A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: email@example.com
- Name: Tom McLaughlin
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
I’m going to miss Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) when he retires after this year. Coburn picked up the mantle of William Proxmire (D-WI), who issued 168 “Government Fleece” awards during his long career.
After Senators Proxmire and Coburn, who is going to tell us how our federal government spent $385,000 out of Obama’s $1 trillion stimulus money to study duck genitalia? Part of me didn’t want to know that, but part of me did. What little confidence I have left in our federal government as presently constituted has diminished with the knowledge, and that isn’t good. If I do my part to spread that knowledge of how government spends our tax dollars, however, it may motivate more people in my small corner of northern New England to vote for small government candidates. That would be a good thing.
The knowledge was also cause for amusement when I read a writer in the liberal Washington Post try to justify the duck genitalia study and other ridiculous federal spending. The writer went on to justify the the disbursement of $3 million to Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital (where I was born) to discover why most lesbians are fat. It’s the fourth year of a six-year-long study. I could have told them the answer for a lot less. Lesbians are fat because they eat too much and don’t exercise enough. The same goes for all of us.
In 2010, Senator Coburn informed us that the Department of Veterans Affairs paid $175 million to maintain a monkey house and other unused buildings in Ohio. Then it spent $1.5 million in stimulus funds on mold remediation on an apartment complex scheduled to be torn down in Shreveport, LA. In 2012, Coburn told us we lost $70 million producing pennies because it cost two-and-a-half times more to make a penny than it’s worth. In 2013, Coburn shed light on the $379 million spent just to promote Obamacare insurance plans nobody wanted and the website that didn’t work.
The $1 trillion “stimulus” didn’t turn our economy around and Obamacare hasn’t been what anyone would call a success, but our federal government has been effective in its foreign policy, right?
If I still had any confidence in government, it disappeared after hearing our president’s speech last week. Our community-organizer commander-in-chief described going to war in the Middle East without calling it a war. Then there were follow-up remarks by his Secretary of State, John Kerry, who said, “War” is the “wrong terminology” to describe what the president is doing. Democrats prefer calling it a “kinetic military action”.
This was the president who got elected promising to end the “War in Iraq.” He withdrew US troops, against the advice of his generals and National Security officials, believing that would “end the war.” But it didn’t, of course. Now he wants to go back into Iraq without calling it war. Why is “war” too strong a word for Obama and Kerry? Don’t they lead the Democrat Party that accuses conservatives of waging a “War on Women”? If it’s “war” when conservative refuse to pay for abortion-inducing drugs under Obamacare, why isn’t it “war” when he pledges to destroy tens of thousands of Islamic terrorists? To make it even more confusing, Obama’s Press Secretary Josh Earnest[ly] said it was a war - a “War with ISIL.” Then Obama’s Pentagon said it was a war too. What are Americans supposed to think of all this?
The Obama White House also avoids using the words “Islam” or “Muslim” in the same sentence as “Terrorism.” Last week he claimed the Islamic State is “not Islamic.” This semantic legerdemain is at least consistent with past efforts at divorcing Islam and terrorism. When radical Muslim Major Nidal Hasan shot more than forty US soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas and killing thirteen, it wasn’t Muslim terrorism according to Obama’s Homeland Security Department. It was “workplace violence” that had nothing to do with Islam. Never mind Hasan’s shouts of “Allahu Akbar!” while he shot our soldiers. Pay no attention to Hasan’s numerous email exchanges with Anwar Al Awlaki - the leader of al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Never mind Awlaki's killing by an Obama-ordered drone strike because he was a Muslim terrorist. The Fort Hood massacre was only “workplace violence.” If you think it had anything to do with Islam, you must be a racist Islamophobe.
Now Hasan wants to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which Obama insists is not Islamic. In his Wastebook 2013 published last December, Senator Coburn informed us that Major Hasan received $278,000 in military benefits after his jihadist Fort Hood massacre. Maybe Obama will trade him to ISIS - along with four other terrorists from Guantanamo - in exchange for the next western journalist in line for an Islamic haircut.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
What's The Difference?
The single biggest difference between conservatives and liberals is this: Liberals believe we can create a perfect society through government. Conservatives believe a perfect society is impossible this side of heaven and government should be limited to the few necessaries like national defense, a justice system, and relations between states. Societal improvement isn’t government’s business and is better left to private charities and churches.
“That government is best that governs least,” said Henry David Thoreau about a century and a half ago and history since has not contradicted him. It’s an interesting sentiment given that Thoreau was considered a guru when the liberal “counterculture” was emerging back in the sixties and seventies. He was all about living simply that others many simply live, and other ideas that you still see on bumper stickers right next to Obama/Biden stickers. The irony is that Obama Administration is the all-time champion of big government.
People who consider themselves “progressives” look to government whenever they perceive a problem to be fixed but it’s the last place conservatives look. They see government creating many more problems than it solves, especially at the federal level.
Most of our federal tax money is spent on social programs and only half of Americans pay federal income taxes. The other half that doesn’t pay them instead collects most of the benefits. It all began during the Roosevelt Administration, but it really took off during the Johnson Administration’s “War on Poverty” in the 1960s. Since then, the federal government has spent more than $20 trillion “fighting” poverty and we’re $17 trillion in debt - mostly because of that spending.
How’s that war going you might ask? We’re losing, big-time, but we’re still pumping more and more money into it. Why? Because we’re subsidizing the main causes of poverty, that’s why. Take AFDC - that’s “Aid for Families with Dependent Children,” now called TANF, or “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.” Both allow men who father children to avoid responsibility for them and thereby encourage further irresponsible behavior. After three generations, fatherless families - the biggest cause of poverty - have multiplied to where they’ve become the norm, especially for minorities. How about if the federal government stopped trying to administer social programs altogether? Welfare isn’t a civil right to be enforced by the federal government. How about we leave it to the states instead? Maybe they could do it better. They couldn’t do any worse than the feds have, could they?
Better still, how about we leave it to private charities? As it is now, the federal government takes our money and gives it to many people whom we, as individuals, would never choose to give it to. While most of us wouldn’t begrudge help for the truly needy, we all know people who game the system. Many of us are related to people who continually scam for unneeded benefits. From the ordinary taxpayer’s perspective, scammers are multiplying.
Consider one small example. Driving through Portland, Maine my wife and I pass many panhandlers. They stand on median strips near traffic lights holding signs on pieces of cardboard with pleas for money like: “Need cat food”; “Sober and homeless. Anything helps”; “Homeless vet”; and many others. One sign a woman was holding up said, “Don’t text and drive.” I didn’t choose to give her anything for that advice. All the panhandlers look well nourished and wear adequate clothing, and I never give them money directly. Instead, my wife and I contribute to the Preble Street Resource Center where most of the city’s homeless find food, clothing, shelter during the day, as well as dental and medical care. They don’t provide cat food.
|Preble Street Resource Center|
We know the Preble Street Center does good work. We feel good about contributing money there because we believe it’s being spent effectively. Do we feel that way about federal programs? Certainly not. We don’t feel that way about many of Maine’s programs either, but Governor LePage is doing much to reform those. When government takes our money and spends it on the undeserving, it damages community spirit. If instead we could choose who we our money to, it would go a long way toward strengthening that feeling of community.
Tuesday, September 02, 2014
Back At It, My Way This Time
People ask if I miss teaching. Up to very recently I’ve said, “Sometimes, but the feeling goes away quickly.” I do miss it though. When I had autonomy in my classroom, which I did up to retirement, teaching was a very gratifying experience. But the federal government has been taking over more and more of public education and it became apparent that I would soon lose my academic freedom and be forced to teach the way “progressives” (a misnomer, that) would dictate. Then there are increased meetings and more meaningless paperwork that accompany increased federal intervention.
People who consider themselves progressive - a euphemism for liberal - have long been in charge of academia at every level. Most recently, they’ve consolidated their control over curriculum for US History - the subject I taught - by issuing a new exam for AP US History courses. We cannot see the new exam though. According to Stanley Kurtz, Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, “a complete sample exam has been released, although only to certified AP U.S. History teachers [who] have been warned, under penalty of law and the stripping of their AP teaching privileges, not to disclose the content of the new sample AP U.S. History Exam to anyone.”
During my career, most states mandated that US History be taught at 5th, 8th, and 11th grades. Students were required to pass it in order to receive a high school diploma. By issuing the new exam, the College Board will changing the way it can be taught at all levels. Kurtz claims: “the new AP U.S. History Exam is about to entrench a controversial and highly politicized national school curriculum without proper notice or debate. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and a full understanding of our founding principles are on the way out. Race, gender, class, and ethnicity are coming in, all in secrecy and in clear violation of the Constitution’s guarantee that education remain in control of the states.”
Many of the same people who brought you Common Core are bringing this. It’s not a shock to me because the handwriting had been on the wall for years, and it’s the primary reason I took early retirement at sixty. It has also been obvious to homeschooling parents. A group of them in Auburn, Maine contacted me over the summer to ask if I’d be willing to teach their children a US History course in which the Judeo-Christian values inherent in America’s founding would be emphasized rather than played down. In other words, would I be willing to teach a course to high schoolers in the traditional way? At first I thought, “Nah, I don’t have time.” Then I pondered it for a week and agreed to at least sit down and discuss it, and to pitch an idea I’ve always wanted to try.
It first occurred to me several years ago when the principal told me to pick a new textbook for my US History course because the old ones were falling apart. Every text I examined was boring because they all avoided controversial subjects. And, they all had a leftist bias. Instead of buying one of the boring, contemporary, liberal texts for nearly $50 apiece, I proposed purchasing two books for each student, which together cost less than half of one mainstream textbook. The first was the Marxist Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.” The second was Schweikart and Allen’s “A Patriot’s History of the United States,” which was written from a traditional, conservative perspective and formatted as an antithesis to Zinn’s book. Students would read passages from each on the same theme, then compare and contrast the opposing viewpoints presented. The principal nixed the idea, however, saying, “You could do that, but you’re retiring in a few years. Whoever replaces you wouldn’t likely have the knowledge or experience to pull it off. So, let’s go with a traditional textbook.”
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
There are lots of lefties in the Greater Portland area and their view of the world is very different from my own. Issues that concern me like looming national bankruptcy, burgeoning radical Islamic threats, media justification of young black men rioting and looting, the illegal alien invasion across our southern border - those things don’t seem to bother lefties at all.
Legalizing marijuana gets people excited down there. South Portland is pushing an ordinance to that end. People cross the bridge in Portland legalized it last November on a 3-1 vote, and now York wants to do it too. A friend speculated recently that at least 75% of Mainers smoke it. That seemed much too high to me, no pun intended. Perhaps it’s true in Greater Portland, but up north? Maybe it’s because I don’t want to believe it, but I hope my friend was wrong. Some may have voted for legalization based on libertarian principles, and not because they smoked it themselves.
Very few of the issues that crank people up in southern Maine do I think are important. As I’ve written before in this space, they get all worried that the Portland Pipeline Corporation (PPC), which has been safely sending crude oil from here to Montreal for seventy-five years, cannot be trusted to do the same thing in reverse. They pressured the South Portland City Council to pass an ordinance preventing the PPC from ever reversing flow. That ordinance will eventually go to the courts for final decision.
Going about my business down there - to the supermarket or town hall - people have ask to sign petitions about the oil pipeline, the bear baiting referendum, and so forth. When not doing that, they march in the streets celebrating homosexuality. They file suit to allow panhandling on median strips, continue welfare payments to illegal aliens, and to prevent development in areas where homeless people like to hang out. They worry that Maine is too white and needs more “people of color.” A guy at a supermarket asked me for a donation to a fund that protects feral cats. “What are you going to do? Feed them? I asked. He didn’t answer me.
A continuing controversy in nearby Cape Elizabeth involves the Spurwink Rod and Gun Club. It has been operating for sixty years, but lately some citizens have pressured the town and the state to choke off the club. The town passed an ordinance to regulate the club’s shooting range for safety, noise, and hours of operation. It’s trying to comply, but local residents who club president Tammy Walter claims want to shut it down completely, have been putting obstacles in its path. In Lovell, Maine where my primary residence is, guns are a necessary part of life. Nearly every household has at least one. Down there in Greater Portland though, guns are bad. People who own them are suspect. People who actually shoot them are anathemas.
Dog lovers and bird lovers are still glowering at one another in nearby Scarborough after a dog attacked a cute little piping plover chick on one of the beaches last year. Ordinances were passed to protect birds and control dogs. There’s a new sidewalk in front of our house and there are far more people walking dogs up and down than there are people with children. The same is true wherever I go down there. Dogs are everywhere. So are little plastic bag dispensers for people to put over their hands and pick up their poop. You have to really love your dog to pick up that squishy, smelly stuff every day and carry it home. Not all dog-walkers pick it up though, as attested by the land mines I find on my lawn.
I like to run at Bug Light park mornings and I’m careful to look down at the asphalt to avoid dog turds. Evenings, I like to stroll along there with my wife and look at Portland’s lights across the harbor while ferries come and go. But at night I can’t see the dog turds. So far I haven’t found any the hard way but it’s just a matter of time before I step in some.
Nobody knows me down there and that’s kind of nice. My column hasn’t run anywhere in Portland for over twenty years so I can walk around as an anonymous conservative observing the natives. If my wife isn’t with me I can question some of those lefty petitioners and listen to them expound on what passes for logic in their mindset. If the marijuana ordinances expand to other municipalities and even statewide, that mindset will harden and spread even further. Decades ago when I was a lefty, marijuana was part of the bonding ritual.
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Staying In The Day
One glance at the sunrise sent me back into the house for my camera. Light came through trees over the summit of Christian Hill. Its rays lit the morning mist. You’re not supposed to shoot into direct sunlight with a digital SLR, but the scene moved me and I did so anyway. Then I recalled psychiatrist M. Scott Peck recounting a conversation with a friend who told him: “Perhaps it’s because I’m an artist, but lately I’ve begun to think that God is light.” Peck answered in a manner he later realized was somewhat pompous. “Light has always been one of the synonyms for God…” he said. But she interrupted him. “No. I’m not sure you understand. I think that perhaps God really is light.”
I’m not an artist, but I’ve been taking pictures for more than forty years and I’ve come to appreciate the way painters perceive and depict light. No one can take pictures without it but I avoid using artificial flash. I much prefer natural light and my camera is with me wherever I go. If it’s not hanging over my shoulder, it’s in my vehicle nearby because I always expect to see something beautiful. If I don’t, I’ve come to understand that it’s because I’m not in a good state of mind. If several days should go by without taking any pictures, I realize I’m in a funk and I need to snap out of it.
|Sunrise over Christian Hill|
|Grandson Alex Checks out Fort Preble|
My obligations entailed going here and there to pick up tools and supplies, checking up on projects, and finally meeting with someone in the early evening. All done and driving homeward at dusk, I watched the sun as a glowing ball lowering itself slowly through a red/orange haze. Rather than pull over and photograph it, I drove on in hopes that it would still be above the horizon when I got back home. It was, hovering just above Mount Washington as I pulled into my driveway. I parked and aimed my camera at the sunset while standing about twenty yards from where I stood fourteen hours earlier to photograph the sunrise.
Then I felt rushed to prepare dinner and didn’t download the images. More days passed during which I felt moved to photograph other beautiful images in my path. I visited my grandchildren in nearby Sweden, Maine. Another day I took them for a boat ride on Kezar Lake. When we brought them home our twin, 16-month-old grandsons were exploring their yard in only their sneakers. Our daughter, Annie, said it was a good way to toilet-train them while the weather was good. Her girls were housebroken early, but I doubted the boys would be. We males are somewhat behind the female of the species that early in life, but we catch up and pass them by after forty sometime.
iPhoto, my computer program, organizes my images by “events” - periods of 24 hours duration. By scanning the mouse over each day, images pop up sequentially. Taking as many pictures as I do, I see again facsimiles of what I encounter day-to-day and I feel fortunate. That’s because I am, and it’s not all my own doing. The Creator of all has a hand in that during every part of every day. We’re all better off when we “stay in the day,” so to speak. It does us little good to regret the past or worry about the future, though I often relapse into such a mode.
This time of year is easiest to maintain what is for me a healthy rhythm. There are about sixteen hours between sunrise and sunset, and eight hours of darkness in which to sleep. I like to get up before the sun comes up and in bed again shortly after it goes down.And, it’s easiest to recognize God at dawn and dusk when his light pours over the eastern horizon and colors the western sky. Maybe the saints can maintain awareness of the divine all day, but in spite of my best efforts I often get too busy and forget who is lighting our way in between.
Monday, August 11, 2014
While I can’t understand everything that’s happening in the world, I pay attention and try to at least form working hypotheses to explain things. Hypotheses, by definition, are subject to modification as evidence accumulates. At no time should evidence be ignored. It should always be held up against ideas to see if it fits our basic understandings. If it doesn’t, we have to re-shape them - our understandings, not the conflicting evidence.
If you insist you’re right about your view even when a preponderance of evidence points in another direction, you’re a bigot - a word habitually misunderstood. Bigot, according to the World English Dictionary, means “a person who is intolerant of any ideas other than his or her own…” If we look around us with clear eyes, who would best fit that definition? Those who continue saying and doing the same things in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence. People calling themselves progressives were in complete control of the Congress for four years after 2006, and half of Congress since 2010. They’ve controlled the White House for the past six years, and how are they doing? Looking at just two areas we can see they’re screwing up badly. Our economy continues to flounder, and foreign policy is a disaster.
Historical accounts of the Harding and Coolidge Administrations indicate that leaving the economy alone is best. World War II and its Cold War aftermath teach us that actively carrying a big stick works best in foreign affairs. So-called progressive beliefs, however, are opposite for each situation. They increase economic regulation while simultaneously cutting America’s influence in world affairs.
Progressives firmly believe that expanding government by spending enormous sums of government money - and regulating nearly every aspect of the economy - are the ways to stimulate economic growth. When Hoover and Roosevelt tried out their own “shovel ready” projects like the Hoover Dam and the CCCs of the New Deal, as well as FDR’s hyper-regulatory policies in the National Recovery Administration, they together prolonged the Depression for more than a decade. Obama has gotten a similar result with the weakest economic “recovery” since the Depression - in spite of borrowing and spending trillions, and raising the national debt from $10 trillion to $17 trillion! Undeterred by those debacles, progressives like Paul Krugman insist that we’re still floundering only because we didn’t borrow and spend enough! Evidently he considers taking over 17% of the US economy with Obamacare to be small potatoes.
In the area of foreign policy, President Obama believes that shrinking our military and its activities abroad is the way to go. He firmly believes that most of the world’s problems stem from previous US administrations using America’s enormous economic and military strength to influence world affairs. He started by assuring the world that he was not Bush, and that because his father was Muslim and he was such a nice guy, things would be different. He would both pull back and cut back the US military, and the world would be better off. There simply isn’t any more than that to his foreign policy. To say that it’s been disastrous would be an understatement. Our allies have stopped trusting us and our enemies have stopped fearing us. From Russians to Radical Muslims, the world’s bad guys are having a field day.
When the Harding/Coolidge Administration took office in 1921, it inherited an economic situation much worse than Obama/Biden did in 2009. It was a Depression we don’t hear much about because it didn’t last long. Richard K Vedder and Lowell E. Gallaway, writing in their book Out of Work: Unemployment and Government in Twentieth-Century America claim: “By far the most important business cycle development of the first three decades of the twentieth century was the very sharp economic downturn of 1920 and 1921.” GNP was down 24% and unemployment was in double digits. Rather than expand government intervention the way Hoover, Roosevelt and Obama did, Harding cut it back. He cut taxes and regulation before he died suddenly in 1923, then Coolidge continued those policies when he took over. He was the last president to post a budget surplus in every year of his administration - and the economy soared.The evidence against excessive government control of America’s economy is voluminous, but do progressives pay it any mind? Obviously not. The Pax Britannia in which England controlled the seas lasted centuries while the world prospered. The Pax Americana has lasted about seventy years, but it’s fraying rapidly under Obama. Will it survive? Not as long as the progressive bigots remain in power. They'll continue doing what they always do and America will go under. We’ll see what the November election brings.
Monday, July 28, 2014
More Fundamental Change From Our President
Four years ago I flew to Tucson, Arizona, rented a Jeep, and drove down to the Mexican border at Nogales. I wanted to see for myself what was going on down there. I turned right just before the Mexican crossing and drove west along International Street on the US side of our primitive border fence. There, I encountered several modified, four-door, white and green, Dodge pickup trucks scurrying around in a futile effort to stop the flood of illegals constantly sneaking over, under, and through the flimsy international “barrier.”
|International Street in Nogales|
The first agent I was able to speak with was, lucky for me, from Maine. He talked freely at first, telling me they arrested over 57,000 illegals just in Nogales during the previous year, down from over 100,000 two years previously, but he indicated that many more than that got through. Somewhere between twelve and twenty million are in the US illegally. Many are on welfare, including thousands in Maine. When I told the agent I was a columnist (wish I’d never done that), he clammed up and referred me to “public information officers” back at headquarters in Nogales who gave me the runaround, erased pictures from my camera, and escorted me off the base. The Border Patrol hierarchy under the Obama Administration wanted to keep a lid on information back then, and it’s only gotten worse since.
|Border in Nogales|
Illegal aliens are coming across our southern border because they can. Life on our side is better than it is where they come from, whether they want to work under the table or just go on the dole. Neither Democrats nor establishment Republicans want to stop them, but ordinary Americans do. Why? Because while life improves for the illegals, their presence here makes life more difficult for working-class Americans. According to a study last month from the Center for Immigration Studies and reported at National Review Online: “Net employment growth in the United States since 2000 has gone entirely to immigrants, legal and illegal.” Taxes have risen dramatically in many US states and cities to pay for education, healthcare, housing, food, and jails for illegals and their children. Hospitals and schools are overwhelmed in border states, and wages are driven down for blue-collar workers here, especially blacks.
Now President Obama is expected to grant amnesty to five million of them by Executive Order. Tea Party Republicans in the House are threatening impeachment if he does. The Christian Science Monitor quotes senior White House Advisor Dan Pfeiffer saying: “The president acting on immigration reform will certainly up the likelihood that [Republicans] would contemplate impeachment at some point.” Ironically, Obama seems to relish that prospect, perhaps because it will encourage more Democrat voters to go to the polls in November, trying to keep control of the Senate.
Obama wants almost $4 billion for judges, lawyers to process hundreds of thousands of illegal “children” who are unlikely to even show up for their hearings. He’s flying them all over the country and releasing them wherever he can. He claims he must abide by a law passed at the end of the Bush Administration mandating court hearings for OTM, or “Other Than Mexican” illegals who come here from non-contiguous countries. The law was passed to fight sex trafficking, not for what Obama is doing, but Democrats refuse to modify the law. Obama is using it as a fig leaf and doesn’t want to change it. He’s obeying that law while refusing to enforce virtually every other immigration law on the books. He sued Arizona when it tried to enforce them at the state level.
Senior Border Patrol officials are still muzzling agents about what’s really going on down there. Like the one I met, they won’t talk. Cameras are banned and even congressmen aren’t allowed into facilities. Are they afraid pictures of “children” with facial and neck tattoos will circulate? They only want us to see pictures of cute little kids, though according to the Lieutenant Governor of Texas last week last week: “unaccompanied children represent some 12%-20% [of recent illegal immigrants]. We're focused on that [other 80 or 85%] of which a quarter, according to the border patrol, have a criminal record.”
Retired Border Patrol Agents claim the Obama Administration has manufactured the present crisis to put political pressure on Congress to pass amnesty. When the president blames the current flood of immigrants on violence and gang activity in Central America, he’s lying. By issuing his unconstitutional executive order DACA - Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals - he choreographed it.
Former US Attorney Andrew McCarthy agrees, writing last week that: “The January 2014 solicitation published by DHS’s bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement foretells (a) the arrival of 65,000 ‘unaccompanied alien children, and, tellingly, (b) the administration’s intention to transfer them to ‘Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelters located throughout the continental United States.’”