Monday, December 26, 2011

Barack Obama: Bush-Reagan-Kennedy Tax Cutter?

One of the amazing arguments last week in the ludicrous fight over continuation of the 2 percent so-called payroll tax cut came from President Obama. Such a tax cut, the President said, was necessary to stimulate the economy.

I couldn't believe my ears.

Cutting taxes stimulates the economy? Mr. President, we thought you'd never come around!

That was George W. Bush's position in favor of his famous tax cuts. It was the argument Ronald Reagan made that resulted in a great quarter-century economic boom. It was also part of President Kennedy's effort to pull the country out of the sluggish economy that spilled over from the waning Eisenhower years.

But, alas, the President's new economic insights evaporated. Within a day or so, another story came out of the White House. It's almost as if the President or his advisors realized that it was not in his interests to be talking like Bush-Reagan-Kennedy. As a result, Obama trotted out the old Democratic demonstration of victimization: the family that couldn't buy pizza or visit an ailing relative because mean, evil Republicans wouldn't give them a tax break.

Looks like it worked --again, Lucy moved the football and the Charlie Brown Republicans fell for it and caved.

But it was ironic and fun to hear President Obama torpedo Democratic and Keynesian dogma by saying tax cuts stimulate the economy.

For the record, this whole nonsense over the continuance of a 2 percent tax reduction is ridiculous. Especially when the reduction extends for all of two months! Not a lot of pizza to buy in that scenario.

First of all, the payroll tax should never have been cut in the first place. Because, as we are told, that money coming out of our paychecks is technically not a tax -- it has traditionally been called a "contribution."

We are "contributing" money for our Social Security. And, as Al Gore told us, that "contribution" then goes to a "lockbox," waiting for that wonderful day when we receive a pension from it.

I know, I know -- but bear with me, Alice, we're in the federal wonderland for the moment.

So reducing the amount we "contribute" to Social Security is no more in our interests than reducing how much we put into a 401k or IRA.

Which means this was not an argument about a tax cut; rather, it was a smoke-and-mirrors game about how much we would be contributing to the federal retirement program -- a program designed to personally benefit us.

Of course, we all know Congress regularly breaks the lock on the lockbox and raids the Social Security funds for its own purposes. But given the realities of Social Security underfunding, there's no need that We the People should take part in the looting, too. Better to skip the pizza today in order to take care of our needs for tomorrow.

I realize this is all theoretical -- that the Social Security Trust Fund is a myth, as is the lockbox, and you'd better not scrimp on your "contributions" or people with guns and no sense of humor will show up on your door.

But for some of us, unlike people in federal government, words mean things. Humor me, if you will, in my beliefs in the myths, but continued underfunding of Social Security is not in our interests.

Thus, the payroll tax cut was a mistake, it never should have been continued, and the fact that the extension goes only two months shows what a silly, cynical game this is.

Even when you throw in pizza...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

It Won't Hurt You None

Here is a recent column I wrote for the Washington County Observer. Although it's about an Arkansas event, it has national significance regarding religious freedom.

One of the first things law students learn is to think like a lawyer. That requires disassembling events and testing them agains evidence rules, witness veracity, legal precedents and the law's language. It helps remove emotions, prejudices, bias, and deceit from assessments of events.

Legal reasoning can decay into what I call "lawyerthink: " the parsing of language at the expense of comon sense. Even scripture describes the deadliness of focusing on the letter of the law rather than the spirit.

Lawyerthink has infected public views regarding religion, as evidenced by pressure on the Arkansas Department of Human Services to stop state funding to West Fork's Growing God's Kingdom Preschool because it "promotes" religion. Republican State Rep. Justin Harris and his wife, Marsha, operate the school. Full disclosure: I campaigned for Rep. Harris and am working for his reelection.

Lawyerthink attempts to squeeze every vestige of religion out of anything related to government. Lawyerthink, taken to its logical conclusions, would say that a church bus cannot drive on a state highway or that a city fire department should not respond to a call from a church. Those are imaginary offenses. But reality is just as bad as when a federal judge threatens arrest at a Texas graduation ceremony for those using words like "prayer" and "amen," a California couple is fined for a home Bible study, and God's name is banned from military funerals.

Attacks on faith are more than assaults of the Constitution's free exercise clause. They represent strikes on the culture itself, which is overwhelmingly Judeo-Christian. Especially here -- there is a reason rural Arkansas is considered part of the Bible Belt. That's why government and political meetings begin with prayer (often in Jesus' name, I might add). That's why there are crosses marking highway deaths. That's why so many folks go to church, even if only at Christmas and Easter. It's also why we say "God bless you" when somebody sneezes (although there was a California teacher penalizing students for doing that).

Note that culture does not make one holy or less holy than anybody else. But culture represents how people behave in a certain area, region, or nation.

The attacks on the preschool are attacks on local culture. Note that it's a Washington group pressuring the state DHS to lean on the Harrises. Most Arkansans recognize that the Harrises are using state funds (our tax money) to help local children and families. And they do it in a religious environment. Until now, the DHS itself recognized that.

I'm reminded of a country music show in a Western state. Before beginning their chuck wagon dinner, one of the cowboys said: "Now, folks, there's something we do around here before we eat and that's give thanks to God. So if you don't pray, that's alright.

"It won't hurt you none."

So relax. The Harrises are not establishing the First Church of Arkansas. They're Christians using our money to serve families against the background of a Judeo-Christian culture.

It's perfectly legal And beneficial.

And it won't hurt you none.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Welcome to the Revolution

I'm currently writing for the Washington County Observer. Here's a recent column:

The revolution begins immediately.

Right after "Dancing with the Stars."

Class warfare -- the dream of Marxists everywhere -- is supposedly taking root in the United States.

After all, Tea Partiers, marching in the streets holding signs dripping with unprintable hatred, are livid over the election of the first black President. And local communities are fielding police in riot gear to protect the masses in case Granny gets a bit rambunctious waving the Flag.

Occupy Wall Street claims to represent the masses as they speak, drum, protest, and make sure the generators are running to feed their hungry corporate-spawned iPods and laptops ("Power to the people!").

We're on the brink. It's brother and against brother. The Nation is ripping itself apart.

The horror!


We've seen worse. Even the founding of the Nation couldn't bring a consensus -- many people remaining loyal to King George felt a need to flee to Canada. Uprooting and voting with one's feet is serious business.

Then came the sixties. The eighteen sixties, that is. That's when the country really was torn apart and heated slogans turned into a horrific bloodbath. It indeed was brother against brother. And army against army.

And the nineteen sixties were no picnic, either. People lamenting alleged divisions of today often are unaware or forget the trauma of some forty years ago -- coast-to-coast burned cities, assassinations, campus riots, and strong generational splits.

True, there are strong differences of opinion today. And probably more than one holiday has been disrupted by a political dispute or two (Last year, my brother-in-law's pre-Thanksgiving dinner welcome to family and friends included this command: "No discussing politics. No politics in my house!").

But overall, typical American mutual respect and unity among one another remain.

But there are certain kinds of division going on. They are artificial divisions. "Astrosplits" I'd call them, much like the Astroturf protests of a rent-a-mob.

That's because dividing people brings confusion, discord, problems, and, if left unchecked, ultimately defeat. President Lincoln got it right when quoting the Bible's statement regarding how a house divided cannot stand.

Astrosplits pit political party against political party, men against women, race against race, and social and economic classes against one another. Astrosplits demonize certain people -- bankers and Wall Streeters, for instance. Because what's morale outrage without scapegoats?

But most people go about their business -- consumed with jobs, families, church, and social activities. They're not indifferent or apathetic, mind you (witness how the Tea Party came on the scene). And despite differences in politics, gender, race, ethnicity, income, and status, most Americans do a pretty good job of getting along.

Today, however, there is one new twist. We have a man in the White House who seems to revel in dividing us; indeed, to stoke it.

Because his desire to remake this nation according to his own ideology seems grounded in that old biblical fact: a house divided cannot stand.

Yet the President can huff and puff but he cannot blow this house down.

Because once again, Barack Obama does not understand the people he claims to lead.

The people of the United States of America.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Signs of the times

I've started writing for a local newspaper, The Washington County Observer. Here's a recent column:

It's about 5 in the morning and I can't sleep.

So online I start reading the Standard Highway Signs and Markings (SHSM) Book -- Interim Releases for New and Revised Signs of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices of the
Federal Highway Administration of the U. S. Department of Trnsportation.

That title alone should be enough to send me back to bed.

But there's somewhat interesting stuff here, at least to me, an individual who collects useless information (and who put it to good use by becoming a college professor). For highway engineers there are valuable instuctions that most of us don't think about. The online book has PDF files containing samples of what highway signs should look like and the entire effort is to make signs uniform in color, shape, reflectivity, and size. That way a driver anywhere in the country can readily understand road characteristics and hazards.

Of course. Makes sense.

But there is one area in which the Department of Transportation completely lost it and came up with sign regulations that were absurd, expensive, and, quite frankly, none of their business.

It was in the area of what we commonly call "street signs," the signs that tell us the names of streets. And the federal government decided that by 2018 municipalities, townships, and counties needed to have street signs that were uniform in size, color, type, style, and reflectivity. That meant taking down their current street signs and replacing them with the "new and improved" ones.

Faced with the $100 cost for each sign, local governments, the ones who have to pay the bills (with our tax money), let out such a howl that in August Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood backed off and said "common sense" (words rarely heard among big-government types) dictated that the street sign replacement requirement be scrapped.

There is a lesson here, something the Founding Fathers incorporated into the Constitution: some things are better left to the states; other things are naturally the sphere of the federal government.

Aristotle spelled it out in detail: basic human needs, he said, should be met by the most basic human unit, the family. What the family can't handle should be done by the local community, what the local community can't handle should be done by the next biggest entity, in our case the county, then on up the scale to the state and federal governments.

So the family decides its basic needs on health care, retirement, educating children, etc. At the other end of the scale, the federal government deals with things like defense. And local governments decided mundane things about potholes and sewage systems.

As as a result, families shouldn't preside over traffic court, counties shouldn't buy aircraft carriers, and the federal government shouldn't regulate street signs.

Despite Secretary LaHood's criticism of the street sign regulations, somehow I think they'll be back. It is, after all, about federal incursion into just about everything.

That, sad to say, is a sign of the times.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Creek of Consciousness

First the lemonade stands, now the treehouses. Did an interview on the radio a few weeks back with lawyer Dave Roland of the Missouri Freedom Center about how he's fighting cities outlawing children's lemonade stands (Thanks, Dave, for decriminalizing all the lemonade stands in Greeley, Colorado). Now Washington's WTOP Radio reports a Fall Church, Virginia, man has run afoul of zoning law for building his kids a treehouse. My question to lawyer Roland: why are cities doing this? His response: "Because they can"...The Cutest Community Organizer to Whom I Am Married received an e-mail from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) calling upon her to support the Occupy Wall Street movement. Is it that when there is well orchestrated, well-funded ongoing disruption, we should look for the union label?...Wall Street Journal says GE getting concerned about Tea Party flack for GE's close ties to Obama administration. CEO Jeffrey Immelt is even catching it from Mom -- his parents are big conservative media consumers and she told him not to join President's jobs council. Journal says GE claims crony capitalism charges are overblown..Joplin, Missouri's big need is for cash, according to my latest check of the post-tornado situation ...What do five of the last six presidents have in common? Except for George W. Bush, every president since Gerald Ford was left-handed. Before that, you have to go back to Harry Truman. And prior to World War II we had no left-handed presidents (except maybe James Garfield, who was so ambidexterous that he could write a sentence in Latin with one hand while writing the same sentence in Greek with the other!). Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt wrote a few years back that the reason we have all these latter-day lefties-in-chief might be because of abandonment of the old practice of imposing right-handness on all children... Danger -- old jokes ahead: Hold up your left hand. If you hold up left hand, your right hand is left, right? -- How many people would give their right arm to be ambidexterous? -- Do left-handers fight for their rights? And, yes, I am left-handed (Left on, brother!)...Lions and Tigers and winners, oh my! Some of the best news writing shows up on the sports page. Regarding the turnaround of the 4-0 Detroit Lions, Wall Street Journal's Jason Gay says: "Your average sentient human chooses to endure only one Lions game per year, on Thanksgiving." And that, he says, is just "an escape hatch from family dysfunction."

Friday, October 7, 2011

Oh, To Be A Reporter in Arkansas

In my reckless youth I committed random acts of journalism. There were stints in television, radio, and newspapers in Michigan, Colorado, and Missouri.

And while I've started writing a column for a local newspaper, I've never been a reporter in Arkansas.

It's a pity.

What an easy life -- somewhat like being a fisherman where the fish jump into the boat. In Arkansas, the news stories write themselves.

Like this one: seems a local small town mayor and a woman were fooling around with a BB gun. She shot him in the leg. In response, hizzoner da mare shot her in the abdomen.

She was treated and released at a nearby hospital. And did not file charges.

Only in Arkansas (for another jewel, see the last story I posted).

Perhaps the state should adopt a new motto, crediting Dave Barry, of course: "Arkansas. Where we don't make this stuff up."

I love this place.

Where the fish just jump into the boat...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Only in Arkansas: Two Candidates Unopposed; Both Lose

I frequently quote Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial page editor Paul Greenberg's statement that editors in Arkansas and Louisiana have it easy: where other editors have to punch up the news to make it interesting, editors in Arkansas and Lousisiana have to tone it down to make it believable.


Here's this morning's the top story of the Northwest Arkansas Times:

Two area school board candidates who faced no opposition in their races last week nonetheless lost their elections because no one, not even the candidates, cast a vote for them.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

So What Did You Learn At School Today?

Looking over titles, descriptions and online trailers of educational videos that appear at my office from time to time, I see falsehoods wrapped in some dimensions of truth.

And given contemporary production techniques, I fear the viewer will come away remembering the falsehoods more than the truths.

Which is in some cases the whole idea.

Examine some of the titles with me:

Not Just a Game: Power, Politics, and American Sports. This laments the corporatism that taints professional sports. True. But the video then makes the weird case that contemporary athletes are cowed by big money and refuse to make political statements like Muhammed Ali and others did years ago. Perhaps. But it just might be that because people see sports as a means to escape the realities of politics and other pressures on their lives, that athletes and others in the game are just giving them what they want. Besides it's not the '60s anymore.

The Bro Code: How Contemporary Culture Creates Sexist Men. There's a justified critique of the harmful effects of pornography, but the promotional material tells me that by end of this film the overall message will be that all men and boys are evil. The entertainment culture, claims the film catalogue, teaches that "it's not only normal -- but cool -- for boys and men to control and humiliate women." Note the language: "boys and men." Not "some," not "many," not "a minority." Just "boys and men." Evil creatures, all of them.

The Purity Myth: The Virginity Movement's War Against Women. Okay, I guess some of these films are devoid of any truth. This might be one of them. (" unholy alliance of evangelical Christians, political activists, and policy wonks who have been spreading irrational fears about women's sexuality..."). The film is also critical of father-daughter social events aimed at institutionalizing the concept of purity. I see the problem with that: it might make men look good (see Bro Code above).

And this one's great:

The Billionaires' Tea Party: How Corporate America is Faking a Grassroots Revolution. This might be another film where one really has to go searching for the truth. The filmmaker finds "...irate voters parroting insurance industry PR; [he] learns that home-grown 'citizen groups' challenging the science behind climate change are funded by big oil companies; and infiltrates a tea party movement whose anti-government fervor turns out to be less the product of populist rage than of corporate strategy." Yeah. Right. I've been a Tea Party activist for more than two years and I'm still waiting for my corporate check.

And on it goes: films about oppressed Palestinians (nothing, of course, about Israel), the evils of capitalism, consumer overspending (true) and so on.

These are educational films. Actually, they are propaganda pieces posing as educational material. I'm sensitive to this stuff because I'm a university professor. Of course, there are times when my biases creep into what I teach as much as there are biases in the films I've noted. That's life; that's humanity -- you can't write a grocery list without bias (you put the ice cream first). Yet, there are times when my professional responsibility dictates that I must say to my students that what I am telling them is my opinion, that they are free to accept it or reject it.

That's unlikely with some of these videos. Especially the one claiming corporate control of communications. It's called The Myth of the Liberal Media.

Of course.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


So I'm having a conversation with the 11-year-old son of some friends. It was a wide-ranging talk: he discusses all the books he reads and how he likes fantasy works. I speak to him of the wonders of the old Jack London books and London's great short story "To Build a Fire." We go to other subjects: sentence diagramming, for instance. He hates it, but I think it's necessary to really learn grammar. He disagrees. I tell him I can see he reads a lot, because he has a great vocabulary. He laments that his vocabulary isn't as good as those of his older brothers or his mother. I've never known an 11-year-old to regret he can't speak as well as his parents.

In the course of our conversation, my young friend talks of the D-Day invasion of Normandy in World War II, plus he rattles off the names of battleships at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked in December, 1941. I tell him of the strategic shift during that time from battleships to aircraft carriers as he notes that the aircraft carriers stationed at Pearl weren't there when the attack took place. He talks of the mastermind of the Pearl Harbor attack, Japan's General Yamamoto. Although he gets the name wrong, I know whom he means and tell him how American code-breaking allowed for the shooting down of Yamamoto's plane later in the war. He recounts how Yamamoto liked America and lived here for awhile and how Yamamoto opposed the strategy of the Pearl Harbor attacks. I tell him he needs to see the old movie Tora, Tora, Tora, and recommend he watch another old film, Midway. He says he's heard of Midway as a place and I talk to him of how the battle there was a turning point in World War II, how the Japanese navy suffered a defeat that eventually resulted in Japan losing the war.

On we went, talking of World War II, the role of Abraham Lincoln in American history, of Ronald Reagan. Heavy-duty conversation with an 11-year-old, no? But not really -- after all this young man is home schooled. As the result of his first rate, personalized education, he's able to hold his own in an intelligent conversation with a college professor.

Which makes me think of the tired old argument against homeschooling: the lack of peer socialization. You don't hear about it as much as when the Cutest Community Organizer to Whom I Am Married did some homeschooling at different times with our children. The argument has probably diminished since it's impossible to ignore the characteristics of so many homeschoolers: poised, confident, articulate, knowledgeable individuals comfortable with all kinds of people at all kinds of ages.

But I'll grant that homeschoolers do lack some socialization: they are not continually exposed to drugs, alcohol, bad language, poor influences, nutty educational techniques, and lesson plans designed to destroy traditional concepts of God, family, community, and country.

In that they are deprived.

I think it's great.

And they might learn diagramming, too.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Back on the Campaign Trail...

The Cutest Community Organizer to Whom I Am Married put up a lemonade stand to raise campaign funds. And Randy spoke about how over-reaching government is shutting down children's lemonade stands.

An even-numbered year is coming; can elections be far behind?

Tooling up to again work in an election campaign for Randy Alexander. This time I think he'll win. Spent a lot of time and effort campaigning for the 2010 U. S. Senate Republican nomination for Randy. Thought he would be a great U. S. Senator. But 97% of the people voting felt otherwise.

Randy got into politics for the same reason as the Cutest Community Organizer to Whom I Am Married and I did: got tired of watching the professional pols wreck the country. So he decided to run, representing "we the people." And why start at the bottom? He went right for the U. S. Senate. And, of course, got creamed.

But he and by extension those of us who worked in his campaign learned lots. We learned about name recognition (of which he gained a great deal in the Senate campaign) and the awkward but necessary role of money in politics. And about door-to-door campaigning, and about political media, and about yard signs, and about whom to talk to, and about more things than most people would ever want to know.

And now, given what we've learned, we think we have a good chance of seeing Randy elected to the 88th House District of Arkansas. After travelling all over the state in the Senate race, Randy is relieved to campaign in an area consisting of not too many square miles.

The incursion of what Michelle Bachmann terms "gangster government" plus other political nonsense has resulted in a whole new group of activists. Some are in Tea Parties, some are running for office, some are writing blogs, some are producing videos, some are calling government officials, some are attending political meetings, some are paying attention to government proceedings.

While there's something for everyone to do, my primary focus is this: to see men and women of integrity and ethics elected to the Arkansas legislature. While there are important battles at all levels, I believe control of the states is critical. And we need state officials who will not be corrupted by the lures of money, sex, and power.

We sent some great people to Little Rock in the last election. Now it's time to send the next group.

And we're counting on Randy Alexander to be among them.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Appeals Court Defends Photographing Police; Bloggers as Journalists

"...though not unqualified, a citizen's right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public space is a basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment." First Circuit Court of Appeals.

The right to take photographs or video of police in public places was affirmed in an August 26 ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeals in New England. Just as importantly, the court also said individuals with cameras have the same rights as professional journalists.

The court said Simon Glik was within his First Amendment rights when he made a cell phone video of Boston police arresting a man, and arresting Glik for making the video violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

Walking by Boston Commons October 1, 2007, Glik had seen three police officers arresting a young man and heard a bystander say "You're hurting him. Stop" Concerned about police brutality, Glik then began recording the event. After subduing the young man, police ordered Glik to stop recording. When Glik objected, police arrested him.

Glik was charged with violating the state's wiretap law, disturbing the peace, and aiding in the escape of a prisoner. The City of Boston later dropped the aiding in escape charge, and the municipal court dismissed the disturbing the peace charge and also the wiretap charge because the recording was not secret. Glik then sued the city in federal district court and the case ended up at the court of appeals. There, the city argued that police should not be recorded due to their professional immunity from liability but the court cited extensive case law which said government officials in public places may be recorded.

Regarding the First Amendment rights of citizens who are not professional journalists, the court said: "The proliferation of electronic devices with video-recording capability means that many of our images of current events come from bystanders with a ready cell phone or digital camera rather than a traditional film crew, and news stories are now just as likely to be broken by a blogger at her computer as a reporter at a major newspaper. Such developments make clear why the news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Real Deal

Some 35 years ago, the Cutest Community Organizer to Whom I am Married and I attended Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. The school wasn't really a good fit for us and we left after two years. However, from the experience we gained some lifelong friends, a love for the Ozarks where we now live, good biblical insights from a pastor we had, and the opportunity to be influenced by some dedicated faculty members.

Two of those faculty members were Elmer and Mary Deal. They were temporarily teaching at the college because the government of Zaire (now Congo) forced them out of the missionary work they had been involved in since 1957. While I never had classes with Mary Deal, her husband has remained all these years one of the most memorable teachers I've ever had. Mr. Deal did not bring great intellectual insights to the classroom, nor was he an intriguing theologian like one or two other faculty members I was exposed to. But Elmer Deal had heart. Heart for God, heart his students, and heart for the people of Africa. Truly a profound man.

People who look only at high-flying televangelists miss the Elmer and Mary Deals of God's kingdom. While fund raising for his African ministry, Mr. Deal would go anywhere he was invited to speak of his passion, no matter what the potential donorship might be. In one case he made the long drive at his own expense from Springfield to one Western state -- might have been Montana -- to speak at a church. It was a small church, as I recall, with limited means and after Mr. Deal spoke, they made a small contribution to him. He, in turn, saw how destitute the church's pastor was and ended up giving the offering to the pastor. And then he drove home -- again at his own expense -- confident that God would provide for his own needs. That's the character of Elmer Deal.

Last weekend, after all these years, Mr. Deal again made an impact on me. While Barbra and I attended church with her mother in Cleburne, Texas, I noticed the church had posted in a hallway correspondence with their missionaries. And one of those missionaries, still going strong was Elmer Deal! Unbelievable! How old was he, I thought? In his 80s? Sure enough, some Googling showed him at 85 and, although Mary has since passed, Mr. Deal is still ministering in Congo, having begun 164 churches over the course of his time there.

Eighty-five years old. Still serving God in the ministry to which he was called. No retirement, no long days of playing golf, no kicking back. Still that passion that keeps returning him to Africa. Eighty-five-year-young Elmer Deal is still making an impact on people's lives, including mine.

A profound man.

Thanks for the inspiration, sir. You are the real Deal.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Thoughts on the Recent Road Trip

Finally got to do a lot of the Abraham Lincoln-oriented stuff at Springfield, Illinois...Despite the great Lincoln-era restorations and interactive museum, I was affected more at Eureka, Illinois, by the modest Ronald Reagan Peace Garden at his alma mater Eureka College. Just a simple bust of Reagan and a section of the Berlin Wall with a plaque containing his famous "Mr. Gorbachav, tear down this wall!" statement. Deeply moving -- one man can make a difference. Nice little museum there, too...Cotter, Arkansas, is a unique place. Set in a deep valley with a beautiful 1930 highway bridge and a railroad bridge with a nice park and big spring that serves as a city swimming hole. Simple railroad memorial honors Cotter's one-time role as a major railroad division point with names of old railroaders. Must be some stories behind their nicknames: "Big Mike," "Little Mike," and, most interestingly, "Open Throttle"...Pontiac, Illinois, has done a great job of preserving its Route 66 heritage with murals and a new Pontiac-Oakland car museum (which included a descendant of Chief Pontiac at its recent grand opening). Town is a time warp: nice old homes on quiet tree-shaded streets (many displaying American flags [and one with a Tea Party yard sign], a big city park reached by pedestrian suspension bridges over a river, and something one rarely sees any more: children riding bikes and playing along the streets. Don't they have computers or something to keep them busy? We bought 25-cent lemonades from three little boys running a sidewalk stand under the watchful eyes of their parents. To my knowledge, the municipal authorities, the State of Illinois, nor the FDA, FTC, EPA, nor Homeland Security have yet made any attempt to shut them down...Speaking of which, came across a left-leaning newspaper in Springfield claiming that all that Illinois corn we were seeing raises the humidity and that combined with heat kills people. As a result, paper says (and to quote Dave Berry, I am not making this up) cornfields should be regulated by the EPA...Benefit of the internet is reconnecting with old friends. Got together with some of the gang from the old neighborhood in suburban Detroit. Despite absences which in some cases exceed thirty years, we always pick up where we left off...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mark Martin; Shane Broadway

Arkie Malarkey – For Those Who Live in Arkansas or Wish They Did…

Marking Martin

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last weekend ran another hit piece editorial on Republican Secretary of State Mark Martin. It’s at least their second editorial against Martin; in fact, during one week awhile back there was not only an editorial in the Dem-Zette against him but one fairly critical of him in the affiliated Northwest Arkansas Times. True, Mark may have hit a few rough spots in getting settled in his new position over the last six months, and perhaps the newspapers were right in calling him on it. But two Democrat-Gazette critical pieces taking up all that valuable editorial page real estate? Complete with a photo on one of them?

The latest editorial attack shows the Dem-Zette to be acting as silly as they’re trying to paint the secretary of state. Martin, the newspaper thunders, has “been engaging in self-promotion rather than public service, issuing a press release applauding himself for not having spent all of his office’s appropriation.”


How many news releases does the Dem-Zette receive each day from corporations, organizations, government agencies, and politicians each touting all their good deeds?

It’s called public relations and as much as news organizations may not want to admit it, they’re often dependent upon those news releases. Even though many are trivial and for good reason are never published.

And so what if, as the newspaper claims, most state constitutional offices run a surplus each year? Did Mark beat every one else in realizing the public relations value of such an occurrence? Sounds like pretty good management to me. Maybe the real issue is that we’d be better served by the Democrat-Gazette if they raised the question of all that fiscal slop through over-budgeting.

Why is Mark Martin such a target? Could it be related to the critical roles that secretaries of state play in elections? Just sayin’ now – but isn’t that why George Soros is funding an effort to place Democrats in every secretary of state’s office?

Is that the reason for the attacks on Mark Martin?

Just sayin’…

Beebe: Give My Regards to Broadway


Shane Broadway says it’s just “semantics” that say he’s not qualified to be director of the state Department of Higher Education. Somebody needs to tell Broadway and Governor Mike Beebe that those semantics should be spelled “C-R-O-N-Y-I-S-M.” The Arkansas Democrat Gazette says the director needs to be an individual competent in institutional management and finance and who has worked on a higher education campus. Broadway claims his work as a legislator working with college professors and administrators makes him qualified.


Perhaps Tina Fey can help him improve those qualifications, as in: “I can see a college campus from my house.”

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Imagine: A Conservative John Lennon.

What’s this? A former aide to John Lennon says that before Lennon died he expressed conservative beliefs and wanted Ronald Reagan to be President.

Imagine that.

And imagine how Imagine could be revised:

Imagine there’s no corporate tax
It’s easy if you try
Fewer job woes for us
Opportunity to the sky.
Imagine all the people
Living in their own way.

Imagine lesser government
It isn’t hard to do.
Futures not killed or dying.
Fewer regulations, too.
Imagine our government
Leaving us alone.

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But you know there’s more than one.
I hope someday you’ll join us.
Then we’ll really have some fun.

Imagine your own possessions
I wonder if you can.
No bureaucratic greed or hunger
Stealing all they can.
Imagine the world’s people
Enjoying what they own.

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But you know there’s more than one.
I hope someday you’ll join us.
Then we’ll really have some fun.

Imagine that…

Saturday, July 2, 2011

An Oklahoma Fourth

We’re at the dock, waiting for the fireworks.

We’re on the venerable Cherokee Queen II, a slightly shabby passenger cruise boat. It’s little more than four decks and a pilot house set on a barge-like hull amidst phony smokestacks and in front of a fake paddle wheel (that keeps turning even when Cherokee Queen is stopped). There’s a dance floor and a few bars and the intense drumming of diesel engines when one is in the restrooms. There are perhaps 150 souls on board.

It’s late afternoon and boats are everywhere as we look across the channel and at the up and downstream portions of the inlet we are on. There are high-powered boats, sailboats, yachts. Nearly all of them are new except a little old 1950s or 60s cabin cruiser piloted by a guy holding a trumpet. We remember him from last year — he paced alongside our Cherokee Queen playing tunes in the dark while our passengers applauded. “Just throw money,” he cried.

He’s here this year, cruising through the marina area, lifting his trumpet to his lips and letting out some notes. Our passengers applaud.

There is a sailboat whose deck is in the form of an old sailing ship, complete with two masts. It’s lashed together with another half-dozen or so sailboats of all sizes anchored in the marina.

Meanwhile, young, trim men and women cruise through the marina amidst the sharp muffled burble of hundreds of horsepower beneath the decks of their sleek crafts. They’re making a statement -- it’s a display of youth, power, and beauty — of the boats and of the kids on board.

We had boarded Cherokee Queen about 5 p.m., leaving around 6. It’s a perfect end-of-the-day — perhaps 80 degrees — and the only weather distraction is an intense sun but we’ve got straw hats and an umbrella to shade us. We’re on the third deck right on the bow and we enjoy the late afternoon cruise across the lake. Eventually we enter the inlet and, given our size, are provided escort by a police boat as a parade develops of hundreds of boats going toward the fireworks area.

Oklahoma is a poor state, but Grand Lake of the Cherokees where we are is a magnet of wealth. Beautiful homes are along the inlet. Someone has decorated a gazebo in red-white-and-blue bunting. It’s very 19th century and it looks great. Yachts into six and seven figures cruise the lake. Looking at one of those beauties a fellow passenger comments: “It must take $500 to fuel that thing.” I think he’s wrong — by multiples of two, three, maybe four.

We arrive at our dock at 7 p.m. While going across the lake we had supper — a buffet of hot dogs and cold hamburgers. Nothing fancy on the Cherokee Queen II, but we didn’t come for eating. There was dancing on the third deck. The patter of the boat’s disc jockey tells us what’s happening on the dance floor and we see an escaped conga line winding its way past us to go up the stairs to Deck Four.

It’s nearly a three hour wait at the dock before it’s dark enough for fireworks. But it’s fun. Boat- and people-watching are a high art here and there’s always something going on. Suddenly, a roar develops and four World War II fighters fly by in formation about a hundred feet overhead. They’re followed by two World War II bombers, a twin engine B-25, I think, and a four-engine plane which I believe is a B-24. They are loud.

Item: I watch the fighter planes drop in over the water and the boats and I think how Japanese bombers and torpedo planes swooped into Pearl Harbor just like this on December 7, 1941, and what people on the ground and the men on the ships were thinking. Like them we were taken by surprise.

Item: I always wondered in watching old movies about World War II how the machine guns of planes coming at high speed could accurately strafe people on the ground and on ships. Couldn’t you just run out of the way faster than the pilot could maneuver the plane to follow you with his shots? But as I observe a fighter plane coming in low aimed almost directly at the Cherokee Queen I see how easily he can yaw the plane just so and take out someone. No wonder the old movies show sailors diving into the water while being strafed.

After buzzing the boats for awhile, the old planes leave. The smell of steak comes from a nearby on-board barbecue. People are jumping and diving off some boats, swimming in the lake. Children on a nearby yacht are dancing to tunes off the Cherokee Queen. The sun is an irritant as it slowly, slowly makes its way down.

Finally, the sun is down and the lights of hundreds of boats play across the lake. Running lights — white on stern, red on port, green to starboard — glide through water as boats seek positions or just pass through. Police boats are visible with continuously flashing red, blue and purple lights.

It’s 9:15 p.m. and dark, except for a bit of twilight glow. Our on-board disc jockey signs off and we anxiously await the fireworks. After all, we’ve been on Cherokee Queen for nearly four hours, the planes are gone, the people-watching is getting old, and we’re ready for what we came for.

It’s not until nearly 10 o’clock before the show begins. And what a show it is. These are not your father’s fireworks. Computers now control the rocketry and there are new pyrotechnics this year as compared to last. Accompanying the fireworks is patriotic music broadcast by the local radio station and piped through Cherokee Queen’s speakers. With the bombs bursting in air, it’s hard sometimes to hear the music, but strains of “Born in the USA” come through. And John Phillip Sousa marches. Ray Charles sings “America,” there’s a good version of “The Star Spangled Banner.” With each firework burst, people yell. Including the Cutest Community Organizer to Whom I am Married when she’s not singing with the radio. She’s into it. Having been raised where her grandmother sold fireworks every Fourth of July, she has gunpowder and solid rocket fuel in her genes. “Whoa!” she exclaims, as color fills the sky. “My grandmother would have loved to have seen something like this!”

People are cheering. A yell of “U-S-A!” comes from a young man on a boat nearby, although sometimes the same boat produces shouts of “NASCAR!!!”

The first celebration of the Fourth of July — in 1777— was observed by church bells and fireworks. The signing of the Declaration of Independence the previous year had been marked by ringing bells on July 8. Now as Grand Lake explodes in lights I’m thinking that this is going on all across the country: in Boston (where I believe at one time -- maybe still -- fireworks would be accompanied by live concerts by the Boston Pops Orchestra), Los Angeles, San Francisco. Everywhere.

Writer Paul Greenberg has asked how a nation can be so presumptuous as to set aside a day of Thanksgiving if not for its faith in God. I think about a country that celebrates — really celebrates — the concept of freedom. Surely God has blessed this land.

At times the darkened boats seem briefly to be in daylight when fireworks burst open everywhere. The lake glows red with reflections from the sky. Rockets continuously launch above yellow flames on the barges. In the distance, silhouetted before the light from the barge and the fireworks, a young man stands waving for all he’s worth an enormous flag. One moment he’s just a shadow, the next he’s visible with the Stars and Stripes back and forth against the exploded sky.

Everyone is really into this now.

Of course, there’s the grand finale. The barges give it their all. The sky is aglow with flares, flower patterns, explosions. If the music’s still playing, no one can tell.

And it’s over.


The crowd cheers.

Oklahoma may be O-K.

But their firework shows are the best.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I'm to Curse Sarah Palin, But Can Only Bless Her

In the Book of Numbers in the Old Testament is a funny story of a false prophet named Balaam who is hired by the king of Moab to curse Israel. Three times Balaam attempts to make pronouncement upon the Israelis but under the direction of God he can only bless them. Balak, king of Moab, gets frustrated big-time.

I was reminded of the Balaam story while watching a clip of a CNN report on the sifting through of 24,000 pages of Sarah Palin’s gubernatorial e-mails. Posted by, the CNN piece features Drew Griffin of the CNN Special Investigation Unit discussing the findings to date in the Palin e-mails. He says the e-mails show Palin to have been a hard-working governor dealing with Alaska policy, taxes, budget cuts and mundane items. Griffin says the e-mails reflect Palin’s evolution as a politician. He, in effect, defends her against criticisms of being secretive because leaks, according to the e-mails, prompt her to have fewer people in the loop while “thinking out loud.”

Of course, this doesn’t seem to sit well with CNN anchor T.J. Holmes – after all, we can’t have a witch hunt if we can’t find the witch. As a result, Holmes prods Griffin, asking about allegations of Palin being thin-skinned with the media and he inquires about the whole issue of “Troopergate” involving her ex-brother-in-law. Holmes, by his questions, seems to be seeking a curse on Palin. Griffin gives a blessing instead, saying there is nothing about Troopergate uncovered so far and there were no cheap shots against the press. If anything, upon hearing criticism of her staff on a radio talk show, Griffin says Palin wrote that she wished the criticisms were directed at her instead of her staff.

On another issue, perhaps one might think Palin may be showing a sharpness when she writes about something as being “unacceptable.” What is unacceptable? It’s that she has not been getting timely information about the times of troop deployments from Alaska nor funerals of Alaskans killed in the wars. As a result, Palin complained that she had not been able to attend the funerals, nor see the troops off. “I do want to get to those,” she wrote.

So there it was: the Big Report on Sarah Palin from the CNN Special Investigation Unit. The whole thing, of course, was designed to curse Sarah Palin. But Drew Griffin could only bless. I wonder if anchor T. J. Holmes was thinking what Balak, king of Moab, said after his encounters with Baalam: “I called you to curse my enemies and, behold, you have altogether blessed them these three times.”

Friday, June 3, 2011

Joplin. Again.

Second trip to Joplin with a group from our church. Teamed up with my friend Byron Morgan and about eight other guys to remove downed trees. Operated out of Calvary Baptist Church near Joplin, whose facilities have become a warehouse: classrooms filled with food, paper goods, bottled water, etc. Eight semi trailers in the parking lot being unloaded with supplies.
Our team went to an address where we were supposed to remove a tree that had fallen against a house but couldn’t help there: found we needed aerial equipment and professional skills to do the job without causing more damage. Cruised the streets a bit to see if anyone needed tree removal – those that did declined our help because they were waiting for insurance adjusters to view damage. Came upon a family in distinctive Mennonite or Amish dress and assisted them in their efforts to clean up someone’s residential property: cutting up and removing damaged garage walls, removing debris from yard. About 20-25% of the roof of the house was gone and contents of the kitchen and probably more had been sucked up through the hole. Despite the destruction of his property, the homeowner repeatedly said others in the city were much worse off. Tough Ozarkers…
In the afternoon we went to what was left of an apartment complex in the real ground zero of the tornado path. We were supposed to help a woman by lifting walls so she could find personal items. If you think it’s hard to find the right unit in an unfamiliar apartment complex, try doing it when the complex is rubble. Finally found the place and waded through debris, unstable boards, nails, and trash to get to where we could cut and lift the walls. There was little for the former resident to find: a few kitchen items, a child’s toy. But she was positive, thanked us for our help and said she would continue working through the heat and dust to find what she could. Meanwhile, in the same apartment complex we tried to remove some debris so an old gentleman could retrieve a buried file cabinet but he said we would probably need heavy equipment to do the job. He was right – dangerous situation on the second floor of what was left of the building. However, one of our guys managed to rescue some military medals from under the debris.
Sights around Joplin:
--Although the scene is becoming more familiar, it is impossible to adjust to it. One cannot get used to such destruction.
--Got close to St. John’s hospital. Like others have said, it looks like an internal bomb had gone off. Hanging on the side of the building, however, is a giant American flag. There are flags flying throughout the tornado’s path and on one block someone had placed tiny American flags in front of each heavily damaged home.
--Plywood sheets in front of destroyed homes are spray-painted with messages like “All OK,” or “We’re OK.”
--Some homes look like the backs of doll houses: a wall is ripped away and one can see rooms inside, including one residence where items on kitchen cabinets are visible, although jumbled.
A Boston Globe column by Kevin Cullen quoted FEMA Deputy Administrator Richie Serino saying he had never seen anything like what he has seen in Joplin. And that’s from a guy who is a self-described former “street medic” to tough areas of Boston. Yet Serino was amazed by the resilience of people and how a family who had lost everything, including a great-grandmother, told him to go help other people because they were hurting more.

That’s the spirit of tough Ozarkers: thanks for the help but others are worse off.


Went with a group from our church to do disaster relief in Joplin today. The scene is unbelievable. Unbelievable. Photos do not do it justice. Looks like Nagasaki and Hiroshima following the atomic bombs. Or the old photos of World War I forests decimated by artillery fire – same thing in Joplin except with toothpicks (lumber) scattered around the bases of the stripped trees.
Random scenes:
Looking onto a valley and a hillside: destruction as far as the eye can see.
A Burger King leveled except for the playground in the front which was still standing.
The landscape flattened except for a few stripped trees and utility bucket cranes attempting to put power lines back together.
Demolished shopping centers. How many survivors now without work at this intersection? Hundreds? A thousand?
The sheer length of the path of total destruction – miles and miles.
Helping a family move out of their condemned house. On their block was typical tornado damage: torn roofs, broken windows, downed trees. But stand in the street and look two blocks away: a sea of lumber and a few naked trees, the Nagasaki and Hiroshima of Joplin. I’ve seen tornado havoc but nothing like this.
We’re stopped in traffic and I gaze at a pile of debris by the roadside. I spot what looks like a commercial grade sink in the mess. And a large roof fan. And classic old wooden white chairs mixed in the rubble. Was this a restaurant? Somebody’s nice old time family-style restaurant?
A boarded up house has “Thanks 4 the help” spray painted on one of the sheets of plywood. And it flies an American flag. Another pile of rubble has a Texas flag draped on it.
Food, supplies pouring in from everywhere. Calvary Baptist Church, our base of operations, hosted a Tyson’s semi truck which unloaded chicken to be grilled in the church parking lot then distributed throughout the community.
Lots of volunteers, many from Northwest Arkansas. Lots of college-age and high school age people pitching in.
My wife, a nurse, talked with another local nurse or two: horrifying stories of how the tornado sucked nurses and patients out of St. Johns Hospital. Local radio station running ongoing coverage: people calling in looking for missing loved ones.
A big need for Joplin: cash.
And prayer.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Creek of Consciousness

We still have a drive in movie theater here in Northwest Arkansas. Of course, their triple feature of every winter is about to end
its annual run. By the way, that’s not a wrong spelling you see: it’s art. I’m sure everyone would say so if it played at the festivals at Sundance, Telluride, and Warsaw…Top o’ the mornin’ for St. Patricks Day today. Looking at some old 8mm movies last night from the ‘50s and there were shots of my great-grandmother and great aunt: two delightful sisters from Ireland…Netflix has been providing me with some old Route 66 TV shows from some fifty years ago. Two guys drifting around the country in a Corvette. Amazingly literate show with incredible location shots from the country we used to be. Speaking of which, the show demonstrates how times have changed: crisis of an episode I recently watched was whether or not a boy of about 12 would lose faith in God because his father died…Speaking of a 12-year-old boy, I met a bright sixth grader yesterday who has been labeled a “troublemaker” by his teachers. Why? Drugs? Smart mouth? No, worse. This polite honor student is a conservative. He got sent to the principal’s office a few days ago because he voiced opinions contrary to the Establishment’s view on multiculturalism…Meanwhile, I see President Obama has come out against school bullies. And yet he continues to support the teachers unions…

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mr. Harris Goes to Little Rock

Justin Harris is a nice guy.

A freshman Arkansas state representative, Justin is unassuming, speaks rather quietly, and looks younger than his actual age in his mid-30s. When approached by a constituent or someone else, Justin’s eyes are directly on the individual –you won’t see them darting around the room looking for someone more important to sidle up to.

He cares about people and he’s a genuinely nice guy.

Yet, Nice Guy Justin had his picture on the front page of the Northwest Arkansas Times twice this week, both times as the result of controversy.

That’s because he has gone to Little Rock to act on his convictions. Make those Convictions, with a capital C. And he won’t be pushed around because of it.

One would think as a legislative newbie Justin would play it safe and introduce bills about repainting highway welcome centers or placing new historical markers. Stuff like that.

Not Justin. He was barely unpacked in Little Rock when he introduced a bill that would ban illegal immigrants from receiving state funding except in emergencies. How’s that for a first pitch in the AAA league of politics?

The bill made a splash in the House. Proponents burned up phone lines and e-mail channels cajoling, pressuring, and in at least one case, even trying to shame Republican legislators to be co-sponsors. But the bill died in a party line vote in committee.

But not without repercussions to Justin -- he learned Democrats were poking around in his business affairs. He and his wife operate a Christian pre-school in West Fork. Last year, during the election, his opponent attempted to paint the Harrises as skimming off and pocketing big amounts of tuition the state provides for poor students. Of course, the money actually went to things like teachers’ salaries, operating expenses, things like that, but why let the facts get in the way of a juicy scandal story?

As a result of the immigrant bill, pressure increased on Justin. He was approached by a high-powered lobbyist who told him word was going around that there were a dozen children of illegal immigrants in the pre- school. Justin took that as a threat and told the lobbyist in no uncertain terms that by law Justin could not inquire about the legal status of children in his school. One witness to the encounter reported never recalling the lobbyist being dressed down like that.

Justin later learned that Sen. Sue Madison (D-Fayetteville) had been poking around the Department of Human Services to see if Justin’s school had any illegal aliens.

In response, Justin is introducing a bill that would require any state office to make a disclosure when a legislator inquires about the business affairs of another legislator.

Is Justin playing hardball? Not really

Despite the controversies in recent days, he reports discussing possible areas of agreement with Senator Madison on legislation. And, without backing down on his position, he apologized to the lobbyist for the tone he took in their encounter.

After all, Justin Harris went to Little Rock as a man of conviction.

But he’s still a nice guy.