Thursday, May 29, 2008

“Dissent is the Highest Form of Patriotism”

I’m not certain where this quote comes from. It was originally attributed to Thomas Jefferson, but there seems to be a good deal of disagreement over who actually said this. Regardless, I believe that respectful opposition is necessary for a republican democracy to succeed and survive.

Why do I bring this up? Well, the most obvious reason is because Memorial Day was this week. I’ve also noticed for a number of years that the Republicans I know equate dissent with some form of mild treason. If you think I’m exaggerating, take a neo-conservative to dinner and mention any problem you might have with the current Administration.

There are millions of men and women that are overwhelmingly grateful for the job our military is doing. I’ve been a lifelong Democrat, and have always understood regardless of the President, the military should be appreciated. We might not agree with the policies, but I think it would be hard to find a significant segment of this country that does not respect and appreciate the work and sacrifices of our servicemen and women.

I was working in Washington, DC on September 11th 2001. It shook me up, just as it did everyone else. A few months after the attack I was riding on the Metro, the subway for that area, past the Pentagon stop. A member of the military sat down next to me on the train. As tears welled up in my eyes, I thanked the man for the job he was doing not only for the country, but also from my perspective for me as a citizen. Never once did I agree with going into the "war", but I certainly can appreciate the sacrifices that the military men and women make.

Every time I turn around, the Republicans (read: McCain/Bush) talk about patriotism. They are always wearing flag lapel pins, or singing "Proud To Be an American" by Lee Greenwood. I appreciate a show of nationalistic pride. It is great to feel a sense of unity and caring for the flag of your country, but put some substance behind that show of nationalism.

John McCain has talked about how much he supports the troops in Iraq. He has complained that Barack Obama has not been on the ground in Baghdad. Yet, one of the most famous times that McCain was on the ground there, he continuously lied about the conditions for political purposes. When confronted with these lies he backed down. He was more interested in the appearance of success, than seeing what was really going on in Iraq at the time.

Late last year, the Congress took up the Defense Appropriations bill. Before I continue remember that those "unpatriotic" Democrats now run Congress. The Congress passed a bill that gave a 3.5% salary increase for members of our armed services. That was more of a raise than the White House had requested, and the White House threatened to veto the bill. Now, before you think it had something to do with timelines and the like, the veto had nothing to do with that. The veto was threatened because the original legislation stated that Iraq would be accountable for acts of state sponsored torture. The Republicans, were willing to stop funding American troops during a war, because they didn't think a government should be held responsible for state sponsored activities of torture.Yet again the Republicans want to waive the flag, but not necessarily as interested in the substance of supporting our nation's troops.

Finally, on May 22nd the Senate voted on an updated GI Bill. This bill has passed overwhelmingly. It provides college tuition, room and board, and a $1,000 stipend to veterans who have served two years active duty since 2001. Both Senators Obama and Clinton supported this bill, while the war hero John McCain supported President Bush and skipped the vote. His rationale was that many of the troops would be tempted to leave the service early because of the benefits. His proposal was a tiered program giving more benefits for more years of service. Sorry, but the minute you enter into the Iraq or Afghan theater your life is in danger. I guess your service doesn't need to be respected until you hit the five-year anniversary.

Again, Republicans run around the country talking about how patriotic they are. I've given you a few examples where the hype does not measure up to the reality. Regardless of party, we should all honor our veterans this year. I think we should pull the troops out as soon as is practical, but let me put that argument to the side. If you are going to have this occupation in Iraq continue, then fund the troops properly. That means not only in the field of battle, but also fully funding the Veterans Administration for hospital upgrade (i.e. Walter Reed); or making certain that military families make enough money to stay off food stamps. Rather than wave a flag or wear a lapel pin, we should honor our troops by giving them the necessary tools necessary to defend themselves during combat, and support themselves after their distinguished service.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How was Stonehenge created?

The man on this video claims to have explained how Stonehenge was formed by the Celts. I admit to being a bit sleep deprived, but I don't exactly understand parts of how this guy did this. The bigger question was how big must the backyard be?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008



Monday, May 19, 2008

Beneath The Fold

I'm not certain who was paying attention, but the fireworks for July 4th will very likely be much more reserved this year. Dear reader, you might ask, will this be caused by a lack of patriotism? Or maybe, it will be some grand protest by the part of the country that thinks the Administration is going in the wrong direction. While both of these are interesting ideas to be examined; neither is at the root of the problem.

There was a major explosion that destroyed 20 warehouses full of fireworks on February 14th of this year. Does anyone want to guess where this might have occurred? You guessed it.... This problem happened in China. China is not only buying the soul of this nation, one treasury note at a time, but they apparently can ruin our independence day rituals at the drop of a cigarette.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Return to the Bad Old Days?

Recently the Democratic party picked up 3 seats in the Congress that are generally held by conservative Republicans. The seats were held in Mississippi, Louisiana and Indiana. Conservative democrats now hold all 3 of the seats. On the outside this is a harbinger of good things to come for the November elections, if you are a Democrat. However, I am not so certain.

During the 1980’s, and early 1900’s the Democrats had significant majorities in the Congress, but were limited by the lack of discipline within their own caucus. It seems to me that this might be replaying itself in the near future. With Congressmen like Childers and Cazayoux this problem might reappear. Certainly, it will look nice if the Democratic Party can pick up 10 or 12 seats, but I hope they can agree to work together to push forward an agenda. If not it will be a return to the bad old days.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bush's Sacrifice

I saw this interview transcript two days ago, and intended to blog about it. Mr. Olbermann and his writers did a much better job than I ever could, so I'm just going to embed it here.

Here is the speech thanks to MSNBC and Mr. Olbermann :

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Road Home Performance Measures Agreed Upon

April 25, 2008
Christina Stephens

Louisiana Recovery Authority


State, ICF Agree Upon Road Home Performance Measures through End of June

Agreement includes accelerating Road Home closings, focus on Small Rental program

BATON ROUGE, La. (April 25, 2008) - New performance measures signed by the state and ICF International mandate that the Road Home close 116,000 total cases, complete more than 2,300 second disbursements and 500 elevation second disbursements by the end of June or face penalties of more than $1 million, the state announced Friday.
The state and ICF signed the agreed upon measures Thursday. For the first time, they include performance measures for the Small Rental Property Program (SRPP) in addition to the Road Home homeowner program.

"As we push for greater compassion and customer service in the Road Home, we must also stay focused on the ultimate goal of getting rebuilding dollars in the hands of homeowners and landlords," said Paul Rainwater, who serves dually as the executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority and the Office of Community Development. "The performance measures require that ICF accelerate its pace in three critical areas of the homeowner program - closings, elevation awards and second disbursements."
The total maximum penalty ICF could face under these performance measures is $1,675,000, including a $1 million penalty if it does not reach 116,000 homeowners closings by June 30, 2008. The performance measures are for the time period from April 1 to June 30, 2008. They are:

Homeowner Measure No. 1 - Closings

As of April 22, the Road Home has held 107,151 closings. By June 30, 2008, ICF must complete a total of 116,000 closings. For each closing below 116,000, the state will assess a performance penalty of $500. The maximum penalty of this performance measure is $1,000,000.
"Many of the easiest to close cases have already been processed, so closing 10,000 cases each month is no longer practical," Rainwater said. "Each applicant much be treated compassionately and fairly. We believe ICF can meet this 116,000 mark by the end of the quarter, meaning that most of the cases will be closed this summer."

Homeowner Measure No. 2 - Appeals
Because the state and ICF are reworking the Road Home appeals process, the appeals performance measure will be negotiated when this new policy is in place.
Homeowner Measure No. 3 - Second Disbursements
ICF must clear 80 percent of the 2,933 second disbursements open as of March 31. The state will consider a second disbursement cleared if funds are dispersed to the homeowner, if it is determined that no additional funds should be disbursed or if it is determined that money should be recovered from a homeowner. For each second disbursement less than 2,346 that is not appropriately cleared, the state will assess a performance penalty of $250. The maximum penalty of this performance measure is $250,000.
The state has not yet set a recapture policy on how the Road Home will recoup overpayments, but will do so in the coming weeks.
Homeowner Measure No. 4 - Elevation awards
ICF will close a minimum of 500 elevation-related second disbursements. For each elevation related additional disbursement less than 500, the state will assess a performance penalty of $250. The maximum penalty of this performance penalty is $125,000.

Small Rental Measure No. 1 - Loan Commitments
As of March 24, 2008, the SRPP has mailed a total of 798 firm commitment letters to applicants. This represents $64,642,399 to fund 1,495 total rental units, including 1,317 affordable units. There is currently an active pool of about 4,000 Round 2 applicants that are now beginning to receive commitment letters.
In order to generate a commitment letter a loan summary must be submitted by ICF to the state for approval.
Each month in the second quarter, ICF must submit 500 loan summaries to the state for approval, dependent upon there being a large enough pool of applicants ready for commitment letters.
This is a total of 1,500 loan summaries within the second quarter. For each loan summary less than the goal the state will assess a penalty of $500. The maximum penalty of the performance measure is $200,000 total for the quarter. This performance goal will be assessed monthly.

Small Rental Measure No. 2 - Property Titles
Because the SRPP can not issue loan commitments or final awards to properties without first reviewing titles, it is critical that ICF review and clear titles in a timely manner. For the months of April, May and June, ICF must review 90 percent of all titles received by the 25th of each month. For each title received by the 25th of the month and not reviewed, the state will assess a performance penalty of $250. The maximum penalty of the performance measure is $100,000 total for the quarter. This performance goal will be assessed monthly.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Et Tu Chuck E.

The birth of a child is often presumed as the beginning of parenthood. I’m here to disagree with that argument. Within this document I shall put forth the argument that the first Chuck E. Cheese birthday party is the beginning of parenthood. Certainly there is room for argument, but the argument is no longer when parenthood truly begins, but which truly overwhelming kid friendly restaurant deprives adults of all control for the duration of their offspring’s childhood.

We recently went to a birthday party for one of my daughter’s classmates. My daughter, Cassie, is now 3 years old, and it appears that Chuck E. Cheese, is a universal favorite with her age group. We try to keep her television viewing limited to Noggin, Boom and Nickelodeon, but this eatery is so well marketed that she knows the slogan ("Where a kid can be a kid").

My wife, Elizabeth, and I bring Cassie to this birthday party. We are all in good spirits, Cassie, because we are going to Chuck E. Cheese for the party, (She'd never been there before) Elizabeth and I because we figured it would be a nice family outing. There were going to be about 5 or so families that we knew, at the party. There was even part of me that wanted to see the latest coin operated video games.

As we saw the restaurant, I noticed how small it appeared to be. I went to Chuck E. Cheese as a kid and it was a much bigger place. I remembered the one in New Orleans being a free standing, big structure at the corner of a strip mall. This one was barely visible from the street. It was in the middle of a group of stores. I know I've gotten bigger with age; but that does not explain the entire disparity in size.

We enter and it dawns on me how different this experience will be. I didn't remember getting my hand stamped as a child. It certainly makes sense with all of the security concerns, but the last time my hand was stamped like that I was walking into Tipitina's music club. Little did I know there would be other similarities to that evening.

The interior was very crowded. Not only did it appear that all of the furniture and games were jammed into one another, but I had to continually look down to avoid tripping on children I couldn't see. There were no separate rooms, just one generally open space overwhelmed with the sounds of video games, and crying/screaming children. There was both joy and sadness. It brought a whole new meaning to the term the agony and the ecstasy. Thankfully, Cassie was screaming with glee, most of the time.

I'd told Elizabeth that I was going to show her my skills at SkeeBall, in an attempt to woo her. I am a World Class Skeeball player. The East Germans tried to get me to defect, to be part of their World Renowned Skee Ball team in 1984. Alas, I could not show my talents because there was no skeeball game to play.

There were tunnels that led the children into the crawl space in the ceiling and riding toys that you, dear reader, might remember from trips to the shopping mall; but mostly there were video games. The children all loved it. We ate as a group, and the parents and kids went through the various games; whack a mole, a fortune teller machine that remind me of the movie BIG; and even a strong man game.

With the smell of chef boyardee pizza mingling with cotton candy in the room, I thought I was at the state fair. But then I remembered that the state fair was more controlled. The salad bar looked less appealing than those same items at a public high school. I should know. The drink machine had cups strewn all around it in such a way that it might be the perfect prop for some sort of SNL skit.

After all of the eating and playing, we got ready to leave. We saw kids about 5 years old wandering about the room as if they were on sensory overload. The best way I can describe it is a kid from a strict upbringing being dropped in the French Quarter on Mardi Gras day. The eyes were glassy, the gait was not directed, almost as if some of these toddlers were in a state of shock. It's disconcerting to see a child wearing a 3T looking like they just went on a bender.

Finally, we were able to get Cassie to the ticket counter. The ticket counter is where the children convert there winning tickets for prizes. This is the only place that makes Vegas look like a good bet. After feeding innumerable coins into various machines we were able to get Cassie a prize worth about $2.00. It was made in China.

As we were leaving we saw a child (about 3 years old), who was running around behind the counter reserved for staff. There was an employee right there. He just rolled his eyes. After this overwhelming experience that is all I could do as well. Cassie can't wait to go back.... I can.