The rearview mirror

This was one of the copies I initially received from the publisher. If it’s copy 1 like I think it is then I believe it’s still in a box someplace from our move. It was the markup I used for the reading last June and the reference copy I kept for doing radio gigs.

I placed this photo on my social media page a year ago today. It was the first book out of the box of copies of my book that I kept for hand sales and promotions. So let me tell you about being an author and what a long, strange trip it’s been since that book came out 366 days ago.

When I put the book out after 2 1/2 years of writing it, I felt reasonably good about its prospects. I thought it was rather topical as it came out a decade after the initial TEA Party protests, and the peer reviews I had on it were positive. And the initial sales were actually encouraging after I did my first radio gig on it a couple days afterward (it was actually 52 weeks ago today, the same day Joe Biden made his formal announcement.) I had a lot of encouragement from friends and supporters, but of course I had no idea what sort of sales to expect.

Well, it’s disappointing to say that I’ve sold 26 copies through Amazon. However, I can at least say that’s more than my previous book has sold in almost eight years (a total of 18 copies.) But that doesn’t count the copies I have hand-sold in person, most of which I autographed as well. Somewhere in our house (or maybe out in the shed, who knows?) I have about 8-10 copies of my first book, which came from an original stock of 20 or 25. This time, though, I started with 25 and bought another 10, leaving me about a dozen remaining. Their disposition is an interesting story.

Out of the original stock of 25, I numbered each book from 1 to 25. I kept number 1 as my copy, tithed 2 through 4 to charity (still have those), and sent most of 5 through 10 to those who contributed to the writing. (I still have one because I’ve never been able to get a contributor’s home address even in several attempts to ask.) Out of 11 through 25 I have just a few remaining – many of them were sold at my reading back in June.

Among the second batch were a few I sent to various radio personalities who requested them. As I recall all but one of those eventually resulted in an interview, and that adds to the story.

Believe it or not, I’m way more comfortable with writing than I am with public speaking, even though I took a class in college to conquer that fear. (Shocker, huh?) I’m sure that comes through over the phone, but I also figured it was a job I had to do in order to try and spread the word given my marketing budget, which was basically zero. (I did find out it costs $3.27 to send my book anywhere from California to across town, not that I had to do the latter.)

So I spoke to various people everywhere from California to Delaware, for anywhere from seven minutes or so to a whole hour. It was a “virtual book tour” which took me from my adopted hometown to my real hometown, and from where I went to school to places I’ve never visited (or, frankly, heard of) before. There were small towns and big cities on the docket, but the last stop was a national one on an internet radio station called Southern Sense Radio. I did find out from doing sixteen or so shows that the longer I knew I had, the better the conversation flowed.

While all this was happening, I went through a move (hence, why I can’t find the spare copies) and went on vacation twice. Could I have been more diligent at marketing? Perhaps, but I also work full-time. (You may gather I’m that diligent at unpacking. But I told my wife we have the rest of our lives.)

A few months after the release, I decided it would be a good idea to follow up on the loose ends I had to leave untied to finish the book by last April. Thus was born the quarterly State of the TEA Party updates, the last of which I did a couple weeks ago – a little early but necessary to be topical. It’s been a concept that’s evolved a little bit and probably will some more before it’s through.

It’s been a tremendous and tumultuous year since I put out this book. It’s interesting to ponder how the release of the book would have gone over had it come out this year, but it’s still out there if you want to read it for the history. I think I’ll go onto Amazon tonight and give you a little incentive by cutting the price. (Hey, I have reached triple digits in royalties, at least.)

As for the next book? Honestly, I can’t say for sure whether I have another one in me. Over the years I have kicked around a couple concepts, and I got as far as a couple chapters on the Indivisible movement. (I still owe you one last part on that story – maybe in the next couple weeks.)

If anything, I have the most desire to write a sequel update to my first book, So We May Breathe Free. Once upon a time I had thought about writing a tome on the struggle between Big Oil and the green energy movement – something more on my radar when I had Marita Noon (now Marita Tedder) as a columnist, but not so much now. (I still keep a few tabs on energy, but to turn a phrase I don’t have as much energy as I used to.)

The other idea I’ve had from time to time is a project I call 600 Words. It’s been over a decade now, but once upon a time I toiled as an (unpaid) columnist for an outfit called Liberty Features Syndicate. (The title refers to their optimum column length.) Most of the time these once- or twice-weekly pieces ended up on the website of a group called Americans for Limited Government, but once in awhile I would find out some small-town newspaper also ran my column. I think it would be an interesting idea to follow up on what happened to the subject of the columns, as history may or may not have been kind to them, and maybe it would have the autobiographical element of perhaps one of the most uncertain times of my life. Between 600 Words and the sequel to So We May Breathe Free, 600 Words is definitely more the vanity project.

I guess that’s the life of a part-time author who’s become a (very) part-time blogger too. If you have pity on me and want to buy the book – or if you like a good read on history (yeah, that’s the ticket!) the link to Rise and Fall remains above the fold on my front page. Let’s see if I can beat my year one sales in year two.

The first post-GOP teaching moment

It was about seven or eight years ago that I first came in contact with the group called Americans for Limited Government. One of their projects that I participated in for awhile was called Liberty Features Syndicate, which (as the name implied) was a syndication service that generally catered to small newspapers. For perhaps a year, I was one of their writers and every so often I would find out one of my 600-word columns was placed in some small-town newspaper. That was a neat experience, particularly the very first time when I found out my column was in a Kentucky newspaper fitting that description. For a moment I thought I was destined to be the next Ann Coulter. (Now I’m glad I’m not.) They also do the NetRightDaily site, which is where I first discovered Marita Noon as they also carry her weekly op-ed. Somewhere in their archives I’m sure most of my columns survive.

All that has gone by the wayside, but I remain Facebook friends with current ALG president Richard Manning. Over the last few months, though, I’ve been dismayed to see how a group which claims to be for limited government has climbed aboard the Trump train. A case in point was something they posted last week, which I want to use as an educational tool. It’s called “Trump’s the nominee, deal with it.” I’m going to go through it a little at a time and share my thoughts as we go.

Donald Trump is the nominee and the establishment is going to have to deal with it. These anonymous GOP sources speculating on what the process would be if Donald Trump chose to withdraw from the race for president should be identified and forever run out of the GOP.

I find this rhetoric to be disheartening and a little disingenuous. Manning should remember that 56% of the Republican voters did not support Trump, but when it came time for that group to be represented at the RNC Convention Trump was right there with the “establishment” to shut it down. It was a coordinated effort, so don’t tell me Trump is not part of the establishment when it serves his purpose, and vice versa. Personally, I believe the whole “Trump will withdraw” story is wishful thinking on the part of some, but given his meteoric personality it’s not outside the realm of possibility. If anyone deserves to be “forever run out of the GOP,” though, it’s the Trump/RNC “enforcers” who were at the convention intimidating the grassroots supporters of needed rule changes. That action was one of the reasons I left the party leadership.

Where were they when Mitt Romney was outed telling donors that 47 percent of the people were on government assistance, creating the exact class warfare narrative that the Democrats craved? These anonymous, cowardly whiners were more than likely busily making fortunes at the GOP trough.

Probably the same place they were when Trump alienated women voters with his remarks about Megyn Kelly – except those weren’t surreptitiously recorded like Romney’s remarks were. The Democrats are going to attempt their tactics of division regardless of what the Republican nominee says. The one thing to criticize Romney for? He was off by 2 points – it was actually 49 percent. One would think that a group advocating limited government would embrace that fact as a reason to begin work on the issue. The truth hurts sometimes.

The only reason that this circular firing squad story exists is because the D.C. establishment class cannot get over that Jeb lost and with his loss, their every four-year financial windfall went away. And that’s the ugly truth, Donald Trump’s real failure is his unwillingness to spend millions in consulting fees to keep the GOP consulting vultures at bay. If these consultants had not lost the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections, they might have some validity in their concerns, but they are proven losers, and Trump doesn’t like losers.

This is perhaps Manning’s best point, but by making it about Trump he makes a mistake. Trump may not be using the consultant class, but the problem is that he’s losing just like in the other five elections (and the current polls track similarly to theirs.) If Trump were running at 60% in the polls Manning would have a great point, but the only thing about Trump at 60% is his negatives. We should hope that the consultant class withers on the vine, but the way to do that is through limiting government so there’s less financial incentive to be a consultant.

So, now they are all-in in trying to stop Trump, and by fostering speculation that he might drop out, they give their cohorts in the mainstream media the excuse to replay some mistakes that Trump has made and the campaign is trying to move on from.

They don’t have to replay mistakes because Trump creates a fresh batch on an almost-daily basis.

It is time to root out these conspirators to elect Hillary Clinton president, and not allow them to hide under the cloak of invisibility that cockroaches and vermin depend upon.

Someone really needs to do an exhaustive study on how many Democrats crossed over in the open primaries to help make Trump the GOP nominee. Oh, wait, those aren’t the conspirators Manning is referring to? My contention all along is that the only candidate Hillary could beat was Donald Trump, so I suppose the real conspiracy was within the group that talked Trump into running when there were already several in the race – remember, Trump was among the last to announce.

For the rest of us, Donald Trump is the only chance to end the Obama expansion of federal government power, his disastrous EPA regulations, Obamacare and his use of the enforcement powers of the Executive Branch as weapons against his political enemies.

For Trump, any and all of these will eventually be negotiable except for the last one. Given the ferocity of his attacks against his former Republican foes, I don’t doubt that Trump has an “enemies list” of his own, and it won’t be all the groups who have tormented conservatives the last eight years. The conservatives will remain in the crosshairs because Trump didn’t need party unity anyway.

Moreover, The Donald yo-yos between wailing about “draconian rules” regarding federal land and advocating the federal government remain in control of it. His stated health care plan repeals Obamacare, but he also vowed to make a deal with hospitals to take care of the poor at government expense. EPA regulations are bad unless you’re pandering to Iowa corn farmers.

In short, I truly don’t see any real support for limited government from Trump, which makes me wonder why ALG is involved in this election. To be honest, I’m sure Americans for Limited Government is a relatively modest group, living on a comparative shoestring as one of many thousands of advocacy groups around Washington, D.C. (That in and of itself is rather ironic. If they don’t like the inside-the-Beltway culture perhaps their headquarters should be in flyover country.) They take Trump’s outsider image to heart, even though he has donated thousands of dollars to political candidates on both sides.

But simply being an outsider with little political experience does not necessarily equate to limited government. And while some argue that with Trump we at least have a slim chance of success, let me remind you that failure to constrain government will once again be a Republican trait if Trump wins and governs on a platform where Obamacare is replaced by other government involvement, regulations are addressed in a capricious manner, and entitlements like Social Security and Medicare are off limits to needed reform, let alone the true limitation of government that can be achieved by sunsetting the programs over a multi-decade period to provide an orderly transition.

I use this as a cautionary tale about consistency. If you believe the group’s mission statement, it’s a curiosity to me why they involved themselves in this race:

We are leaders in identifying, exposing and working with Congress and state legislatures to prevent the continued expansion of government. Never shying away from the big issues, ALG is perpetually ahead of the issue curve taking on issues like the $100 billion International Monetary Fund line of credit while others are still trying to spell IMF. This aggressive, non-partisan approach to the threats posed by an ever expanding government to our basic freedoms gives us the ability to honestly present the limited government perspective both inside the beltway and most importantly around the country.

It’s clear to me that neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton will lift a finger to limit government; rather, they will rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. I can understand the fear of Hillary Clinton being a third term of Barack Obama, but who’s to say Donald Trump wouldn’t be a third term of George W. Bush, where government expanded at an alarming rate, too? There were several other candidates who were willing to begin the process of rightsizing the federal Leviathan, but Trump prevailed as the “Republican, not the conservative” nominee. It’s troubling to me that the folks at ALG let party override principle and fear take the place of common sense.

So despite the admonition of Manning and friends, the only nonsense we need to stop is continually claiming that not voting for Trump is a vote for Hillary. One can be #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary at the same time. There are other candidates out there who hew closer to the principles of limited government, and one of those things which holds them back is the perception that no one other than a Republican or Democrat can win. In the end, the decision is up to the voters, so what ALG needs to do is return to stressing the value of limited government rather than shill for one flawed candidate against another.

Odds and ends number 79

With the winds of Jonas howling around us last night, I decided it was a good night to clean out the old e-mail box. One result of that is the Liberty Features widget I placed in my sidebar. They have a lot of good content I use for these “odds and ends” posts as well as other content – that and once upon a time I was a writer for them. You just never know when doors may open back up.

On Tuesday last I alerted readers to the Maryland Senate bill that would allow Wicomico County to determine whether or not they want an elected school board. It’s doubtful they picked up on the coincidence that their hearing will occur in the midst of National School Choice Week. But we deserve a choice, so there’s just something appropriate about this – it may even occur during the #schoolchoice Tweetup occurring Wednesday afternoon.

Teachers may be gaining a choice in how they wish to be represented thanks to an upcoming Supreme Court case. Here’s hoping the side of right prevails and teachers are freed from paying excessive union dues to support political causes they don’t agree with.

And since a lot of my cohorts in the region are using their heat, it’s a good time to talk a little about all the energy news that’s been piling up. For example, energy writer Marita Noon recently detailed the Obama administration’s War on Coal. She quotes one Pennsylvania United Mine Workers officer who says, “Obama’s actions have alienated those who work in the industry from Democrats in general.” I think someday there may be thousands of workers in the green energy field, but for now the people who work in the coal mines are looking desperately for jobs.

On the other hand, if the government showers you with favored status, you have a golden ticket. Noon also wrote about the subsidies and rent-seeking that green energy company Solar City is in danger of losing in several states.

Our fracking boom has gone bust, though, since oil has approached $25 a barrel. Some of those furloughed employees could be rehired to pump oil for export, but this game of chicken between OPEC and American producers shows no sign of ending soon.

Those would-be workers could also be good candidates for rebuilding American manufacturing – if any jobs were to be had, that is. Over at the Alliance for American Manufacturing, Scott Paul notes:

I know I don’t have to tell you how important manufacturing is. More than 12 million Americans are directly employed in manufacturing, and many more are employed indirectly.

These good-paying manufacturing jobs are key to a healthy middle class. It’s no coincidence that the middle class is shrinking at the same time manufacturing is struggling.

Manufacturing certainly faced a tough 2015. There were only 30,000 new jobs created nationwide. We still only have gained back 40 percent of the jobs lost during the Great Recession.

They ponder what the 2016 Presidential candidates will do and invite you to ask for yourself (through their form letter, of course.) The valid question is:

What will you do differently? How do you plan to help spur manufacturing job growth and grow the middle class?

Perhaps Larry Hogan’s plan is one answer, although federal intervention may be needed to bring jobs back from overseas. Maryland, though, could create the conditions for growing new companies.

Finally, I wanted to give a shout out to a long-distance supporter of mine over the last several years, one who has decided to make the leap and run for public office. Jackie Gregory threw her hat into the ring for Cecil County Council back in November, running as a Republican in the county’s District 5. That district covers the central part of the county, from the town of North East south along the Elk Neck peninsula.

If you are in the area, she’s having a breakfast next weekend in North East so I would encourage you to drop by and give her some support. Cecil County has been an interesting subject to me for several years, with Gregory’s Cecil County Patriots group being an advocate for change.

So my 79th edition of odds and ends comes to a close as my heater kicks on again. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for summer. By the way, I also finally finished my updates to the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame so the page is back up. I’m not sure it’s odd, but it is the end.

Thoughts on the Rascovar column

I’ve seen a lot of discussion about a anti-Republican screed reprinted on the Maryland Reporter website, so I’ve decided to add my two cents.

I have plenty of respect for Len Lazarick and his fellow writers at Maryland Reporter. While conservatives read his site, though, I don’t necessarily consider it a liberal or conservative news outlet, aside from the fact they link to a variety of news sources from around the state. Most of them are left-leaning but they’ve also linked to a few conservative bloggers in the search for political news. Thus, its content is generally either a daily news aggregation roundup or more in-depth reporting by its contributors. And I’m cool with that.

Having said that, it really doesn’t bother me that Maryland Reporter uses the columns penned by Barry Rascovar, who I’m told has been covering Maryland politics since, oh, about the Mesozoic Age. If Len Lazarick thinks it’s a good way to get eyeballs, well, have at it. So I don’t agree with those who urge people to boycott the Maryland Reporter site (although I don’t see evidence that Dan Bongino specifically asked for a boycott as Lazarick alluded to) based on the “outrageous and slanderous” column, as MDGOP Chair Diana Waterman described it.

One bad column does not a bad website make. The best approach is to ignore Rascovar just like people seem to be ignoring his home website, Political Maryland, where he wrote a companion piece yesterday. (It has an Alexa rank of 5,069,099 which leads me to think he gets his readership from the 224 subscribers and that’s about it. I’ll add to your total, so you’re welcome.)

Many of you probably know I wrote columns for a time for a small syndicate called Liberty Features, so I have an idea of how to work in the format. You have 600 words to grab the reader’s attention and make your point, and it can either be done with a dash of humor or a serious discussion of issues. If Rascovar were any more shrill with his column it would have broken glass, and I’ve read much better from him.

Now let’s talk about the situation at the border. I thought the idea of a border was to have a secure perimeter with only certain checkpoints to allow people in or out. Obviously in this day and age of air traffic our borders extend to international airports and harbors but for the most part people who cross do so by land. It gives those in charge of our security an opportunity to check if the person seeking entrance has permission and wishes to do so for a valid reason.

What bothers me about this situation is that it seems to be encouraged by our current administration, which couldn’t get amnesty by legal means so they’re trying an end run around the law by abusing the designation of “refugee.” It’s the complicit assistance of their host nations and Mexico that’s also troublesome – once Mexico was upset enough about the drain of their best and brightest to call for their return but now it seems too many nations to our south depend on remittances from those who have made it here, legally or not.

Back in 2007, Mexican President Felipe Calderon stated:

I am from Michoacan, and in Michoacan we have 4 million people – 2 million of those Michoacanos are in the States. We want them to come back, we want them to find jobs here in Mexico. We miss them. These are our best people. They are bold people – they’re young, they’re strong, they’re talented, they have overcome tremendous adversity – who are working so they can come back to their country someday.

Seven years later, it seems now that the United States is a dumping ground for youth, a group for whom the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras can’t attract the investment to create jobs. They would rather depend on the chances their “children” – many of whom are teenagers – can stay in this country and either find menial work or receive some sort of government aid, enough to send back to their families who will eventually be allowed to follow this generation. The only “someday” they’re waiting for is the day they can re-create their squalor here, on the backs of taxpayers.

The problem is that we simply can’t afford it. The best thing for these children is to send them back home with a message for their leaders to reform their systems and build their own economies.

‘Silly Bandz’ raise serious question

If you know a child of middle school age, you’re probably familiar with the fad of Silly Bandz sweeping the country among that peer group. Now that school is out, the classroom bans imposed on kids who brought those colorful accessories to school to show off or trade are no longer in effect and thousands of “tweens” proudly sport their collections on their arms, a belt clip, or a necklace. With dozens of different shapes based on animals, fantasy characters, sports themes, and the like they appeal to the collector in every child and at about $5 for a pack of 24, Silly Bandz are an inexpensive hobby. Thousands of kids spend part of their allowance to get the latest styles.

Robert Croak, the creator of the brand, is a former bar owner and concert promoter who’s simply changed his target audience from young adults to their younger siblings and children. His company, BCP Imports, fills thousands of orders a day from a warehouse in Toledo, Ohio, where the product is brought in from a Chinese manufacturer.

And the people in Toledo are grateful for the jobs Croak provides. His distribution warehouse now hums with the activity of well over 100 employees, with more being hired every week. In a city where unemployment is 12 percent because the auto industry it depends on is sluggish, anyone who’s hiring can be pegged as a hero and indeed Croak is being treated like one. As he points out in a local television interview, “This is proof that the American Dream can still happen. The sky is the limit right now.”

All told, the success of Silly Bandz, even if fleeting, would seem to be a nice feelgood story. But there’s a question to ponder.

If these silicone bands cost 20 cents apiece at the retail level, one has to ask how it can be profitable to manufacture them at a plant thousands of miles away, ship them overseas, and truck them from port to distribution point. What prevents the manufacturing process (and those jobs which could be created) from being done in Toledo? Undoubtedly there’s plenty of available manufacturing space around the city which could be utilized and a lot of workers who are looking for job openings.

One answer could be the prospect of labor strife, as Toledo is one of the most heavily unionized cities in the country. Placing a Silly Bandz factory in Toledo without paying inflated union wages may lead to a serious picket at the plant gate.

Even if labor relations somehow go smoothly, though, there’s still the prospect of overtaxation and oppressive regulation to consider. With practically any small business, governmental entities make success more difficult than it should be. As one example, building a new factory to make Silly Bandz may require extensive site review by local government, while renovating an existing facility could lead to expensive modifications not necessary for the actual manufacturing process.

Localities often try to create a “one-stop shop” where red tape can be addressed with the least possible hassle. But not as much thought seems to go into making the burden easier by eliminating the redundant regulations and lowering the tax burden on these companies. Instead of making life better for job creation, the government seems happier to hire even more bureaucrats to try and help navigate the labyrinthine maze of their own creation.

As with all trends the Silly Bandz craze will fade away, but thinking up needless laws and rules is one fad which never seems to fall out of favor with government.

Michael Swartz used to practice architecture but now is a Maryland-based freelance writer and blogger whose work can be found in a number of outlets, including Liberty Features Syndicate. In truth, I didn’t know the distributor hailed from my hometown until recently, but that made this piece much more fun to write after I found out that fact. It debuted June 21.

The popularity paradox

Over the last couple decades America has settled into an uneasy truce with itself, as presidents of both parties propose new ideas and promise a new way of doing business but eventually lose their popular mandate.

Prior to President Obama, the poster child for this phenomenon was George H.W. Bush. The elder Bush frittered away an 89 percent approval rating just after the liberation of Kuwait from the clutches of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. In less than two years his political fortunes declined to such a degree that he drew less than 40 percent of the popular vote in the 1992 election, yielding office to President Clinton.

In time, Clinton’s leadership was questioned so much that his party lost the majority in the House of Representatives two years after his election. After Clinton left office, George W. Bush managed re-election but spent his entire bank of political capital and popularity chasing Osama bin Laden around the Middle East while engaging in a little nation building along the way.

All these case studies reflect a simple fact: America sours quickly to new leadership if things progress in the same old way.

In President Obama’s case, pundits like to point out that his approval numbers are relatively in line with Ronald Reagan’s during the early days of his tenure. As in the present day, the first part of Reagan’s term was marked with a poor economy and high unemployment – before last October, the last time unemployment reached double digits was during a correspondent period in Reagan’s presidency.

Yet history shows that once Reagan’s economic prescription of lowering tax rates took hold his popularity surged, with the best evidence being an absolute electoral slaughter of the hapless Walter Mondale. On the other hand, President Obama’s policy accomplishments to date range in public perception from skepticism whether the stimulus has actually worked to outright hostility about the passage of Obamacare and progress in cleaning up the oil from the Deepwater Horizon tragedy.

Perhaps more than any other president in recent memory, though, President Obama suffers from being thin-skinned. While he may say from time to time that “the buck stops here” it’s usually lost in a litany of finger-pointing and blame shifting, with a favorite target being opposition Republicans. (Having advisers who proclaim we should never let a crisis go to waste or that we should put our boot on the throat of particular businesses isn’t much of a help either.)

People who followed President Obama’s cult of personality during his campaign and remain loyal to him make up a larger and larger portion of those who approve of his performance. Others who questioned his qualifications or didn’t like those policies he ran on make up a continually growing segment of the opposition, leaving less and less room for ambivalence. America may be fortunate that there’s not an issue like slavery to divide up the union.

To be a good leader, the key qualification is to go in a direction which people would eventually like to be led, convincing them to leave the safety of inertia. Of course, the leader is the one who gets the slings and arrows but shrugs them off in pursuit of a cause greater than self. One problem our President has is selling the idea that he’s not the one with the most to gain from the direction he’s attempting to take us. The American people keep attempting to put on the brakes and turn things around but the only way to get this leader to listen is to outpoll his followers at the ballot box.

Michael Swartz used to practice architecture but now is a Maryland-based freelance writer and blogger whose work can be found in a number of outlets, including Liberty Features Syndicate. This piece debuted June 18.

The pursuit of perfection

On a pleasant June night last week 17,738 Detroit Tiger fans filed into Comerica Park to see a game against the Cleveland Indians. Little did they know they’d witness what could be a pivotal moment in baseball history less than two hours later.

Even casual baseball fans now know the details: with two outs in the ninth inning Tiger pitcher Armando Galarraga induced Cleveland batter Jason Donald to hit a grounder to first baseman Miguel Cabrera. As he’d practiced hundreds of times, Galarraga raced over to cover the first base bag and the defensive play was executed perfectly – or so he thought. Umpire Jim Joyce called Donald safe but replays clearly showed the toss from Cabrera beat the runner. “I just cost that kid a perfect game,” moaned Joyce afterward.

Despite the fact that two perfect games have been thrown this season, the feat is harder than one may think – in major league baseball history just 20 pitchers have faced 27 batters in a game and retired all of them in a row. What makes this example different and perhaps more substantial in baseball history is the aspect of instant replay and the obvious blown call which cost the 28-year-old Venezuelan his chance at baseball immortality.

For sports fans, grousing about referees is as old as the game itself. Few home team fans will complain if a call goes their way, but if the situation is reversed officials never hear the end of it from the fans in the stands. Even the famous poem ‘Casey at the Bat’ features a fan who shouts, “Kill the ump!”

While it’s obviously against the law to physically harm an umpire who has a bad day in the eyes of the faithful, some feel that the force of law should be used to correct the call; in fact, one legislator from Michigan is seeking Congressional intervention to correct the error. Rep. John Dingell plans to introduce a resolution calling on MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to reverse the call, citing Major League Baseball’s reversal in the famous 1983 “pine tar” game where Kansas City batter George Brett had a home run nullified and later restored in a game against the New York Yankees.

The 1983 incident changed the result of the game from a Yankees win to a Royals victory but ultimately made little difference in the overall standings. In Galarraga’s case, he retired the next batter and the Tigers maintained the 3-0 win.

A more lasting impact comes from the idea of Congress interceding into the affairs of a sport simply because an incorrect judgment call was made. Too often we as Americans get the tendency of seeing a wrong such as this and demanding government correct it instead of not sweating the small stuff. More often than not during a game, one of the players will be charged with an error for a fielding miscue and once in awhile, as in the Galarraga incident, we’ll see the umpire blow an obvious call. That human element is one which lends charm to baseball and makes it the most traditional of our major professional sports.

Sure, having grown up as a Tigers fan myself it would have been nice to see Galarraga pitch the first perfect game in their 110 year history, and he may yet achieve the feat in a future game. The more lasting damage to the game wouldn’t be from letting an incorrect call stand but from allowing Congress to stick its nose into yet another arena where it doesn’t belong.

Michael Swartz used to practice architecture but now is a Maryland-based freelance writer and blogger whose work can be found in a number of outlets, including Liberty Features Syndicate. This cleared LFS on June 8th, and yes I’m still a Tigers fan.

Looking for a wedge

While the title might lead one to conclude this will be a critique of President Obama’s frequent golf outings, it is more apt to describe the state of the Democratic Party as they look at November’s midterm elections. With Republicans energized by opposition to Barack Obama’s agenda and buoyed by millions of activists gathered under the auspices of the Tea Party banner, desperate Democrats may be tempted to try anything within their power to maintain their grip on control in Washington, D.C. and state capitals.

One such example comes from Michigan, a state which went overwhelmingly for Barack Obama while suffering from the hamhanded policies of outgoing Gov. Jennifer Granholm to a point where the state is charitably described as an “economic basket case” and continues to lead the other 49 states in the dubious category of highest unemployment rate.

There paid petition circulators are combing the state to gather signatures to put the “Tea Party” on the ballot. While this may sound legitimate, the allegation of ties to the state Democratic Party and lack of knowledge about the drive from state Tea Party organizers make the petition drive sound like a dirty trick to split off a percentage of the conservative vote and preserve the status quo for another term. A similar effort in Nevada put an ersatz candidate on the November ballot to oppose embattled Sen. Harry Reid and GOP primary victor Sharron Angle, again without the backing of actual Tea Party organizers.

But that tactic can only work in certain states where ballot access is relatively easy. In other states Democrats have to use different methods to dilute the strength of newly-engaged citizen activists.

In Kentucky, the Senate race between Rand Paul and Democrat Jack Conway received national attention thanks to Paul’s broadcast remarks about decades-old civil rights legislation. While there’s little chance any such legislation will be revisited soon and more important issues are on the table in the Senate battle, the digression provided a chance for Kentucky (and national) Democrats to put Paul and the Republicans on the defensive, blunting the momentum of a successful campaign.

Meanwhile, Democrats received a boost from Mark Critz winning a special election in Pennsylvania’s 12th District to replace the late Rep. John Murtha. What escaped the media spin on Critz’s win was his platform – the Democrat claimed to be, “Pro Life, a supporter of our 2nd Amendment rights, a fervent believer in a strong national defense and a supporter of creating an atmosphere in which small business can flourish.” Those stances would hardly qualify him to be a favorite among the Beltway cocktail party crowd, but what matters will be how he actually votes on upcoming legislation. Critz repeated a tactic used by Democrats in conservative-leaning districts to win Congressional seats in 2006 and 2008 by running right-of-center on certain issues.

Perhaps the largest schism among Tea Party activists is one Democrats could exploit by bringing up social issues. While libertarians and conservatives typically agree on the fiscal side of the government equation, they often differ on social issues – for example, a social conservative who favors a Constitutional ban on abortion would be accused of legislating morality by a libertarian. By making social issues a part of the equation, cagey Democrats could discourage turnout and soften support from the Tea Party base.

Democrats seeking to blunt the momentum of conservatives coming into November’s election are going to need every tactic to succeed. It’s the job of the discerning voter to separate the hype Democrats offer from the record they represent.

Michael Swartz used to practice architecture but now is a Maryland-based freelance writer and blogger whose work can be found in a number of outlets, including Liberty Features Syndicate. This piece cleared LFS back on June 3rd and I updated it to reflect the Nevada primary result for publication here.

Broadening the conversation

With his win last month in Kentucky’s Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by the retiring Senator Jim Bunning, Rand Paul termed it a victory for the Tea Party movement. In the May 18 election Paul trounced “establishment” candidate Trey Grayson by a 59% – 35% count, stunning observers with his margin of victory over a candidate backed by Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, among others.

For becoming the new darling of the conservative movement, the younger Paul – son of two-time Presidential candidate and libertarian hero Rep. Ron Paul – immediately became the target of the progressives who inhabit the mainstream media. Just as Sarah Palin was bushwhacked by interviews she did with network news personalities Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson during the 2008 campaign, Paul stepped in it just days after winning the primary election with an interview on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” which led to Rachel Maddow browbeating him on her MSNBC show. The line of questioning regarded Paul’s view on civil rights and laws passed a half-century ago.

Obviously the intent of this cross-examination was to play into the media’s template of Tea Partiers as racist hicks far outside the mainstream. You wouldn’t catch those journalists asking a Democrat about his party’s historical opposition to those same civil rights advances dating back to the Civil War, but when they get the opportunity to score points against a rising star of the conservative movement they’re sure to take them.

Perhaps, though, the time has come to make civil rights an issue and ask about the progress we’ve truly made toward a colorblind society. After all, once we elected a President with a multi-racial background it was thought the issue would fade away into a post-racial era – apparently it hasn’t yet sunk in with the media who asked these questions of the Kentucky victor.

Rand Paul brings up a good point about the status of civil rights in America. While the topic of race was the shovel used to try and bury the newly-minted candidate, we could ask the question about a number of other forms of discrimination as well.

One example is the city of Kinston, North Carolina. In 2008 the voters there overwhelmingly supported a change in their municipal elections from partisan to nonpartisan, but they were overruled by the Justice Department based on the Voting Rights Act. Apparently the minority community (which is actually a majority in Kinston) wouldn’t know to vote for the proper candidates if they didn’t have a “D” by their name, according to DOJ logic.

Laws can and do outlive their usefulness. In truth, a business which didn’t provide accommodations for or cater to a portion of their potential clientele would likely find itself closing its doors in short order. As a whole, society is growing more and more tolerant so the prospect of segregated lunch counters is fading into the dustbin of history regardless of whether a law prohibiting the practice exists on the books.

It’s only those who continue to survive on the division of society by race, class, and gender who try to perpetuate the need for outmoded legislation designed to promote a particular party by presenting a facade of tolerance while denying colorblind equality in practice. He may not have made the point in the most eloquent way, but Rand Paul is correct to encourage a hard look at whether equality is better promoted without laws originally designed to keep us equal but evolving into making certain citizens more equal than others.

Michael Swartz used to practice architecture but now is a Maryland-based freelance writer and blogger whose work can be found in a number of outlets, including Liberty Features Syndicate. This cleared the LFS wire on May 26.

Congress vs. the oil industry

It’s beyond question that the oil industry is down on its luck right now, and the black eye received from the Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico is a shiner which will stay on its public face for quite awhile. And while radio host Stephanie Miller claimed the Gulf oil spill as proof that “God is a Democrat,” the Democrats who sit among us mere mortals in Congress are taking direct aim at what they sneeringly call “Big Oil” with two particularly punitive measures.

With Democrats’ first try at cap-and-trade (better known as Waxman-Markey) stalling in the Senate after a contentious House vote, last week Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman brought forth their version of energy legislation. Originally sponsorship crossed party lines when Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, agreed to back the bill, but Graham withdrew his support when Senate leader Harry Reid decided to press for passage of immigration reform rather than this measure.

That’s not to say Graham would be staunchly against the proposal. But the sticking point he sees is that, “problems created by the historic oil spill in the Gulf…have made it extremely difficult for transformational legislation in the area of energy and climate to garner bipartisan support at this time.” Predictably, Democrats representing waterfront states like Florida, New Jersey, and Maryland are already coming out dead set against the additional oil exploration included in Kerry-Lieberman, a tradeoff intended to get Republicans to support a bill which would levy taxes on greenhouse gas emissions and, as studies have concluded, be a net job loser.

Moreover, Kerry-Lieberman gives a rare nod to states’ rights from the liberal side, allowing affected states more liberty to curtail or cease oil exploration off their shores. It’s a complete turnaround in one month’s time – only a few weeks ago the oil industry was cautiously optimistic about the Obama Administration allowing exploration in certain leaseholds to go ahead beginning in 2012. Needless to say, those ambitious plans are on hold after White House adviser David Axelrod warned, “no additional drilling has been authorized and none will until we find out what has happened (with the Deepwater Horizon).”

A second Congressional attack on the energy industry in the accident’s aftermath comes from their bid to bolster a little-known federal fund called the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF). Created by Congress in 1986, the OSTLF lay dormant until 1990, when in the wake of the Exxon Valdez tanker accident a per barrel tax was levied on petroleum produced or imported into the United States. Currently oil companies pay eight cents per barrel toward this fund. In addition, there is a limitation on liability of $75 million per incident for economic damages – companies already have to shoulder the actual cleanup costs.

But a new proposal would devastate small- and mid-size oil companies, forcing them out of business by increasing the prospective liability to $10 billion. Naturally, the OSTLF would be increased as well through the possible fourfold increase of the per-barrel tax to 32 cents, but the additional revenue may not necessarily go to the OSTLF – proceeds could be spent on other projects Congress deems worthy of funding.

These are just two of the more egregious examples of how Congress wants to punish Big Oil for the sin of having a tragic accident occur on an offshore platform. The federal government has done its part to assist British Petroleum in coping with the accident and its aftermath, so there’s no need for Congress to exert another pound of flesh from an apologetic industry.

Michael Swartz used to practice architecture but now is a Maryland-based freelance writer and blogger whose work can be found in a number of outlets, including Liberty Features Syndicate. This piece was made available to LFS clients on May 20.

A slow reclamation

In the wake of the emotional Obamacare debate, the President’s approval ratings sank much closer to those endured by the outgoing President Bush than the stratospheric heights polled as the era of Barack began. Looking at Rasmussen’s tracking poll, Obama reached a low of 43% approval during the weekend of the final House debate over the Senate-sponsored health care measure, and the approval index (defined by Rasmussen as the percentage strongly approving minus the percentage strongly disapproving) reached a low of -21.

Since those low points, though, the emotion of the debate over health care has subsided and Obama’s approval ratings have began their own slow recovery – back to 48% approval last week and a much healthier approval index of -10. It’s an encouraging trend for a party which just last month was left for dead in November, and perhaps shows that Republicans need to curb their enthusiasm about derailing the Obama agenda next year.

Yet one has to ask just what is different about the public’s mood now. Certainly there’s still a Tea Party element out there flexing its muscle, but Obama has adroitly focused his efforts on the one area he can be seen as populist in advocating Wall Street reform. While there’s a lot of people who dislike big government, even more have a beef with the perceived fat cats who navigate the murky waters of derivatives and other difficult-to-explain financial instruments while making handsome profits for themselves and sticking taxpayers with their losses.

Then again, it’s not easy to figure out what Congress wants to do with Wall Street either. In that respect President Obama seems to be leading in the same manner as he did with health care, standing aside while Congress debates the finer points and waiting anxiously with pen in hand for the final legislation to pass. Unlike health care, though, President Obama may be waiting in vain because of the Republicans’ newfound ability to filibuster legislation – Democrats no longer have the convenient workaround they enjoyed in goosing the system and rules to pass Obamacare.

On the other hand there are still a number of boobytraps remaining before Obama and the Democrats can survive the upcoming election with their majorities intact.

Immigration is the hotbutton issue du jour, placed there once Arizona passed a get-tough measure on illegal immigrants (which ironically is simply a rewrite of federal law at a state level.) While the President has wanted to see reform with federal law, there’s a number of Democrats who are quite squeamish about touching anything which remotely resembles amnesty. They’re mindful of the reaction back home, and for good reason.

The same goes for cap-and-trade legislation, which is a nonstarter despite the continuing Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf. President Obama wasn’t able to take advantage of the situation by showing leadership; instead he’s being chastised by some in the press for his slow reaction to the crisis.

It could be, however, that the biggest difference between the more popular Obama of late and the Obama trying to get health care reform passed is that the President doesn’t seem to be the constant presence he was during that debate. With a number of other world crises taking place, such as the financial meltdown of Greece, the news isn’t quite as focused on the President and lack of familiarity stops breeding contempt.

There’s no doubt Americans aren’t necessarily buying what President Obama is selling, but the pitchman has retreated off the stage enough to keep his record out of the limelight and regain a little of his lost popularity in the process.

Michael Swartz, an architect and writer who lives in rural Maryland, is a Liberty Features Syndicated writer. This article cleared the LFS wire on May 13, which after their usual hold meant I didn’t get to post it last week.

The end of the oil boom?

The Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico drew limited headlines upon its occurrence, with the biggest news at the time being the 11 workers missing after the rig’s explosion and fire. It wasn’t until the discovery that crude oil was leaking into the Gulf because of a faulty shutoff valve that the story moved to front-page headline status.

At a rate of perhaps 5,000 barrels per day, the spill – more properly described as a gusher akin to the proverbial Texas oil strike because of the pressure bearing from beneath the Gulf floor – may turn out to rival the amount of oil lost in the 1989 Exxon Valdez shipping accident. Obviously the immediate environmental damage from the oil spill will be severe and economic damage to the local seafood industry catastrophic; fortunately, we also know from the Exxon Valdez accident that eventually the region will be able to recover. Since crude extracted from the Gulf is relatively light in weight, the oil isn’t the thick black gunk most people think of when they think of an oil spill; rather, the result is a silvery sheen on the surface which may be easier to disperse through chemical means.

Long-term impact on the oil industry may be more disastrous. Needless to say, environmentally conscious Democrats called on Obama to drop his proposed offshore exploration program in the wake of the accident, and White House adviser David Axelrod agreed, saying, “no additional drilling has been authorized and none will until we find out what has happened here.” Axelrod’s response to the accident, ironically occurring on the eve of Earth Day, suggests the open-ended nature of the moratorium may lead to more regulatory hurdles for oil operations in the Gulf.

For decades, exploration in the Gulf of Mexico had progressed without incident, and the more than 3,500 platforms already producing in our portion of the Gulf routinely endured shutdowns brought on by approaching hurricanes and regular maintenance. In these cases the shutoff valves did their job, making the Deepwater Horizon incident an outlier. Nor can the prospect of sabotage or terrorism be ruled out given the enticing target presented by what was essentially a seagoing vessel tenuously rooted to a wellhead 5,000 feet below the surface. The Deepwater Horizon was one of only about two dozen rigs situated in a water depth more than 1,000 meters – the technology of deepwater drilling is still maturing.

Yet billions of barrels of oil lie entombed underneath the Gulf of Mexico. Undoubtedly there is an argument underscored by the Deepwater Horizon tragedy which says we need to back down, but when you compare the safety record of Gulf drilling to that of shipping 9 million barrels of oil per day for our use over many of those same waters and the prospect for disaster there, the risk is worthwhile.

As we stand right now, there is no perfectly safe or perfectly reliable form of energy out there and the Deepwater Horizon accident points out the possible (but historically unlikely) downside of oil dependence. But coal also has drawbacks and safety concerns as recent mining accidents remind us, while the pesky problem of waste and threat from radiation dogs proponents of nuclear power. Renewable energy is great in concept, but the reliability of solar and wind energy obviously depends on optimum weather conditions.

Accidents will happen, but there’s no reason to stop oil exploration after this tragedy. The record of safety is no longer unblemished but still exemplary, and on balance the benefits still outweigh the risks. Let’s get oil workers back to work.

Michael Swartz, an architect and writer who lives in rural Maryland, is a Liberty Features Syndicated writer. This op-ed cleared the LFS wire on May 4th.

Note: after a preliminary investigation, it sounds like the accident was a combination of faulty equipment and bad luck. Methane’s not something you want to mess with.