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.

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8-21-15 INTRODUCTING THE CHARLIE DANIELS BAND

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?

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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?

 

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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.

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2-20-15 County Update

Every Sunday morning at around 8:20 AM on 99.7 FM there airs a program called “The Commissioners’ Corner.” On that show, county business is discussed by host Chris Roberts, myself, and another commissioner or two. Many of the things discussed there either aren’t involved enough or developed enough to fill a column, but combined, they make for a nice county update.

The hottest topic under discussion is still the Starr Campus and the possible Northwest State/Ohio State presence there. By last November, representatives from the Starr, OSU and Northwest State had met the idea with enthusiasm but left it for us to provide a business plan. For the next few months, we waited on a lease or purchase price from the Starr – hard to develop a plan without a number. Unbeknownst to us, the Commonwealth was involved in its own restructuring.

Although we still don’t have a price, the project for the campus is back on the front burner and we’ll be meeting with Starr higher-ups next week. As far as a business plan, I threw a rough draft together and our Economic Development office is working it over into something presentable. As it stands, all the parties involved still present as enthusiastic but are waiting on us to make it happen, so we will.

Speaking of our ED office, this past week, the superintendents from Van Wert, Lincolnview, Crestview, and Delphos Jefferson met in our office for a presentation from a Colorado group about middle school physics. It’s a program that has been successful in interesting younger kids in basic physics out there, which facilitates an easier and earlier transition to higher levels of science and tech in high school.  Van Wert already has a program in its middle schools that resembles what we presented.

Demographics seem to indicate that the most important factor for locating a business in the future will be workforce availability. If our schools can find a way to fit middle school physics into an already crowded curriculum, Van Wert County will immediately be well ahead of the rest of the state for next decade’s workforce. With a top notch vocational facility out at Vantage and the possibility of an Ohio State presence, we’re hoping to get the jump on a rapidly changing national economic landscape, one that isn’t promising for rural communities.

We keep looking for ways to build our infrastructure as well. At last month’s Regional Planning Commission (RPC) meeting, grant coordinators presented some possible projects for the county. One promising project involves developing bike trails through the county. There was a $3 million grant that went unclaimed in the state last year for such a project – we’ll be sure it won’t go unclaimed a second time. Trails from Ohio City to Van Wert and from Van Wert to Delphos have been discussed.

Also at that RPC meeting, from the myriad of programs examined, an idea developed to try to apply for a different project in each of our villages this year. Middle Point has the big grant work coming in 2015 with North Adams Street and some other side streets being reworked. But smaller projects, such as lights in ballparks, were also discussed as part of bringing our villages into a process where they work together to rotate through the different available grant programs.

Now for trash talk. The lease for the county’s transfer station terminated at the end of 2014. That’s the building on the top of the hill across the highway from Towne Center. We are currently looking at bids for a new company to operate that solid waste disposal facility. It had only been open on Saturdays for some time but whatever company takes it over will likely have it open at least some days throughout the week soon.

The current County Engineer buildings are going up for auction in the next few months. These are the buildings and lots on the corners of South Market and East Crawford Streets. For information on the sale, contact Bee Gee Realty. The Engineer’s office will be moving all of its operations to its location on Grill Road in the coming years. (Or Kear Road or Bonnewitz Avenue, depending on how far you’ve gone and in which direction – Van Wert residents get the joke.)

We spent 2013 searching for a new health insurance provider for county employees. The company we went with came in about a half million below four other quotes that were all about the same. Any time the quote is that much lower, you have to take it but you also have to wonder what mess you’re getting into. Despite a few glitches that could be expected with any switch in insurance carriers, 2014 went off well and 2015 has begun well. The savings have enabled a budget surplus. Big thanks to Gallagher Bassett for thinking outside the box for us and with us.

We will be fortunate if that surplus is not quickly eaten up in 2015. Our first budget problem is payroll. There are 52 weeks in a year – plus a day or two depending on if there is a Leap Day. The county pays its employees bi-weekly. That extra day or two adds up to an extra pay period every twelve years or so. That happens this year. That one extra pay period costs a couple hundred thousand dollars.

Another budget hit could come compliments of our friendly neighborhood Wal-Mart. Since moving out to Towne Center, it has twice successfully applied for a reduction in its property taxes. The dynamics between Wal-Mart, Equity (the company that owns Towne Center), the City, and the County actually could fill an entire column, but the final analysis is this: Equity is not returning phone calls about delinquent tax and debt payments, said delinquency is, in part, caused by the reduction in payments from Wal-Mart, and the county guaranteed it all way back when. Another couple hundred thousand hit could come if Equity goes under.

Windmills are on hold while the state decides how it wants to handle setbacks and incentives. We’ve heard some rumblings from our state officials that the schools who are getting windmill PILOT payments may get their state formula funding reduced. That this would happen had been anticipated by many people on both sides of the windmill debate, but that it is happening this quickly is surprising, especially after all the guarantees from our pro-windmill state officials that it would never happen.

So it goes in Van Wert County, February, 2015.

 

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2-13-15 The Return of the States

Article V of the United States Constitution: “The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof . ..”

The federal government is never going to solve its debt problem. It doesn’t even intend to. The hard-fought-for sequester that took effect in 2013 cut federal spending in that year by $85.3 billion. In that same year, the government still ran a $680 billion deficit. In 2014, we went another $483 billion into debt. In two years of alleged austerity, we accumulated a trillion dollars of new debt. Welcome to the new normal.

When it was signed into law in 2011, the argument against the sequester was that we didn’t want to make spending cuts in a weak economy. Last week, President Obama suggested we should ease the sequester in the coming year as, with the economy picking up, there is no need for such austerity. Congressional Republicans talk a lot about the need for spending cuts – except those that would affect their own districts. Round and round we go.

            Fortunately, despite their fetish for knickers, our Founding Fathers were wise men. Don’t try to make their intent a point in a political conversation anymore, though. We’re far beyond that in our national dialogue. The people who don’t agree with what the Founders meant also don’t care what they meant, and the silent disinterested majority wince at a James Madison reference. In the Constitution, however, all such people were foreseen, and that was the real wisdom.

            Our Constitution serves two main purposes: First to create a federal government and second to limit that federal government. At the time, the States, meaning the people and their local governments, were concerned about maintaining their own autonomy. The Tenth Amendment, leaving the States all powers not explicitly granted to the federal government, wasn’t a throw-in to make the Bill of Rights a nice round number. It was a demand without which the States, meaning the people, would not have consented to a federal government.

But the Tenth Amendment can be overridden by activist federal courts. That last sentence pretty much sums up the last sixty years of Supreme Court jurisprudence.

            Article V is the final line of defense against what has happened and is happening. It allows the States, through their own legislatures, to call a national convention to amend the Constitution. If former Ohio Rep. Matt Huffman of Lima and his allies in our state’s government are successful, an Article V convention is on its way.

            Huffman, who is now back in his private law practice after serving his allotted terms in the Ohio House, sponsored a successful initiative while in office for the Ohio General Assembly to call for a constitutional convention. The purpose behind the convention would be to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. Despite being term-limited off the Columbus scene for now, Huffman is still a lead sponsor of the project.

            That initiative now has the support of 24 states. Two-thirds of the States, or 34, must call for a convention for it to be held. Ohio’s Governor John Kasich could be found in recent weeks touring some western states trying to drum up support. Once called, a convention can propose an amendment to the constitution and present it to all the states. If three-fourths, or 38 states, approve the amendment through their legislatures, then the Constitution is amended.

            Although a convention of the states has never amended the constitution, Huffman is quick to point out that several times in the past, when momentum for a convention has gathered, Congress has been forced to take some initiative itself and get legislation accomplished. The income tax, the repeal of prohibition, and the direct election of Senators all were constitutional amendments that resulted in part by pressure from the possibility of an Article V convention.

            States’ Rights have hovered on the backburner of political debate for the last few decades. The doctrine took a moral shellacking when it was used to defend first slavery, and then Jim Crow. Everything good about state government and local control got thrown aside based on laws that intended to fix only these problems. Now, the federal government is involved in most decisions in our lives, including how our children are educated and where we get health care. The only reason it doesn’t make every decision for us is that it hasn’t found a way to yet, but it’s looking. States, save California, have never made such presumptions.

            The federal government is crippling its population for the following century with debt. The numbers are too big to seem real, which is kind of how they are successfully ignored in Washington. If we always had a balanced budget and suddenly came up a half trillion short one year, it would be a scandal. In your personal life, if you get a bill for a thousand dollars it’s painful because you can eventually pay it. If you get a bill for a million dollars, it’s a joke because you can’t.

            Critics worry that such a convention could roll out of control in amending our fundamental document. With the requirement of the approval of three-quarters of States compared to the two-thirds of Congress, it’s hard to see how such shenanigans could develop.

As the idea gains steam, you’ll begin to hear criticism. Listen carefully. You will find the echoes of Washington politicians and lobbyists, both of whom only want the game to stay the same. If anyone saves us from these people, it will be the States.

           

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2-6-15 Van Wert Goes Amish

            Reality television came to Van Wert in 2014 when a show called “Vanilla Ice Goes Amish” featured a project at one of our county’s homes. For those who aren’t fans of early 1990’s pop music, Vanilla Ice was a white rapper who made it big by swiping a bass-line from a Queen song and creating a hip-hop ode to himself. Unable to find subsequent subject matter as compelling as himself, he never had a second hit. Turns out, he’s more enjoyable as an Amish sidekick than he ever was a rap artist. But then, I wasn’t a fan.

            You know who never saw an airing of that show? The Amish. They were apparently more interested in our real estate while they were here with Mr. Ice anyway. In the past few years, despite record high prices for farmland, Amish families have purchased three farms in the southwest part of our county and set up old-timey shop. For those who live in the vicinity of Willshire and Wren, you’ve likely already swerved once or twice to miss a surprise buggy heading down the side of the road in the only part of the county with the semblance of hills.

            More buggies are on the way. According to a 2012 story in the Washington Times, the Amish population in America is expected to quadruple over the next 40 years from 250,000 to over a million. The large family concept that built this country still exists in the Amish communities where families have six or seven kids on average, one of which is invariable named Zebediah. Ohio is home to the largest number of Amish – 60,000. Pennsylvania and Indiana are close behind.

            Considering the non-Amish rural population in the Midwest is on the decline and there is a large Amish community right across the Indiana line, apparently quadrupling, we can expect further Amish immigration in the near future. Especially as our farm land seem to be tilting back toward reality. Famous for keeping to themselves, an influx of Amish will nevertheless recreate some old school issues we haven’t had to deal with since the rail cars first started rolling through.

            The horse and buggies might give you a warm feeling when you see them, might make you remember that things used to be simple. Simple isn’t necessarily the highest good, however. There is probably nothing less complicated than a pile of crap on asphalt. Anyone who has been to a parade knows that horses don’t keep a regular schedule for their leavings. Whenever it happens, it happens. That’s fine out on the pasture, but on the roads, the leavings can cause cosmetic harm to cars and physical harm to motorcyclists.

            We’re looking at how the nearby counties in Indiana deal with the issue. There are some who have proposed diaper laws for horses. Another option is buggy license plates, the fees collected to be used to help maintain clean roadways or create side paths along the roads. We’re not there yet, but if more Amish arrive, we’ll have to look at such eventualities.

            And I wouldn’t say that the Amish are “fans” of electricity and indoor plumbing. They are so not enamored with such luxuries that they tend to rip the wiring and pipes out of the homes that they buy. This is all well and good, but through this intentional devaluation of property, they are then able to apply for lower property taxes.  

It is their property, so it’s hard to argue that they can’t do with it what they want. And the law is that the tax value of the home is the actual value regardless of intentional acts to diminish overall worth – you only pay on what you actually own whether or not you have taken a ball bat to it. But there may need to be some verification process for this over time just for the sake of fairness to property owners who are forced to put in $15,000 plumbing systems upon purchasing old properties to comply with EPA mandates. Amish are exempt from this because they don’t use plumbing systems – they use holes in the ground.

            Amish are just about the least likely people to suddenly change course on the issue of plumbing or anything else, however. Some misunderstand the Amish aversion to electricity and modern comforts, thinking that there must be something in their religion that says electricity is of the devil. This leads to further pondering – how can Amish can justify riding in vans to the worksite or borrowing cell phones to make calls?

My understanding of it is that they want to maintain a certain lifestyle that predates electricity and that the gadgets of the modern world lead to envy and dissension in the community. There is no aversion to electricity, per se, it’s an aversion to televisions and appliances and cars that replace a sense of community with a sense of pride and ownership and distances the owner from the family. Anyone with a teenager equipped with a cell phone will have trouble countering this argument. It’s about humility, and is there anything more humbling than having to, every day, ask somebody for a ride?

But what makes Amish distinctively Amish is an unwillingness to participate in the larger world. So don’t expect them to begin joining in the community as they arrive – they stay to themselves if possible. They are exempt from paying Social Security taxes and think insurance is immoral. Their education system goes to about the eighth grade because that’s the extent of education needed to live in their community. They do pay income taxes but generally shun subsidies, and shun each other for acts inconsistent with Amishism.

At the end of their education, young Amish are allowed a period of what’s called rumspringa. That’s when you might see them at Willshire Days or the Wren Whiffle Ball Tournament, whooping it up. This is a period of sowing oats in the modern world before a final decision to commit to the Amish world. There must be something to it – after experiencing what America has to offer for a year or two, 90% of Amish choose to go back to their communities. We would certainly take that rate of retention in the county.

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1-30-15 Make Your Argument

“If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” – Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight.

            A friend of mine recently got elected to a commissioner spot in a nearby county. One of his co-commissioners there has served for several decades and is well-known in the state – a sage of local politics. My friend told him about these columns I write. The old-timer looked at him sideways and asked, “He does what?”

            There is no good political reason to write these things. In fact, for a local politician, it’s pretty stupid. Every time I take an unnecessary public stand on any issue, even if a majority agrees, it likely costs me in the polls. Human nature is that you can agree with what someone says fifty times but what sticks in your craw is the one thing they say that you didn’t like.

            Although there is no reason to take a stand on every issue, for the life of me, I can’t understand why anyone would want to be in politics other than to make an argument. It’s not great pay and, locally, there isn’t much glory in it. There are better ways to pass time than trying to be popular for the sake of being popular.

            But writing isn’t for everyone. Writing is work and it’s work that most people find disagreeable. Initially, I called this column the “County Forum” in hopes of generating some lively local debate. (And is there no one here that will defend the progressive agenda? Anyone?). In the couple of years I’ve been doing this, I’ve gotten virtually no counterargument, not by anyone who would put their name on it anyway. I have sometimes got, “You shouldn’t have said it that way.” As my favorite columnist, George Will, would reply: Well.

            These columns were a subject on the Van Wert Topix website about a year ago when the economic development disagreements went public. If you’re not familiar with that particular online forum, it’s where most discussions end with one anonymous poster calling another a heroin addict. The subject could be donations to the United Way and someone’s a heroin addict by the end of it. One of the most commented-on threads there was titled “You kind of smell like cat pee.” A parade of genius and inspiration it is not.

            Nonetheless, I was oddly proud of the thread generated there about Citizen Wolfrum because it maintained a decent level of discussion for a few days. One Citizen Wolfrum supporter asked one of my critics, “Why don’t you write a column and contradict what he’s saying.” The answer was “Writing columns isn’t my job.” I’ve got some bad news for you sunshine – It’s not my job either. It’s something I do for free and you can too.

            Most people can say their opinions – write it as you would say it first. For me, the hardest part is the first draft. I just type straight through for about a thousand words without trying to make coherent sense in any of it. I did that with this column and every other one I’ve written. I never have an outline when I start and what I write in a first draft is mostly garbage – there are times I end up using nothing from it. But I get a framework for what I want to say and my thoughts start to organize.

            Personally, I enjoy the rewriting part where I can cut and paste paragraphs and rewrite sentences until it all looks right to me.  I can’t write in groups and I generally have to be sitting alone in a room with a television on. Everyone’s different – some people like to carry on a conversation while they write and ask for input. (Wierdos) You find your own process the more you do it.

Some don’t like the way I write and it’s fine not to be everyone’s cup of tea. Attempts at humor in particular are easily taken the wrong way. No matter how good the joke on a person of the Polish persuasion, it falls flat in Poland. But if someone doesn’t like your writing style, it at least means you have some style. For my money, bad style is better than no style at all – if people read what you say to find grammatical errors, then at least they’ve heard your argument. Ain’t no law you can’t use double negatives here and there to liven things up.

            For me, the process takes about three hours in the late afternoon and early evening every Friday. I take time off from writing these things when I get busy with other projects at the law office, commissioners’ office, or when someone destroys one of my rental properties. I would enjoy people taking over for a week here and there as guest columnists but there still doesn’t seem to be a groundswell for it.

            I don’t have a column in the paper because I’m a commissioner and I didn’t have the one before because I’m an attorney. I have one because I take the time to do it and I meet the deadlines the editor gives me. If you want your own column in the paper, there’s no trick to it. Send them one – they generally will put it in if it’s an honest attempt. Then send them another one. Anyone can have a regular column in a newspaper and anyone with seven dollars a month can have a blog. You could be the next Dave Barry but you have to write the first one.

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1-23-15 BROTHER O’S TRAVELLING SALVATION SHOW

        “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” John F. Kennedy, 1962.

            There is a scene in the movie “The Naked Gun” where Leslie Nielsen’s slapstick detective character is working undercover as an umpire in a major league baseball game. The first pitch comes and Nielsen pauses, realizes he’s supposed to say something, and says “Strike?” The crowd applauds. The second pitch comes and he calls “Strike!” with more assurance and the crowd cheers louder. By the third pitch, he calls the strike before the ball even crosses the plate and begins a celebration dance as the crowd goes wild.

            Our State of the Union address is like that. The sitting president, whether Republican or Democrat, drones through a speech predetermined to be interrupted by automatic standing ovations. There might as well be an applause sign like on Saturday Night Live. Sadly, this State of the Union microcosm, vapid and formulaic, seems an apt depiction of our national politics.

            President Obama, at least, doesn’t drone. Anyone who has ever spoken publicly can attest – this guy is incredible, gliding through an hour-long speech without missing a beat. His greatest qualification (arguably his only qualification) for the nation’s highest office was the speech he gave in 2004 at the Democratic National Convention. That rhetorical flourish launched him from Illinois state congress obscurity right past the Hillary Clinton machine and into your life.

            If they take the time to listen and observe, conservatives likely will agree with some of what the President said on Tuesday and some of what he has done over the last several months. In fact, they will likely agree with about half of it, because Barrack Obama only talks about or does the easy half of anything and then waits for the applause as if he had done the hard part too.

            For example, granting amnesty by executive fiat, although unconstitutional, was probably the right thing to do, if you did the other half of what was necessary. Doing it without fixing the border made the problem deeper, more complex, and less likely to ever be solved. Granting amnesty (and it will be amnesty in the end) was the easy thing that anyone could have done – the other part would have required leadership.

            Ending the Cuban embargo was the right thing to do if you could get some concessions on human rights for Cubans. Anything. Any jack wagon could have ended the embargo – it literally took just signing a document. The hard half would have been getting something in exchange for giving away fifty years’ worth of foreign policy.

            The President called for free community college in his State of the Union speech. Of course, as we are running a deficit, any new costs are paid for by borrowing. The easy half of the idea is free community college. The easy half of any government program is proposing it. The difficult part is paying for it, which actually could be done by eliminating the mostly unconstitutional and entirely useless Department of Education. The President didn’t propose to pay for either college or the free daycare he also proposed.

            We are no longer in wars abroad. Ending them was the easy part. Providing a peaceful way forward is what’s hard. Personally, I support a policy of limited intervention, but not in the way it’s been implemented. It has seemed more the result of disinterest or downright laziness than a thoughtful strategy. It has left our enemies (and our allies) confused and wondering whether a bomb or an apology is headed their way. An isolationist policy requires clarity as to when and why we intend to engage in the future. Can anyone explain our foreign policy?

            It’s easy to say we need to close tax loopholes for the very wealthy. The hard part is identifying specific loopholes because there are rich liberals that donate too. Again, the President expressed anger at tax breaks for companies to locate jobs overseas. Mitt Romney’s response to that contention during the presidential campaign was “I’ve been in business for several decades and I have no idea what you’re talking about.” There are no such tax breaks. Identify a loophole and eliminate it by one of those now famous executive orders instead of pandering to the base about illusory problems.

            The absolute best example: How easy is it to close Gitmo by releasing all the terrorists?

            And much like Nielsen calling strikes, the President revels in receiving cheers for things he had nothing to do with. His policies lowered oil prices? Really? His policies thwarted Putin? They thwarted him into owning Crimea. The economic crisis is over despite record low work-force participation and record high food stamp participation? He’s the champion of middle class economics as the median wage continues its steady decline under his leadership?

            Is there anything more morally reprehensible than passing an $18 trillion debt to the next several generations? The national debt was not addressed in the President’s speech. Is it more astonishing that it wasn’t mentioned or that the omission didn’t astonish us? The President did say that the annual deficit has been reduced, but that is the result of ending two wars. The actual debt, the bundle of empty obligation the nation has created and continues to create for its future, and Obama’s $8 trillion chunk of it, was conveniently forgotten.

I’m not arguing national Republicans are any better, they just happen to mostly pander to the people who work and pay the bills. It would be refreshing for any national leader to say, “This is going to be hard, but I’m calling on the nation to sacrifice. Everybody, rich and poor, is going to be asked to help us out of this mess – everyone is going to be asked to sacrifice in some way. Here is the plan. It is going to be hard, but we’re Americans and that used to mean something, can still mean something.”

Or, the same leader can just yell “Strike Three!” and begin a celebration dance as Nielsen did. Half of the crowd will go wild. That was the President last Tuesday night.

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