10-2-15 An American Original

The Van Wert Solid Waste Management lost its director and a good man last week. Van Wert County lost an icon.

For the last quarter century, George Brake personified conservation and recycling not just for our county, but also for much of the state. Earlier this week, a delegation from a nearby six-county consortium visited our office in a good will effort to help us envision our future without George. Four of five times, they ended trains of thought at “well, George kind of created that program too.” Their final conclusion was that we were going to need a director and a consultant to replace him and that still wouldn’t get us there.

I didn’t know myself until I read the stories about George in the press last week that he had actually started the recycling center from scratch. His wife Kathy relates that the first time she went to have lunch with him all those years ago at the site where the recycling center now sits, there was just a box truck and a pile of mulch. “I asked him where we were going to eat and he said ‘right here’, meaning in the truck.”

Raised by a single mother of six, George Brake had a lean childhood. It is difficult, and maybe unnecessary, to look into a man’s past to try and decipher what made him extraordinary. Growing up with little in the way of material things, though, certainly must have affected his approach to the world later in life. Perhaps in a life of plenty it’s easy to throw things away.

Graduating in 1975 from Van Wert High School, Brake was focused more on music and ideas than a career. In 1977 when he met Kathy, he was working part-time at the Tavern in Convoy, a job he preferred because in the slow times the owner didn’t mind if he played his guitar or read a book.

“When I met him, he was a long-haired hippie and I fell in love with him at first sight. Even the night I met him he had just come from helping someone, that’s just who he was. He had helped pull a Buick out of a ditch in the snow with his 1971 Beetle”

George and Kathy were married in 1979 and, like many young idealists, he soon became reconciled to the fact that he needed gainful employment, first at the old Borden’s factory and then in construction. It wasn’t until the late Eighties that he answered an ad in the paper for a job at the Van Wert Soil and Water Conservation District and began what would be a visionary career in conservation. His efforts at the Van Wert SWCD led to much of the no-till farming and rows of windbreaks set up across the county in that period. “He could have just taken that job and sat behind a desk, but that wasn’t George.”

He had found a calling and his efforts didn’t go unnoticed. When a group of politicians in the mid-1990s, including the Commissioners of that day, wanted to start a recycling center, they approached Brake, who initially turned the job down. He liked what he was already doing. But after a few more meetings, his plans for what would become the recycling center began to take shape in his mind and he accepted.

Around that time he also started attending church for the first time. He would become as passionate about his involvement in the Ohio City Church of God as about the recycling center, eventually becoming involved in jail ministries. “He took to heart that we are God’s servants. He was always a servant in his own mind. He always told our kids that. That’s what defined him more than anything.”

Starting with just the truck where he and Kathy had had lunch, he would wait until the truck was filled, mostly with paper, and drive the loads to Fort Wayne after hours, beginning a pattern of putting in unbilled time for the county that would continue throughout. In the last months before his death, unbeknownst to our office, he was working past midnight for several weeks rebuilding the platform on the sorting line. Most people would have just come to us and asked for money to have it repaired and we would pay for it. But George Brake never wasted anything, including taxpayer money.

He grew the recycling center into the multiple building, several acre complex it is today, with the capacity to recycle just about anything you would normally throw away. Van Wert’s Solid Waste District is an oddity – counties of our population are generally in a consortium to save costs. Brake did better with what he had than most consortiums do with twice the resources, finding ways to make money on the products wherever he could but also finding ways to recycle items that didn’t make money just to provide the service and keep as much out of landfills as possible. He was underpaid, extremely underpaid if real value is considered, but I think he knew that if he made any more, that would only be less money available to put towards the overall project.

His shoestring budget required employing people at lower wages, which meant the working conditions had to be made enjoyable. “He always told people he hired that he wanted this to be a first job,” Kathy said. “A way to step up to the next one in a year or two. He tried to give people an opportunity with the jobs he had there. He tried to build employees up like he did his own kids.”

Brake, the father of five children, had to sell his wife on having the first one after eight years of marriage. Kathy joked that in another life George could have been a cult leader because he could very calmly talk anyone into anything. “The guy everyone knew in public, that was the same guy we had at home. In all of those years of raising children, I can count on one hand the number of times I heard him raise his voice.”

George Brake’s life was full of odd coincidences. George and Kathy were married on April 22, 1979. Entirely unintentionally, they made their vows on the ninth anniversary of Earth Day, a day to celebrate conservation and recycling. In another strange alignment, Cows and Plows, one of the more public of the many programs Brake helped create, went on during the day of his funeral viewing. There was a certain serendipity to George Brake’s life that leads one to think that the freak accident that took his life on the roadway was part of a larger celestial plan. Really, it’s the only thing that makes any sense.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on 10-2-15 An American Original

9-25-15 Bomb Some Sense Into Them

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.” – President Dwight Eisenhower in his farewell speech, 1961.

Unwarranted influence of the business community, which demanded the right to trade with warring nations without the ill effects of such trade, caused a silly president to lead us into World War I. Our involvement in that war caused a lopsided victory for the Allies and such severe reparations against Germany that World War II became eventual. The military-industrial team then casually led us into the Korean conflict until Eisenhower, in one of his first actions as president, threatened unlimited war and quickly put an end to our involvement there.

Eisenhower kept us out of war through the rest of the tensest decade in world history, when nuclear bombs were new and in play.

The M-I complex’s greatest hoax on this nation was Vietnam, where it encouraged a mass build-up of troops to fight a war without a winnable objective. Success in that war became measured only by the death count of the enemy – odd math for a moral nation.

At the end of the Cold War, after the greatest victory in American history had been achieved without firing a direct shot at our enemy, and at a time when peace was finally possible after fifty years, the M-I complex convinced us that Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was our problem and we again started down a warpath that has not ended twenty-five years later.

Conversely, if we hadn’t gotten involved in World War I, Europe would have ground down in futility and we would have been a superpower twenty years earlier. There would have been no World War II, likely no nuclear weapons, and perhaps no build-up of arms or expansion in the Soviet Union. If we had not fought in Korea or Vietnam, South Korea might be communist, but how does that affect us? As a whole country, Vietnam is doing quite adequately these days as far as that part of the world goes despite the Communists winning that war.

And what could have been had we not gotten militarily involved in the Middle East? 9/11 wouldn’t have happened. Kuwait might be part of Iraq, but that kind of tumult happens in Africa every year. Does it only matter if the state has oil? Well, if you are the industrial part of the M-I complex, the answer is yes, that is what matters. Did the common person or soldier get a discount on oil from Kuwait for saving that country? Who here got a Gulf War prize?

In fact, in the last hundred years, had our military never been asked to fire a shot, would the world be a better place? Probably, it would be just about the same as it is now, but the United States of America would be much better off, with less debt and a lot fewer crosses at Arlington cemetery.

Presidential primaries, and this one in particular, are good at raising the nation’s contentious issues. The leading Republican candidate has yet to form a policy on anything except Making America Great, which is no policy at all. The others provide a kaleidoscope of views on immigration, Planned Parenthood, Putin, marijuana, the deficit, and pretty much any other thing going on. But common ground is found in the need to strengthen our military.

Is there any question that our military, as currently configured, could easily wipe out any nation on Earth, including Russia and China, within a few weeks? If that is true, what would strengthening the military, at the further expense of our $19 trillion deficit, achieve?

According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the United States spent $581 billion last year on defense. That is more than the next nine countries combined. China, second on the list, spends $129.4 billion. Russia, fourth on the list behind Saudi Arabia, spends $70 billion. Russia is seen as the world’s great belligerent, yet it spends one-eighth what we do on its military.

And, as we’ve been doing this for decades, we have an almost insurmountable lead in research and development. Our predator drones alone could probably win a war with any other country on Earth. Yet come the cries that we need to spend more on the military from the people, who, one talking point later, are complaining about what current deficits are doing to our children and grandchildren.

As part of the sequester ordered in 2011, the government was forced to cut military spending. The Pentagon proposed cutting tanks, as there is no foreseeable battlefield for the deployment of tanks. You might have heard locally during the 2012 presidential election the Republican commercial that featured Joe Biden saying “We don’t need more M-1 tanks.” Of course, Lima has a tank plant. Lima needs tanks whether the Pentagon does or not. Meet our own private military-industrial complex and why we are always at war.

This is what Eisenhower, one of the great generals and arguably the most underrated president in our history, warned of, and it’s rampant. Business interests keep forcing us into the next war and Republican candidates do the trumpeting for them. It feels good to pound chests and sing that we’re going to put a boot up someone’s posterior, and with the modern marvel that is the American soldier, we could. But where has that ever gotten us?

A funny thing happened when we hinted that we weren’t going to fight ISIS on the ground in Iraq. Countries like Saudia Arabia, Turkey, and Jordan suddenly discovered that they had armies. And when Russia invaded the Ukraine, Ukrainians were surprised when we didn’t come to their rescue. These are nice cautionary tales for the rest of the world. Defend yourself – we can’t afford to do the world’s fighting for it anymore. Nor should we.

Europe has voluntarily become the collection of socialist degenerate states that we originally built up our military in the Cold War to prevent it from being forced into. Imposing the American dream on the world may be pretty to contemplate, but the world still has a will of its own, and its will is more patient than ours. We are, and always will be, unique.

A few more trillion dollars won’t change any of that. It would benefit the electorate to have a longer memory and know when it’s being pandered to. Democrats give away cell phones, maybe, but Republicans sell bombs.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on 9-25-15 Bomb Some Sense Into Them

9-18-15 Science County USA, Part 2

            If you didn’t live in Van Wert County, what would make you move here?

From the outset, let’s assume we don’t have a lot to offer single people in their twenties. The twenty-somethings that are here now are the ones that want to be here. The ones that are gone, there’s no bringing them back, not until they have families of their own. We’re not going to have the nightlife or job diversity that would attract these people. Not yet anyway.

People over forty-five aren’t moving here, not in numbers. By that age you’ve got your career and maybe your kids are about through school. Retirees are heading south. The people who might move here, and, incidentally, the people we need, are young people with families. Let’s call these people simply the “Target Audience” for the convenience of this column.

            It has been covered several times – the problem we have in Van Wert County is population. And according to current demographics, this problem is going to accelerate in the coming years. As the Baby Boomers begin to retire, we’re going to start losing a larger percentage of our already depleted workforce. The challenge won’t be attracting business, it will be keeping the ones we have, and this is followed by lower wages, less opportunity, and more vacant homes and buildings.

A few months back we met with some candidates who had won Van Wert City Republican primary races to begin talks toward uniting the county and city economic development efforts come the start of the year. We related our demographic concerns and how we were as desperate for people as we were for new business.

Warren Straley, uncontested Republican candidate for City Council, asked what were our marketing efforts? We started in on some of the things we knew that the city had been doing to market the Megasite. Straley said something to the effect of, no, I mean what are we doing to market Van Wert to draw people if that’s what the concern is? Hmm … Good question.

I had a friend when I was a young man a few decades ago who moved to Denver. After moving back to the area I remember asking him, “Wow, Denver, what was that like? Must have been pretty cool.” He shrugged and said, “After a few months it’s like anywhere else. You go to work, you go to Wal-Mart and McDonalds, and you go home.” That friend, who had a wife and a newborn at the time, is the Target Audience in our coming marketing scheme, and there’s literally millions of him.

First and obviously, why would anyone in the Target Audience not want to live here? We have outstanding, modern schools. The cost of living is dirt cheap. If you are handy with tools and can remodel a property, you can have a home for your family for a tenth of what the same home would cost in a big city. For a fifth even if you can’t operate a hammer.

We are within forty minutes of Lima and Fort Wayne and a few hours of Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit and Columbus. Chicago is within driving range for a weekend trip. We are almost perfectly situated. With the money you save living here, you can easily afford two weekends a month in one of these places to take in all of the culture you think you’re missing by not being in a suburb.

This may be the safest place in the world to raise children – far enough away from the big city to escape gang violence and potential terrorism yet close to high quality American medical care in case of emergency. And although there is a drug problem there is also a drug problem everywhere ever since heroin became cheap and available. Overall, crime is low. Locking the door at night in this county might be a common practice, but waking up in the middle of the night worrying about whether you remembered to isn’t.

But these things are also true of many of our neighboring counties. Before we could develop a marketing plan aimed at people, we needed an edge and a catch phrase.

I covered See the Change and the middle school physics program being implemented in our county last week. Considering that we’re talking about kids up to seven years away from high school graduation, it would be fair to call that a long-range strategy. The short game is to market that program along with the other innovation that is happening here in science education.

It had already been percolating before we brought in See the Change. Bob Spath’s robotics team at Van Wert High School is a regional force and a local wonder. You might have heard about this program, but you can’t grasp the thrill of it until you see the kids on the team in action. It’s incredibly unique, and, in fact, so is the rest of the science education available at Van Wert High School.

Our county schools are catching up with the city school. On our radio show this week, our guest was my old schoolmate and current Lincolnview Superintendent Jeff Snyder who talked about that school’s new pre-engineering and pre-biomedical classes. Also, the school is working on expanding the middle school physics downward into fifth grade and developing its own robotics program. I am not familiar with Crestview’s programs (their super is our guest next week), but I am very familiar with the rivalry. Neither of these schools will be outdone by the other in the end, not without a fight.

Filling the Starr with a college presence has been evolving over the past several months and there could be news on that front in the coming weeks. The form that higher education will take there will also be a new model when it happens. It will be a way to overcome the great American financial hoax that higher education has become, and we’ll be on the forefront of that.

So instead of asking the Target Audience why wouldn’t you want to live in Van Wert County, the better question is how could you deprive your kids of being raised in Science County, USA? We’re going to turn the mantra from Columbus on its head. If people will drive forty-five minutes for a good job, it would then seem they would drive forty-five minutes from their job for their kids to live in a post-modern science utopia. With the power of the internet, we can market this nationally to people who work from home, can bring business with them or just want to come here and fill the jobs we already have open for their kids to have a better chance.

And we’ll only be attracting the people who care enough about their kids to make that jump. It won’t take a lot, just enough to stabilize our population while we build the next generation, a group of people who won’t know anything other than that they live in one of the most interesting places in the world.

Moving away from Science County, USA? Well, I guess you could, but then you’d just get bored.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on 9-18-15 Science County USA, Part 2

9-11-15 Science County, USA

“You can make something big when young that will carry you through life. Look at all the big startups like Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. They were all started by very young people who stumbled on something of unseen value.” – Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple.

Steve Jobs is widely considered the genius of the Apple Company and of the modern computer. His genius was really in design and in creating the experience of using a personal computer. The genius in making a personal computer work belonged to his partner in Apple, Steve Wozniak.

In fact, all of the companies referenced above by Wozniak were not only founded by very young people, they were founded by partners. They were all the result of a conversation put into application by young minds. It could be argued that technology has advanced to such a point that the days of the individual innovator are, if not over, past their prime. Innovation today seems to demand collaboration.

This fact is not missed by See the Change USA, the non-profit company that is helping implement a physics program in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades of our county schools. Van Wert, Lincolnview, Crestview, and Delphos Jefferson will begin teaching middle school physics this year. Some are teaching it in just the sixth grade and some are implementing the program instantly and full-blown in all three grades. Delphos St. John’s, a private school not located in our county, caught wind of our doings and paid its own separate fee to join in.

See the Change is based out of Colorado Springs. Currently, its program is in a handful of schools in Colorado and New Mexico. We are the first place east of the Mississippi to adopt the program and we are doing it immediately and countywide. Being unique will be a subject of next week’s column, but it is certainly worth noting here that no one anywhere near us is doing anything like this.

The founder of See the Change is a physicist from the Ukraine who, while teaching at a Colorado university, couldn’t believe what little aptitude college freshman here had for physics. In Europe and in Asia, physics is a prominent middle school subject but in America, besides some cursory reviews of gravity and the motions of planets, it is not taught until late in high school. At that time, the math of physics is thrown into the mix making the entire subject, especially to the generation that grew up on video games and smart phones, off-putting.

I’m not a holier-than-thou on the subject of being off-put by difficult math. Perhaps, like me, you’ve read a Stephen Hawking book or two and maybe throw a science book into your reading list on occasion. The first three chapters, where it is explained in broad terms how things work, are always engaging and make you feel smart to follow along. Then, there’s no way to get to the complex ideas later in the book without some extreme abstract thinking. Even though you might struggle through the last half of the book, you’re just going through the motions. No mind can hold it all in short term memory and there isn’t enough time to really learn it all.

Kids have time. Middle school physics is the first three chapters of those books presented in ways that engage and captivate kids and draw them into collaborative exercises. I sat through most of the introduction at Lincolnview for the teachers this week. It would take another column to explain how it works, but I can tell you, this is something different and it will fascinate kids of that age.

The idea is to start learning the principles of physics when young enough to apply it in an already over-active imagination and without the complicated math. If you are already thinking about how light travels or electrons flow and find it of interest, then the math is just the math, something you get through to think more fully on the subject. It’s like studying all the chords after learning the first few songs on an electric guitar – it’s not work as long as you learn to play a new song or two along the way.

Physics is, after all, how everything works. On our radio show, the Commissioners Corner, Chris Roberts has pointed out that there is a Physics Day at Cedar Point and that all of the rides there are physics exhibits if you understand the engineering behind them. Think of it, your kids pondering the magnets and propulsion of the Top Thrill Dragster during that hour wait instead of watching those stupid music videos they now play in the mazes. They will too, because once it’s in their heads and they begin to notice all of the real world applications around them, it will never leave.

This seems like an educational effort but it is really economic development. There is no shortage of engineering jobs locally but the kids who are currently interested generally seek higher pay in the big cities. We simply need more interested high school graduates.

More importantly, we could be creating a generation of innovators, and it only takes a few. We’re never going to be Silicon Valley. But we can be the closest thing that a rural Midwestern community can be to it. Steve Jobs, if he grew up in Van Wert County, would likely have been an interesting character, but he never would have created the experience of the modern computer. Steve Wozniak would have been a tech guy in a back room somewhere – everybody knows one.

Is it a miracle that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, or Bill Gates and Paul Allen, or Larry Page and Sergey Brin were in the same places at the same time? Probably not. There were probably a good number of people who could have filled a half of those partnerships had they been there. The miracle isn’t that these partners met, the miracle was the places that created the conditions for these people to have something to talk about and a common language with which to speak.

It’s not too much to think that over the next decade, we can create those conditions here. Innovators don’t have to leave town to innovate, they only need a partner in creation. Google, Apple and Microsoft are all located where the partners met and had the idea. That’s part of what is being attempted here in Science County, USA (copyright to name pending, Todd Wolfrum, 2015).

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on 9-11-15 Science County, USA

9-4-15 The Problem

The first step is admitting that you have a problem. Then you have to figure out what the problem is.

Economic conditions here are not good, but most of you already know that. According to the 2010 census, Van Wert County had the lowest per capita income of any county in Northwest Ohio except Hardin County. That’s right, Paulding County is richer than us. Even counting the south side of Lima, so is Allen.

Wages are stagnant and have been. Find me a business established in the last ten years that is making someone rich. Farmers had a nice bounce for a few years but now crop prices are down and property taxes are up – way up. In the middle of this, another generation of bright young people are in the process of finding greener pastures elsewhere, mostly in the big cities where jobs are plentiful and wages are anything but stagnant.

In the Commissioners’ Office, we created a new County Economic Development office to answer one primary question: Why are our best young people almost all moving away and can anything be done about it? This is really the ultimate question – if the intelligent and motivated young people decide that leaving is a better choice than staying, it’s only a matter of time until bad economic conditions become permanent.

Director Smith eventually found an answer at a seminar and in a book. Suddenly, all of it made horrifying sense. We don’t have a jobs problem in our county, or even this region. We have a demographic problem, something infinitely harder to solve.

In a previous column, I did what was basically a book review of “When the Boomers Bail” by Mark Lautman. I won’t retread that whole column here and you can get that book on Amazon. (All of my columns are on toddwolfrum.com.) The crux of that book was that the Boomers were the first generation in history not to sufficiently replace themselves with children and there approaches a massive workforce shortage as that generation reaches retirement.

Our county demographics are ahead of Lautman’s thesis. The kids had already been leaving here for a few decades. Now, as the Boomer generation begins to retire, there is not only no one to replace them from the Millennials now entering the workforce, but, because of the population loss in our county over the last twenty years, there is also a shortage between the retirees and the beginners.

And because we lack people of working age, we also lack sufficient numbers of kids in the county that are going to be reaching working age over the next ten to fifteen years who are likely to stay here and be productive.

The problem is unique in history. You might see our unemployment rate in the paper. I’m here to tell you that those numbers mean absolutely nothing. Most of our county employers have job openings, some have high-paying job openings. The trouble is finding someone willing to get an education or just a warm body that can pass a drug test and show up for work. If there are open jobs not being filled, the actual unemployment rate is zero.

At zero unemployment, the problem is not attracting business, the problem is keeping the ones you’ve got. How long can a company last if it can’t find employees? What company is going to locate here if the businesses that are already here can’t find workers? Funny thing about successful businessmen – they’re not stupid.

This all makes the adage “If you build it they will come” obsolete. Not to say that someone filling the Megasite would not help. If a large employer paying premium wages filled that 1,600 acres north of town, we can work with that upside. But if it happened tomorrow, it is difficult to see how our existing businesses would survive. Premium wages would effectively draw away all the good employees from our existings who are already short workers. How long could they last?

Further, the Boomers retiring is a regional problem – we’re not going to be able to draw very much from our neighbors’ populations. Our former state representative Jim Hoops was recently up to our office. He now works for Northwest State in Archbold and I asked him if the workforce problem is, indeed, national as Lautman suggests. He affirmed for Northwest Ohio and said that both Sauders and Campbell’s Soup, two big employers in that region, are having trouble finding employees.

I’ve heard it said that, whatever else we do, we need to keep a strong connection with Columbus because that’s who’s going to help us land the big fish in the end. Here’s what Columbus is preaching: That a worker will drive 45 miles for a good job so anything that happens within 45 miles of Van Wert is good for Van Wert.

Read that carefully with the understanding that Columbus is also encouraging regionalization and has only been successful in attracting business to Ohio’s largest metro areas or near them – the places where all of our kids are moving. Sure, they would love to help the small towns, but they know they can’t because of the demographics and workforce shortage.

The best Columbus can do is try to convince us that a win for Findlay is a win for us. But follow that line of thought to an obvious conclusion: Will the next generation stay here and drive that 45 miles too? Not a chance in hell. A win for Findlay is a win for Findlay. For us, it’s just buying time as our population continues a downward spiral.

It’s not all gloom and doom. The local economic development strife over the last few years that brought this issue to the forefront actually puts us ahead. Other communities have the same status quo issues as here – successful people who want to do things an old way because it worked for them. But times have changed. We had that fight already – everyone else will have it a few years from now when someone notices they also don’t have enough young people anymore.

We might have a deeper hole to dig out of, but we also have a blank slate. If you’re looking for someone to come and save our community, brother, that just isn’t going to happen. We are on our own and so is every other rural community. But, to paraphrase Cool Hand Luke, sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand. Over the next few weeks, I’ll tell you how. Stay tuned.


Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on 9-4-15 The Problem

8-28-15 Trump: The Dark Knight or The Joker

You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go ‘according to plan.’ Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all ‘part of the plan.’ But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!
Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair!” – The Joker in the 2008 movie The Dark Knight.

Heath Ledger gave, arguably, the greatest movie performance of last decade in his portrayal of Batman’s clown nemesis. It’s one of those – when you see it on cable, you can’t turn the channel. You can’t stop watching that character. Ledger, better known as a handsome leading man, was unrecognizable as The Joker, perhaps so immersed in the coherent insanity of that role that he died of a drug overdose shortly after the movie’s release.

It’s a tad too cute, maybe, to say that Trump is doing to politics what Ledger’s character did to Gotham. But he is giving the best performance of this decade and, just like Ledger, you can’t turn the channel when he’s on. Trump, at a minimum, has created some constructive chaos and for this all Republicans, at least the conservative ones, should rejoice.

Think where we were just a few months ago. Did anyone really doubt that we were sleepwalking toward an inevitable Clinton-Bush contest where, whoever came out on top, the real winner would be the establishment? Changing things is messy and bad for business.

Everyone was going through the motions and playing the parts. There would be some twists and turns on the campaign trail but that too was all part of “The Plan”. In the end, like every time since 1988, the Republicans would roll out the establishment candidate in hopes of winning that great unwashed middle. Should that candidate win the general election, he would pay lip service to the conservative cause while negotiating away any political capital in the name of compromise. All of it, part of “The Plan.”

And there was no greater protector of “The Plan” than the press. The ground rules limited all speech to a closed language that made conservative arguments impossible. Anything outside of that language and you were either crazy or involved in some clandestine war on something sacred. Abortion is wrong = war on women. Balanced Budget = crazy. Immigration a problem = war on Hispanics. Police allowed to defend themselves = war on blacks. Honest people having guns to defend themselves against armed criminals = crazy.

To cut it some slack, let’s assume that there is no intentional liberal bias in the mainstream media – which is likely the case. The press is centered in New York, Washington D.C. and California and is perhaps only reflecting what it believes to be the national norms based on local dialogue. All politics is local, after all.

Trump’s brashness and the massive rallies that have followed have already changed all of that. Through blunt talk and downright incivility, Trump and his early adherents – the only adherents turning out in the tens of thousands – have proved that the accepted dialogue does not reflect the nation and the press has blinked. And just that blink has opened the floodgates, maybe long enough to get in a few arguments based on logic instead of political correctness, even if Trump isn’t the one making the logical arguments yet.

Can you imagine if the Climate Change alarmists would actually allow an honest debate instead of just claiming the debate is over? If there really is nothing to debate, how long would that take? They would have a better chance of winning over the skeptical half of the public with a comprehensive exchange of facts. But what’s the point of winning over that half when you already have in your half the ones that can force policy through moral coercion and guilt, which is what the press has become? So it has been with every issue.

Trump is the singular figure able to change that. He was a reality star for a decade before reality TV existed, and then he became a TV reality star. He has fostered the character he plays in real life for thirty years. He has success outside of politics – intimidating and overwhelming success, much greater than any member of the press could hope to achieve. Normal politicians only have success on par with media anchors. Who else could tell reporters to “Sit down and shut up?” Any other candidate would be forced out of politics within a week.

I’m not on the bandwagon yet, but, probably like many conservatives, I’m running along the side cheering for now, hoping that all the ballyhoo can transform into actual policy. Deporting all the illegals doesn’t seem likely. Balancing the budget will take more than “good people”. There’s plenty of time to fill in the blanks so we can all just enjoy the show for awhile.

If the policy never comes, there are several candidates waiting in the wings to reap the benefits of the service Donald Trump has provided this country. Through cracking the establishment façade, honest debate is developing. Illegal immigration a problem – well, maybe. Let’s talk. Government spending a problem – that’s certainly possible. When the Republican candidate opens his or her mouth in a future debate (with Joe Biden), the moderator likely won’t be on a side, and for that he or she can thank Trump.

Feel free to argue the other side without the language constrictions of the past, national liberals. Make sense of twenty trillion of debt, a quarter of the work force choosing not to work, killing babies for spare parts, a country without borders, and buddying up to countries who brutalize women and want to kill us. I’m guessing you’re going to feel very free to make these arguments, almost unprotected.

Maybe he is more the Joker than the Dark Knight, who knows? But there is no arguing that Trump upset “The Plan” in the summer of 2015 and injected a little chaos into the system. And do you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on 8-28-15 Trump: The Dark Knight or The Joker


It’s been a few years since the Van Wert County Fair has presented a headliner band. James Otto a few years ago was barely an opening act. The low turnout for that show and the prior main event, the Edgar Winter Group, foretold a possible end to the Fair’s ability to produce the big name.

            But the Charlie Daniels Band concert on Tuesday, September 1, is the return of the big name to the Fair. And with freebies and amenities galore.

            Admission for the grandstand is only $25 and there are still plenty of seats available. That price would be a great deal even if all of the things I’m about to say weren’t also true. First, the concert is being held on the evening before the Fair officially opens, so parking and admission to the Fairgrounds are free. No hidden fees.

            But wait, there’s more!

            How many concerts of this caliber allow you to bring your own refreshments? Normally, the producers of such a show are trying to make as much profit from the sale of concessions as from tickets. For this show, you are allowed to bring your own cooler. It is entirely up to you what you put in that cooler.

            But wait, there’s still more!

            Local favorite Nashville Crush will be the opening act. Normally, these guys alone could sell out a venue where you could bring your own refreshments at $25 a ticket. But even further, if you do want to purchase some Fair fare, most of the food vendors will be open that night. You can take a break from the music to walk about and get an elephant ear or a sausage sandwich, or even some fried cheese. (Heart attack optional.)

            All of this before Charlie Daniels, a bona fide music legend, takes the stage. Daniels was creating a pop country sound before Garth Brooks ever heard a steel guitar. In the Sixties, he co-wrote a song recorded by Elvis and played bass on three Bob Dylan albums. He broke in his fiddle backing The Marshall Tucker Band and Hank Williams, Jr. before busting out on his own. He also appeared in one of the top ten movies about mechanical bull riding ever made, “Urban Cowboy.”

Of course, he will always be identified by one mega-hit: “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” His legend suffers a bit from his music being before its time – because it lacks a genre, it is rarely played on classic rock or country stations. But Daniels wasn’t a one-hit wonder. If you listened to the radio in the Seventies and early Eighties, you know “In America”, “The Legend of Wooley Swamp”, and the theme song from the movie “Stroker Ace.” (Probably twice as many people know that song as ever saw that silly Burt Reynolds vehicle.)

            Other songs one might youtube to assess their Daniels familiarity include “The Souths Gonna Do it Again”, “Uneasy Rider”, “Every Time I See Him”, and “Long Haired Country Boy.”

            The presentation of The Charlie Daniels Band was a combined effort of the Fair Board and the County Economic Development Office. Having lost money on many of the prior productions, the Fair was rightly cautious to put up for a big act again on its own. But there needs to be events like these for our community’s long-term viability and that’s where our county ED became interested and sought private investment to assume much of the risk. How many county events appeal to both our heavily populated demographic – people over 50 – and our most frighteningly underpopulated demographic – people aged 20 to 40?

            Profit is a secondary concern, and this is the reason for the cheap tickets and all of the perks. A successful show this year could lead to something more next year. Most of the investors understand there is a greater risk of loss than likelihood of reward, but they are people who believe in the need for the viability of the Fair and events like this.

            We spent several months choosing the act. One of the first criteria for me was that you had to have a band that had the name of the singer in it. For example, if you talk about Journey or Styx, you’re talking about bands that lack their lead singer or one of their lead singers. Fans of the band know who’s still in it and no one turns out to hear the original drummer. This concern proved prescient when a lead singer from one of our finalists, Three Dog Night, died a few months after our ultimate decision.

            Cost, of course, was an issue. Tom Petty and Bob Seger are still in the $300,000 per show range and neither the Fair nor our investors are in a position to take that kind of leap. Those tickets would necessarily cost closer to $100. George Thorogood and Joan Jett were in the right cost range, but, as it was explained to us, aging rock acts have eclectic crowds. There are so many different subsets of rock that there is no guarantee that any of them will sell in any region of the country, which is where the Edgar Winter Group may have ran into some trouble.

            Charlie Daniels, however, draws from larger pools. He had no trouble filling the Niswonger PAC a few years ago and, by all accounts, that was a great show. To reintroduce the big name, there was really no other choice once he was introduced for consideration.

            If you are over forty, you will remember this music. If you are under forty, you are in for a treat and you have something affordable to do on a date or a place to introduce your kids to a big-time music show that oozes Americana. Most of all, this is a community opportunity, a chance to come out together en masse for an event like we all used to do.

            Did I mention tickets are only $25?

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on 8-21-15 INTRODUCTING THE CHARLIE DANIELS BAND

8-14-15 The Soft Parade

            Kaboom! Donald Trump has already made the 2016 Republican presidential race the most intriguing American political event in over a century, perhaps since Lincoln in 1860. Trump’s rhetoric led a field already overcooked with candidates and ideas into a debate that became the most watched non-sports event in cable television history. There seems to be a candidate for every version of conservative thought. It’s something politics usually isn’t – fun.

            One opposite of fun is drudgery. Is there a better term to describe the unfolding parade on the Democratic side of the race? Hillary Clinton, suffering through the banality of dealing with the common people already seems at her wit’s end, and with the election a mere fifteen months away. Bernie Sanders is reportedly unelectable but still speaks to full houses of angry entitled voters clamoring for policies that everyone but them knows will only do them eventual harm. Martin O’Malley has already proven that he would rather be liked than be right.

            It’s a sparse crowd that, save Sanders, seems to be awaiting the next poll to see what it believes. And that for good reason. To say that the liberal cause has slowly overwhelmed traditional America since Roosevelt launched the New Deal over eighty years ago would be an understatement. The Democrats have, in the end, won virtually every argument they’ve started over those last four score years.

            It’s an unfair game, American politics. Conservatism is based on the idea of limited government and established values. Better stated, conservatism argues against change. Liberalism argues for change, any change. The debate between these two forces eventually takes the shape of “Let’s don’t change things” and “Let’s change them a bunch.” The compromise ends up being “Let’s change them a little.” But every change, however small, is a win for liberalism and the other half of the bargain awaits another, more enlightened, time.

            But has it run its course? Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Chairperson, was asked by Chris Matthews on his show a few weeks ago what the difference is between today’s Democrat and a socialist. The DNC chair could not answer. To be fair, one shouldn’t be judged by a quick response, or lack thereof, to an unexpected question. But, given time to ponder, she was asked again days later on “Meet the Press” and maintained her non-response.

            Schultz’s refusal to answer may have been out of deference to Sanders, an avowed socialist. Matthews, however, like many Democrats, must feel betrayed. After years of defending President Obama’s policies against charges of socialism, the DNC chair is now refusing to make that distinction. Old school liberals who see the government’s role as intervening in the interests of fairness or social justice are starting to know that the new base is not so limited.

            That being the case, there is now little in the party for more traditional Democrats. A moderate candidate has nothing to offer the new base, whose demands are proving bottomless. This explains why Hillary Clinton has no serious competition – what is the anti-Clinton platform that avoids being either a nod to conservativism or blatant socialism?

            And what of this droning slow motion disaster that is the Clinton campaign? Here’s to hoping the emails don’t take her out any time soon so we are allowed a longer view of this misery. She wants to be president more than anything. In fact, that is her only identifying trait. She is simultaneously the most shadowy and least in-touch politician anyone can recall. For example, in the scenario where a dead body is found in the trunk of a car she is driving, the most surprising fact would be that she is driving a car, which she hasn’t done in two decades.

            Martin O’Malley no one knows much about, except for one thing. He made the mistake of saying “All Lives Matter” at a “Black Lives Matter” rally and was immediately shouted off the stage.  The next day, he gave a heart-wrenched apology, revoking his outrageous claim that all lives matter. Whether or not non-black lives matter to O’Malley, can you imagine this guy staring down Iran or Russia?

            Bernie Sanders is an avowed socialist, meaning he is a modern liberal that has disavowed his pretentions. He is the one packing auditoriums, but the large majority of America is not that far gone. It will not elect a Socialist – even the Democratic Party won’t allow it in the end. The best argument against socialism and its more robust younger brother, communism, is anywhere in the world it has ever been tried. We’re not nearly there, not while most of our generations can remember the Soviet Union.

            Then there are those on the sidelines, possibly Joe Biden or Al Gore. But no one on the periphery is spouting policy. They have to be thinking, “If I open my mouth, what do I say?” Biden is taking his sweet time trying to solve that very conundrum. And if President Obama’s terms in office are a success story, why are none of his disciples out campaigning to continue his agenda? It would be great sport to see Eric Holder or Rahm Emanuel try it.

            Liberalism is suffering a rare ideological bankruptcy – one that is brought on by constant success. Forty years ago, gay marriage was a punch line and Bruce Jenner was about to become an Olympic hero. Roe v. Wade was new. The national debt was manageable, there was legitimate racism, and very poor people were thin. Archie Bunker was funny.

               For better and worse, all that is changed now. But as the most grotesque depictions of government sponsored activity in our history are being exposed at Planned Parenthood, are the old school Democrats, those who fought the good fight for equality and the social justice, reviewing their fellow travelers?


Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on 8-14-15 The Soft Parade

2-27-15 Aggregation in a Nutshell

I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member,” – Groucho Marx.

            Woody Allen used this quote at the beginning of the movie “Annie Hall” to describe his relationships with women. Great movie if you’ve never seen it. A paraphrase of that quote could describe how some people feel about government – “I refuse to join any club that the government would prefer I be a member.”

            But sometimes there are benefits to joining the herd, especially when the herd’s bargaining power can be used to wrestle better prices out of everyone’s second favorite punching bag after the IRS – utility companies. That is the point of the county’s government electricity aggregation program.

            Have you ever been to a meeting where people discussed a topic that you really didn’t understand so you sat quietly and nodded your head whenever someone looked your way? About twice a year, the representative from Palmer Energy, our electricity aggregation broker, comes to the Commissioners’ Office to give us an update on our program. For two years, I sat quietly and nodded my head when someone looked my way.

            Unable to learn much through the sheer force of time and osmosis as I’d hoped, when he came this week, I just flat out admitted that I didn’t understand what any of it was about. I live in a Co-op service area that isn’t eligible for aggregation anyway. But I figured if I had this much exposure and still didn’t understand it, there must be several people similarly adrift in that boat. Our rep was more than happy to very slowly explain.

            In 2012, certain townships, villages, and the City of Van Wert, voted to enter into a government electricity aggregation program. This put individual consumers into a county-wide pool to increase bargaining power. There are two parts in providing power to your home – the delivery and the supply. The delivery part involves the lines and the poles and billing and the company doing that in much of the county is AEP, which has an absolute monopoly in its zones of operation.

Electrical aggregation effects the supply part of the equation. There are several companies that supply power – basically purchasing it from power plants and reselling it. The supply price for the parts of the county that entered aggregation in 2012 has remained $5.85 per kWh ever since. AEP’s delivery charges add on another two or three cents to the total rate.

            If your governing entity, meaning your township or town, voted to enter aggregation, then you are automatically signed-up and have to take some action to opt out of it. Here’s where some confusion began. First Energy is the company that won the 2012 contract, so everyone in an aggregation zone was automatically signed up with that company. But then, another division of First Energy began trying to sell a different contract in the county. Some people understandably thought that they had to sign that contract to enter into or remain in the aggregation program, but really, they were opting out of aggregation into a different program.

First Energy was eventually convinced to knock it off although other companies continued to sell their products. You may still get flyers and calls trying to sign you up with different electricity suppliers. Doing so would automatically remove you from aggregation.

Another source of confusion derives from the fact that your utility companies are far from perfect. Just because you should have gotten the lower rates doesn’t mean you weren’t conveniently over-looked in a billing program. This is more common than you might think. If you are in an AEP service area and your bill does not have First Energy on it as the supplier, you are not getting the aggregation price. Don’t be afraid to call and complain. Also don’t be afraid to be put on hold for longer than would seem necessary.

            It is easier to list the places in the county that are not in aggregation than it is to list the ones that are. First, if your electric company is Midwest Electric or Paulding-Putnam Electric, you are in a Co-op and not eligible for aggregation. That is why, like me, you may have been blissfully ignorant of the drama with aggregation and the outlier supply companies. About half of the rural population is served by one of these two Co-ops.

As for the towns: Delphos does its own aggregation and is not in the county plan. Ohio City is not in aggregation because it has its own municipal power supply. Venedocia, Scott, and Elgin are not in aggregation but should consider it as they are all served by AEP.

The only townships not in aggregation are Tully and Hoaglin. 95% of Tully and 80% of Hoaglin are served by Paulding-Putnam and not eligible for aggregation. Willshire Township joined aggregation a year late. Partly because of that and partly because it has some areas served by Dayton Power and Light, that township gets different rates and different suppliers than the rest of the county.

            Nothing keeps you from opting for a different supplier than the aggregation supplier. It is unlikely your purchasing power would get a better price than you and all your neighbors in the county combined but you can try. Some might offer sweet deals for a year but beware what could befall in year two. If there is an optimal supplier, the county program will opt for that supplier or wrangle that rate out of its current supplier when the contract is reviewed at the end of every two year period anyway.

Almost always, the government electricity aggregation rate will be the best option. You can exercise this option by doing nothing and continuing to do so, a remarkably easy thing to do considering how complicated the utility companies have tried to make it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on 2-27-15 Aggregation in a Nutshell