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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        “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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1-16-15 The Playoffs That Urban Meyer Will Hate

            It could be argued that this year’s college football playoffs were the most popular two-week sporting event in the state of Ohio since the Big Red Machine won the 1976 World Series. Every football fan loved it and every Buckeye especially loved it. Every Buckeye, that is, except the one that it made immortal.

The day after the championship, most pundits were already calling for what the fans have been demanding for years: expanded playoffs. Urban Meyer was the first to come out adamantly against anything of the kind. Let’s pause for a second and recognize. Even though OSU was the best team, the Bucks may not have deserved to be in the playoffs. Had Ohio State been third and TCU fifth instead of the other way around, would the Horned Frogs have leapfrogged (pun) the Buckeyes into the playoffs in the final week in an otherwise identical scenario. It’s all politics, man, and we are THE Ohio State University. The current playoffs did right by us and then some.

            I’ll preface what comes next by saying that if Urban Meyer is in a restaurant that I am in, he won’t be paying for his meal. That’s probably true most everywhere in Ohio right now. But just because he’s a coaching genius, that doesn’t mean you can’t contend with his propositions. Urban argues that expanded playoffs would be bad because: a) 15 games are already too many; b) there is too much travel expense for families; c) there are too few scholarship players; and d) these playoff games are “heavyweight” contests, i.e. too stressful, to have any more of them.

            First, some overriding bad news for Meyer. The TV ratings for the college playoff games were higher than the NFL playoff games. That means it’s only a matter of time before we have more of them. And a playoff involving all of the 128 FCS teams is possible with no more than 16 games for the likely champion – I’ll explain how in a minute.

Do you know who already plays 16 games? The champion in the next level down in college football, which has been North Dakota State for the last four years. And how much travelling do you suppose you have to do if you start in North Dakota? They seem to survive. An Ohio high school team plays 15 games to win a title. An NFL team plays 18 or 19, depending if it has to play in the wild card round. 16 seems like an overwhelmingly appropriate number.

            The new money coming from an expanded playoff could address the scholarship issue. But 85 scholarships really isn’t enough? Four deep at every position on both sides of the ball? And what of “heavyweight” contests? In what sport anywhere does becoming a champion not mean beating a succession of strong teams. In every level of every sport but college football, that’s the only thing being a champion means. I know the big games are stressful for coaches, but that’s why they get those heavy bags of money.

Here’s the Wolfrum Model for an all-inclusive playoff that everyone will soon be talking about: It begins two weeks before Thanksgiving after a ten-game regular season. Everyone plays an eleventh game, which is their first playoff game. Every Power 5 conference team in this system plays its first playoff game at home, so they’re happy. Indiana will play its first meaningful home game in November since the invention of the forward pass.

            There were 128 teams in the top level of college football this year. This number screams to be put into brackets – it’s twice the field of 64 in March Madness: A first round begins with 32 games and 32 teams eliminated. I’m looking at mostly mid-majors here. Who fooled these guys into a system where they could never play for a championship in the first place? Sprinkle in the last-place Power 5 Conference teams here as well to get them their home game.

The next weekend, a second round with 32 new teams playing the winners from the week before, the newbies being lower and mid-level Power 5 schools and the top mid-majors playing at home -32 new games and 32 more teams eliminated. This gets us down to 64 and a Thanksgiving football weekend for the ages. All the big boys come in – the top 32 teams from the Power 5 conferences playing at home against the previous week’s winners, all elimination games. High, high drama. They’ll sell you the whole seat, but you’ll only need the edge.

            The month of December would have its bowls, but they would be played earlier as part of the tournament with the 32 teams who survive Thanksgiving. Bowls are traditionally more after than before Christmas, but they need to rethink that. If you were a bowl city, wouldn’t you rather have fans come to your town before Christmas to shop than after Christmas to party and vomit all over the curbs? And all the games would be between top teams or darling upstarts. In the nearly four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, two more rounds would fill the days and whittle the teams to eight, and what law says we can’t call those games bowls?

            New Year’s Day would have four games – the final eight of the tournament. Rose, Sugar, Orange, and Fiesta Bowls. About ten days later the semi-final games and about ten days after that the championship. This would add about one week to the season. Figuring the ten-game regular season, it would amount to 16 games to win the title for one of the top 32 teams. If someone outside the top 32 wins, it would be more games, but no one would complain. Villanova, the greatest Cinderella in NCAA basketball history, was an eight seed in its region in 1985, meaning one of the top 32 teams. To play more than 16 games in this season, you would have to tell a better story than Villanova, and that would mean Urban-style immortality.

            We’re far from this, but John Lennon says we have to be able to imagine it before it can happen.  Is there any reason that this is not where it’s all headed? The fascination with just a four-team playoff this year broke some molds. Someone who is connected, please forward this plan to the NCAA. I don’t need to be given credit, I just want to watch. Judging by the ratings, so do you.

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1-9-2015 A Generation Retires and What Comes Next

            I’m too young. Grandmothers are old. They bake, and they sew and they tell you stories about the Depression. I was at Woodstock, for C—–’s sake! I peed in a field!

I hung onto the Who’s helicopter as it flew away.” – Diane Wiest’s character in the 1989 movie “Parenthood” upon learning of her daughter’s pregnancy.

It may have happened faster than any of them expected, but the members of the famous generation known as the Baby Boomers are starting to retire. With them goes inestimable expertise and decades of on-the-job experience. What follows them is an enormous demographic problem which is the subject of a book by Mark Lautman titled “When the Boomers Bail: A Community Economic Survival Guide.”

Mr. Lautman worked on a large economic development project outside of Albuquerque years ago. The project was to create x number of jobs and y number of new businesses. There were plans for housing and infrastructure and everything that goes into creating a community from a barren field. All of the estimates fell into established guidelines of what to expect from such development. But well into the planning stages, Lautman discovered a critical problem: Where were they going to get the people to fill the jobs even if the businesses could be found?

Lautman’s subsequent research into nationwide trends and birthrates led him to a startling conclusion: There were not only not going to be enough qualified workers for the jobs they intended to create in Albuquerque, there weren’t going to be enough qualified workers in the entire United States once Baby Boomers started to retire.

Most people already have a sense of the change in manufacturing jobs over the last twenty years. Gone are the days when you could walk down the street after high school graduation and get a job at a factory where, if you were willing to work, you could earn a wage to support a family. Manufacturing jobs are becoming either highly skilled or lower paying – and many of the higher skilled jobs are currently filled by the soon-to-retire. These are the jobs Lautman describes as requiring “qualified workers.”

For multiple reasons, foremost among them falling birth rates and the misplaced focus of our education system, there are far too few qualified workers expected to enter the workforce in the next decade to replace the retiring Boomers. As a result, what businesses will be desperately seeking in the coming years are communities that can supply these workers.

Our local problem is heightened. Our demographics are off beyond the national averages that so vex Lautman. Our county’s steady population decline over the past two decades has been in the age groups under 50 leaving us with ever fewer kids graduating our high schools. Many of our large local employers indicate that they can’t find workers to fill open jobs. A “qualified worker” locally is becoming someone that can pass a drug test and show up on time.

In the last few months, there have been advertisements on WIMA radio for both Progressive Stamping in Ottoville and Kalida Manufacturing seeking general laborers. I know people who work at both of these companies and these are decent paying factories and decent jobs – not Ford, but certainly comparable with anything around here. There isn’t a workforce available for these jobs, much less the ones that require higher skills.

It would be easy to blast the next generation, but I’ll assume that this group will grow out of their adolescence just like the Boomers themselves did all those years ago and as us Gen Xers did more recently. But even assuming this eventuality, we still have on our hands the problem Lautman describes multiplied by an already decimated population of young people.

Ohio’s state development office currently supports a regional and statewide focus.  Such a focus will benefit only the areas in each region with the best amenities and available workforce. Columbus will likely do fine with its endless supply of qualified workers that emanate from the state university. Cleveland, Dayton and Cincinnati will be fine too. (Toledo hasn’t been fine in years.) But what of the rest of the state? Who sincerely believes that this is even a concern to our elected officials in Columbus?

Lautman points out that the old incentives to lure business – i.e. land and tax breaks – still have value, but almost every community in the nation now offers these. To attract, keep or generate a business in the next ten to twenty years, a community will have to be unique not in the incentives it provides but in the workforce it can supply.

Mr. Lautman will be speaking at a special session for local business that the Van Wert County Economic and Community Development Office has set up at Kennedy Kuhn’s new training center this coming Thursday afternoon. We hope to have a more open forum in the near future. If you have input on this issue or would like a copy of Mr. Lautman’s book, feel free to contact the County Development Office.

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12-19-14 Monarchy in the U.S.A.


            “God save the queen/ We mean it man/ And there is no future/ In England’s dreams” – The Sex Pistols.

A few months ago, I finished a biography of Thomas Jefferson by Jon Meacham. Meacham presented a complex caricature of the man we know as our third president and greatest champion of States Rights. It wasn’t a puff piece – Jefferson’s failure as Virginia’s governor and relationship with a slave named Sally Hemmings, which began when Hemmings was a teenager, were not skipped.

Whatever Jefferson’s failures, the man had conviction. He didn’t just write the Declaration of Independence, he did so at a time when that document was, undoubtedly, treason. Had the British won our first war, our Forefathers all faced summary execution. And until the last few years, we were continually on the verge of losing. Jefferson kept the faith.

Jefferson’s candidacy for president in 1800 was a response to the rise of a monarchist movement in colonial America. There was much to figure out in the first decade of the first Republic and the new Constitution took much of the blame for the chaos. It was hard to have freedom when the limits of freedom – and there had to be some – were unknown. The Revolutionary War was fought for independence from England but not necessarily for democracy. The possibility of reverting to a British-styled constitutional monarchy was real – there were even overtures made to members of the House of Hanover to come help establish some order.

Jefferson wanted to be president to buy the Constitution some time – to protect liberty, democracy, and local government until these concepts proved themselves, and they did. The Republican Party he founded was one of the great sea changes in American political history. Jefferson was, save Washington, the person most responsible for putting our country on the course toward becoming what it is.

After reading Meacham’s account of Jefferson, I thought it would be a nice contrast to read a book about someone who wants to be president to . .. well, I guess just to be president. Hillary Clinton has been in the national public eye for over twenty years now and anyone would have trouble saying just what it is that makes her qualified to head the country. With all her opportunity to lead, where has she ever led anyone? What outcome has she ever effected? (Not counting Benghazi.) More importantly, what outcome does she ever intend to effect?

So I read her book “Hard Choices” just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. It wasn’t a horrible read, as conservative critics made it out to be. It was more of a vacuum – 450 pages of name-dropping and globe-trotting in her role as Secretary of State with another 100 pages or so tacked on at the end giving lip service to the liberal agenda. To hear her tell it, she is friends with virtually everyone in the world. She has no real ideas and less passion – it was obvious she didn’t write this book. At the end, she thanks her “team” that helped put the book together. Read: Ghostwriters.

Hillary’s utter lack of conviction comes across whenever she gives a speech. Calling her robotic would be an insult to the robotics industry. To paraphrase what Dennis Miller once said about Al Gore – Hillary Clinton couldn’t be any more phony if she were a professional Hillary Clinton impersonator. If this is the Democratic presumptive choice for 2016, Republicans should rejoice.

That is, they could have rejoiced until Jeb Bush threw his hat into the ring this week. His support of Common Core alone will likely lose him any chance at his party’s nomination. Because if thirteen plus five equals ten plus three plus ten minus five we can take the sums of those two different calculations and put them into an algorithm, then that might be an easier way to arrive at 18 than just learning numbers. We all learn different, you know.

But, sadly, we can’t discount the House of Bush. The scary thing about the modern Republican Party is that it always chooses an establishment candidate for president. Always. Even Reagan earned his spot through years of working in the party machine.

Upon wrapping up his second term as Florida’s governor in 2007, Jeb Bush became an advisor at Lehman Brothers shortly before it collapsed. A Mitt Romney business record he does not possess. But he did make millions “advising” other companies after Lehman. Now he’s back after sufficiently cashing in on his lineage in the private sector. If his name was anything other than Bush, would he be taken seriously after abandoning the conservative cause to make some comfort money? If his name was Jeb Huckabee, for example, would anyone return his calls?

The times of Jefferson were dire. If John Adams had won the 1800, the shape of our country would be much different today. Adams’ Federalism eventually had its day, but only after the years of small government leadership from Jefferson through Andrew Jackson in the first half of the 1800s provided this country its character.

Our times are just as dire. $17 trillion is a real number even though it seems too big to be so. Some call our national debt the greatest threat to our security – greater than terrorism. You’ll never hear Jeb Bush talk about our debt with any conviction because he is not a conservative. Like Hillary, he is a moderate and an opportunist – wanting to be president not to forward an agenda, but rather just to be president.

Jefferson fought against the impulse of monarchism. Sounds silly today? Well, would we be talking about either Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush if it wasn’t for their husband or father and brother respectively? `If choosing a leader by relation isn’t monarchy, then what is?

The mere candidacy of either must have Thomas Jefferson turning over in his grave.

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12-12-14 Van Wert Christmas Shopping Pride

Less than two weeks until Christmas. If you’re like me, you’re having to start thinking about what you might buy for people at 2 P.M. on Christmas Eve. I used to have to worry a lot more, but now I sleep easy thanks to the miracle of gift certificates.

Most people are better shoppers than the likes of me, getting the bulk of Christmas bought in the days after Thanksgiving. But even for the responsible, gift certificates can help fill the gaps. The further you get away from immediate family, the further you are from having a clue what the person you’re buying for might want.  A gift card says, hey, I think you’re worth about $25 to me on Christmas but I only have a cursory knowledge of you and there’s not enough time to change any of that.

Might I take the opportunity to encourage people to finish out their shopping with gift certificates from Van Wert County stores. Shifting $50 from Kohl’s to Peebles or Maurice’s or from Menards to Ace or Sears makes a difference. If enough people do it, it makes a big difference. There might be slightly better deals in the big box stores, but through the miracle of gift cards, the receiving person knows you spent $50 on them instead of thinking you might have caught a blue light special or, to reference Seinfeld, are re-gifting.

There’s certainly no shortage of local stores and they almost all stock gift certificates. Last year, I got my wife a gift card to the then new MOD Boutique and, after shopping there, she had her favorite present. I received a gift card to Ace where I seem to buy something about every third day anyway – I appreciated that much more than whatever $20 guestimate of me someone would have thrown into a normal gift exchange.

It’s hard to miss with a restaurant gift card – everyone eats. I was going to recommend the new Black Angus, which is coming soon where the Bistro used to be, but it’s not likely to open before Christmas. There are plenty of other eateries to choose from. Wild Hare, Fricker’s, Orchard Tree, Balyeat’s, any of the Chinese or Mexican restaurants. Perhaps you would like to introduce someone to more of a novelty, like Cake Crazy or Collins Fine Foods, or to our local coffee at Perks or Brewed Expressions.

Men are especially easy to shop for with gift certificates. If your man can’t find something at Ace, Sears, or Century Trading, then he needs to re-evaluate his manness. Even the chain stores like Rural King and Tractor Supply provide local jobs and pay local taxes so your money is well-utilized there if your giftee has expressed a preference for these stores.

Your kids or grandkids might like something from Mengerink’s or Welch’s with the school logo on it. Your Bible Study group might like something from the Bridge and your boss might like a product offered by Wilkinson’s or Burcham printing shops. There’s ways to give gift certificates for all of that.

If you live around one of our small towns, consider the restaurants or small shops there. From experience, I can tell you that a $25 gift certificate purchased from a small town pizza place is much appreciated because it can bring someone in to try the food that may not have thought to try it otherwise. One new customer can lead to a dozen by word of mouth. Delphos people, you have no shortage of options.

And there’s another Christmas miracle to consider: Installment payments. In my never-ending quest to please my significant other, I happened into Francis Furniture a few years back. You, sirs, may be in a similar quandary – recognize the need for some new furniture but don’t want to get hit with the bill. We got some nice pieces at Francis and they found financing to make it all less painful. (I don’t mind sounding like a commercial.) $1,200 is a lot harder to stomach than $100 a month for the next year. Van Wert Bedrooms can help you too, I’m sure.

The miracle of installments can aid greatly the purchase of jewelry. I’m sure Slusher’s or Laudick’s can set you up with financing to deaden the blow while you still get that same glimmer in your wife’s eye that says forever – for a few days anyway. (Personally, I still reference the movie “Blood Diamond” when my wife starts clamoring for anything glittery but that’s losing its power. Get busy on that sequel, DiCaprio.)

And ladies, think how practical your husband will think you are if you get him a certificate for an oil change at Quick Change. It will blow his mind.

Of course, I’m leaving businesses out but I’ve already exceeded my word limit. You know the stores you might like to share with someone else. DeShia, Once I Was, Rehab Fab, From the Garden, Barnhart’s, the antique stores, the Embroidery Coup – whatever store you like, introduce it to someone else with a gift card. If you have to resort to Wal-Mart and McDonald’s to buy for someone out of town, buy that gift certificate locally – that does help a little.

Nobody’s striking it rich in this economy, so if we want our stores to stick around until times get better, we’ve got to support them when there’s an opportunity. The tail end of Christmas shopping, when you are just filling in or frantic, is perhaps the easiest time to express some pride through investment in our county. And just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s insignificant.

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12-5-14 Civil Rights and Indictments

Watching the media coverage, do you get the feeling that the so-called riots in Ferguson and New York are more parties than protests? As Al Sharpton and the other race hucksters attempt to pass the carnage off as the most significant event since Selma, one harkens back to all that black and white footage of the Selma marchers pausing to knock off liquor stores. (I jest, the Selma marchers were too worried about getting torn apart by German Shepherds to stop for a drink, if I remember the pictures correctly.) The last thing any of these “protesters” want, especially Sharpton, is any actual change. As evidenced by the Ferguson case, the grievance list is already running short – when the list runs out, there’s no more free Jack Daniels.

In Ferguson, we’re left arguing about whether a painfully innocent police officer should have been indicted to satisfy the demands of the mob. It was shocking to listen to the dialogue regarding this over the last week and a half. On one side was the argument that the officer should have been put on trial whether a crime was actually committed or not just so all the facts could be made public. On the other side of the argument was decency, common sense, and the rule of law.

Here are the facts and they were made public without a trial, not that the mob actually wanted that either. Michael Brown, a very imposing black man, had just burglarized a convenience store. Upon being questioned by Officer Wilson while walking down the middle of a street minutes after that crime, Brown tried to wrestle Wilson’s gun away from him. (If I tried to do that, I would assume that anything that happened subsequently was by implied request, but call me old fashioned.) After failing to secure Wilson’s gun and beginning to flee on foot, Brown stopped and charged back at the officer, receiving fatal shots.

Enter the grand jury. The purpose of a grand jury is to safeguard all citizens from being falsely charged with a serious crime. In Ohio, as in most states, felonies can only be charged through the grand jury by an indictment while misdemeanors are charged by simple complaint. The indictment process is not meant to be a rubber stamp. It is true, as the saying goes, that a willing prosecutor could probably indict a ham sandwich. But the question is why would you indict a ham sandwich since you know you could never convict one? Not even of food poisoning – it has no mental capacity to commit a serious crime. Officer Wilson, in fact, appears to be about as guilty as a ham sandwich.

Here’s how a grand jury protects you: Let’s say a particular cop doesn’t like you, so he charges you with possession of heroin. Without the grand jury process, you would have to appear in court and answer to that charge. Even though the charge is baseless, where does your good name in the community go from there?

However: The cop who doesn’t like you could still obtain an indictment through a grand jury with the cooperation of a prosecutor. If the cop is put on the stand and testifies that he saw you holding heroin, and that was all the testimony the grand jury heard, they would likely return an indictment even without any physical evidence. This is how it is easy to indict – very limited evidence can establish probable cause. Of course, the officer has now committed perjury and the prosecutor has acted unethically and these are pretty good deterrents for such behavior.

But this unethical conduct is what the far left apparently demanded of the Ferguson prosecutor, who, by the way, is a Democrat. A prosecutor is certainly under no compulsion to prosecute a crime where no conviction can be obtained at trial. Those who argue that this prosecutor should have indicted anyway purposefully ignore the whole point of the grand jury process, which is to prevent this very thing – the running of an innocent person through a public trial on a serious charge where he will be bankrupted by legal fees and his reputation ruined regardless of outcome.

In the Ferguson case, not only were there more credible witnesses who backed Officer Wilson’s story but the forensic evidence also backed up every detail. It was clear to the prosecutor that no crime had been committed. Fortunately for the prosecutor, the grand jury process was available to present the evidence and then release it to the public. Turns out, it’s true that there was a racial element to all of this – if Michael Brown had been a white guy, Officer Wilson would have been decorated for his conduct. Instead, he has lost his job and is likely in hiding.

How could Wilson have avoided any of this? Do we want our officers to flee confrontation if someone is acting crazily and criminally? How unsafe would that make entire communities? The best argument against the theory that police-on-black crime is a national problem is that this is the case being used to exemplify the problem. The cases in New York and Cleveland are more credible, but does anyone want the mob to have the right to indictment? For Al Sharpton to have it?

The hijackers of the Civil Rights movement, whose demands have now proven bottomless, are apparently requesting a termination of the grand jury process and the automatic trials of officers whenever a person of color is killed while assaulting a cop or resisting arrest. There is one guarantee in all of this – if they were to be granted this absurd request, it would not be enough to erase centuries of injustice, the frustration of which now manifests itself not in civil disobedience, but rather in one giant and destructive jamboree.

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11-28-14 Thankful for President Obama

Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – have there ever been two presidents more unlike one another? One was so articulate that you knew he was lying, the other so inarticulate that you knew he wasn’t. One was elected as a big government liberal and then balanced the budget, the other was elected as a small government conservative, expanded social programs, and eventually began the bailout bonanza that ushered in the Obama administration.

The eight-year terms of the 42nd and 43rd presidents confused a generally disinterested electorate, and, more than anything else, it was that confusion that led to the current eight-year term of the 44th. But President Obama is now providing the nation some much needed, albeit painful, clarity. For that, in this season, we should be thankful.

Clinton, impeached for lying under oath about an indiscretion with an intern (Oh for the days when that was the problem!), promised his base the world and never delivered. His cooperation with Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress led to the country’s first budget surplus in decades. Say what you will about Bill, but if you think it immoral to pass off debt to future generations, he deserves some credit.

George W. took that surplus and found ways to spend it – and then some. He lacked the Reagan intuition that government is usually the problem and not the solution. His catchphrase “compassionate conservative” left one asking – “Compassionate with whose money and at the point of what gun?” That language confused his own base, maybe even confused Bush himself. Much debt ensued.

The fiscally responsible liberal and big government conservative blurred what it meant to be a Republican or a Democrat. Spin replaced the tracing of cause and effect. What the country needed most at the end of those 16 Clinton and Bush years was for a president to own an agenda – to be either a conservative or liberal so the issues might regain some definition. With President Obama, we are getting definition in spades.

Obama, despite the disastrous midterm elections and his party fleeing from his policies in attempts to save themselves (Did anyone catch Chuck Schumer renouncing Obamacare this week?), continues to go all in on each and any progressive policy available. The nation will suffer in the short term, but we will be better off for the eventuality this induces.

It would take another column to list the lawlessness that started with the implementation of Obamacare, went through the gun-running, Benghazi and IRS scandals, and topped itself last week with amnesty. But unconstitutional action is just part of this ongoing glimpse into the soul of liberalism. Just in the last few weeks, Obama conquered climate change by promising China to cripple our economy and sent his attorney general to fight for a black burglar’s right to punch a police officer in the face.

Unfortunately, the best argument against progressive government is a period of progressive governing.  Barry Goldwater ran for president in 1964 on a platform of small government, sound fiscal policy, and strong national defense. An electorate confused by the fading glow of Camelot didn’t understand that message and went with Lyndon Johnson. Resoundingly. After Johnson’s Great Society had time to take effect and with the further clarity provided by Jimmy Carter’s term in office, Reagan said basically the same things Goldwater had said and won. Just as resoundingly. This is where we’re headed.

A true politician would have equivocated after the recent midterm election, sacrificing on some issues to try and save parts of a larger agenda as Clinton did after he lost the House for his party in a midterm. There was politically advantageous ground for Obama to give on immigration and the Keystone pipeline. Instead, he has decided to go all in. There will be much to fix in two years, but this president, in everything he does, is guaranteeing the backlash of fiscal conservatism and constitutional renewal that started earlier this month. Keep up the good work, Mr. President.

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We always did feel the same, we just started from a different point of view” – Bob Dylan.

Changing things ain’t easy. The status quo doesn’t come to be without gathering inertia along the way. We, the Van Wert County Commissioners, set about charting a different course in economic development about a year ago. That met with nearly universal enthusiasm except with the people then in charge who first politely invited us to keep quiet and then not so politely invited us to keep quiet. Then people started storming out of meetings. We didn’t quit because we believed we were elected to change what needed changed, and this did. Despite the initial conflict, there has been an extraordinary transformation in the mood of and faith in our county – something fundamental has shifted. Let me explain.

I came into office believing that there existed a shortage of ideas. I thought I had some. What I found was no lack of good ideas, but rather an institutional disinterest in them. Economic development (ED), as it was, largely involved meetings and filling out surveys – and then more meetings. A volunteer ED Advisory Executive Board ran things and they casually gathered once a month or so. That eight or nine member board contained not a single entrepreneur or even a person that wrote paychecks. Odd that.

ED is a long game – some of the programs initiated at the county level will take years to pay off.  Rarely are there quick results. But there has been here, where the countywide epidemic of having meetings for the sake of putting in the record that there was held a meeting has been replaced with action and engaged dialogue.

The Van Wert County Port Authority – At the start of the year, the president of that board suggested that it was not necessary to have quarterly meetings or to even be active at all. We restructured that board and brought some new members on. Now the Port Authority has found a way to make money by storing rail cars on the track that currently leads to nowhere between U.S. 30 and the transfer station. That money can be reinvested in ED projects or used to make our county look better. The Port Authority is also working with the Parks District on a Rails-to-Trails project through Ohio City.

Delphos – It straddles Van Wert and Allen counties and has been long neglected by both. That town initiated its own ED efforts this summer with input from community leaders and citizens. We are working with Delphos to create and fund a position for a Delphos ED director. That person will split time between there and our county office. (Can someone tell me why Delphos Jefferson is considered an Allen County school? We would love to have Jefferson, whose High School and Middle Schools are in Van Wert County, be a part of what we are building here.)

The county villages – At the first ED Advisory Group meeting I attended, there was no representation from the villages. I asked different village reps why and they said that the group never had anything to offer them. The county is developing grant-writing coordination that brings our towns together as a team to strengthen grant applications. We hope to rebuild infrastructure and get these towns back to being themselves. They’re back in the game, so to speak.

The Regional Planning Committee – The first of these meetings I attended, one of the members quit in frustration because nothing of substance was ever discussed. Those gatherings now take on issues that affect the county like windmills and the tearing down of worn-out buildings. It’s also now an opportunity for township government to get involved in ED.

The Business Development Corporation (BDC) – this group was the force behind both Vision Park and Industrial Park in the past, but had not taken action in a few years before some of their members came to object to our discussing a change in ED. To strenuously object, I might add. That group’s frustration with us apparently rattled them back to life. They now have an initiative to raise two million dollars for what they call an Enterprise Fund to aid local ED efforts.

Even the aforementioned OSU Advisory Executive Board, which now kind of directs Van Wert City’s ED efforts, took some of our criticism to heart and appointed to itself some active members of the business community.

People still ask when the county and city are going to get back together. First, let me point out that there are many cities that have their own ED offices. Every county in the state of Ohio has an ED office because the state sets it up that way. Cities are free to organize their own efforts within that framework as Delphos is now doing.

There is a root philosophical difference between our efforts and what the city of Van Wert wants to do. The city believes that the connection with Columbus through Ohio State is worth giving away local control of ED efforts. We believe that the regional approach Columbus endorses has not benefited our county in the past and will not in the future. Allowing local input has proved fruitful. Personally, I’ve come to the belief that, with two separate offices wanting to do entirely different things, perhaps we can work both angles. That system recently worked quite well.

When Advanced Biological Medical announced its $14 million Van Wert expansion last month, you may have caught this quote: “I have to give credit to local government,” CEO Dan Custiss said. “I’ve never seen anything happen this fast.” He was thanking both the city ED for its initial involvement and the county ED for finding some additional funding at the end and for helping in the tax abatement process.

It may have taken some unpleasantness, but, even in hindsight, there was no way to avoid that and still create what is now taking place. With the shaking and rattling in the rearview mirror, it’s time to roll, and there is more thought and energy currently involved in that than we had thought possible when we started down this path.

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11-14-14 Bringing It All Back Home

You’re out there. You left Van Wert County to pursue an education, maybe get a taste of the big city. You experienced frat life and the clubs and being young and reckless. You got a job and eventually met someone, got married and had a couple of kids. And you’ve figured out that, once the party is over, every place is pretty much the same except that some places have traffic – and you’re reminded of that every day.

Now you pay outrageous fees for daycare and have to hire a babysitter to do anything in the evening. You’re not too sure about the school your kids are going to. Your house is nice but costs twice as much as it would have where you grew up. You shop at chain stores, ones that have similar outlets within thirty minutes of your old hometown. You don’t know your neighbors. You know why you left but wonder what it would take to get back.

            Your parents would like nothing more than for you to move those grandkids back. The Van Wert County Economic Development Office would like nothing more than that as well.

Here’s the demographics: In Ohio, 29.3% of the general population is between the ages of 25 and 44. In Van Wert County, the same age group accounts for 23.6%. The small difference in those numbers leads to large consequences – this is the age group that raises children. It’s what makes Van Wert High School Division III in basketball instead of the solid Division II it had always been. It also means there will be fewer kids that call this county “home” twenty years from now.

This problem, perhaps more than any other, needs attention and we’re giving it plenty.

First, we’re making it easy for employers and employees to find each other. Not just the potential workforce that is already here, but the ones that are sitting in their cars on the congested streets of Columbus or Cleveland thinking about the wide open spaces of Van Wert County. www.vanwertworks.com is a website we created where local companies post available positions and how to apply.

It’s a relatively new thing and not all of our companies are hooked in yet but they will be. Ridgeview Behavioral Hospital, which went through 400 hires to find 150 employees when it first opened, has told us that, for their current expansion, the website has already provided them a surprising number of qualified candidates both from here and from a few surrounding counties. Part of Mercer County’s success over the past decade has been a website similar to this. (Ok, we ripped the idea off from them, but they don’t mind and we ain’t too proud to copy what has worked somewhere else.)

Last year, one of our local companies needed five to eight engineers. We’re talking jobs that pay over $60k to start. They couldn’t find them. I would bet there are five to eight Van Wert County natives abroad who would like to come home to a job like that. We hope their parents will lead them to vanwertworks.com.

In the future, the indigenous population will already know about this website because of a program called “Rural by Choice”. Our ED office, with the help of some prominent local businesspeople, will be going into schools over the next few months to start planting the idea in the minds of junior high students that whatever you want to do in life, you can do it in Van Wert County. They’ll be reminded through their high school years.

As part of that program, we’re looking to keep track of the top ten percent or so of every graduating class in the county. I first heard this idea talking with Chris Roberts after taping a radio show. It may be nothing more than keeping a way to contact them on file and updating where they are and what they’re doing every year. It could be as simple as Facebook. But when an anesthesiologist is needed at the hospital, we’ll then know where to find someone that might be interested in more than just the job.

A consistent problem with CEOs and doctors brought here from out of town is that their families don’t want to live here – they want to live in Fort Wayne where there’s more to do. People who are originally from here have a different vantage point. They know that literally everything is just a few hours away on the weekends and in the meantime your kids go to good schools, it’s safe, and it’s quiet. You don’t need to sell them on Van Wert County and they have a natural inclination to invest themselves, and their resources, in it.

The hometown always has the advantage and it’s time we use that. When you’re young, maybe you can’t escape the lure of the bright lights. But once you start thinking about a family, you think of home, where you know people. When LeBron James went to Miami, he wasn’t married. Is it any wonder he came back to Akron with a wife and three kids? I know, he never really left – he always had a home there. But so do your kids, right?

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