9-16-16 Beer Tents and Millennials

Millennials are a new and strange generation in a new and strange world. They make us older folk glad that smart phones and all-absorbing video games didn’t exist when we were young – think of all the things we would have missed. Millennials are such a unique generation that even their boundaries can’t be defined. The best guess is that they include people between the ages of 18 and 34.

And like it or not, old-timers (again, I’m including myself), they own the future. Whatever we might want our community to be thirty years from now, it will be whatever they want it to be or it won’t be at all. They are the generation currently producing the next generation and they are doing so here less and less.

When we talk to people who have achieved community revitalization elsewhere, it is constantly reiterated that if you want to grow or even maintain, you have to be attractive to Millennials. Technology has made this group less social, at least in traditional ways. If you want to get them to think of your community as a destination, you need things like craft brew and coffee shops. If you want to interest them in community events, you need to serve beer. Not that they’re any more inclined to imbibe, they just happen to be of that age and less rooted – more susceptible to the attractions of the big city and less likely to return home once gone than previous generations.

I understand and appreciate the arguments against beer tents at community events. I think everyone does. But to begin a counterargument, one that will no doubt earn me a good share of derision on next week’s opinion page, let me proffer every Catholic town you can think of. They all have huge festivals with beer tents where the entire community turns out, those drinking and those not drinking, and defying the demographics of Northwest Ohio, they are all growing in population.

The Wren Homecoming Whiffleball Tournament is the only thing in county that compares, and it sells beer. The Van Wert County Fair used to be our main community event and still gets passable attendance from us older folk and from the young kids who have the rides. What is almost entirely missing from the fair crowd are Millennials, and that spells certain long-term trouble. The concerts at Fountain Park are well attended without beer but those are spectator events more than social events and also don’t draw Millennials.

Some church groups are opposed to beer tents at our festivals and that is understandable, but think of the missed opportunity. The primary goal of most Christian organizations is ministry and outreach. Where better to do that than at a beer tent? Locating a soul in turmoil there is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Drunk drivers? No one wants to drive anywhere close to drunk if they have a choice. Religious groups could provide that choice and a ride home is a perfect mission opportunity. Someone who has had too much to drink is going to wake up in the morning with a headache, automatically rethinking their most recent decisions. As they ponder their life’s course, what better time to come across the pamphlet they were handed while getting out of the car from the Good Samaritan who provided them a ride home the night before?

Not having beer at our events does not prevent drinking, it just drives it different places. Perhaps the upper crust might go to the Country Club or the Elks and others go to bars. Many just stay at home where the prospects of a domestic incident increase with every swig. But nowhere is there someone wanting a drink not having one and nowhere will they interact with a tempering influence. Beer tents mix the sober and the drinking populations and enable their interaction. When the eyes of the community are on you, you are less likely to get to the point of buffoonery, unless you are, in fact, a buffoon for which there is no known cure anyway.

If you haven’t been to small town events with beer tents, this weekend is the Delphos Canal Days. On October 1, Van Wert Main Street will host the Outhouse Races and Chili Cook-off – beer won’t be sold on public property but will be available at a couple of stores off to the side. The next day, October 2, take a drive down to Minster, run the 10k, and then experience perhaps the best small town Octoberfest in the Midwest.

And what happens the next day in Minster? Everyone gets up, goes to work and school. Most have new fond memories of their hometown from a community event that no one from there would ever miss, even the Millennials, and it all continues to grow.

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9-9-16 History 101: An Introduction to an Agenda

My son is in high school and taking a college credit course in history. He’s enrolled in a class called “The Origins of the Modern World” and brought home a 240 page textbook of the same name, written by Robert B. Marks. My first curiosity was how such a broad subject could be so condensed. Then I read the subtitle: “A global and environmental narrative from the Fifteenth to the Twenty-first Century.” Oh.

I read it anyway and, in doing so, learned but one thing: The West is guilty of everything bad that has happened since Columbus and there has been no good. This story of time since 1500 begins: “Within the past decade, climate scientists tell us, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere . . .” No joke – opening words. You need zero intuition to know where all this is headed. It goes on to explain how European colonialism caused global warming and every other calamity. Keep in mind, this is presented as an introductory level history book and is the first thing your child may read about the history of the world at the college level.

Nowhere in the narrative is Galileo, Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein. The Enlightenment never happened. The miracles of the American Constitution and the building of the comforts of the modern world? Let’s not roam off topic. It turns out, the only notable thing the West ever did was destroy the heroic medieval civilizations of China and India, and these undoubtedly would have led the world into a peaceful utopia had the British not hooked the former on opium and destroyed the latter’s textile industry. Every advance of civilization in Marks’s tome was the result of luck or underhanded Western military culture.

The book stretches to lump the United States in with the European powers in the evils of colonialism through our role in the Philippines in the early 20th century. The Philippines, where we voluntarily granted a people independence after helping disparate tribes form into a modern nation. Bloody American colonialists. Indeed, in this telling, the United States obviously has a lot for which to feel shame, including our violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty in going after Osama Bin Laden.  It provides the obligatory criticism of capitalism but offers no better historic example or alternative.

It seems to admit the failure of communism, mentioning in passing how the Soviet Union and China each killed tens of millions of its own people through its attempts at social engineering. Those numbers never get enough attention so let me help: TENS OF MILLIONS DEAD! It does mention Ronald Reagan’s role in ending Russian Communism, stating he thought he could vastly increase military spending and that would cause the Soviet Union to collapse and that “to some extent he was right.” To some extent? To what extent was he wrong?

The only thinker quoted in the book is, to the surprise of no one, Karl Marx. There are sections with such gem titles as “Social Darwinism and Self-Congratulatory Eurocentrism” and “The Industrial Revolution and Its Consequences”.

The college course itself goes beyond this book to fill out with a few supplemental readings, including “Kipling, the White Man’s Burden, and U.S. Imperialism”, “Carving up the World, Open High Imperialism”, “The Tragedy of Haiti” and “Savage Modernism”. Events in Haiti have shaped the modern world to an extent that deserve more study than say, Japan or Germany or the Middle East? Really? Haiti?

When I was in college a few decades ago, the liberal bias was there, but in history class, history was taught. You know, history – hard facts, places and dates and the evolving and conflicting ideas that shaped things as they happened. Not to mention the people who made things happen.

            Not that the Marks book was uninteresting. In fact, it would be good for use in an advanced survey class. I would very much like to debate against it. But again, this is being presented in an introductory college class as a textbook. This is where minds that have never considered these topics before get their first impressions.

            And if this is an introductory college class taught in Northwest Ohio, imagine history as taught in the more liberal areas of the country. How many years of this type of instruction does it take for a country’s real history to simply fade? Well, remember when Andrew Jackson was an American hero instead of a revisionist scapegoat? You’re up next Washington and Jefferson, you colonialist slaver bastards.

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9-2-16 School Centralization: After Math

            Efforts continue behind the scenes on two important economic development programs in the county, one to build the future and one to tear down the past.

            The Van Wert Area Economic Development Corporation (VWAEDC – pronounced Vwa’-dek) has been meeting weekly, going through the tedium of forming a corporate structure, adopting by-laws, and establishing accounts for banking and insurance. Local resident Bill Marshall has graciously allowed us to hijack his years of headhunting experience, helping us develop a job description for the future Economic Development Director. That job description will soon be posted on the city and county websites as well as in the media and various professional avenues identified by Mr. Marshall. In the interim, if you have interest in the job description, contact the city or county offices.

            That is the future. Regarding the past, the county completed and submitted the application this week for federal funds to enable our land bank to begin tearing down abandoned homes. I related a few weeks ago that myself and County Community Development Director Sue Gerker would be working on the application. That eventually turned into me doing a little bit of research and writing and Sue doing 95% of the work. But technically, that still makes it a collaborative effort, right?

In the end, we stand to gain $825,000 if funded and that would get rid of sixty to eighty homes in the county as well as providing the ways and means to demolish more in the future. If it happens, perhaps there can be some thanks to the efforts of us city and county officials who scrambled to put the land bank together, but we can mostly thank Sue. We will learn if we have succeeded in October.

To support the grant application, I researched the population trends that tell the story of our blighted areas. Obviously, less people mean more abandoned homes. The decline in most of our villages has been stark and the cause easily identifiable. When Lincolnview, Crestview and Parkway formed in the early 1960s, some or our villages retained an elementary school. The real decline began when those districts eliminated their satellite buildings and centralized their operations.

            In 1960 at Crestview’s creation, Wren’s population stood at 287. Through 1980, it had remained relatively stable at 282. In the early 1990s, Crestview built an elementary along with its new high school in Convoy, eliminating the Wren school. By 2000, Wren had lost almost 30% of its 1980 population, down to 199.

            Middle Point actually increased in number in the decades after consolidation as Lincolnview maintained its East Elementary building there. (Where I went to school K to 3.) Population rose from 571 in 1960 to the town’s high water mark of 709 in 1980. In 1997, the Lancers won state in basketball. A wave of good feeling passed a school levy to build an elementary school next to the high school and the Middle Point building was abandoned. By 2010, population in Middle Point had fallen to 576, a decrease from 1980 of 19%.

            Willshire has had the worst run of it. In 1970, shortly after Parkway consolidated and the village was left its elementary school, Willshire’s population stood at 623. In 1980 and 1990 that number fell by 9.5% and 4.1% respectively to stand at 541. But by 2000 it had fallen another 14.4% to 463 and the town soon lost its elementary school. By 2010, population stood at 397, a drop of 36% over a forty year period. There were other factors at work here as well as in Wren, but the failure to repopulate certainly involved the lack of a center provided by a school.

            Ohio City is relatively new to all of this. The Ohio City-Liberty High School existed until 1989 when it was absorbed by the Van Wert City School system. I was a junior at Lincolnview when students from Ohio City came to visit our school as their district was trying to decide which way to go. At consolidation, Ohio City had a 1990 population of 899. That fell in the following decade by 12.8% and by another 10.1%  to 705 in 2010.

            The exception that proves the rule is Convoy. In 1960, Convoy had a population of 976. Although it has had slight decreases over the last two decades, in 2010 there were 109 more people living there than in 1960, a population of 1,085 and an increase since consolidation of 11%. But that’s not to say blighted homes is not a problem there as well. When we sent out a request to the villages for possible target properties to include in our grant application, Convoy got us ten the next day.

            The city in the middle, Van Wert, has maintained a comparatively stable population throughout. Over the fifty year period of 1960 to 2010, there was a decline of 4.2% from 11,323 to 10,846. The blighted housing problem in the city has different roots. In the villages, there has been little new home construction in the last forty years. In Van Wert, even though the population has been relatively static, several new housing developments have been built leaving many homes abandoned in the older parts of the city.

            There was nothing inevitable in the emptying of our villages. St. Henry’s population in 1960 was 711, basically the same as Middle Point then. It is 2,427 now, an increase of 341%. In the same period, Coldwater’s population increased 6% to 4,427. Those towns are four miles apart and did not consolidate. Ottoville, Kalida, and Fort Jennings have all increased over the last fifty years as well as each defied proximity to resist centralization.

            There were good reasons for school consolidations when they happened and everyone loves their Lancers and Knights. I bet even some old Ohio City Warriors are starting to consider themselves Cougars. But one has to wonder, if our villages had it to do over again . . .

           

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8-26-16 The Third Party Alternatives

It seems like this should be the year of the third party or independent candidate. Ross Perot would have ran away with this election. Looks like Ralph Nader picked the wrong four times to run. Teddy Roosevelt is rolling over in his Bull Moose grave. Nobody seems too excited about the candidates of the two major parties. And yet . . .

Meet the Green Party. Jill Stein seems like a nice enough sort. Here are the four pillars of her Green Party: Ecological wisdom, social justice, grassroots democracy, and nonviolence. By golly, all seem like worthy goals. If only they were not carefully crafted euphemisms.

When thinking of this party, consider the watermelon. The watermelon analogy is used to depict how the Communist movement, discredited as time went on by the example of every Communist country that ever existed, transformed itself into the environmentalist movement in the 1970s. Get it? Red on the inside, green on the outside. It’s a different way of hating capitalism and wealth.

Let’s examine those four pillars. The ecological wisdom, is, of course, a strict adherence to Climate Change orthodoxy. Climate Change may not be the greatest hoax ever played on civilized society, who knows? What would benefit the environmentalist movement, however, would be making a few accurate predictions. Tell me what is going to happen five years from now in your computer models and when that happens, I will acknowledge your “wisdom”. Instead, time passes and we just ignore the incorrect past predictions while being presented new, more dire ones.

In the 1970s, the craze was the coming Ice Age. That transformed into Global Warming without so much as an apology. I recently put myself through watching the 2006 docudrama An Inconvenient Truth again. That little piece of Al Gore worship is now a decade old. By Gore’s shockingly escalating charts, we should all be dead now because the necessary evasive action was never taken. I am awaiting anxiously An Inconvenient Truth Part 2: The Recharting.

Social justice for the Green Party, or course, means wealth redistribution and the creation of new rights for anyone who feels vaguely offended. I would support the Green Party’s grassroots democracy, meaning more decisions made locally, if they would agree to eliminate all of the rights the Supreme Court has written into the Constitution over the last sixty years and let those decisions be made locally as well. I doubt the Green Party would consent to allow abortion and gay marriage to be subjected to grassroots democracy.

Nonviolence, of course, is all well and good until someone shows up to the party with a gun. Just a prediction: The Green Party will not do well in Northwest Ohio.

The other two main third parties, the Libertarian and Constitution Parties, are reminiscent of the People’s Judean Front and the People’s Front of Judea in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. They seem to be different factions of the same thing. (Splitters!) Can someone get them each other’s phone number?

Since the Libertarians are the perennial third party it would seem their time to shine. The message of limited government, a balanced budget, and personal responsibility is hard to argue against, except that it isn’t. Liberals love government funded anything and conservatives like to legislate morality and bomb the world into submission. Any single issue, seen through those lenses, makes for easy talking points against what is, at its core, merely freedom as the Constitution defined it.

Libertarianism has become less attractive for liberals as the Democratic Party becomes synonymous with Progressivism, which sees government as the solution to everything, even things that aren’t and never were problems. Democrats used to like the freedom offered by Libertarianism but the last thing they want now is any sort of liberty for taxpayers. You might hear a Bernie Sanders liberal cheering freedom until the next paragraph when it is revealed that the freedom proposed would apply to everyone, even the people who have been footing the country’s bills.

Unfortunately, chalk this election up as a missed opportunity for the Libertarians. By running a candidate, Gary Johnson, who managed a medical marijuana company for the last few years and only quit smoking left-handed cigarettes (weed) to run for the most powerful job in the world, their bid seems to lack seriousness. I mean, really?

Which brings us to the Constitution Party, which has the most appealing name, it would seem. Who doesn’t like the Constitution? Even Progressives, to whom the Constitution means something different every day, like it in theory.

The Constitution Party is exactly what its name would suggest. Sanctity of life, religious freedom, traditional family, private property rights, pro second amendment, national sovereignty and anti-socialism are the core tenants – pursuits so worthy they don’t need euphemisms. It is America as our Founders knew it.

Here’s the crossover: The Constitution itself remains the most Libertarian document ever created and the Constitution Party candidate, Darrell Castle, is actually more Libertarian than the Libertarian candidate.

Castle wants the United States out of NATO and the United Nations. He opposes federal funding of Planned Parenthood but also opposes government involvement in prostitution, gambling, smoking, polygamous relationships, or any other activities made by consenting adults. As of right now, however, Castle is not on the Ohio ballot.

The candidates of these two national parties disagree on some minor points but, for the greater good of their ideologies, a joint effort would certainly have warranted some examination. If only that would have happened, the time was riper than perhaps it ever will be again.

In the end, many of us who consider ourselves Libertarian, like me, will vote for Trump not because we agree with him on more things than we agree with the Constitution or Libertarian Parties but because it is the best way to use a vote to move the country toward the ideals of those parties.

But whatever you do, please, don’t be a watermelon. That is, unless you’re considering a vote for Clinton.

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8-19-16 For All of Us Trump Supporting Idiots

“Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words or you say the wrong thing. I have done that, and I regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain. Too much is at stake for us to be consumed with these issues. But one thing I can promise you is this: I will always tell you the truth.” –  Donald Trump, August 18, 2016.

We have been called stupid, ignorant, foolish, and any other word that indicates below average intelligence. We have been called rednecks, uncultured, bigots and any other word that indicates a lack of worldly experience. Funny, I don’t feel this way about the other Trump supporters I know. Kurt Cobain once sang, “I think I’m dumb, or maybe just happy.” I think we’re just inherently happy people as opposed to these angry Progressive name-callers.

It’s okay, so they say, for the media to call us these names because they aren’t running for office. Further, they are no one in particular, just a vague conglomeration of group-thinkers that believe, as all Progressives do, in nothing more than the next New York or California opinion poll. The Democratic Party is their mirror, not their compass. Progressive godfather Woodrow Wilson instituted Jim Crow laws upon taking his seat in the Oval Office, after all. There is no such thing as Progressive ideology.

            Of course, the section of the speech transcribed above is just words. But so was everything else. All those insults in a campaign that didn’t look like it could pivot into the general election just last week were no more than flippant words mostly intended to be humorous that fell flat. All of the quips that didn’t fall flat were never reported but it only takes one a week or so. But this last week is what everyone has been waiting on ever since he secured the nomination.

            It’s not that the words quoted above hold some sort of magic on their own. The press immediately started listing all the things for which Trump was supposedly apologizing. They’ll do that, alright. But it wasn’t the words, it was that he finally came to terms with the fact that he needed to say them. His new campaign staff must have convinced him that it is time to stop throwing punches everywhere and feature leadership and agenda.

            Us Trump supporting hill-jack buffoons are nowhere near vindicated yet. But if the last week of speeches becomes his message and he leaves the personal sideshows alone, he will win the presidency and it won’t be close because the people whose votes he is seeking, the great middle, will start paying attention in earnest for the first time in a few weeks. Oh, and it helps that his opponent, although a poor candidate, is a much worse person.

            Hillary Clinton has been in the public eye for two and a half decades. It is said she has fought for women and children although it is difficult to find any example of where this was done for any reason other than political expedience. For example, fighting for women would be to denounce the Middle Eastern countries where they are treated like property. Instead, she accepted money from these places. The Clinton Foundation? That little criminal scheme masquerading as a charity is going to dominate next month’s headlines.

            It is said that this election features the two worst candidates of any in history. It is true that these are the worst two politicians ever to run for office because neither one of them are good at it. Clinton gives speeches like she’s been programmed by IBM – tell me she doesn’t sound like a female Watson at the top of its speaker’s capacity.

Trump spent the last year apparently thinking people would only listen to him if he was amusing them. It was sometimes entertaining but it was also painful to watch him do damage to his own campaign. It was genuine though – Trump seemingly had no clue how to be a politician and that’s part of what all us idiots liked about him. He wasn’t one of the Washington Republicans who we have all learned not to trust.

            The Republican establishment, meanwhile, has shown itself for the self-interested and deaf organization it is by not supporting the nominee chosen by its members. For the last decade the establishment has treated its base the same way Democrats have treated African Americans, as sure votes they could disregard in negotiating away their positions to get reelected by the middle referenced above.

            Remember all those Republican candidates standing on the stage at a debate swearing to support the eventual nominee. Where are you now, John Kasich and Jeb Bush? How about you Ted Cruz? Lindsay Graham, no one ever expected much out of you anyway. You all fibbed. Donald Trump is who your neglected base chose and now you choose to treat them as you always have, as an inconvenient annoyance.

            Their defection should never be forgotten because what is at stake in this election is America itself. A generation of young people either are having trouble reconciling themselves to the idea of normal employment or are getting out of college with insurmountable debt. Four more years of Progressive control will lose this generation and the country’s future because there is nothing more to offer them in easy living – we are broke.

            It was just a series of speeches, sure, but it was the first indication that Trump knew exactly what to say and what not to and he is now this country’s only hope. Maybe it’s clichéd to say this is the most important election in American history. But our debt has never been what it is and one need only look to Europe to see where all this leads. If we’re so dumb, why are we the only ones who know that a Clinton election guarantees this path?

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8-12-16 Burning Down The House

If only we could, as the Talking Heads once celebrated in song, burn down the house. Oh for the day when the fire department could flame out a dump for practice, back before the EPA, in its never ending crusade to save us all from things that never seemed to hurt us before, made the practice illegal.

            Now, every day on your block or maybe once a month while not driving your normal route, you find yourself passing by that obviously abandoned structure that looks as if a stiff breeze might take it down. But, year after year, it seems to survive not only stiff breezes but heavy winds. At least most of it does.

            What remains of these haunted habitats is not only an eyesore but a health hazard and a devaluation to every property from which they can be seen. This problem seems to grow exponentially as the county ages. Newer housing clusters together on the edges of town while the older housing zones are left to make do in strange arrays of the upkeep spectrum.

            A few years ago the county created the Phoenix Initiative as a community development effort to disappear some of these properties. The idea was that the county would partner with a city, village or township that could obtain rights to a property to be demolished. Costs to tear down a home generally came in under $10,000.

            The program has been slow going with the major road block being the owners of these properties, many of whom think they are sitting on some sort of gold mine if they just wait it out. A good number of these owners do not live in the county. Even when they let the taxes go so we can foreclose, someone buys it at auction instead of letting it revert to the county with the intention of flipping it for a few hundred dollars again and no work ever gets done. In fact, most of these are beyond repair. If they were cars we would call them “totaled”.

            The Phoenix Initiative requires the owner to either sign over the property or allow a lien to be placed on the property for the cost of a teardown. There is no money made available for acquisition, however, as it seems inappropriate in most cases to use county taxpayer dollars to buy a property above its actual value. Especially when it is hard to tell if the owner is innocent in the home’s deterioration or has taken the insurance money and ran after a casualty incident.

            The demolition of abandoned and dilapidated properties has also been a priority of the City of Van Wert since Mayor Jerry Mazur took office. We’ve worked with the City on a couple of Phoenix Initiative properties but the problem is always the same – absentee and unrealistic owners with little to lose just letting the property rot.

            The good news: We’re developing a new weapon to deal with all this.

            Land banks are created under the same state guidelines as Community Improvement Corporations and are similar. They are quasi-governmental, but can buy and sell property without the normal constrictions of government. There are several steps to create these things and it all usually takes over a year. The City and County of Van Wert are working to create one in a month and it looks like we’ll make it.

            Prior to last year, under Ohio law, counties needed to have a population of over 60,000 to form a land bank. That has changed to have no population restriction. Allen County began creating a land bank before the law was changed. Unfortunately, no great effort was made to inform small counties that federal money to the tune of $60 million would soon be made available for counties with land banks. We caught wind just weeks ago. Big counties would like to absorb all of this money as they normally do.

None of the other small counties in our region are even attempting to create the land bank and complete the application for the money by the September 2 deadline, but we stand to gain over a half million of that federal money if successful. County Community Development Director Sue Gerker and myself are scrambling to put together the required stacks of documents and written proposals because there is literally nothing to lose but our time and effort (and nobody cares about that).

            The best thing about the federal money is that a fifth of it is allowed to be used for acquisition. Some of the owners of these dumps are innocent. Some turned elderly and were unable to fix their properties as things went to hell. A storm or fire might have caused damage that insurance found a way not to cover. A contractor could have taken repair money and performed no work. There are literally a few dozen reasons we have these dumps.

The way I see federal money is that if it is going to be wasted, and it certainly is going to be, let’s waste as much of it helping our county as we can. If we don’t use it to acquire properties to tear down, President Obama will just buy everyone a cell phone or give it to Solyndra. Someone tell me I’m wrong.

            We haven’t won the grant and there is a good chance we won’t, but we’ll be well positioned for the next round whenever that comes even if we don’t. When the land bank does get some money we could use the community’s help in identifying properties to demolish, the condition being that they have to be vacant, the last use has to have been residential, and they can be acquired for a few thousand dollars.

            And, if you can figure out how to explain to someone who otherwise doesn’t know that a house with no windows, no siding, a partially collapsed roof and a family of raccoon tenants has no value at all, that would be helpful too.

           

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7-29-16 The New Republican Party

Republicans gave speeches. Donald Trump was competent, Ivanka Trump was charming, and Rudy Giuliani was mad as hell and wasn’t going to take it anymore.

            Democrats gave speeches. Barack Obama was competent, Bill Clinton was charming, and Hillary Clinton was almost lifelike.

            To judge from commentator responses, every speech was either the height of achievement or the last nail in the coffin. And to be sure, absolutely every speech was neither.

            It does not matter what is said anymore. That all ended years ago. In modern politics, before Donald Trump, things were always said on both sides but there was one pre-ordained outcome and that was this: In the end, the Progressive agenda was going to win. Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow, but soon enough and in a bigger way than anyone initially contemplated or wanted.

            Republicans should rejoice. Hillary Clinton is the Democratic candidate, not Bernie Sanders, who, because he is a much better human, was a much greater threat to the conservative cause. Sanders could have hyper-speeded the Progressive agenda toward whatever grand abyss of debt and cultural deterioration that portends to be its destination.

            Clinton is a relatively harmless scoundrel who doesn’t really believe in anything. She knows she leads no great movement – no one is following that calculated monotone on any new crusade – and does not care. I think even Democrats know this, but in a world where all of their reasonable demands have already been met, she is their alternative and to them she is better than the wrecking ball that is Donald Trump.

            Make no mistake, Trump is a wrecking ball. He is not an ideological conservative, he is a pragmatist at best. But to all the Never Trumpists, I want to pose a simple question: What has the Republican Party accomplished since Reagan? What has been our triumph? Who was our great statesmen? The Bushes? The only thing I know about the Bushes is that, if Jeb had been elected, for some unforeseen reason, we would have been bombing the bejesus out of Iraq within a few months.

            Not to say the Bushes and every one of the other leading Republicans like John McCain, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and even Crying John Boehner (that’s the nickname I think Trump would have given him) are not good men. It’s just, from the time they declared their party, they never had a chance.

            The biggest enemy of conservatism is not the Democratic Party even though the Democrats have won the last quarter of a century and it hasn’t been close. They have gotten things they didn’t even know they wanted. Besides spending that has created an incomprehensible national debt, gay marriage is now constitutionally protected (Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996), political correctness now concerns itself with weird micro aggressions, and thugs are as important to protect as police officers. The average Democrat twenty years ago would have called all of this insanity and they would have been right.

            But the party itself is just a response to a dialogue it doesn’t control. The biggest enemy of the Republican Party is the media, which defines the political conversation. It is why the old Republican Party was never, ever going to win or achieve anything. All it took was the moniker “crazy” attached to a politician and he could forget any effectiveness in office and likely his reelection.

Paul Ryan, George Will and John Kasich – You lost and taking your ball and going home says more about your commitment to the conservative cause than it does about Trump. Whether you were busy giving speeches (Ryan), extolling platitudes (Will), or generally conceding (Kasich) you’ve done nothing but lose for twenty-five years because no matter what the argument, it has been a rigged game and you were only pretending it wasn’t.

             This election really is up to conservatives, because there’s no way Hillary Clinton wins if they turn out for Trump in the end. Mitt Romney would have won in 2012 but for two things – blacks turned out and voted for Obama nearly unanimously and they won’t turn out for Hillary like that. Second, Evangelicals, usually conservatives, did not turn out for Romney because he’s a Mormon.

            Maybe Never Trumpists like the Evangelicals in 2012 can’t come to terms with Trump’s imperfect candidacy, but here is what is at stake, all else being equal:

            The ages of the Supreme Court justices: Clarence Thomas (68), Ruth Bader Ginsberg (83), Sonia Sotomayor (62), John Roberts (61), Elena Kagan (56), Samuel Alito (66), Anthony Kennedy (80), Stephen Breyer (77), and Antonin Scalia (dead). Unfortunately, these are the arbiters of the Constitution and there is nothing to guarantee that they won’t arbit it into irrelevance over the next generation. They’re halfway there already.

            The next president will start by replacing Scalia, the most conservative justice of the court for the last few decades. It is hard to imagine Ginsberg lasting another presidential term when she can barely stay awake through a State of the Union address. Kennedy and Breyer are likely out at least in the next eight years and Thomas is no bastion of health.

            Ryan, Will and Kasich and the others can lament their party’s candidate and new direction. But their party and their way of doing things, as it was, had been soundly defeated well before Donald Trump came along. I know I’m not convincing anyone here, but to the Trump supporters and practical conservatives, I hope this provides a talking point with your doubting family and friends so when they are alone in that voting booth, they might ponder this country, or lack thereof, eight years from now. Trump is not ideal, but he is perhaps necessary to reshuffle the deck and start again with a new dialogue and a new party.

            Unless losing is your thing, then stick with Ryan, Will and Kasich – for years they have helped Republicans succeed at that if nothing else.

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7-22-16 Millions of Chickens

In the southeast corner of Van Wert County is a small rectangle of land that juts down below the line with Mercer County like a Tetris block that went too far. That area represents the south half of Jennings Township. There, astride State Route 116, is Monticello, a small collection of homes and a church unknown to most Van Wertians.

The people of Monticello have children who attend Spencerville schools and their economic activity is directed as much toward St. Marys and Lima as Van Wert and Delphos. Within a couple of miles of Monticello are three other counties: Mercer, Auglaize and Allen.

Just southwest of that town has been proposed a farm that will house 2.2 million chickens. That’s about 2.1999 million too many to the surrounding residents who are not pleased with that proposed injection of poultry and even less pleased about the notice they received regarding the farm’s imminence.

In Ohio, rural areas are generally zoned for agriculture and there is no local control of that. So long as the use is related to farming, all zoning and control falls under the guidelines of the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Even the bureaucrats of these agencies can do little to halt these farms so long as general guidelines are met and followed.

The County Commissioners and the Jennings Township Trustees received notice of this farm back in January. We and the Trustees both signed a form that we received this notice. If we hadn’t signed, the owner of the farm would only need to have submitted an affidavit that we had been notified and the project would have proceeded regardless.

The ODA posted a subsequent notice that a hearing would be held in June regarding the project. Pursuant to law, the notice was published in the newspaper of largest general circulation of the county of the proposed farm, which is the Times Bulletin.

If the Times Bulletin has little readership in Monticello, it has even less in the nearby surrounding counties. Through a geographical anomaly, notice was posted where it was least likely to be seen by the people who were intended to receive it, reminiscent of the opening pages of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” were notice of the destruction of Arthur Dent’s home was posted in a dark basement with a locked door behind a sign stating “Beware of Leopard.”

Area residents are rightly indignant about the notification. Unfortunately, and maybe because they did not receive notice, they are not well-informed about the process and they believe that their Trustees did something underhanded in enabling the farm to proceed.

At a meeting earlier this month outside the Jennings Township house, a crowd of a hundred turned ugly. Although their complaints were legitimate, the anger directed at the Jennings Trustees, who are enabled with no power to encourage or halt the project, was not. Members of the crowd indicated that if just a few of them had known in advance, then word of mouth would have spread. In fact, it appears that more than a handful of people in the area were well aware of what was contemplated back in January and word did not spread.

There is a point where a crowd becomes a rabble. If you look to the right and the person is shouting down a public official three words into answering a question and so is the person on your left, beware, you just might be part of a rabble.

After several minutes of the crowd lambasting us and the Trustees as we tried to explain the process, Commissioner Owens came forward and told the crowd if they wanted to blame anyone they could blame him. At that point, I slid off to the side and into the rabble and yelled, “Let’s get him!”

(I didn’t really do that and it was impressive seeing the calm implementation of decades of experience as Sheriff. Stan soon had the crowd settled enough to almost carry on a rational conversation. Almost.)

I am not blaming the crowd for their passion nor am I blaming them for wanting someone to blame. If 2.2 million chickens were moving in down the road from me, I would be angry. Perhaps only knowledge of the process would keep me from joining a rabble. But there is absolutely nothing that can be done locally to stop this chicken farm as the law now stands outside of convincing the owner not to do it.

The legal remedy is a nuisance lawsuit. A civil suit can be brought for odor, flies, toxic runoff, property devaluation, and any other damage. Counter to this is Ohio’s Right to Farm law, which eliminates most minimal nuisance claims. Nuisance suits accrue only after the farm is up and running. I would advise those concerned to establish baselines for air and water quality before the farm commences operations.

The one benefit of a farm this large is that it will be monitored by the Ohio EPA. Farmers will tell you that industrial farms, if they are done right, cause little nuisance to neighbors. And many neighbors of current farms would beg to differ.

The problem in opposing these farms is that they hit communities in isolation and by the time the fight to stop one ends in futility, there is no organized drive to fight the next one. If a group wants to change the law, it will need to organize for an extended lobbying process in Columbus. Of course, this long-term effort would do nothing for the current situation in Monticello.

There are two sides of the argument – the right to do what you want with your land to make a living and the right to enjoy the benefits of owning your country home free of newly created foul smell, flies, and lesser water quality. But until the argument is had at the state level, there is no debate to be had locally. To paraphrase Shakesepeare, any shouting at Township Trustees about it is a great deal of sound and fury signifying nothing.

 

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7-1-16 Windmills: Setbacks, Taxes, and Referendums

Wanna start an argument? Go to almost any random group of people in Van Wert County and state your opinion about windmills. Chances are, you will quickly find someone with whom to disagree. Without question this is the most divisive issue blowing around our county, the one that puts people in ardent camps of pro and anti, our local Donald Trump.

            It seemed to be a dead issue just a few years ago when the state passed legislation changing the setbacks – the distance a windmill needs to be located away from other private property. The setbacks nearly tripled eliminating over 90% of the proposed sites.

            But then came House Bill 190, which offered to give the setback issue back to county commissioners. Although the bill never made it out of committee, it renewed hopes for the pro-windmill crowd. In the commissioners’ office, we had to consider what we would do if the issue came back to us and agreed that the best alternative would be to put it to a referendum.

            To be clear, we are not proposing a vote on whether or not the county should allow more windmills. Every property owner has a right to do what they want with their property and it is a concern of ours to protect that right.

            But, if you are going to build something on your property, you are subject to a tax assessment. Real property taxes are assessed on all land, buildings and structures. If a property owner would choose to build a windmill, they would be taxed on its full value.

            The question then is should a wind farm receive a tax break? The pro crowd argues that, yes, most definitely, this is economic development and a tax break should be automatic. The current wind farm is taxed pursuant to a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) wherein the schools, county, townships, and other agencies receive a fixed payment instead of the windmills being normally assessed. This results in about a 70-80% reduction in tax payments.

A few years ago, before the state changed the setbacks and after several conferences with our township trustees, the Ohio Power Siting Board and Iberdrola, we determined that the PILOT eliminated our ability to negotiate with wind companies and was not in our county’s best interest. We revoked the Alternative Energy Zone designation for our county that had allowed the Blue Creek Wind Farm to be taxed under the PILOT.

            Should the setbacks be returned to a manageable distance for Apex or Iberdrola to build a farm, this is the issue we would present to voters. We would ask the affected townships and the wind company to negotiate a tax scheme that has a chance to be approved and then submit it for an up or down vote.

            A concern becomes who gets to vote on this issue? It does not seem appropriate that areas that stand only to benefit from a taxing scheme be allowed to vote to burden another area. For example, if a mega hog farm would want to locate on the outskirts of Convoy and the tax benefits would accrue to every other part of the county, what might be the result in Middle Point of that vote? Or if the roles were reversed, what might be the result in Convoy?

            Van Wert City Schools would receive a significant monetary benefit if turbines were located in Liberty Township. But it is the residents of Liberty Township who would be burdened by the presence of the windmills and it would be that township’s tax revenues that are affected by a reduction in the amounts paid by windmill owners. I don’t know a definition of fair that would allow Van Wert City voters, an overwhelming majority of the school district, to determine this issue for Liberty Township.

            Hog farms are a good parallel. No one wants to live next to one, including me. But the county has no authority to limit hog farms (or chicken farms like the one currently proposed in Jennings Township). Rural area is zoned agriculture and the Ohio Department of Agriculture is the regulatory agency. But, imagine if we started giving tax breaks to incentivize a hog farm to locate next door to you. That is what the wind companies would have us do to the people in the rural areas, many of whom see the windmills as a greater nuisance than a hog farm.

            Another concern raised by a few of our township trustees is if we put this to a vote we’ll be putting everything in their township to a vote. But the farms will not be within one township. There needs to be a general scheme across several townships for any chance of success. And it is hard to understand why a trustee would not to want to discern the will of their constituents on a controversial issue like this.

            Personally, I think I’ve been clear on my position in the past. I think windmills are horrible federal policy but as long as the federal government is intent on bankrupting our next generation, I wouldn’t object to see some of that money get wasted locally.

            If you are in the pro crowd, I would advise against trying to pressure us to force windmills on a population that, as of now, does not want them. That has been the tactic of the wind companies for the last few years and it continues to have a zero chance of success. Replace lecturing with negotiation – the antis are well aware of the reasons to build these things and are not convinced. Perhaps you can pay their electric bills to win some support.

And perhaps there is no way to win support. But if a majority of people in a zone for a proposed wind farm cannot be convinced to accept a tax plan, then someone will need to explain why it should be forced on them over their objection, because that is really the only thing that has been proposed to date.

           

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6-24-16 Brexit: Imagine all the People

Imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too. – from the song “Imagine” by John Lennon.

In the spring of 1990, I was a college freshman taking a class in American history. The textbook, which I read again years later, had a strong liberal tilt. Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson were the heroes of the story. Calvin Coolidge, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan were all elderly dunces and Richard Nixon was . . . well, they got him right, I guess.

At that time, compact discs were new technology. Suddenly you could hear songs in crystal clear sound without having to fast forward or rewind a tape. It made all music new again. To me, those classic Beatles and Led Zeppelin albums seemed almost like magic in such hi fidelity. John Lennon had been dead for a decade, but he became my hero. His ideas fit with the narrative I was being fed in that history class. It all made such perfect adolescent sense – if we could only forget our differences in the world and join together, all problems would be solved.

To the shock of progressives everywhere, Lennon’s country, Great Britain, left the European Union this week. It was the biggest event in European history since the fall of the Berlin Wall which, coincidentally, happened when I was a freshman in college as well. The secession of the British hopefully marked the beginning of the end for the globalist vision of the world.

I hope for this because I kept reading after the indoctrination I received in that college history class and came across other versions of the story. What is certainly true is that Woodrow Wilson, father of global progressivism, was our president from 1913-1921. In 1914, when the European powers went to their trenches for no good reason, Germany and Great Britain were similar countries. They fought with the same codes of honor and similar tactics and weaponry. From the American perspective, there was no reason to support one side over the other and we stayed neutral for a few years.

But eastern merchants had extensive trade ties with Britain and they wanted to continue that in spite of the war, including selling arms to kill Germans. Germany took exception and sank a few of our ships. Wilson couldn’t keep thing under control and the next thing we knew, we were in a war – the first but not last America had ever fought with nothing to be gained. Our presence shifted the balance and the Allies won a lopsided victory.

A top-hatted Wilson arrived in Paris to help settle the peace as well as all national differences for all time with his Fourteen Points. The other allied leaders paid him lip-service and ignored the parts of Wilson’s plan that didn’t suit them, all the while convincing him to agree to the most punitive financial conditions ever imposed on a vanquished country, intended to cripple Germany for generations to come. The League of Nations, the first ever attempt at globalization, was born in the midst of all this.

The crippling of Germany led to the rise of the Nazis and the much more destructive World War to follow. Now let me shift from facts back to opinion: Woodrow Wilson, first father of global progressivism, caused much of this by being duped into a war by business interests and then duped into a punitive peace by his allies. The thesis of my college textbook was a lie. It said that Wilson’s efforts had helped the world along to its next, higher level. Wilson the Great, not Wilson the Foolish, author of nearly infinite human misery.

One hundred years ago so what does it matter, right? Not so. Progressive globalism and its local proxy, socialism, is still continually trumpeted as the path to a more perfect world. Wherever it is tried, it fails, yet it continues to be tried. Bernie Sanders almost became the Democratic nominee for president. John Kerry could be heard recently giving a speech about the utopia that would be a world without borders, the ultimate goal of progressives.

The polar opposite of globalism is the Americanism as envisioned by our founding document which allowed thirteen distinct colonies to be thirteen distinct colonies. The genius of our Constitution was in allowing people their people-ish-ness – pride, greed, love of country and family, hate. All the good and the bad was allowed its most productive use and therein, kept in check. The premise was revolutionary and genius and over time Americans bought into the idea that they were different from the rest of the world. And they were.

Despite what our President has preached for over seven years, America is exceptional. Not that our people are any smarter or inherently more industrious than the people of Zimbabwe. Ture, we were lucky, as he says. We were lucky to be born in a country that itself was lucky to have been born in a time in history when the American experiment could happen.

But because all of this, we are distinct from the rest of the world, and the ways we are distinct has provided untold wealth and comfort.  What plagues our poorest people? Obesity.

Great Britain is different too, in its own way. It once owned an empire on which the sun never set – its people enjoying the highest standard of living of that time as we do now. Shocking to progressives and our President, its people remembered all of that this week and decided they still wanted their country to be Great Britain instead of a conglomerate of whatever free immigration and financially dependent European socialist states was making it.

‘Like his country, John Lennon had became disillusioned with the progressive movement as time passed and, according to a biographer with him in his final months, was a supporter of Ronald Reagan. The world can only live as one, as Lennon had hoped in that song, if everyone were equally miserable. Here’s to hoping Americans follow the British lead this fall.

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