The Inane Asylum™: A Trip Through the Halls of Congress

By Bernard Levy

Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, definitions:

This week's coverage will be short, only because there is so much to report. No, you read it right; I'm just taking a page from the Book of Congress to emphasize a point. With so many important issues up in the air requiring intelligent, decisive action, Congress has opted to ignore almost every one of them with impunity and blatant transparency.

Let's put those birds nesting in Congress in perspective: the base pay for all Congresspersons, from a rookie to a veteran, is $165,200 a year. Those holding special offices such as the House Speaker and the Minority and Majority Leaders make even more. Their benefits include health care and other perks too numerous to list. Legislators are not eligible for a pension until they reach the age of 50 and have to serve at least five years to receive one. Can you see the reason now why they are more interested in getting reelected than doing the job for which they were elected?

The amount of a pension depends on how many years they have served, but in any event, a retirement annuity cannot exceed 80% of their final salary. However, they may earn more in retirement "pay" than their final salaries because their retirement payments include annual increases tied to the Consumer Price Index.

We've established what their compensation is; now, what should they do for it? They're suppose to pass appropriate legislation; help their constituents; oversee various agencies of the federal government to ascertain that they're functioning under law; perform their duties and functions in a responsible and appropriate manner; seriously consider the important issues of our times and timely and intelligently deal with them, whether by legislation or otherwise.

But, what have they done recently? Not much.

To poorly paraphrase a wonderful poet, "How do I not love our ineffective, corrupt-ridden Congress; let me count the ways."

And, the beat goes on. Major issues, including affordable health care and prescription drugs, retirement security, the continuing presence of corporate power and corruption, and the ever-present issue of adequate homeland security, all need immediate attention and review. I haven't even touched upon the importance of strengthening the infrastructure in this country; roads and bridge are decaying faster than I'm aging, which is pretty rapid.

I haven't even discussed effective oversight on the continuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the corruption in government contracts.

I am, by nature, an optimist, but it's becoming more difficult all the time. Please, oh please, God, deliver us from this Congress! It's evident that Congress and other elected officials do not have the American public's best interests in mind when they thumb their noses at the truly important issues to waste time considering a flag-burning amendment - how many flags have you seen burned recently? - while ignoring senior and disabled citizen health care issues- how many citizens do you know who need medicine they cannot afford?

Stay tuned for the upcoming elections and perhaps some real and meaningful legislation action from a possible new flock of legislative birds.

 

U.S. Auto Makers: What In Tarnation Are They Doing And How Can They Get On The Profitable Path Again?

By Bernard Levy

If I had chosen Jim Penn to write this column, he might have opened with, "Step right up, folks, and welcome to the Kingdom of Mismanagement. Watch your step and avoid those formidable heaps of red inked financial reports and billion dollar losses. As we approach the Hall of the past captains of automobile industry, please note there are some that have received punishment in the form of reduction in rank to privates and corporals of industry."

Yes, it is the Kingdom of Mismanagement as leadership, particularly over the past five years, changed direction and commitments more frequently than their introduction of new models.

I've followed the American automobile industry for years and have accumulated heaps of research, statistics and market analyses. Yet, all a person needs to know can be found in recent headlines from mainstream media: "Car Dealers Keep Discounts Rolling;" "Auto maker (Ford) Recovery Bid Intensifies;" "U.S. Cars Slip in Durability Study;" and most recently, "Three Carmakers (General Motors, Daimler-Chrysler AG, and BMW) Pool Efforts on Hybrids." Combine these headlines with other articles, newswire and industry blurbs announced reductions of SUV production and the probability that a substantial interest in General Motors will be sold to foreign interests, and you've got a good picture of the U.S. auto industry today.

I've never been to the corporate offices of Ford and General Motors, but I can sense that their executive "suits" work in environments of unreality. I don't list Chrysler as a U.S. manufacturer any more, since it merged with Daimler, but it should be included because many of its operations are in the U.S. including Freightliner, manufacturer of one-third of the trucks on our roads.

Let's cut to the chase - why is Detroit in such a mess? How can companies with such magnificent financial and technical resources fail so readily and often? Ah, let me count the ways:

  • These auto makers continue to reinvent themselves so often that their "reinventions" have bred an environment of their own and have taken an adverse toll on both management and the companies' labor forces.
  • They continue to avoid the universal requirement that management perform simultaneously all the necessary management functions. Yes, there comes a time when a company has to emphasize one over others, such as new products; consider Lee Iacocca's past success with Ford's Mustang. Still all of the essential business functions, including quality assurance, research and development, production innovation and efficiency, marketing and sales, accounting and financial controls and reports and compliance with rules and laws must be consistently performed. Successful business operations require this continuing effort. Ford and GM (and also Chrysler) have failed to do so.
  • U.S. auto makers have continually failed to recognize current and future customer, economic and competition trends. They, alone, were responsible for failing to recognize that the American public would purchase smaller, more-efficient automobiles in the 60's and 70's and allowed the Japanese and other auto-producing countries to establish and gain market share in our economy. Why do three major, powerful vehicle manufacturers find it necessary to pool their efforts to combat Toyota's and Honda's hybrid auto market penetration? Ford's print and visual media campaign for the past year has promoted itself as a creative, innovative company dedicated to the needs of drivers. Is Ford really such a company?
  • Vehicle manufacturers have woefully failed to timely recognize the rising costs of manufacturing vehicles, particularly the cost to fund pension plans and retirement benefits for the increasing number of auto industry retirees. I don't begrudge retirees their pensions and other benefits, particularly when they contractually relied on them, and management, in its infinite nonwisdom, agreed to such increases. These companies with their vast analytical resources should have known such employee benefits were not sustainable. Yes, some of the blame falls upon the unions, who, it could be said, forced some of these demands on the manufacturers. But, there comes a time when financial, accounting and management executives have to put pencil to paper. The auto companies have hired cost-cutting purchasing czars to establish and enforce lowest-purchase prices on vendors. Delphi, a major supplier of GM parts (once owned by GM), is in bankruptcy. Sometimes, when a manufacturer cuts vendor prices so deeply, it prevents a vendor from maintaining its own profitability.
  • All of the above have produced a failure to do business in a businesslike manner. Those executives running around, hopefully without scissors in their hands, have promoted and established business cultures and environments that have created and nurtured these problems.

There comes a time in every industry when a saturation point appears. In the olden days, perhaps six to ten years ago, many car owners replaced their vehicles every one to three years. That no longer is the rule of thumb for most of us working stiffs. True, the wealthy continue to update their vehicles on a much more current basis. I daresay that a significant downturn in the economy will produce major automobile loan defaults and raise havoc with finance companies' bottom lines and new car sales.

China and India are slated to be (they are already) the future major growing auto markets. U.S. manufacturers sought for many years to establish beachheads in both countries, but it's now evident that China and India are producing their own vehicles for their vast, unsaturated markets, as well as export.

Additionally, it seems that the continuing love affair between the automotive industry and the oil companies is working to the detriment of the manufacturers. I do know that the auto industry lobbied successfully for years with our federal government to relax mile-per-gallon standards. This has proven to be a very short-sighted strategy because outside influences, circumstances and forces beyond most everyone's control are substantially determining the cost of fuel now and in the future.

I want business to succeed. My attitude goes back to my CPA-auditing days when I would, during an audit engagement, advise businesses on how to be more profitable and competitive.

You may raise the question, "What should Ford and GM do?" Simply attend to all of those bulleted items above. Quit reinventing themselves and do business in a continuing businesslike manner. Recognize market opportunities, both here and abroad, and take advantage of them, concentrating on the vehicles that will sell in foreign countries. Our long love affair with the automobile is one that many other nations have not yet fully embraced. The auto manufacturers need to learn from history and experience and stop making recurring mistakes.

And most of all, understand and employ three necessary business principles: know and respect thy customers; know and respect thy competitors; and know and respect thyself.

Business is really simple; people make it complicated.

 

Experts Running Wild In Our Country: Are They Really Experts?

By Bernard Levy

Beware! Present-day, sophisticated "snake oil" salesmen are on the loose again! Truth is, they've always run loose in our humbugable and trusting society.

In February, 2001, I wrote the column, "Success 2001: The Hustle and the Message," about a highly-touted event held in the Portland, Oregon Rose Garden arena and hyped as the "blockbuster event praised and acclaimed by CNN, USA Today, Time, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times!" It featured famous motivator Zig Ziglar, Christopher Reeve, President Gerald Ford, Ed McMahon, Dr. Earl Mindell, Tom Hopkins-touted as "America's number one sales trainer;" Peter Lowe, "America's success strategist;" and Scottie Pippen, basketball superstar. The ticket retail price was $225.00, but the full-page ad said you could get in for $39.00. I paid $89.00.

It was a great promotional hustle for the speakers' books, tapes and programs - a veritable "Motivational Woodstock" designed to "ensure" your personal success. The beach balls in the audience and loud music added to the buzz; I was unimpressed.

After being bombarded in the past five years with direct mail advertising from similar "experts," it's high time to revisit these "experts," our modern version of the traveling medicine man.

I also attended Robert Allen's "I'm Under a Deadline to Create 1,000 New Millionaires in Record Time," in 2002. It proved to be much more entertaining than television that particular evening, and it was free. Highly touted by himself and ostensibly by others, Allen is the founder of the Robert G. Allen Institute and the author of several books including, "Robert G. Allen, Nothing down for the 2000s." He represented himself as the "best-selling author, legendary real estate investor and millionaire maker." I don't know whether he made his goal of 1,000 millionaires, but he continually ran the ad following that event.

Allen's M.O. has changed, and he is currently running a new ad, "Check Things Off Your Wish List for 2006 by Making a Fortune in Real Estate with Nothing Down." Rest assured that the seminar is likewise dedicated to selling his programs, tapes and books.

There are other three-ring promotional circuses, including that of William D. Danko, co-author of, "The Millionaire Next Door," and J.G. Banks', "The Secrets of Probate Profits." They're making the circuit with glitzy, full-page newspaper ads and glitzier direct marketing materials.

When I had hair and was a budding accounting and financial professional, I asked a wise mentor how he defined an expert. I had an ulterior motive: I wanted to know if I had arrived. He looked at me, not taking the bait, and said, "An expert is someone from out of town." There, you have it. These expertly-hyped personalities are from out of town.

True experts are acknowledged by the advice they give based upon their experience, education and knowledge. You seek their wise counsel because you need their advice, not because they need your attendance to sell their products and services.

My mentor also said there were two ways to financial success--have people and/or property work for you and surround yourself with successful people; e.g., experts.

It's always fun to hear a public speaker recount his life's work and experiences. It is possible to make money in real estate and other profit centers, but there are no gimmicks or secrets. You need to research the activity in which you wish to engage, talk with others experienced in the field and focus - employ the two-pronged road to success of "tenacity" and "singleness of purpose." Better yet, to paraphrase Scottie Pippen at the Success 2001 event, "Work hard, consistently and all the time."

Generally, the secrets of success are: respect yourself, your family, your co-workers, employees, customers and neighbors; hard work and more hard work; work smart and listen to and know the needs of your customers; and tenacity and singleness of purpose. You don't need to pay an expert to figure that out.

 

The Mediocre HousekeeperTM
Dust and Clutter Can Be Your Friends
(Part 2 - Clutter)

by Jim Penn

When my friend Bernie Levy asked me to write about dust and clutter, I began with a discussion of dust. We now explore the world of clutter.

Going hand-in-hand with dust is clutter. The CCC (Constructive Clutter Collectors), a national organization, is financially supported by the ACCC (the Association of Credit Card Companies). I particularly enjoy the CCC's motto: "A cluttered mind is a terrible thing to waste." Your mind and your surroundings should be full of stuff. The secret is knowing how much clutter you and your personality can take.

Not only are dust and clutter compatible, but clutter often makes dusting difficult, thereby building in an important antidusting mechanism. An empty table top invites - may even cry out for - a dust cloth wiping. However, cover it with knickknacks, gewgaws and doodads, and it becomes dust and clutter heaven.

Clutter collecting promotes good health. Frequent visits to flea markets, garage sales and antique stores promote walking, stooping and jumping up and down when you find a particularly good bargain. I wish to thank my good friend Ken "Dusty" Sindora for allowing me to use his classifications of clutter:

    1. Daily living clutter
    2. Lapses-in-memory clutter
    3. Collectible clutter
    4. Friendship clutter
    5. Event clutter
    6. Ego clutter
    7. Trauma clutter

Briefly, daily living clutter results from living your life. Remarks like "Gee, this is a nice plastic container. I think I'll wash out the mold and keep it for future use" trigger great collecting. Forgetting if you've ever begun or stopped collecting an item is an example of lapses-in-memory clutter. For example, "I'll just put this used bicycle seat right here in the hallway until I find my bicycle seat collection, if I ever started one." Collectible clutter is the easiest one: adding to a collection you've already started and identified as a possible major future investment. A collection of old fly fishing reels is a good example, as is a box of wine bottle corks. I must have five cartons of corks because when I retire, I plan to build something grand with them.

Friendship clutter merits special attention. These items need to be prominently displayed because you never know when your friends may visit.

Event clutter is a fun activity that could turn into collectable clutter, but only if you are sufficiently motivated to continue collecting. For instance, memorabilia from a baseball game or two may be important to keep. Even if those of us lacking season tickets are not positioned to continue the collection, an occasional basketball or hockey game could produce good collectable stuff and possible E-Bay sales. It's even better when you can take home a photo of yourself and Big Dog, the team mascot.

Ego clutter may be the most expensive category because it supports a passion for personal possessions and displays of wealth and power. Sportsmen in particular participate in this clutter with collections of rifles, shotguns and the occasional antique Thompson submachine gun or the more current Uzi. Fishermen also accumulate redundant collections of rods, reels, and lures of every description.

Lastly, trauma clutter is becoming one of America's greatest problems. Because our divorce rate remains high, the clutter from broken marriages takes up many a storage unit as well as spare bedrooms, garages and attics. If you are already cluttered-up (that also may be a cause for divorce) and divorcing, you may be tempted to aggravate your soon-to-be ex-spouse by destroying a lot of marriage stuff - not a good idea! However, this will allow you to free up space for more coveted clutter, once you're released from the hospital.

There are reasons, conscious and otherwise, for all clutter-collecting decisions. The following guidelines should help you:

Was your clutter acquisition:

  • Made while inebriated?
  • Made in haste?
  • Made alone or under peer pressure?
  • Made as an all-or-nothing decision?

In summary, it's clear that dust and clutter are enemies only if you view them as such. They're wonderfully compatible with each other. Family values are important, and the family that accumulates dust and clutter together is a family that literally and figuratively sticks together.

 

Pet Advice - Straight From The Horse's Mouth

by Charles "Horse" Tsence

Dear Readers:

This column is dedicated to the love and care of animals. Contrary to what some readers thought, animals do not include spouses. Yes, I know that spouses and partners call each other "Pet," "Poochie" and even "My Cuddly Fur-Ball" (mostly directed to men), but this column is dedicated to our friends with four legs, feathers, fins, prehensile tails and the like. For questions regarding male-female relationships, I refer you to columnist Hortense "Poochie" McGoldstein, who will appear in this publication. Thank you. _________________________________________________________________________

Dear Charles:

When I pick my horse's hind hooves, he often passes gas, sometimes silently, sometimes loudly. I would appreciate him stopping this behavior. What can I do? Signed, Hoof-Picker Jones.

Dear Hoof-Picker:

You may not have noticed, but horses do not have an understanding of etiquette, nor do they have formal bathrooms in which to pass gas. They can't even go outside, as done in polite society, because horses are always outside. Obviously, your horse (Since you didn't tell me his name, I'll call him "Rover") enjoys having his hooves cleaned, and passing gas is his way of showing appreciation. Always look on the bright side of life; if you find it offensive, you can delegate this job to your spouse or significant other, your best friend or worst enemy. It's possible that this activity may be a precursor of bigger things but if he hasn't done so already, he probably won't in the future. You'll understand whether Rover enjoys your assistance in keeping his hooves clean if he continues to pass gas when you clean his front hooves.

Dear Charles:

I am a retired dairy farmer. Well, not really. I keep six cows on my grandfathered-for-farm-use homestead for tax abatement purposes. I am also a history buff and know the origin of the phrase "The shot heard 'round the world." Since my wife of fifty years, Sarah Mae, passed last year, I spend a lot of time sitting in a darkened room at night listening to talk radio and contemplating. I enjoy the shows because they are much more scary than those "Terminator" and "Predator" movies. My question is, on a recent late night radio show, I heard about government plans to shoot a herd 'round the world. Is this true, or is the talk show commentator just messing with my mind? Signed, Puzzled-in-Eastern-Oregon Connolly

Dear Puzzled-in-Eastern-Oregon:

I, also, remember the revolutionary war story about "The shot heard 'round the world." As I recall, it was the first shot fired in our revolutionary war and raised a lot of worldwide eyebrows.

I don't know where your late talk show commentator got his information but, according to my inside-the-government informant, that's a top secret NASA mission. As best as I could cobble the story together, it seems we are still smarting from Russia's victory in putting the first person in space more than forty years ago. Our government has been hard at work in an underground laboratory, deep inside the Rocky Mountains, constructing a rocket-powered spaceship capable of housing a herd of Herefords or Jerseys. From what I hear, they're talking in terms of 10 to 15 cows scheduled for a launch in 2007, which will be dubbed "The Herd Shot 'Round The World." I thought it was top-secret, but you know those talk show personalities - they ruin everything for everybody. Keep the faith and I leave you with that old farm saying, "You've got to stoop pretty darn low to milk a chicken."

Signing off for now. Until next time, enjoy your pets and remember that not only are they a part of your family, they are part of your personality.

 

The Birth, Life and Possible Death of Jack T. Gidley
(Truth in a fictional setting)
Featuring the Boys in the Corner

By Jim Penn

I arrived earlier than usual at our special corner in the State Street Bar and Grill. Only Joe was there. After I ordered coffee (that's another story) and Joe got his beer, he spilled the beans.

"Jim, I've got a problem and I don't know what to do. Will you help me?"

"Two aspirins and call me in the morning, seventeen, and not in cans are the only answers I have."

"No, I'm serious, Jim. I need your input."

"Okay. Shoot."

"Well, it started when I had been separated from Marie for about four months. I wanted cable in the little home I bought. I was bored and decided to see if they'd open the account in any name. I made one up, Jack T. Gidley, and he got the service. I'd established credit for somebody who didn't even exist! I paid with my own checks, but 'Jack' had the cable service.

"Then Jack started getting junk mail, and I decided to play my game again; just for fun, Jack became a Book·of·the·Month·Club member, and a darned good one at that! He read everything; of course, I paid for the books."

I drained my coffee, and ordered something stronger, a root beer (but that's another story).

"Marie and I were getting closer but still weren't ready to reconcile. I bought a small house, and Jack moved with me.

"He got all kinds of mail. He was invited to join societies, offered American Express and Visa cards, invited to high-powered seminars and asked to contribute to every charity known to beast and man. In fact, he received more mail than me, which was downright embarrassing for two reasons: one, I am a real person and, two, the mailman was becoming suspicious. He kept asking, 'Who is this guy? Does he live here? Are he you related?' And he was relentless in his pursuit."

Bill No. 1 joined us, and Joe had to bring him current. My root beer was gone, and I needed something stronger. The State Street Bar and Grill, on the cutting edge of bars and grills, had an espresso machine (no story there), and I ordered a double.

Joe continued, "Then it got good. For whatever reason, the junk mailers concluded that Jack T. Gidley was married, because I received mail addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jack T. Gidley. Leading the way were life insurance companies and a cremation society. Apparently, everybody dies, even if they never existed.

"I was amused, but put Jack and his wife out of my mind because Marie and I finally got our differences worked out. She sold the big house and moved in with me. She called the little house our 'love cottage'."

Suspecting that Bill No. 1 was about to interject a comment, I cautioned him, "Don't say a word, Bill. It's not worth it."

Joe continued, "Marie moved in on a Sunday. The following Tuesday, the whatever hit the fan. In the mail we got a sample maxi pad, a magazine offer for Mrs. Jack T. Gidley and several solicitations addressed to Jack. Marie came unglued.

" 'Who is this Jack T. Gidley? And who is Mrs. Jack T. Gidley? What's going on here? Have you been unfaithful? Who are these people?' And she just wouldn't let up. She was worse that the mailman in her questioning.

"Well, they say truth is stranger than fiction, and I'm now a believer. I 'fessed up, but Marie just wouldn't listen. She was yelling, 'Are you crazy? Don't you want your credit in your own name? What kind of a name is Gidley? Are you nuts?'

"The harder I tried to explain, the angrier Marie got. She packed her bags, walked out and is now living with her sister in Oregon, wherever that is. But you know, the joke is on her! She left too soon, because only today Jack got the big one in the mail from Ed McMahon. There, right inside the cellophane envelope, were six $1,000,000 winners, and Jack was the first one in line."

Joe leaned back on his stool, finished his beer and proclaimed to all (John and Bill No. 2 had arrived), "God, I love that guy."

Joe said his good-byes and walked away from our Corner, happy as a lark.

Bill No. 2 asked, "What was that all about?"

I wanted to answer, but all of us were laughing too hard to speak.

 

Missed and Mainstream Media - The "Hidden Stories"

By Bernard Levy

The following are a few of the "Hidden Stories" which we define as news that: 1) never receives coverage in mainstream media (MSM); 2) gets published, but insignificantly, e.g., in a newswire that's easily overlooked by a reader or gets placed in an out-of-the-way page, perhaps next to a large ad for vacuum cleaners; or 3) is reported reasonably well once and then rarely or never seen again.

Most are important stories containing information that affect our pocketbooks and lives, e.g., government incompetence and corruption that cost taxpayers money. We'll cover some stories in depth as time and resources permit. We hope you enjoy this feature. If you do, please let us know. ______________________________________________________________________________

A major "Hidden Story" that has received reasonable coverage is BP Exploration Alaska, Inc.'s (British Petroleum) shutting down of a pipeline in its Alaska North Slope production field. It was shut down on August 6 and announced to the public on August 7, 2006. BP operates 22 miles of oil transit pipeline at Prudhoe Bay. The company noted that closing this pipeline will reduce daily crude oil production by an estimated 400,000 barrels.

The "Hidden Story" is not what was said by MSM, but what was not said or stated incorrectly.

It had been estimated by oil gurus (and perhaps BP) that the shutdown of 400,000 barrels of crude oil flow will affect about 8% of the U.S. output. You do the math. The implication of this statement was that 8% of the U.S.'s consumption per day would be effected. However, according to my research, we consume 21,000,000 barrels of oil daily. That computes to approximately 2% of our daily requirements. A big difference from 8%, don't you think?

The "Hidden Story," missed by the MSM sources that I've reviewed is not its impact on future Alaska drilling , exploration and production. The August 7 CBS newscast focused on questions to the reporter in the field on how this closure would affect the pros and cons of future Alaska Wild Refuge drilling. A good question, but not the most important question.

Oil pipeline owner/operators/users employ something called a "smart pig" to clean out pipelines on a periodic basis. To quote a newssource, "The oil company said it was surprised to find such severe corrosion and had gone 14 years without using a device called a "pig" to clean out its lines because it did not believe it was necessary."

Another source stated that, of the 22 miles BP operated, BP has only inspected 40% of its lines within recent years.

The CBS newscast I viewed stated, to the best of my recollection, that BP had not inspected its pipelines in 10 years, and that the U.S. governmental agency responsible for inspecting pipelines had not done so in 16 years.

The "Hidden Story" lies in asking the question, "Why?" Why didn't BP inspect, by "pig" or otherwise, pipelines during this lengthy period of time, especially since it obviously has the funds to do so? (The company recorded a $7.3 billion net profit during the most recent quarter.) The more important question is why the United States agency responsible for inspections hasn't inspected it during this length of time - 10, if not 16, years?

I saw a "very quaint" interview with a government official on the CBS newscast who said his agency was looking into the problem and would monitor the situation. I've been hearing similar rhetoric from the government for years. Every time something occurs that is, at least, misfeasance, if not malfeasance, the responsible agency begs off, promising that they're going to look into it. This is why we must allocate ample funds for government to do the jobs required, namely to protect our country from environmental as well as economic disasters.

* * * * *

Next, our growing attraction and addiction to gambling in this country has been marginally covered. The gambling business, originally reserved for high-rolling corporations located in Las Vegas, Reno and Atlantic City, is now branching out by way of Native American gambling casinos and gaming resorts. This is a huge industry, and it appears that there are sufficient gamblers to support the expansion of this industry.

When I was a lad growing up in Trenton, New Jersey, the cop on the beat would come into Carmine's Barber Shop and actually take bets in the then gambling game known as "the numbers." I don't know the current status of the numbers racket, but the major action now takes place nationwide in casinos and state lotteries, the latter used to raise funds to operate government.

The "Hidden Story" lies in how this accelerating activity is affecting our society from all points of view, including economic, health, social and moral. What is the real toll on society? How many families are torn asunder by the breadwinner gambling away part or all of his or her paycheck in the hopes of hitting "the big one?" That's a story that must be brought to light since many supposedly religious-oriented, morally-driven legislators actually support those activities that ultimately result in contributions to their PAC's (Political Action Committee) and revenues for government coffers.

* * * * *

Lastly, a very small article appeared in the August 10th issue of the Wall Street Journal titled "U.S. Ships Uranium from Poland to a Secure Facility in Russia." The article by John J. Fialka was not totally clear, but apparently our Department of Energy moved 90 pounds of highly enriched uranium from a research facility in Poland to Dimitrovgrad, Russia. The move was made to place it in a more secure environment. The article noted that we were concerned about the material because "it wasn't irradiated which would have made it easier for terrorists to steal."

Of course, my question is, why Poland and why Russia for research and storage?

I suppose the words to the famous Disneyland song are appropriate, "It's a Small World, After All…"

 

Commentary

America the Beautiful: Has it All Come Down to Labeling - Liberal or Conservative,
Patriot or Sympathizer?

By Bernard Levy

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of being labeled by someone who doesn't know what he or she is talking about.

President Bush, his advisors and administration deftly and wrongfully have used the terms "liberal" and "liberals" to label patriotic, caring, questioning Democrats as unprincipled, unpatriotic Americans, Americans who back down in the face of terrorism. They label all Democrats as Liberals and charge that all such Liberals do not support the government in its efforts to combat terrorism and its accompanying evils.

Karl Rove, Bush's Deputy Chief of Staff, brilliantly conducted President Bush's last two campaigns, smearing those opposed to Bush and his policies in inflammatory and anti-American rhetoric, railing against all Democrats and the Democratic Party by slathering the term "liberal" all over them. Needless to say, Rove's tactics worked.

What is important to note is that the terms "liberal" and "liberalism" were originally held dear by the G.O.P. party and favored by such famous and important authorities in economics and government as Adam Smith, who wrote "The Wealth of Nations" in 1776; Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and even a current conservative economist, Milton Friedman. These persons believed (Mr. Friedman still does) in "classic liberalism," a political ideology that embraces individual rights, private property and a laissez-faire economy, a government that protects the liberties of each individual and promotes a Constitution that protects individuals from governmental power. That's today's credo of a Libertarian.

A Classical Liberal believes in private property, free markets, economic competition, limited government, the rule of law and individual rights and focuses on the individual, freedom, reason, justice and tolerance.

Before you cut me off and stop reading, it's true that modern liberalism deviates from this strict "liberal" definition because it supports the use of government to achieve a variety of goals, such as "social justice" and "economic equality."

Karl Rove and his people didn't mess around with definitions and technicalities and kept it simple; that's what most people wanted, because it's easier to understand.

Let's consider current events, particularly the defeat of Senator Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary last week. Many mainstream media (MSM) commentators, columnists and analysts are getting it wrong. They have painted the winner of the primary, Ned Lamont, as a liberal candidate dedicated to cutting and running from Iraq. Other commentators, particularly those of a Democratic bent, insist that it is a voter reaction against the policies and practices of President Bush, including deceptions, mismanagement and miscalculations in entering into and running the Iraqi war; in other words, it's a negative response to President Bush.

Well, folks, George W. Bush is not running for anything in the near future; it's not about that, but about sensible, realistic, understandable and honest government.

I live in a conservative community where most of the inhabitants voted for and still support the war effort. These voters feel that the damn liberals are ruining our country, and President Bush is right in maintaining his stand on Iraq. However, there comes a time in every citizen's life (actually many times) when that person must consider current facts and make informed and intelligent decisions. These decisions should include what an elected official has declared in the past and is saying in the present. President Bush and the military have stated that, if Iraq turns into a civil war, we will take leave of that country.

Well, civil war has been occurring for many months, and continues. Although Muslim clerics have appealed to their minions to cease the blood-letting, it's not working. For reasons that would take too long to list here, there have been centuries of differences between the Sunnis and the Shiites in Iraq and elsewhere, and these differences continue to be debated, not only in words but now in blood.

Timing in life is everything; the U.S. has had ample time and money to equip and train Iraqi military and police to assume the protective functions in that nation, but we have squandered these many opportunities at great cost. Corruption, an activity that often follows a change of government, is rampant in Iraq, both within the government and otherwise. Most importantly, our sons, daughters, husbands and wives continue to both sustain serious physical and mental injuries and die.

Second to these injuries and deaths, and the death of countless innocent civilians, is the tremendous economic toll that has been imposed upon us; estimates of the cost of the war range from three-quarters to a full one trillion dollars or more. We have to accept that burden, yet we haven't begun to sell war bonds as we did in prior major conflagrations.

Thirdly, our complete mismanagement of the Iraq war and our tactical and diplomatic decisions and efforts have not endeared us to the world community. Make no mistake about it, it clearly is a world community today with a global awareness of events, deeds and words.

A basic G.O.P. mantra is the familiar saying, "The best government is the government that governs least." Smaller and more effective government has been the watchword of the G.O.P. for years. Take a look at the federal government now; true, we're under great pressure from terrorism, within and without, and we must take suitable measures to effectively protect ourselves. However, honestly examine our bloated government, its greatly increased bureaucracy and the many examples of mismanagement.

I am a Democrat and believe in most of the classical liberalism message - strong individual rights and the protection of the liberty of each individual, ownership and use of private property. But, I also believe in a "modified laissez-faire" economic structure. As was accurately proven in our most recent recession, businesses unfettered by reasonable and effective government controls go irresponsibly wild. They must be monitored and even sanctioned, when necessary.

In answer to the question, "Are we (the government) our brothers' and sisters' keeper?" I respond that we are to the extent that we can and should be responsible, particularly in those areas in which individuals cannot protect themselves. Most of all, as a fiscally responsible Liberal, I believe we must have a balanced budget and live within our means. I wonder how many Congresspersons balance their own checkbooks? That would be a revealing survey, wouldn't it?

Yes, I am a Democrat and a Liberal who believes that when a policy has failed, it's time to recognize the failed policy and get on with life. I am not a cut-and-run advocate. I am not anti-war. When and where there is a real threat, we should fight like "hell." But, in these times, we must pick our fights intelligently and with meaningful military intelligence. The Bush Administration's actions have weakened our military capabilities, and I anticipate some "real fights" are looming on the horizon.

We must protect this country against terrorism and real enemies. We must maintain a strong and healthy economy, as well as a powerful military. We must attend to those domestic needs that have gone unattended for these past six years.

Take that, President Bush, Vice-President Cheney and Karl Rove! Put that in your failed policies pipe and smoke it!