancing. As thousands of illegals flow across the border, at what point does this mob reach critical mass? At what point does apathy deserve tyranny? Nothing says this has to last forever – Rome and Britain each once had inescapable inertia as well.

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6-27-14 IRAQ AND US: CRAZY IS AS CRAZY DOES

Political correctness dictates never to label as “crazy” beliefs held by a culture. Instead, utilize euphemisms such as “unique”, “intriguing”, or, at worst, “misunderstood”. The Islamic radicals that just invaded Iraq from Syria hold to the belief that everyone in the world that does not agree with them should be killed.

Hard to misunderstand that. To paraphrase the old country song, if calling them crazy is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

But then there’s us. After over a decade of failed experiments in nation-building, there are still calls from some of our leaders for immediate re-engagement in Iraq. Bombs, troops, helicopters – kill some sense into ‘em.

One measure of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. By that metric, where does that crowd stand on the crazy scale?

It’s safe to say that we are done nation-building in that part of the world. Fini. What seemed like a noble but ludicrous proposition – transforming Iraq into a democratic beacon for the entire Middle East – turned out to be just that. Admit it, even if you are a Republican, when George W. first unveiled that plan, you secretly rolled your eyes. It was just so George W.

So, if we are not looking to nation-build anymore and we are not looking to topple a government, what is the ultimate goal beyond killing just as many of them as we can? To feel good? Where are we hoping to be when that dust settles? Would killing all of the crazies bouncing around in the back of those Toyota trucks solve anything or accomplish any long term American objectives?

Our own heritage should be exhumed. Despite what else political correctness dictates, it’s fair to say that we are a nation founded in Christianity. So we know about Jesus. We know that his teachings made for a better way of life, but it was his crucifixion that made a religion. Killing a person tends to do the opposite to the idea that person represents.

In the Middle East, we are, and always have been, fighting an idea disguised as insane people. It’s a simple idea but sometimes those are the most catchy, like an early Beatles’ tune. It’s not an idea familiar in the Western World, so we will never understand it. Not totally. We can kill the people who hold the idea, but in doing so, we’re sanctifying the idea. I mean, 72 virgins is one thing, but 72 virgins and revenge on whoever killed your family? That’s downright motivational.

What do you do for a part of the world that has no aspiration other than to get its Jihad on? From the American experience, the hope should be that they want to Jihad all over each other, as they did quietly for centuries before we started buying their oil. Now, that is apparently what they desire again if we would just let them. Iran, if you think Israel is a problem, let us introduce you to our little friends.

We are at a point in history where we can be a peaceful country again. We are possibly one election away from proceeding with energy independence and our first freedom from the Middle East in almost three generations – long enough ago that no one remembers a nation that wasn’t perpetually at war or on the verge of war. No one else in the world is foolish enough to want to tangle with our military. Although we can’t impose freedom on the world, it is finally available to us again.

There are the innocents in Iraq that will be brutalized by these invaders. But this is their war. We have tried to fight it for them and that doesn’t work. We’ve learned that nations aren’t formed through our sacrifice. If they are never willing to fight, there’s nothing we can do for them in the end anyway.

There is the danger of the formation of a terrorist state. Maybe, but let them get bogged down with trying to govern. Heighten our intelligence, build an invisible fence around it all and watch it like a hawk, as I’m sure we do North Korea – a rogue state with nukes. Eventually, as this terrorist state fights its neighbors over the years, it will forget all about us.

It’s a human tragedy but it’s not ours. We have officially tried more than we ever should have to fix the unfixable, costing us thousands of our own sons and daughters and billions of dollars. We are only as crazy as our inability to learn. The last twenty-five years have been, to say the least, instructive.

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6-13-14 Ben Carson: The Man Who Could Save Us All

If he runs in 2016, Ben Carson will be the first presidential candidate since George Washington who can put “performed miracles” on his resume. Washington pulled off the impossible by winning the American Revolution. Carson’s miracles came in the world of brain surgery back in the 1980s.

The movie Gifted Hands, a biopic starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., captures Carson’s rise from poverty and ignorance in 1960s Detroit. Carson’s mother, who saw her sons failing in school but could not even read herself, turned young Ben’s life around when she shut off the television and made him and his older brother start reading two books a week. The track from there to performing unimagined procedures on the operating table and saving the lives of children makes for a good flick.

Carson is being recruited by an element in the Republican Party to run for the highest office in the world in 2016. According to his last two books, “America the Beautiful” (2012) and “One Nation” (last month), this could be problematic. Carson is a professed independent who identifies bipartisan rancor as one of our country’s defining problems. In short, he’s not your typical party-line candidate and won’t be. If he decides to run as a Republican, it will be on his own terms.

Republicans, at least conservative Republicans, should be able to live with that. Carson worships in the temple of logic. Although in his books he repeatedly emphasizes how everyone needs to examine both sides of any argument, whenever he applies reason to a current issue, he lands squarely in the conservative camp. One could say he’s right-thinking.

In fact, the problem with a Carson candidacy may be his love of meditative deduction. The American public long ago abandoned logic in its politics. We like to applaud, not think, at the end of a politician saying something. Mostly, we already have our minds made up and just want someone to say what we’re already thinking. It’s too early to tell if Carson will be able to maintain the soft-spoken, patient approach that he now takes with the media after the media, which never much cares for long-term reasoned approaches, turns on him, and it will.

He advocates cutting corporate tax rates (America has the highest in the world) to spur economic growth. He advocates self-reliance and not handouts to eliminate poverty. He advocates what amounts to a flat tax on income.

He also strongly advocates against Obamacare. What he does that Republicans haven’t been able to do is provide a viable alternative. His plan highlights expanded Health Savings Accounts to encourage patient responsibility and government funded medical school for aspiring doctors – his closest thing to a liberal proposal. As a surgeon, he knows that tort reform is an absolute must.

To balance the budget, he proposes an across the board cut in every federal agency of 10%. If that doesn’t fix it, another 10% cut the next year. That would be a practical way to get there and force tough decisions on the people who are supposed to be making them instead of on the next two or three generations.

Carson brings what few other conservatives can: street cred. As an African-American from Detroit, he may say many of the same things Mitt Romney said, but no minority from the inner city gave a flying expletive what Romney ever had to say about anything – they tuned out at “I’m Mitt Romn-.” Romney was a good guy and did his mission work, and, most importantly, was right in his arguments. But he never lived in hopeless poverty.

And although Bill Cosby has been preaching self-reliance and the value of the traditional family to the African-American community for years, there is still a “yeah, but” attitude when the likes of Cosby, people with extraordinary talent, say it. Might as well be Michael Jordan saying that if you just work hard, you can be like Mike. (But what if I can’t jump?) Carson’s life is on display and it’s something real – start by reading two books a week.

Carson experienced racism when racism wasn’t taboo and he doesn’t hold grudges about it, at least not outwardly. In 2012, President Obama got 100% of the vote in some all black districts. Carson v. Hillary – those districts are up for grabs. And as a man of a more accepted faith, the Evangelicals who stayed home rather than vote for a Mormon would be out in full force for Carson. Further, I would wager that over 95% of the people who voted for Mitt would also vote for Ben.

It may take someone with these kinds of credentials to do some of the things that obviously need done and someone of Carson’s intellect to do other things that aren’t so obvious. If he does run, he will be coming at a perfect time for conservatism. After an eight-year experiment with socialism, America will be primed for the opposite. Take the time to read his books and watch his movie – this might be the guy who could save us all.

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6-6-14 Bowe Bergdahl: The New American Hero

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” – John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address. January, 1961.

Whether or not John F. Kennedy was one of our great presidents is debatable. He got kicked around something fierce in his first year in office. The Bay of Pigs invasion was one of the most botched operations in U.S. history and the botching was largely Kennedy’s. Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev, to bolster his world image, took the opportunity of a peace conference in Berlin to kick around the young American President who was naively looking for a restart in Cold War relations. The same strategy would work for Vladimir Putin five decades later.

But Kennedy learned from mistakes and by the Cuban Missile Crisis in his second year, he showed a determination that re-inspired a nation. As the last Democratic president before the meaning of being a Democrat changed, he cut taxes. He was, in fact, a Tea Party Democrat.

Hard to tell what he would have done with more than a thousand days. Perhaps his philandering or his chronic back pain might have limited him. But what is not in dispute is the fact that Kennedy was a war hero. His actions after the sinking of PT-109 to save the survivors of his crew are well documented – the subject of books and movies. He was of the Greatest Generation that fought and won World War II. When he implored to ‘ask not what your country can do for you’, people believed he meant it and they cheered. Leadership, 1961.

Kennedy was succeeded by Lyndon Johnson, a Senator who immediately set about transforming America into the “Great Society.” The Senate is where you gain prominence by securing government handouts for your home constituents. After Johnson, we had not had a Senator elected to the White House until President Obama, who, it could be said, is completing the bejesus out of the Johnson mission of pervasive government dependence.

Fast forward to this week’s negotiated release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban prisoners held at Gitmo. That Bergdahl was considered a deserter by his platoon was known. It now is further coming out that several of his fellow platoon members believe that Bergdahl likely aided the enemy in planning attacks against them.

The White House knew of Bergdahl’s desertion and possible treason. That isn’t to say he should be left behind, but this trade cost us much more than five enemy combatants and is indicative of what we have become – a country that can’t be trusted.

The Obama administration initially tried to hail Bergdahl as a hero – a soldier brought home to his family from enemy captivity after honorably serving his country. Poor Susan Rice – sent out to lie (again) on the Sunday morning talk shows about the urgency of completing the deal due to Bergdahl’s health. This was the reason, she said, why the administration didn’t follow the law and consult Congress first. Turns out his health was not in danger. One wonders if Rice shivers when the White House calls to say, “Here are your talking points for Sunday.”

Soldiers may or may not have lost their lives searching for Bergdahl, but some certainly lost their lives in capturing the five Taliban that were exchanged. How do you explain this to those soldiers’ families? How do you explain it to our Afghan allies, or any of our allies, who are now justified in every misgiving they had about us. The Afghans will now have to deal with these five Taliban in the inevitable and perpetual civil war that will resume once we leave.

There are columns arguing that the five Taliban would have been released soon anyway as the war is ending and enemy soldiers are always released at the end of combat. That’s crazy. We aren’t fighting Germany or even North Korea where released prisoners go back to serve their country. We’re releasing Taliban who believe it is their holy mission to kill everyone who disagrees with them, including their own countrymen. Those put into the most immediate danger as a result of this exchange are Afghan women.

From a President whose greatest accomplishment so far is being quick to announce and take credit for the intelligence community’s and the Navy Seals’ killing of Osama Bin Laden, this is no surprise. Heroes are made not in actions, but in announcements. The release of Bergdahl made for the perfect announcement, with his parents there as Rose Garden ornaments.

It would be nice to think that the five Taliban thugs who were just released have some sort of tracking device imbedded in them and that there will be a glorious series of drone strikes a few years from now. No one believes that is going to happen. What is more likely is a series of kidnappings because we now negotiate with terrorists.

This is what we gave up for Sgt. Bergdahl, deserter. It is tragically ironic that Bergdahl’s release comes in the same week as the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, where there was a shore full of Americans who died not deserting their country. Bergdahl is the new American hero – President Obama’s kind of hero. No sacrifice required. He deserted his post to help people who would like nothing more than to see America, its people, and its liberties wiped from the face of the Earth. But it makes a tidier photo op than dead bloody soldiers on a beach.

We may be only fifty-three years from Kennedy’s inaugural address, but we are light years from being the crowd that cheered it.

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