Inane AsylumTM - A Trip Through Congress

Folks, if Congress was a farm, it wouldn't be difficult to identify the Congressional farm animals. You can readily observe the bulls rambling through the halls and running down the corridors. Yes, there are pigs, in fact many pigs, wallowing in their self-righteous indignational muck and mire. The animals most numerous are the ostriches. You know, ostrich, those birds of a nonflying feather that often flock together. Yes, these strangely gawky types have a reputation for "burying their heads in the sand." Although it appears they do that, this ostrich posture is one of defense used to disguise themselves as a bush by lowering their heads to expose a bush-like body.

This Congress is particularly good at its continuing and artful ostrich-like posture, apparently right up to summer break. It's really not a summer break; it's merely the time in which they actively campaign for reelection purposes. Congress' preoccupation with legislating societal behavior (that it doesn't know one wit about) reared its head again when Senator Sam Brownback, R-Kan., introduced legislation that would bar doctors from prescribing federally-controlled drugs for use in assisted suicides. It's apparent that Congresspersons like Senator Brownback are not only attempting to appeal to their religious, conservative supporters, they are cloaking themselves in a righteous mantle that shouldn't have a place in the U.S. Senate. Thank goodness Senator Brownback never has had the dubious opportunity to experience his own painful, terminal illness requiring extensive, pain-killing medication and the necessity to plan for pending death. The State of Oregon, in its infinite wisdom, has legislated, with two-time voter approval, assisted-suicide legislation. The overwhelming statistics on Oregon's law tell all - very few assisted suicides have been performed; it is not a program in which hundreds or thousands of people are requesting medical assistance to die every year. But, Senator Brownback, in his infinite nonwisdom, introduced his bill, The Assisted Suicide Prevention Act, the first Congressional assault on assisted suicide since the Supreme Court upheld Oregon's law in January, 2006.

Senator Brownback would have us believe that Oregon is fostering an opportunity to kill innocent people, not unlike Hitler's Nazi Germany. Nothing could be further from the truth, but Senator Brownback is not interested in the truth; he's interested in reelection and, hopefully, running as a presidential candidate in 2008.

All of this brings us back to what is important to our country at this time, which, might I add, is of little or no importance to Congress. Most people are aware that the civil violence in Iraq and Afghanistan is increasing daily. According to President Bush, Afghanistan was his first "experiment" in establishing democracy in a predominantly Islamic nation. Well, horror of horrors, it's in dire jeopardy of complete failure. The opium trade is on the rise; Taliban insurgency has become a serious threat to the fledgling democracy; and the country is factually failing to support President Bush's claims. It would be a shame for the Afghanistan experiment to fail, but apparently Congress doesn't seem to give a darn about its failure, the increasing loss of US military lives and the continuing great cost to the American taxpayer.

Has Congress provided effective oversight on our military and financial involvement in Afghanistan? No, which brings us to Iraq.

We were told in prior Congressional oversight hearings by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and the military that everything was going according to plan and was, in fact, almost "peaches and creamy." Recently, we've been told that everything is not progressing well, and one of the last hearings evidenced a significant split between the opinions of Rumsfeld and our chief military leaders and advisors.

Congress was also told by President Bush, and collectively naively believed, that the U.S. military was not going to get involved in an Iraq's civil war; if it occurred, we would not maintain our military presence in that country. It's occurring, and President Bush continues to emphatically argue for "staying the course." Where in tarnation has Congress been during this period? Hopefully, Congresspersons can read reports and newspapers-which reportedly are geared to 9th grade-level readers.

I once had significant respect for Senator Joe Lieberman, D-Conn; not any more. Unfortunately, it's clear that he is just another political hack in the large Congressional contingency practicing political hackery. Now running as an independent, he has actively called for Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation. You must read Senator Lieberman's words to fully understand his message. He said that Rumsfeld has worked long and hard, but it is time for him to leave. Working long and hard is good and probably implies a strong Judaic-Christian work ethic, but working smart and intelligent has been needed for a long time.

And, where is Congress regarding the presently-occurring civil war in Iraq? Congress is AWOL, absent without official leave. And, do you know a major reason why? The FCP does. Although many G.O.P. elected officials are attempting to distance themselves from President Bush and his policies, they are caught between a Congressional rock and an electorate hard spot. That is, they emphatically and strongly voted for our involvement in the Iraqi war. And, for them (Democrats, too) to say now that we should immediately reduce/eliminate our military manpower and resources would be a major indictment of their past actions. Even if they run from President Bush's programs, they can't hide. They're caught, and they know it! And, so, what do they do? You got it: they assume an ostrich-like stance and try to hide themselves from the non-Serengeti-like environment of Congress. However, Congress guys and gals, be aware that once you leave those hallowed halls, it's a 'jungle' out there; you're going to have to face your constituents, and it ain't gonna be easy.

We still don't have a comprehensive energy plan; one is not even seriously in the works. Yes, we've got to conserve oil and fuel, and there are many municipalities and states that are attempting to do so. Yes, there's been more activity in the wind and sun alternative energy sources. Yes, the American public is turning its attention from SUVs to more efficient fuel-burning and other energy-sourced vehicles. However, there isn't a comprehensive, understandable legislative program that will enable corporations, as well as ordinary Janes and Joes, to understand and prepare for the future.

Finally, a breath of fresh air! Again, I'm talking about the State of Oregon and its Congressional representatives. Republican Walden and Democrat Blumenauer successfully introduced House legislation that provided for a 77,500-acre plan for one of Oregon's favorite wilderness areas, Mt. Hood. It appeared to be a fine, nonpartisan action by a Democrat and a Republican doing something important to preserve our withering wilderness areas. But, then came along Senators Wyden, Democrat, and Smith, Republican, to propose a greater protected area, 125,000 acres. It appears that Blumenauer and Walden recognized the reality of a Republican-controlled House and attempted to pacify Republican Richard Pombo, Chairman of the House Resources Committee.

What's it all about, Alfie? Reality, practicality and successful legislation. It's quite possible that the differences between the two proposals are big enough to sink any Mt. Hood wilderness preservation legislation in this Congress. Did Senators Wyden and Smith propose greater wilderness acreage to sink the House version? I don't think so. I applaud their efforts. I think they took an independent, fresh and important look at what needed to be preserved.

Yes, it's all about politics and, unfortunately, the key is Representative Pombo who faces a tough reelection and is no fan of wilderness preservation.

The positive message from this is that Republicans and Democrats have successfully worked together to achieve an important goal. Thousands from many states visit Mt. Hood and its surrounding wilderness areas each year. Maybe the Pombos of the world will eventually recognize that even the G.O.P.-controlled Congress is a "steward" of this great land and the greater earth; true, people get all caught up in their own self-importance and often "get drunk on the smell of their own corks." However, it's time for the great divisiveness-polarity, if you will-currently exhibited in both the legislative and executive branches, to end. Polarity is good and necessary in the production of electricity and distinguishing between our global poles, but political polarity, whether it's religious or secular-driven, has no place in this great land of opportunity we call America.

We haven't even touched upon the important issue of immigration impacting many of our states.

Once again, we leave the Inane AsylumTM, Congress, the safe haven for the "absurd, pointless and silly."

 

COMMENTARY

by Bernard Levy

"We're Mad as Hell..." Have the Candidates Take the FCP Pledge; No Lobbyist Gifts While in Office-Not Even a Cup of Coffee

After being overwhelmed, as other columnists and citizens have been, with transparent legislative and executive branch corruption, we are reminded of that wonderful line in the 1976 film Network, starring Faye Dunaway and William Holden. However, the actor deserving the most credit was Peter Finch. As Howard Beale, a TV network personality, he developed great network ratings for his statement, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore."

That statement has never been truer than today regarding the corrupt ways of the legislative and executive branches of government, although we are particularly concerned with Congress. Some background regarding special interest activities is needed.

The place and importance of private interests pursuing the eyes, heart and ears of public officials to affect public policy dates back to our founding fathers attempting to win support of our Constitution. In fact, it's been argued that the Federalist Papers was a first attempt to sway the general public of the 13 colonies to ratify our Constitution. Individual and group pressure to promote legislation isn't anything new to our governmental system. However, since the passing of the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 (LDA), there has been much concern about the ability and willingness of Congress to oversee the activities of professional lobbyists. In our current legislative session, at least 17 measures have been proposed in the House and nine in the Senate to bring under control the egregious conduct of both lobbyists and Congresspersons.

The number of registered professional lobbyists has overwhelmingly increased, from 10,798 in 1996 to 30, 402 in 2004.

It is apparent that, even with all the current legislative and regulatory rules in place, and measures proposed, the recently-exposed scandals make it clear that lobbyists are running amok in the halls of Congress, enticing Congresspersons to compromise their integrity and oaths of office.

Let's call a shovel a shovel. It's almost impossible to legislate and enforce "ethics." Then, how do we keep our government "clean?" People are human, and most are corruptible, even sanctimonious, moralists like Duke Cunningham, the ex-Congressman from Southern California who is currently serving a lengthy federal prison term. A highly-decorated war hero and a supposed ethical bastion, he's just one of many examples of presupposed Congressional angels falling from grace.

Where do "we" start to clean the machinery of government? Do we begin at the top, Congress, where the foxes are in charge of the chicken house? They refused this session to provide for an independent oversight committee on ethics matters. Or, do we start at the bottom when candidates, including incumbents, are running for office?

Duh! We start at the bottom, which brings us to our campaign. At first blush, our proposed candidate statement seems sophomoric and silly. However, let's get to the "second blush." It's short, uncomplicated, direct, to the point and brings the real issue to light.

There is, of course, an inherent weakness in our campaign. We don't address the solicitation and receipt of pressure and private-interest groups that contribute to candidates in their now election efforts, but any actions along those lines to curb such activities would likely violate constitutional rights. However, we can "force" the rascals-and the good persons-to declare they shall take no more gifts while serving the public in office. Read our printed lips-no more gifts, even though those gifts may be legal under the rules and laws.

The following is the statement we request that our readers present to as many candidates as possible for their signatures. What, you say that just because we get a signature doesn't mean they're going to fulfill their duty under the pledge? Maybe not. But it sets them up for exposure, hypocrisy (and perjury in a nonlegally binding sense). In the words of my nonfamous Uncle Joe, "It's worth a shot."

We encourage you to reprint the following pledge and reproduce it as many times as needed for submission to candidates. Let us know what your responses are. If a candidate signs the pledge, that's very newsworthy, and we'll make note of that when advised. If a candidate refuses to sign the pledge, it's equally as newsworthy.

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If elected, I pledge to not accept any gifts from lobbyists-not even a cup of coffee-while serving my constituents. I will not accept any special interest group gifts, whether lobbyist-promoted or not, for my reelection campaign coffers while serving in office. I realize that I could legally accept many gifts, both for reelection and during the term of my office, but I shall not do so.

If, for some reason, I fail in this pledge, I shall notify those individuals who have elected me and shall resume the straight and narrow ethical road once more, refusing all such gifts. If it is discovered that I have not been honest with my constituents, I encourage them to forward the results to the media for publication.

The graft and corruption and special interest-influencing of elected officials must stop. I realize I have a duty to listen to all lobbyists and special interest groups in order to make informed decisions on proposed and pending legislation, but I shall not accept any gifts in making my considerations. I am provided with sufficient salary and benefits to refuse such gifts.

_______________________________________                   ______________________
            Signature                                                                                                 Date

 

Compassionate Conservatism and Other Banners: A Review of Meaningless Slogans

by Bernard Levy

I've been pondering a national dilemma since January 2001, trying to connect President Bush's campaign slogan, "Compassionate Conservatism," with examples of his handiwork. The connection doesn't exist.

We knew the phrase, "Compassionate Conservatism" was a gimmick, a buzz term to attract voters. It worked. But notice: it hasn't been used in a long time.

What started out as a "call to arms," an appeal to follow his lead for fiscal responsibility with a heart, has become a falsehood. (And, darn, I had looked forward to its success.)

Was it so calculated from the start? I don't know, and I don't care. That's not the issue. It hasn't worked.

We often create gimmicks to achieve goals. John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood, UCLA's legendary basketball coach, invented his "Pyramid of Success" early in his career, when he was losing games. He reversed that trend and became one of the most successful college coaches in history.

President Bush and his administration cohorts are now using the following label to describe those who disagree with his Iraq policies: "Cut-And-Run." Anyone who disagrees with his mismanagement of the "war effort," including lack of sufficient military personnel, armament deficiencies, appropriations, strategy tactics, war effort mismanagement, direction and contract favoritism, is labeled one who favors a "cut-and-run" tactic, in short, an unpatriotic person.

To name a very few Bush falsehoods in his self-label as a "compassionate conservative"(without any Iraq references):

  • His administration has gutted the safe and drug-free program which was a part of a successful educational program. Compassion? For whom?

  • His administration has reduced protection of the privacy of our medical and other confidential records. Compassion? For whom?

  • He had ignored global pollution by caving in to special interests and rolling back automotive emission standards until just recently, and his recent standards are laughable. He has avoided environmental issues that directly affect our drinking water, public lands and air quality. Compassion? For whom?

However, he hasn't forgotten his commitment to special interests including the oil industry. Why? Oil is thicker than compassion.

His open pandering to corporate interests and against American public interests is most transparent. This flagrant favoritism has generally been assisted by the so-called "Liberal Press;" their "factual commentary" on the blatant, transparent, rampant "political porkritude" in our legislative and executive branches has ranged from non-existent to inconsistent. Although the Bush Administration has racked up record budget and trade deficits (a "liberal" trait?), major corporations still shelter their tax bills in tax havens unabashedly while receiving government contracts. Disproportionate tax reductions for the wealthy and big business interests continue while the working Joes and Janes carry the tax load.

I never have understood "Compassionate Conservatism." Why use an adjective to describe "Conservatism?" Standing alone, does "Conservatism" mean uncompassionate, not caring for fellow human beings? Aren't there conservatives who are compassionate without need for the slogan? Of course, there are, but Bush and his sloganeers knew his conservative constituency. They knew that the Kenneth Lays of the world, once they secured governmental favors and established their own fortunes, would become showy charitable givers.

I call that giving "calculated benevolence." The past TV sitcom, News Radio, had an excellent example. Billionaire station owner Jimmy James was going to offer employees a 401k opportunity but, when confronted by an employee suggesting that very thing before he offered his plan, he refused her suggestion and never made his offer. His "compassion" was tied to benevolent despotism; he alone would dictate compassion in his world.

When a wish-to-have-happen slogan becomes a falsehood-for-whatever reason, the slogan master becomes suspect.

President Bush is now playing new slogans. to paraphrase, "I am the President and you must follow my lead in these trying times;" "Everything I do is correct and necessary, and to question me would be un-American;" "You must do everything I say because what would our allies think if you don't?" and, the newest, "Cut-and-run."

We must support our leaders in difficult times, but never blindly. Respect for leadership is a two-way street.

Compassion doesn't mean giveaways to corporate America and reduction in programs benefiting education and other governmentally-necessary programs. Compassion means fairly representing all Americans in both the short and long-terms.

If you think I'm being unduly unfair to President Bush, consider that I was the first "on my block" to call for President Clinton's resignation when his Oval Office indiscretions were revealed. No matter how effective a president is politically, he must not soil the presidency with misrepresentations and deceit.

Enough of your meaningless words, Mr. President. Let's call a shovel a shovel and level with the American public. The standard for you and Bill Clinton is the same. And, I'm being compassionate.

 

The Professor's Tale: The Venture Capital "Game"

By Jim Penn

Professor Ferdinand Von Rumproast appeared to be very tired as he approached the podium. "Good day, class. I apologize for my rumpled appearance, but I was unable to sleep last night. I went to my study to read and noticed a strange glow coming from my Mont Blanc. Before I could recite Moore's Law, the pen leaped into my hand, and I began to write. The result was a story about business enterprise, our topic for this class."

With that explanation, the good Professor Ferdinand Von Rumproast began to read.

Rinky Dinky and Razz Matazz and Their Business Adventure.

Rinky Dinky and Razz Matazz were good friends and attended evening MBA classes at Ye Old University. It was business plan presentation class, and Rinky was backpacking their business plan and a product prototype for their offering.

As they crossed the parking area, they came across three unusual persons. They stood apart from the rest of the campus people, yet others did not notice them. Rinky and Razz observed that one had a tail, another antlers and the third a pronounced proboscis, almost a trunk.

Anticipating the threesome were going to block their progress, Rinky looked at his watch and exclaimed, "My goodness, we've only got three minutes to make it to class."

The trio blocked their path. The antlered fellow pointed a finger at Rinky and said, "Time has no meaning unless it's connected with getting a product to the market. Too early, and it's late. Too late, and you've missed the gate." The other two nodded approvingly.

Rinky responded. "You don't understand. Our professor will be very angry if we're late. He doesn't accept tardiness."

The person with the tail, a woman, confronted Razz. "And what's your excuse for being late? Keeping bad company, I suppose."

She walked around Razz, sniffed him vigorously, and exclaimed, "You smell like a candidate for a Master's of Business Administration degree." She turned to her companions. "Doesn't he? Doesn't he?"

The fellow with the trunk-like nose sniffed a bit, "Yes, no doubt about it, no doubt about it. They're both of the same ilk." This statement upset the antlered person. "I said ilk. I didn't say elk. Don't get upset. I meant no disrespect."

Well, you can understand the amazement of Rinky and Razz in meeting these strangers. Razz blurted out, "Will you please let us pass? We have to get to class. We have to present our business plan and introduce our product."

The threesome stood fast, and the antlered person stepped forward. "You don't need to go to class. You've come to the proper people to review your business plan. Let me introduce us. I'm Legalus Complexus, a lawyer specializing in corporate securities. The lady with the beautiful tail is Maximus Profitus, a CPA, and to my left is Romulus Capitalus, the venture capitalist."

They then broke into song: "We find 'em. We send 'em…to the SEC. They review 'em. They approve 'em. Then, it's proper as can be."

Rinky muttered, "Oh, the professor is going to be angry with us now. I…"

"Aha! don't give us that. Let's see your business plan. Show us your product. We'll know in a very few minutes if we can do a deal.' He turned to his companions, 'Won't we?"

"We certainly will. We separate the gold from the swill," Maximus and Romulus responded in unison.

"Thank you for your offer, but no thanks," Rinky said as he tried to move around then.

But they were not to be denied. Legalus grabbed Rinky, and Romulus grabbed his backpack which he opened, removing a thin binder and what appeared to be a block attached to a base. They set the block on the ground and read the writing on its base. Legalus was the first to comment. "MindBlockTM, MindBlock, why it doesn't even have a clock. It's nothing at all. Hmm, it does look pretty sitting there. What is it?"

"It's a low-tech motivational aid."

Legalus held and smelled the block, and said, "Low-tech! This won't sell. It doesn't even have a bell. But, high-tech, low-tech, even it if doesn't make sense, what the heck."

Romulus continued, "We need to know more, for you to financially score. This will only take a few minutes." They sat down in the parking lot, read the plan and passed the product back and forth. After several minutes that seemed like an eternity to Rinky and Razz, he spoke, "You covered product need, customers and markets, competition and management. Most businesspersons need motivational tools. There doesn't appear to be any competition in the MindBlockTM field, although there's intense competition in motivational devices and programs. What disturbs us is your lack of management."

Rinky took a step forward and asserted, "Our undergraduate degrees are in marketing and finance. We have jobs that use those skills. We can run the company."

Legalus, Maximus and Romulus huddled. It was an animated discussion with antlers bobbing, tail-twitching and proboscis flailing.

Again, it was Romulus who spoke, "Let's do a deal. Your business plan states you need $1 million. We'll give you $750,000, and we'll take a 51% interest in the company and an additional 15% just because. That leaves you 34%. We want three seats on a five-person board of directors and when, we…ahem, you do an IPO, we'll dilute our interests equally."

Razz answered in anger, "Why, that's robbery. Clear and simple robbery, I…"

Romulus and his cohorts started to empty their pockets. "Robbery, where's the gun? Where's the knife? This is all subject to negotiation. We haven't stamped our seal. We're just trying to do a deal."

Maximus continued, "There's a lot of risk…tisk, tisk. This is a single-product line. The toughest to sell. Why your product doesn't even have a bell!"

Razz spoke up, "We're going to direct market our product. We've got a manufacturer all set up to go once we receive orders. Very little risk."

Rinky and Razz huddled and countered with, "All we need is $250,000. We'll give you 25% ownership and a sweetener of 10% if we do an IPO within eighteen months, and the offering share price is $6 or greater."

The threesome expressed outrage. "You don't trust us; you disgust us. You'll need more than $250,000. We'll give you $575,000. Remember, 100% of nothing is still nothing."

Rinky and Razz stood their ground and said, "No, no; now please go. We'll borrow on our credit cards; we'll borrow from our parents; we'll borrow from anyone who will listen; we know we'll make it."

With a flash that momentarily blinded Rinky and Razz, the threesome were gone, and they found themselves in front of their classroom with two minutes to spare. The backpack was again on Rinky's back, with business plan and prototype intact. Rinky looked at his watch and exclaimed, "We're going to be late, for a very important class and, if we're not there on time, we're not going to pass!"

They ran into the classroom and took their seats.

The professor looked very pleased as he greeted the class. "Good evening class. I have a surprise tonight. I'm honored to introduce three experts in start-up ventures who will help me assess your plans and products. They are Henry Wainright, a corporate securities lawyer, Susan Pickering, a CPA specializing in investments and IPOs, and Romey Hemminburg, a venture capitalist with Aim for the Sky Ventures."

Rinky and Razz sat back and stared. There was no doubt about it. These were the three they'd encountered in the parking lot, except that the antlers, tail and trunk-like nose were gone. They looked at each other, and Razz whispered to Rinky, "No way, no way."

And while he was saying that, the visiting experts winked in unison at our friends.

The professor finished his story and placed the manuscript in his briefcase and adjusted his vest. The class sat in complete silence, stunned by their professor's creative work. After a brief moment without any "experts" present, class began.

 

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; Charles "Horse" Tsence

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Dear Charles:

My wife is a cat person. I totally prefer the companionship of a dog, but I have learned to live in a house with a minimum of two cats. They tolerate me, and I tolerate them. The thing that rankles me most is their attitude when they want to exit the house.

For security measures, we do not have a pet door. A human must open the door for our feline and canine family members. Dogs have no problem exiting. They want to go out; you open the door; they go out. However, when a cat wants to go out, you open the door; the cat looks around; the cat walks away from the door; you shut the door; the cat turns back to the door; you open the door again; this time the cat sits and begins to clean itself; this usually takes a goodly period of time. Finally, he or she may or may not go out.

This is most maddening when you are in the middle of a good TV program or book. How can I train our cats to go out promptly?

My wife thinks I'm overly sensitive about this, but doggone it, I'm getting sick and tired of their unfeeling behavior. Signed, Sick-and-Tired Woods

Dear Sick-and-Tired:

It's a cat's nature to exhibit that behavior. Dogs view humans as friends and masters. Cats view humans as servants. Your cat's actions are normal and mirror the actions of those super-rich persons who desire servants to wait on them at their beckoned call. This is absolutely no problem for the cat. If you close the door too soon, he or she will become so obnoxious that you'll open the door again. If you ever get so upset that you throw the cat out (not advisable behavior for many reasons), the cat will shake it off and revert back to his or her old ways without another thought.

On a more serious note, dogs usually are less concerned with possible danger when exiting their home than cats are. It's in a canine's nature to usually charge outside and then take a position - aggressive, defensive, or benign. Cats normally are more cautious and carefully consider entrance into another environment before they take the step. As far as a cat's reluctance and apparent outside-avoidance techniques of scratching, preening and the like, they can hold the urge to relieve themselves for a much longer time than dogs. When a dog wants out, he or she really wants out.

Go with the flow; chill out; that book will hold and there will be a rerun of the TV program; take it easy, or your dogmatic attitude may result in catatonia.

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Dear Charles:

If I give my cat "Crazy Legs" catnip from time to time, can I be arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor cat? In determining whether a cat is "a minor," do you count a cat's actual years or years calibrated to a human's life? Although I live alone, the neighborhood children know from time to time that I give Crazy Legs catnip. Since I am told that catnip is the cat world equivalent of marijuana, does such conduct on my part set a bad example for the neighborhood children? You know, will they reason, "If Penelope Phisterhofer gives her cat catnip, it must be okay for us to smoke a little weed once in a while." These questions have caused me to ponder long and hard, and I need answers. I asked my pastor these questions but he refused to answer me and barred me from attending his services for the rest of my life.

Signed, Catnip Lady

Dear Catnip Lady:

Your queries presented first time questions that have forced me to call (and pay for) legal beagle advice. I believe you have been living alone too long because we cannot find any jurisdiction in the United States in which you can be arrested for "contributing to the delinquency of a minor (or major) cat." Unless your behavior could be considered cruelty to animals, you're home free. You mention that you give Crazy Legs catnip from "time to time;" how often is "from time to time?" And, how exactly did Crazy Legs get his name? Is it because of his catnip habit?

Based upon my legal beagle's confidential comments, I strongly suggest you consider weaning Crazy Legs from "hitting the sauce" as much as I believe he is partaking. I know it's amusing to view cats in catnip cajolery, but excess catnip may prove harmful.

Although it's a jump from giving catnip to a cat to promoting a drug culture that children and young adults may find inviting, you and Crazy Legs should be on your best behavior when neighborhood kids visit. Humans often mirror the animal world, and this could happen in your case.

Finally, that's no way for your pastor, a man of God, to treat you. When he's not looking, sneak into his church and sing off-key as loudly as you can. That'll learn him.

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

 

The Mediocre HousekeeperTM - Diet: You, Your Habits and Your Kitchen

By Heidi Taskmaster

This is a difficult subject for me to discuss. Since most of you have never seen me, I guess I can explain my feelings as follows: "Do as I say, not as I look."

It's a fact that the majority of American adults are overweight. Some studies use over 50 percent as the measure, and one I recently read said as much as two-thirds of all adults need to lose weight. People usually associate the loss or gain of weight with "going on a diet." Most diets are associated with losing weight. And, after being bombarded with diets, diet books, programs and pills, I am fed up.

One of the most visible diet TV campaigns today is that of Kirstie Alley, spokesperson for the Jenny Craig food regimen. All kidding aside? Ain't she a pistol? She appears to be one of those women, like me, who have a great tendency to gain weight overnight and, because of professional and often health reasons, need to lose that weight as fast. I give her credit, though, because she's turned a negative into a positive; she's making money telling you how much weight she's lost and being a spokesperson. Not a bad thing if you can get the job. And, she's funny.

Hopefully, most of you recognize that a "diet" is not the answer. As Bernie Levy, my past main squeeze for short periods of time in my life, has repeatedly told me-life is just a series of asking questions, hopefully the right questions. Using his darn method, the questions are: Who am I and what do I want to look and feel like? What eating habits do I have, and can I really change them? And, how does my kitchen fit into all of this? Let's not go to the question, how can I fit into my kitchen.

Many years ago I had a friendship with a man in San Diego, Frankie, and he had a terrible weight problem. He was endowed with a lot of fat cells, and not being tall, his weight gains were exaggerated. Then, when his weight became unbearable to his sight and his health, he starved himself to lose weight, although he never achieved thinness. Frankie was a runner and once ran and finished the Boston Marathon. He was Italian and, golly, did he love his pasta and canolli. He fought his weight all his life, and died at an earlier age from some of his weight's detriments.

But, let's get back to you. How do you want to look, and how important is it to you, professionally and personally? If your answers are that it is very important in both respects, then diets are not the answer; changing your lifestyle is. (I still recommend that you accept those lobster/steak dinners from squeezes and admirers.) No, you don't have to run three miles a day; no, you don't have to go out and buy a treadmill and pump some iron; no, you don't have to join a gym, although it may not be a bad idea.

First you have to change your mind-set on how you live your life. Most of us work from 9 'til 5 and longer, and it's difficult to eat healthfully during the day. Usually, we come home late, and we're often too tired to do much in the kitchen. Hence, Domino's Pizza gets a call, or you pick up some takeout on the way home. You fall prey to food that doesn't help you, particularly at night when your metabolism is lower.

Diet is not the answer; you and your mind-set are. As Kathy, a good friend of mine, says, "Change your attitude, change your life." That works, and it's true. Once you mentally establish that you're going to do something about your personal appearance, the next step is to observe and critique your living habits. Yeah, right, like we don't every time we look in a mirror.

Do you eat breakfast and, if so, what do you eat? Is it a sticky bun at home or at the office? Is it a glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee on the run? Is it an Egg McMuffin? Identify habits that are not good for either your figure, and resolve to do something about them. No, we're not talking diet; we're talking about getting control of your eating habits to promote good health and appearance. Orange juice and coffee may be good in the morning, with perhaps a small bowl of natural grain cereal with nonfat milk. I'm not going to sit here and tell you what to eat; you're a big girl or boy now; you can figure it out for yourself. It is difficult to eat properly when you're on the go all the time, especially when business meetings are scheduled at lunchtime in great restaurants or highcarb, saturated fat stuff is brought into the office for lunch or special occasions.

Packing a lunch is a good way to start, and this brings us to your kitchen. Whether you're single or married, with or without children, your kitchen is an important place in which to have a friendship with your healthy self. You don't have to go crazy with all healthy foods, but you certainly can eat moderate portions and balance your food intake. Since you're probably gone most of the day, the evening meal and preparation for the next day's breakfast and lunch are most important. Yes, you can buy those Lean Cuisine-type frozen dinners; yes, you can stock your shelves with all kinds of diet, healthy food products. But remember, the best foods are natural. Fruits and vegetables are a good place to start; cutting up a cucumber or two and storing it in a Tupperware-type container for snacks is smart, lots better than opening that bag of wonderful potato chips. Cook in more healthy oils rather than in butter or other heavy-laden, saturated fats. Take time on Sunday or even Saturday to plan your food intake for the next week. Take the blender out of the cabinet and put it on the counter for use each day. Buy in bulk, blender-friendly ingredients, perhaps even whey or similar items. Don't stay away from meat or fish products, although fish products on the whole are better for you. And, for goodness sake, hit the sauce now and then - red wine is great for your digestive tract and not bad for a minimum buzz.

I recognize that you're very hungry when you get home at night, but you must fight the temptation to gorge yourself. Most of us get home from work after 6:00, but I'm aware of an effective regimen that advocates eating very lightly after 6 PM. How do you do this? A can of chicken broth with perhaps an egg and some crackers is a good meal, as well as heating up that cooked cauliflower, broccoli or asparagus that was left over from dinner yesterday. Okay, you can have a cookie or two with a cup of tea, or that drink. However, eat in moderation in the evening. Wine can even make you look thinner if you take off your glasses or remove your contacts.

Lastly, let's talk about exercise. Exercising is not only physical, it's a head trip, too. That's okay, but it's not usually fun for the average Sue and Bill. Joining a gym allows you to meet other people and perhaps establish friendships.

I've talked to several of my friends, and they, like me, are "mature" women with a body that has seen better days. Wearing spandex tights is not complimentary anymore. What's worse, they're worn in grace by those younger women who draw attention from guys that I would like to talk to on occasion but never get a chance to - if you get my drift. Keep focused on your workout goals; it's fun to watch those men with tight bodies working out, but my eyes don't need fitness, my figure does.

I've decided, after several attempts at joining, not to become a gym member for the above reasons plus, because of my schedule, I can't go much anyway.

Walking a pet (cats are not good candidates) several blocks for a fifteen-to-thirty minute duration is excellent. Just that exercise-you can jog a bit while on your walk if you desire-and controlling your caloric intake after 6:00 should allow you to lose weight.

I haven't said it all, but you get my point. You've probably heard it all before. You probably know everything I've said, but it doesn't hurt to repeat the message. Your kitchen is a very important room to consider when you think of your food attitude and program. You may even use the image of your kitchen when you're sitting in that restaurant during the day to control the quantity and quality of your food intake.

Well, it's now 7:00. I'm going to take my fifteen minute constitutional around the block and have that glass of Merlot before I hit the sack. Good luck, and God bless.

 

Sighing

By Bernard Levy

My dog, Cheddar, a golden retriever of immense patience and loyalty, sighs. He sighs just like a human being. He does it all the time. He let out a good one last week about 4:30 in the morning.

I have never owned a dog that sighed. It's a new experience for me. It gives Cheddar a human quality I never knew dogs achieved. I asked my wife whether she ever had a dog that sighed. Her response: "My horse, Cooper, does it all the time." This remark is typical of a husband-wife conversation. One spouse asks a question; the other offers a response that doesn't answer the question. No matter.

Kathy tells me that a horse sigh denotes relaxation. However, Cheddar's sigh seemed like a response to a disturbing dream thought.

I decided to look into the matter of sighing in greater detail. I reasoned that if sighing can express relaxation and contentment, it can also communicate frustration, exasperation and resignation. Not being an expert in the field, I interviewed a world-renowned sighing expert who lived in a major city close to my home. Herbert Uttering, Ph.D., was the man and overjoyed for an opportunity to express his views. Apparently, there is not a great outcry for his services.

We met in his office, a dusty room with books and periodicals heaped everywhere. He cleared a seat and offered some ancient coffee. I began my interview.

"Thank you for meeting with me today. Before our telephone conversation, I never realized there were experts on the subject of sighing."

He sighed. "Not experts, Mr. Levy, I am the expert in the world. I tried to get others interested in the subject, but they refused. Many of them, after talking with me, wouldn't even shake my hand good-bye." He sighed again.

"Very interesting. I really would like to know more about why people sigh. And, if you have any information, I'd like to know why animals sigh, too. Our dog and horse sigh all the time."

I waited, but he didn't sigh.

"It's a very interesting subject. I didn't start out this way, you know. I was a very promising young scientist. My major was behavior, but the university was on a very limited budget, and only cadavers were available. Not much could be learned from them regarding human behavior, but, if given the right conditions, they attracted mice. It was then that our experiments became lively and produced results." He sighed, this time with a smile on his face.

He continued. "We had a very kind and creative professor who, when presented with lemons, made lemonade. He instructed the class to round up the mice and devised experiments whereby, under controlled conditions, some would be allowed to play freely in a large area while others were confined to a very small area. With amplifying and monitoring devices, we were able to record their responses to prolonged periods of activity for one group and inactivity for the other."

"Professor, if the university had limited funds, how did it get the amplifiers and monitors? Don't they cost a lot of money?"

"An excellent point, Mr. Levy. My professor came from a family whose business was exports, imports and bartering, real Yankee traders. He bartered the cadavers for the equipment we needed with med school students. A good deal." He paused. "Where was I? Oh, in both instances, audible sighing was detected. Our first ten tests proved conclusively that the mice who played freely sighed to express contentment and sometimes relaxation. The confined mice sighed to vent their boredom, frustration, and resignation.

"Two of us were chosen to write a paper for the Journal of Experimentation with Mice, and needless to day, it was well received. The medical establishment was amazed to discover that mice sigh. And…"

"You mean they really made a sighing sound, like humans do?"

"Well, not exactly, but it is basically the same thing. It's more of a peep-sigh rather than a sigh-sigh, but it's a sigh, nevertheless. And we didn't stop experimenting. We pushed the envelope another notch," he said, mixing metaphors and coughing.

"Professor, was that a sigh?"

"No, you idiot, that was a cough," he said, grabbing a glass of water. "We then conducted experiments with cats attempting to catch the mice. We controlled the environment so the cats never caught the mice, and recorded the cats' behavior at the end of our tests. They clearly were upset at their failure, and we saw active tails everywhere. However, they also distinctly sighed."

"Now these were real sighs, like humans make, right?"

"Well, not exactly. They were more like meow-sighs, but it was clear they were sighs of frustration and exasperation. The mice, on the other hand, after reaching safety exhibited sighs of relief. I believe the correct scientific phrase would be a 'whew!' sigh.

"We found that the more experiments we conducted, the more pronounced the sighing became. If funding hadn't been cut short, I believe we would have eventually recorded an almost-human sigh. However, the grant money ran out on this cat and mouse project, and we had to get fresh grant money for our next scheduled experiment using dogs.

"We had a heck of a grant writer, and we received two $125,647.45 grants, one from the National Endowment for Living Things (NELT) and the other from the Huckheiser/Phistelblommer Foundation. Wonderful people. In any event, we ran controlled experiments in which dogs of various breeds attempted to catch the cats, the subjects of our previous experiment. We made real progress in this one. Boy, did we make progress!" The professor heaved a clearly audible sigh.

"Those dogs gave the cats a real run for the money. My wife soundly chastised me for the condition of the house after we conducted several off-campus experiments. The cats had learned from the mice the art of escaping from predators, and the dogs were never successful. It was clear that we were working up the chain. The cats exhibited more pronounced sighs, displaying the same feelings the mice had shown when they were the prey. The dogs, however, were much more stoic than the cats had been, and their sighs were not only audible, they were even human-like."

"You mean like Cheddar, my golden retriever?"

"Sir, you are not talking to some schlock scientist. There was no controlled experiment in your house, at least not one that I observed. I can only communicate to you what we students scientifically observed. The dogs exhibited sighs of both contentment and frustration. The cats clearly exhibited sighs of relief. Unfortunately, the funds ran out in three months, and we had to discontinue the experiment.

"However, our grant writer, Zelda Selma Alma Gustafson, hit pay dirt again. This time she successfully wrote a grant for $172,500.25 which the Consolidated Amalgamated Catchers and Collectors Union - CACCU - Locals 517 and 692, funded. The Emma and Jonas Keysterhofer Foundation matched it. We then took the next logical step, namely, using dogcatchers to catch the dogs that tried to catch the cats that tried to catch the mice. Hmmm, sounds like a children's story, doesn't it? But, this was no child's play. We were serious students - budding scientists - and we knew we were onto something big. The dogcatchers were marginally successful in catching dogs; they failed 49.6 percent of the time We discovered and recorded new and different sighs. It appears that humans, as in the case of most dogcatchers, emit a sigh both before and after the controlled experiments. why, I even have a couple of them on tape. Care to listen?"

"Sure."

Professor Uttering started up the tape, and I heard "Sigh. Sigh….sigh…sigh…sigh. Sigh...sigh."

The professor stopped the tape and turned to me. "That was from the cab of their vehicle prior to the dogcatchers discovering dogs on the loose. Apparently, dogcatchers sit around in their vehicles sighing. It's difficult to ascertain what behavior these sighs indicate, but I am told they are sighs of both contentment and boredom. Let's listen to some more."

And listen we did. The scientists had placed recording devices on the dogcatchers. All kinds of utterances were picked up, including, "Let's go, Tom, see that one over there? You take that one, I'll take the one to the right…puff…puff…puff; come here, you little scamp. Come on, come on, don't bite me now. I don't want to hurt you…sigh…sigh…sigh; I've got this one. Do you have yours?" "Yeah, Joe, I've got this one over here. sigh…sigh…sigh; Let's get the mutts to the truck. Come on you little buggers. Come on, in you go, in you go. Easy, easy." "Yelp, yelp, yelp! Owww! Owww! Arf! Arf! Arf!" "Sigh…sigh…sigh" (apparently human), "Arf! Sigh. Arf! Sigh" (apparently dog).

"This was a much more complicated experiment, and it took lengthy review and editing to identify the types and levels of behavior indicated by the sighing. But again, grant money ran out. Since humans were part of the experiment, we could not publish in the Journal of Experimentation with Mice's sister publication, the Journal of Experimentation with Animals, but we did find a publication that would adapt our scientific results, namely the Journal of Experimental Yammer or JOEY, if you prefer. We had some rave reviews. Some time has past, but I'm hopeful that Gustafson will be able to capitalize on our success for more grant money."

"Would you consider extending the string of connected experiments and perform one with someone or something pursuing the dogcatchers?" I carefully asked.

Professor Uttering paused a moment, stroked his chin, and pensively responded, "W…e…l…l, we hadn't considered that." Then, a light bulb appeared over his head, and he turned to me sternly, "That would be silly! Are you trying to make fun of our experiments?"

"No, no siree, not me," I hastily retreated. Quickly changing the subject, I continued my interview with a different tack. "Is sighing contagious" you know, like sneezing. I've always been curious about the science of sneezing. I've even observed that the sneezer doesn't have to be human in order for a human to catch it. Any thoughts about sighing in this respect, Professor Uttering?"

"Golly, you've hit upon an excellent subject for experimentation and exploration. In fact, as soon as you leave, I'm going to scour our past analyses for any connection. I've done some preliminary reading on sneezing, and it's a fascinating subject. Reflex conduct, whether voluntary or involuntary, has always interested me.

"You know, Mr. Levy, I've done some more work on the degrees of sighs - sighmanship, if you will. In fact, as a result of the dogcatcher-dog experiments, I've developed a scale of sighing."

With that remark he squeezed over to a covered easel. Demonstrating an uncharacteristic flare, he whipped away the cover to reveal a chart of sighing.

"As you can see, there are three negative, one neutral, and three positive reactions."

He then read aloud the seven positions of sighing. In the order of the most to least negative, centered by a neutral sigh, and ending with least to most positive, they were exasperation, frustration, resignation, boredom, relief, contentment, and relaxation. He was darn proud of his achievement. I had to comment with less than a full journalistic approach.

"Terrific, Professor Uttering. That's positively amazing. Very profound."

The good professor came to life with my remark. He beamed. His gratitude was evident, and I heard no sighs. If I were less than a serious journalist, I would have described his reaction as giddy and childlike.

I thought, enough of this. I had to ask the final question: "Professor, how can you pinpoint the exact reason for sighing in your subjects? How can you determine the behavioral results with such exactitude?"

I knew immediately that I had done harm. Somewhat stunned by my question, he made his way back to his chair and cautiously framed his answer. His head was bowed as he responded, and I knew I had gone to a place I shouldn't have.

"Although we scientists are dedicated to scientific inquiry and experimentation, we are human, too. There are limits to what pure science can do. (Sigh.) There are times when we must fall back on our experiences and feelings. We don't know everything. (Sigh.) I had to make certain assumptions and, darn it, educated guesses played a part in my conclusions. Sure, I observed the demeanor and behavioral attitude of my subjects, but I had to make judgment calls as well."

He pointed proudly to his chart and said, "It looks correct; it feels correct; that's my absolutely best scientific guess." He sighed very deeply, and then sighed again.

Our good-byes were cordial, but formal and still. It was as if I had extracted some deep-seated, dark secret that probably should not have been revealed. I stepped carefully through his maze of materials and entered the outside, nonscientific world once more.

Trying to apply what I had learned, I attempted to pinpoint the types of sighs Professor Uttering exhibited after his last remarks. And then it hit me. A sigh can be a combination of types. There may be pure, focused sighs, but I believe that his sighs were combinations of resignation and relief - or possibly exasperation and relaxation. Of course, those are my best journalistic guesstimates.

 

Missed in Mainstream Media - The "Hidden Stories"

By Bernard Levy

The following are a few of the "Hidden Stories." We define "hidden stories" 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 placed in an out-of-the-way page, perhaps next to a large ad for vacuum cleaners; 3) is reported reasonably well once and then never or rarely 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 in depth as time and resources permit. We hope you enjoy this feature. If you do, please let us know.

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Since there are so many "Hidden Stores" to expose, we'll be brief in our individual coverage. First, Israeli soldiers returning from the Lebanon warfront during the cease-fire are complaining that they were "sent into battle with outdated or faulty equipment and insufficient supplies, and received little or no training." This quote came from an Associated Press article written by Benjamin Harvey and published in The Oregonian, August 19, 2006. We can only assume that somehow an "American Military Virus" was transported to Israel with, perhaps, armament and other military supplies. The U.S. ships and otherwise supplies armament and military items to approximately 80 nations in the world, including Israel. The complaints registered by returning Israeli military sound very familiar, don't they? Haven't these same comments been voiced by our military in Iraq, particularly during the first two and a half years? You remember, the lack of adequate armor on our Humvees and for our military in the trenches. In this age of technology and a cyber-speeded-up society, viral infections are no longer confined to humans; computers catch them and, apparently, so do nations.

* * * * *

On another war-related note, the revelation that we have used depleted uranium (D.U.) bullets in Iraq was recently exposed in an August newspaper article. It has been a substantially hidden fact that the U.S. manufactures and uses these armor-piercing shells during our military actions on foreign soil, notably in the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq. In researching this area, we discovered a May 15, 2003 Christian Science Monitor article by Scott Peterson covering the fact that the fragments from these D.U. bullets posed a threat to the Iraqi civilians. What is particularly brain-numbing about this subject: "A D.U. bullet fragment no bigger than a pencil eraser…registers nearly one thousand times normal background radiation levels on the digital read-out" - children continually play in "burned-out Iraqi tank(s) destroyed by - and contaminated with - controversial American D.U. bullets" without any warning signs describing their danger; "fresh-from-the-factory tank shells are normally handled with gloves to minimize the health risk, and shielded with a thin coating…" " 'Radioactive particles are a 'special risk associated with a war' Mr. Snihs (of Sweden's Radiation Protection Authority in Stockholm) says and continued, 'The authorities should be aware of this, and try to decontaminate places like this, just to avoid unnecessary risk.' " There is much more to Mr. Peterson's article, including that there were few civilian warning signs in Iraq in 2003, and our U.S. military had performed some clean up work, "wearing face masks and taking precautionary measures." Of course, there's a reason why these bullets are made of low-level radioactive nuclear-waste material; they're very effective in piercing armor. Nobody said that war isn't hell but, if it is, shouldn't the persons who produce the hell to free a nation from tyranny also take the time to protect that nation from the obvious lingering dangers of war?

* * * * *

We noted only one article in recent news coverage, again by the Associated Press written by Fisnik Abrashi and published by The Oregonian on August 17, 2006, on the opium crop and trade in Afghanistan. Titled "Afghan Opium Crop on Way to Record Year," it noted that "about 370,650 acres of opium poppy were cultivated this season - up from 257,000 acres in 2005…" Additionally the article stated that the U.N. reported last year that Afghanistan produced an estimated 4,500 tons of opium - enough to make 450 tons of heroin, nearly 90% the of (sic) world supply." This is not good news for President Bush in boasting that an Afghanistan democracy is one of his major successes. The proceeds from this opium poppy cultivation is helping to fund the Taliban's insurgency, and it's not helping our (and the world's) war on illegal drugs. All of this is even more disheartening because "the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimate that opium accounted for 52% of Afghanistan's gross domestic product in 2005." The final telling blow is that the U.S. and Britain, among other nations, have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to combat the drug trade. This doesn't speak well for the "democracy' that we've established in Afghanistan.

* * * * *

Two last comments: the first has to do with increasing the bureaucracy of the federal government, and the second with the tremendous cost of corruption in providing aid to Hurricane Katrina and Rita victims.

The House of Representatives somehow snuck into a major defense authorization bill a provision that would allow the federal government (executive branch) to take charge of the states' national guards if some "major" domestic emergency occurred, which could be manmade or natural disasters. It also appears that the National Governors Association said it doesn't know who was responsible for the legislative inclusion, but it breaks more than 300 years of tradition about who controls the National Guard. It does allow the president to consult the governors before taking control of their militias, but that's little consolation to them. The governors have taken action, and they'll hope to defeat that measure before the Senate votes on the measure. Golly, remember when the G.O.P. use to be known for the party who wanted a smaller federal government with less bureaucracy? However, the "real message" of this bill is that our military manpower might (MMM) is in trouble, and the president and the federal government want to make sure that they're going to get the national guard support they desperately need. Don't they have that power already?

* * * * *

Finally, although not a truly hidden story, and one that has achieved some media coverage success, the federal government's ineptitude in administering monetary assistance to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita appears to be growing. Could we analogize this to the expanding civil warfare and strife in Iraq? In any event, it is now estimated that we, the people, have meted out perhaps as much as $1.4 billion in bogus assistance to victims. In a recent Associated Press article, reporter Larry Margasak noted that the GAO (Government Accounting Office) concluded that as much as "16 percent of the billions of dollars billions of dollars to individuals from FEMA help to individuals after the two hurricanes was unwarranted." The nature of the bogus payments included a "divorce lawyer's services in Houston and an all-inclusive one-week Caribbean vacation." We encourage you to just sit quietly and estimate how many taxpayers it takes, based upon the tax payment that you made to the federal government last year, to pay for these bogus claims. Issues become clearer when we relate them to our own personal finances and experiences.

Until next week…