Archive for October, 2010

Every second year

At times, I have lamented the frequency of Congressional elections. The perpetual campaigning, the challenge to continuity. Perhaps three or four years would be a better term. This year, though, I am reminded of yet another facet of the founders’ foresight.

“Every second year” they gave us the constitutional chance to completely replace one-half of the federal legislature. As a result, we can have a revolt without a coup, a revolution without bloodshed.

Many are asking, “What happened to the hope and change of 2008?” New York Times columnist Frank Rich blamed the ingratitude and ignorance of the American people.

Citing a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, Rich claimed the 2009 stimulus bill has saved 3.3 million jobs (actually the high end of the CBO’s estimate) for which our nation should be thankful.

Though “jobs saved” seems like a nebulous number to calculate, let’s do some math anyway.

The CBO said the stimulus bill will have spent $570 billion by the end of 2010. Simple division tells us that each of the 3.3 million jobs cost taxpayers $176,000. And if we use the low end of the CBO’s job estimate (1.4 million), the per-job cost rises to $407,000.

Do these figures strike anyone else as inefficient? They stir many feelings in me. Gratitude is not one of them.

Then, Rich blamed the evaporation of Obama’s momentum on the 95% of Americans who received a stimulus-funded tax cut in their paychecks last year but failed to realize it!

In fact, the Obama Administration supposedly wanted the tax cut to be a secret. So people would spend the money instead of saving it, what people generally did with their Bush tax cut rebate checks. Heaven forbid saving!

Mostly, Rich blamed Obama’s inability to prosecute the bad actors of the financial meltdown. I don’t disagree that some individuals could have been held more responsible, including the perpetrators at Fannie and Freddie.

But the bad actors behaved badly because the bond rating agencies called their badness good and because buyers were willing to buy their badness downstream. Should grandma’s pension fund manager also be jailed for investing in worthless assets?

Rich fails to recognize what the Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer does: Obama’s chief sin was taking a center-right country hard to the left, toward a Europe that is presently imploding under the weight of its own entitlements.

At their core, Americans don’t want free government heath care. They want a healthy, free economy and money in their pockets to buy health care of their own choosing.

At their core, no matter how poor, Americans know that a government big enough to give everything is also a government big enough to take everything.

Equalizing wealth is the goal for our “green” president who ironically doesn’t care “all that much” for the presidential Camp David retreat.

Mr. Obama is indeed green, but in a dollars and cents sense, not in an environmental sense.

He lives out dreams from his father who once said, “Theoretically there is nothing that can stop the government from taxing 100% of income so long as the people get benefits from the government commensurate with their income which is taxed.”

Thanks to the dreams of our fathers, something “can stop the government:” mid-term elections. While we can’t oust Mr. Obama for four years, we can at least make him impotent in two.

What A Republican Vote Gets You

What does a straight-ticket Republican vote get you this fall (besides a fashionable and patriotic “I voted” lapel sticker)?

Let’s start at the top, in Washington, DC.

In general, an “R” vote will deliver a shift back toward the center-right, where polls show our nation resides. Gallup found recently that 42% of Americans considered themselves conservative, 35% were moderate, while only 22% categorized themselves as liberal.

Some will chalk such results up to the stigma attached the term “liberal,” but the stigma itself is a case in point.

In particular, an “R” vote will get you a stoppage of the red ink bleeding. Our grandchildren won’t be off the debt hook, but at least their burden won’t get worse.

The threat of more invasive legislation like Obamacare will diminish. Far left environmental regulations will be off the table. The business landscape will become clearer for employers and investors. Previously sidelined capital will return to action. People will get hired.

On the state level, a Republican vote will mean that a $15-$18 billion state budget shortfall will get balanced with expense reductions, not tax increases. Pencils will sharpen. Belts will tighten. You won’t pay more for groceries and gas.

You will get state leadership that reflects the body politic of our state. Next spring, the legislature will re-draw congressional and legislative district boundary lines. The maps will include a number of new congressional districts made possible by Texas’ gains in popularity.

You will get more investment in the relative economic prosperity that Texas has enjoyed even in the recent downturn. The Republican-led legislature created the Texas Enterprise Fund in 2003, the last year the state faced a multi-billion budget shortfall.

The fund has brought jobs, technology and investment to Texas and to Kendall County. Boerne’s own Albany Engineered Composites and GreenStar LED have received cash awards from it. Republicans will prioritize continued state investment in the fund.

You will get a commitment to standards in education, societal and fiscal policy that have worked for decades. Your leaders won’t experiment on your kids or your money with passing fads and unproven models.

You will get judges that apply existing laws squarely and fairly. They won’t dream up what they think our state should be and then find creative ways to turn their pipe dreams into case law. They’ll defer rule-making to the legislative and executive branches.

Finally, on the local level, a straight-ticket Republican vote will get you common sense; an understanding that government’s role is to maximize freedom, maintain a level playing field and do a few things well, not a bunch of stuff with mediocrity.

The result: each citizen can reach his/her own potential dependent upon his/her own character.

Voting has begun. Vote early and often encourage your friends and family to do the same. As usual, much is at stake.

A Stimulus Program That Worked

We capitalized on some fabulous weather and an obscure federal holiday last weekend. Columbus Day is one of the handful of days during the year when I don’t mind big government!

To celebrate, my oldest sons and I jaunted west to the Commemorative Air Force Airsho (sic) in Midland; then on to Monohans Sandhills State Park; and lastly to Balmorhea State Park. Anyone can vacation on the coast. Only the daring vacation in the desert.

Come to find out, the Airsho is a big deal. Regional corporations purchase PGA Tour-type hospitality tents for their clients.

Volunteers come from across the nation to help run the event, including my Tennessean father who tipped me off that more than dust would be flying in Midland on Sunday.

Sure enough. Everything from jet-powered gliders to wing-walking women in leotards to the B-29 that dropped the A-bomb flew over. I even flew in an F-16 simulator with my 7-year-old. He thought the barrel rolls were barrels of fun. I strained to keep my lunch to myself.

A short drive west of Odessa brought us to Monohans and the “Sahara of the Southwest,” rolling hills of fine-grained sand fit for Destin beaches.

A genuine West Texas anomaly, the sandhills are known for their beauty and their thrills. Visitors can sled down the dunes on rented disks.

Unfortunately, my oldest had been on a virtual fighter jet the day before. The sand sledding didn’t meet his speed requirements. He resorted to rolling down the dunes.

My risk-averse 4-year-old, however, braked often, especially after spotting snake tracks in the sand. He eventually tired from the trudges back to the top (lifts are for Colorado cowards) and suggested we go swimming.

Perfect, I thought. We’re but 77 miles from the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool.

Balmorhea State Park is home to San Solomon Springs, a magical marvel that gurgles a million gallons of pristine water through the earth’s surface every hour.

The springs’ constant 75 degree temperature is perfect for any day of the year, especially a sunny, sandy one in October.

Usually, man cannot improve upon nature’s majesty. But in this case, humans have nicely complimented God’s handiwork.

Decades ago, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) constructed a 2-acre swimming (and now scuba diving) pool over the springs along with bath houses and lodges. The Corps even dug smoothly flowing canals that make Seaworld’s lazy river look like a vain impostor.

In the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt championed the CCC, which ended up being a hugely popular “stimulus” program (92% of Democrats and 67% of Republicans approved).

The program focused initially on maximizing reforestation and minimizing soil erosion. But it also helped turn some of the nation’s natural wonders into accessible recreational venues. Twenty-nine Texas state parks have their roots in the fruits of the CCC.

The CCC put hundreds of thousands of unemployed young men to work. It sent many disenchanted youths from city slums to worthy, “shovel ready” projects in lands of enchantment.

I have to wonder: Has the Democrats’ $1 trillion stimulus bill of 2009 funded any CCC-like programs whose effects will be felt now and for generations to come? Or is it paying out benefits without requiring results in return?

The Successful Opposition

It was the first time I ever shook the hand of a United States president. Or laid eyes on one in person, for that matter. It was the first Monday in November, 2002.

George Walker Bush had barnstormed the nation that day. He was spending his last pennies of political capital before he flew to Crawford to cast his own vote the next morning.

His final speech was slated for Southern Methodist University’s Moody Colisuem, which fell squarely in the Dallas district my boss represented in the Texas House. I managed a ticket.

After peaking in the 70s earlier in the year, Bush’s approval ratings hovered around 60% as the campaign season came to a close. People generally felt confident in his competence as commander in chief.

The president had activated a war on terrorists and their harborers. He laser-focused on keeping our country safe while also moving his compassionate conservative domestic agenda forward. He had signed bi-partisan education reform into law only months earlier.

As the mid-term elections approached, Bush was undeterred by the historical fact that the president’s party usually loses Congressional seats after his first two years in the White House.

Bush seemed unconcerned by the hit his personal popularity might take if his party lost seats; that is, if his political investment failed to pay off. He was boldly willing to leverage the goodwill he had accumulated in order to further the first principles he held dear.

So, he campaigned with vigor for Republican candidates, for frivolous lawsuit reform, for the confirmation of conservative judges and for a strong and evolved military led by a strong and resolved executive. And he won. Big.

In the weeks following the November 2002 elections, President Bush dominated print media covers. Time magazine declared that he had “aced [his] mid-terms.” Newsweek had him in a brown jacket with the headline “Top Gun.” The Economist’s rendition: “By George!”

Only two other times in U.S. history has the party of a sitting president not lost seats in Congress at his initial mid-term.

The first: Theodore Roosevelt in 1902 only a year after the assassination of President McKinley (and actually, because of population growth and the resulting new seats in Congress, both major parties made gains that year).

The second: Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression in 1934. That mid-term election was largely seen as a referendum on FDR’s New Deal policies. People handicapped by the sour economy endorsed those policies in droves.

Will we see a similar endorsement in less than four weeks of President Obama’s post-financial disaster policies?

Recent polls suggest not, despite the president’s pleas in Rolling Stone that people “buck up” and not “take their ball and go home.” The magazine’s October 15 edition attempts to resist the unfolding Republican surge. Its cover headline: “Obama Fights Back.”

But the main thing the cerebral Obama seems to fight is wealth accumulation, which is merely the product of education, risk-taking, hard work and prudence. One might also call it success. And success sure is an odd thing for a president to oppose.

NFL: National Fatherless League

It is officially fall. From pee-wee to professional, football is in full swing.

The National Football League is America’s most popular sports league based on TV ratings and game attendance.

With such attention, you wouldn’t think the league would have discipline problems. In reality, you could see more tasteful behavior through the YMCA Childwatch window.

Last Sunday, the New York Giants’ offensive tackles racked up three personal foul penalties. For football neophytes, personal fouls are not nearly as common on the gridiron as they are on the hardwood. At least they shouldn’t be.

But David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie set a new low standard. One purposely ripped off a helpless opponent’s helmet. The other got flagged twice in ten minutes, the second time for blatantly shoving down an opponent right in front of a referee!

Sadly, “unsportsmanlike conduct” and “unnecessary roughness” in today’s NFL are as plentiful as beer bellies in the stands.

Then there are “excessive celebration” and “taunting.” Nearly every play is punctuated by self-aggrandizing grandstanding. Even third-string special teamers thrust, strut and pump when they merely bump a kickoff return man out of bounds at the 50 yard line.

Miami Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis takes the cake. He made a tackle two weeks ago, stood up, arched his back and made a goofy Russian-like salute. He subsequently knelt to the ground in pain, having strained a muscle in the celebration.

Davis, et. al don’t realize that nothing can improve upon an outstanding play. Showboating diminishes the very plays players showboat about. How foolish, and telling of their personal expectations that they seem so surprised when they actually make a decent play.

In contrast, the real studs head back to the huddle, thank a teammate or two for their help and prepare to do their job again. For them, execution is the norm, not the exception.

Angst and volatility also seem more prevalent.

Whether disappointed or pleased, players are angry. If they don’t get the ball, they curse their quarterback. If they do get the ball and burn a defender, they curse the defender. Either way, they’re cursing.

And despite league attempts to curb it, the brutality of hitting keeps getting worse.

The goal is not just to get your opponent down, but also to injure him in a way that satisfies a rabid, Roman Coliseum crowd. How shortsighted. I can hardly watch.

Whence the rage?

According to data from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida and the U. S. Census Bureau, a majority of NFL players were raised in father-absent homes. It shows.

CBS’ 60 Minutes told the story once of juvenile bull elephants who, because of overpopulation, were moved with their mothers away from their fathers. As they neared adulthood, they became extremely violent, killing rhinos in poacher-like fashion.

The solution? Import larger, older bull elephant role models.

The older elephants subdued the raging testosterone in the young. The young didn’t mate before they could handle their hormones. Rhinos were saved.

Undoubtedly, testosterone has given rise to the NFL. Unless some maturity is imported, it could also make it fall.

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