Taking Occam’s Razor to Campaign 2016

By J.F. McKenna

John Nance Garner, who played No. 2 to FDR once upon a time, declared the vice presidency not worth “a warm bucket of spit.” While not exactly striking a tasteful tone for the average seventh-grade civics text, Garner’s appraisal remains indisputably accurate.

Worse, though, Garner’s mucilaginous evaluation applies to the all-important top post today. Just ask the regular folks—those voters discouraged by everything from a badly tuned economy to a capriciously managed foreign policy. Come to think of it, this figurative second bucket isn’t even warm.

The nation is a mess economically, militarily and spiritually. The taxpayers are hungry for real-world leaders toting solid ideas and tested solutions. They are weary of empty promises, “presumptive candidates,” and the media’s tiresome coverage of the road to The White House.

Time to break out Occam’s razor, the long-celebrated tool of epistemology that says the best solution is typically the simplest at hand. As my gift to fellow citizens, allow me to unclasp and wield that centuries-old razor: Let’s settle on the Fiorina-Kasich ticket in the GOP camp, and be done with it.

Now allow me to relax the suddenly formed wrinkles in your face and the all-new questions in your mind. Former business executive Carly Fiorina is no stranger to success, and certainly no stranger to making mistakes and failures out in the open. What really stands out—and makes her ideal for the toughest exec job in the world—is that Fiorina has learned management lessons in the unforgiving private sector.

As The New York Times recently chronicled, “When Ms. Fiorina, formerly a top executive at Lucent Technologies, took over at Hewlett-Packard in 1999, it was the largest publicly traded company ever to be led by a woman. Yet she also outraged some feminists by saying, ‘I hope that we are at a point that everyone has figured out that there is not a glass ceiling.’ Her business career ended a few years later in one of the more notorious flameouts in modern corporate history. After orchestrating a merger with Compaq that was then widely seen as a failure, she was ousted in 2005.”

An unabashed and outspoken conservative, Fiorina has stayed on the nation’s radar, even after losing a Senate challenge to California’s Barbara Boxer in 2010 and sharing such sentiments as “America is the most innovative country” while cautioning the U.S. that it can’t keep said status if its runs away “from the reality of the global economy.”

And, as noted, she’s not above owning up to her own failings. When the Los Angeles Times showed she had failed to vote in most elections, Fiorina responded: “I’m a lifelong registered Republican but I haven’t always voted, and I will provide no excuse for it. You know, people die for the right to vote. And there are many, many Californians and Americans who exercise that civic duty on a regular basis. I didn’t. Shame on me.”

Certainly this 2005 Fiorina quote suggests a Lincolnesque job-readiness for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: The worst thing I could have imagined happened. I lost my job in the most public way possible, and the press had a field day with it all over the world. And guess what? I’m still here. I am at peace and my soul is intact.

Which brings me to another strong soul and the ideal 2016 running mate—Ohio’s own John Kasich. A heartbeat away from the Presidency, Kasich would have the big heart, and the good head, to take on the challenges of this proposed constitutional partnership.

As politically savvy Buckeyes know, the former Greater Pittsburger has been a public actor in Ohio since his days working with State Senator Buz Lukens in the ‘70s. Kasich can boast eight turns in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was elected Ohio’s governor in 2010 and re-elected four years later, handily defeating Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald the second time around.

Kasich, now 63, has drawn a salary in the private sector as well, having worked with broadcasting’s Fox Corporation and with investment banking’s Lehman Brothers as a managing director. Like Fiorina, Ohio’s guv is no stranger to difficulty, criticism and failure. He’s also a tough-minded reformer.

Kasich, who has been on the fringe of presidential politics over the years, is considered an independent, policy-first thinker who aims for results and not just PC kudos. Criticized for a mostly male cabinet some years ago, Kasich responded this way: I don’t look at things from the standpoint of any of these sorts of metrics that people tend to focus on, race or age, or any of those things. It’s not the way I look at things… I want the best possible team I can get.

This former history student considers that last quote and says, “Move over, Mr. Biden: make way for a guy who’ll always be ready for governing.” So do a lot of other Americans, I suspect. Combine Kasich’s executive thinking with Fiorina’s well-spoken customer-first philosophy and America is looking at as capable a 2016 presidential ticket as any primetime pundit promotes in the evening. Just a bit better.

Awhile back in this corner, I quoted a fellow named Twain who had shrewdly observed that the nation and its ingenious republican system is far more important than any candidate who tells us that he or she can improve on the machinery that Washington, Madison and Hamilton put in motion. “No country,” old Mark warned in 1873, “can be well governed unless its citizens as a body keep religiously before their minds that they are the guardians of the law, and that the law officers are only the machinery for its execution, nothing more.”

As I carefully put away Occam’s razor for use another day, I tell myself that it would be great to elect a woman President.

The right one, of course.

 

J.F. McKenna, a former resident of Cleveland’s West Park, has worked as a reporter, business editor and communication specialist. He is a former staff editor of such magazines as Industry Week and Northern Ohio Live. His online work also appears on the site Steinbeck Now. The Cleveland native and his wife, Lady Carol, now live in Pittsburgh with their dogs, Duchess Holly and Lord Max. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com .

The Writer’s Contemporary Counterpart to Dr. Spock

By J.F. McKenna
Francis Flaherty has done as much for today’s bedeviled writers as the celebrated pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock once did for anxious and uncertain parents up late at night with sick and inconsolable tots.

Similarly to what the good physician accomplished when he first published Baby and Child Care in the 1940s, story doctor Flaherty has shared years of newsroom savvy in The Elements of Story. Flaherty’s 2009 book clarifies non-fiction writing in terms of “the level of story, by which I mean the architecture, the bones, the tendrils, of an article. This book is about how to make a story move.”

Make no mistake: This kind of prescriptive advice has been far too sparse in the past—and is certainly needed more than ever today, as much of the instantaneously delivered writing makes readers wince if not wander and causes demanding old-school editors to add a dash of Pepto to their Jim Beam. For readers, writers and editors alike—this one included—The Elements of Story may be the greatest advancement in real journalism since the inverted pyramid, or at least the page-two Editors’Correction.

And the progress doesn’t stop at the newsstand, be it brick or click. “I find that the tenets of story doctoring apply not just to journalism but to writing writ large,” insists Flaherty, whose professional pedigree boasts a long tenure as a New York Times editor and clips from such tony pubs as Harper’s and Atlantic Monthly. “Story doctoring is all about prose that is riveting and persuasive, and as such it has currency for every writer, from the freelancer in his garret to the English grad student, from the beat reporter to the aspiring blogger.”

Admittedly, I may be a bit biased about Flaherty as a craftsman in the trade. He’s earned his rightful spot in the writers’ bunk house, yet he’s still eager to share his wealth of hard-earned knowledge with darn near anyone. Just wander down the digital trail to the Gotham Writers site — http://www.writingclasses.com/FacultyBios/facultyProfileByInstructor.php/TeacherID/234956. There you’ll find the portrait of the artist with a real-world deadline:

When Frank first began working at the Times, he was assigned to write an investment column for the Business section. “It’s quite difficult to write a compelling column about bond funds,” he says. “You have to learn a way into it.” But the good news? “If you can write compellingly about stuff like that, then it’s all the easier to write well about something you do care about.”

Particularly impressive to this Kent State J-school grad is Flaherty’s advice on the masterful treatment of leads, transitions and kickers—the basic newswriting components that, handled with deftness, can make a reader sit up and smile, get angry and red-faced, cry aloud in sympathy, or a combination thereof.

Good story leads, for example, “must fill two contradictory roles,” Flaherty counsels his by-the-book disciples. “They must paint with a ‘broad brush’—that is, state the essential point of the story—and they must be vivid and specific.

“How can they do both these things?” he continues. “The secret is this. While good leads are specific, the specifics they cite must sound the central chord of the tale.”

The Elements of Story is chockablock with similar time-tested advice for serious writers—those guys and gals who instinctively gravitate toward a genuine wordsmith such as Flaherty, who himself modestly describes the book as “a ‘field guide,’ really, into the newsroom.”

Back in my own J-school days, one of our standard texts featured Matthew Arnold’s description of early-day journalism as “literature in a hurry.” Through the years my colleagues have joked that Arnold lost his poetic license over that comment. A lot of today’s contemporary news and commentary, in print or online, is unstructured, barely readable proof that haste makes waste.

Maybe, just maybe, Francis Flaherty and his well-constructed guide will prove that old English scribbler right, after all.

 

J.F. McKenna, a former resident of Cleveland’s West Park, has worked as a reporter, business editor and communication specialist. He is a former staff editor of such magazines as Industry Week and Northern Ohio Live. His online work also appears on the site Steinbeck Now. The Cleveland native and his wife, Carol, now live in Pittsburgh with their dogs, Duchess Holly and Lord Max. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com .

 

Developing the Economy of Cuyahoga County

U.S. Representative Marcia Fudge chaired a volunteer committee to advise newly-elected County Executive Armond Budish on issues he should focus on during his four-year term of office.  While long on broad ideas and things for the county to do and pay for, it was short on specifics as to how to pay for new initiatives.  In addition, it did not clarify how to help the county grow economically, a vital concern for the future of the region.

The Plain Dealer published a short article on the committee’s findings which didn’t focus on the most important concern not addressed in the recommendations for the county: economic development.

Former Bentleyville mayor and company CEO Michael Canty has authored a letter to the paper explaining what really needs to be done to move the economy of Cuyahoga County forward.

 

…I read with interest your article on economic goals provided to the new Country Executive from a group headed up by Congresswoman Marcia Fudge.  Most of these nine goals listed had to do with social welfare programs that would likely need to be paid for with new taxes, paid for by those few who actually pay taxes in the region for the benefit of far too many who do not.   

Don’t misunderstand me, we have significant need to address in Cuyahoga County, and we need to address it.  However, I would expect that a $1.4 Billion county budget should be able to do this without yet more taxes that drive both companies and those individuals who pay taxes out of the county.  That has been the case now for decades.

As a long time business person (current manufacturing CEO with 78 employees) and resident of the County – one who pays a significant amount of taxes – let me offer a few alternative “economic” goals to those provided in your article. 

  • Regulations.  Streamline every regulatory process in the County, and encourage with incentives every municipality to do likewise.  It is incredibly difficult to do business in Cuyahoga County, and impossible to do business in the City of Cleveland.  Hire a team of lean experts and make both the county and the city of Cleveland models of regulatory efficiency.  To start, set up a process similar to the state government’s CSI process, and staff it with business types, not government officials.  Until the county and all municipalities make it easy and attractive to do business within their borders, they will continue to lose business and population to those outside their borders. 
  • Reduce taxes.  Why should a homeowner in the county with a $500,000 house pay $15,000 to $20,000 or more per year just for the privilege of owning a home?  Or a company with a small manufacturing company pay $100,000 in property taxes?  And to pay income taxes of 2% to almost 4% both where he / she lives and where he / she works, on top of county taxes, on top of state taxes, on top of federal taxes?  Certain levels of taxes are necessary to maintain schools and basic services, but when the collective government takes 50% or more in income and property taxes from those who work hard, government provides a disincentive to work, and an incentive to find places to live and work that levy few taxes, and an incentive to source jobs elsewhere.  Unfortunately, the County and the city of Cleveland have not found a tax that they did not like, and both have been in decline because of it.    
  • Charter Schools.  Take the Breakthrough concept and work with the State government to dramatically expand it from its current 3,000 kids to 30,000 kids, and from grade schools into the high schools.  Insure that every section of the county has access to such schools, and insure that the public schools have real competition as an incentive to improve their standards, their performance, and their focus on children – not in 3 years, but immediately and forever.  The county and the region needs to stem the “loss” of our children due to failing public schools.  Business cannot start, grow, or relocate to this area without workers who possess basic education.  The county and all municipalities will continue to spend significant precious resources dealing with poverty, crime, and other social ills due to uneducated kids who roam our streets with nothing to do and nowhere to go.  There are only so many hamburgers to flip. 
  • The Trades.  Require all high schools to provide education in the trades, and help fund two year colleges to step up their programs in the same.  Wood shop.  Metal working classes.  Welding.  Auto mechanic and equipment repair.  Machining.  Etc.  If only 25% +/- of our kids get a college degree, we need to insure that those who do not are prepared for starting work beyond high school.    
  • Minimum wage / prevailing wages.  I agree, residents need to make a reasonable living.  We start all employees off at our company at a minimum of $12 per hour, and go up from there.  However, if the County and surrounding cities take the minimum wage up much higher than $9.00 per hour, companies that can move will, entry level workers who need this start won’t get it, and the region will not thrive.  And get rid of prevailing wages where possible for construction.  We worry about infrastructure but generally pay 20 – 25% higher than market to pay for it.  What if the County and surrounding cites could repair 25% more roads, repair 25% more bridges, build 25% more buildings, etc. with the dollars it has.  That means less disrepair and 25% more jobs.
  • Abandoned homes & commercial buildings.  “Find” $100 million per year in the County and surrounding community budgets without raising taxes and move far more aggressively to tear down abandoned buildings that plague our communities and attract drug dealers and gangs.  Strength building codes to require property owners to either repair or tear down in short order.  Bill back – sue if necessary – property owners for the cost.  We all know this is a problem, and we all need to be much more aggressive in solving it.            

There are many other areas that this county should focus on to stop the decline and rebuild itself.  The five areas above are just a start.  More taxes, more regulations, more social welfare programs are not the answer.  We all know the old saying, “Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day.  Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime”.  

 

The Dream Wasn’t “Burn This B**** Down!”

By Doug Magill

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When writing to white religious leaders in his Letter From Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr.was clearly angry about discrimination. While acknowledging that his fellow clergymen were “men of good will,” he nonetheless rejected their concerns about “outsiders coming in.” Elevating his emotions, he described the injustice, brutality and “smothering in an airtight cage of poverty” that members of his race were subjected to and to which he must address his efforts.

Clearly incensed, he articulated why there is a time “when the cup of endurance runs over.”

In light of recent demonstrations and violence concerning the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, preceded by the highly publicized death of Trayvon Martin, one has to wonder if we have not reached another inflection point, where endurance has indeed overfilled its available capacity. And, the question lingers as to what Martin Luther King himself would have made of these events.

When writing from his jail cell, King clearly spoke of the times when the law must be, and should be broken. Drawing upon Catholic theologians, Augustine and Aquinas, he clarified circumstances when injustice and adherence to a higher morality not only encourages us but requires us to follow our principles, even at the expense of incarceration and a criminal record.

Our media pundits breathlessly tell us today about the actions of the crowds that have recently been protesting, and imply that there are just grievances which cause these seeming eruptions of anger and destruction. The results are reflected in polls which show that confidence in the progress of race relations is declining. An unusual trend.

The primal scream of Michael Brown’s stepfather urging destruction of Ferguson, Missouri was glossed over in the media, but it clearly represented a feeling shared by many residents of that city. The looting and destruction which followed the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting Brown was the culmination of that atavistic instinct.

Since then there have been at least 25 violent incidents in shopping areas all over the country that have not been well covered by the media: Ann Arbor, Ocoee, Conyers, Cheektowaga, Albany, Indianapolis, Salisbury, Fresno, Toledo and many, many others. The one thing they all had in common was that the individuals involved were black.

While members of the media either ignore or distort such incidents, they don’t reach for context. One doesn’t expect erudition from journalists and most have clearly not really read King’s writings. In that same letter King identified the four basic steps of a nonviolent campaign: collection of facts, negotiation, self-purification and direct action. Nothing in these recent events comes even close to following his vision. It seems that many prominent black people want to jump over all of that, past the non-violent requirements and right to violence, destruction and revenge.

Something that used to be called a lynch mob. Only now it’s for a black cause.

In Reverend King’s dream of judgment based on character, how is it that a black man is to be judged immediately innocent because of his color, and a white police officer guilty because of his color? And violence is to be ignored because of the color of those engaged in it?

One cannot hope for progress when it seems that those who should know better, and at least pay lip service to Martin Luther King’s beliefs, are so ready to make immediate racial judgments and throw away all the progress that has been made.

As America tries to gain perspective on the Martin, Brown and Garner cases, there are additional and powerful questions to be raised that cannot be ignored: the incredible amount of ongoing violence of blacks against blacks in our cities, the wholesale slaughter of black children in the womb, the cataclysmic breakdown of the black family and the miserable state of the schools that their children must deal with. A staggering circle of poverty, misery and despair. And yes, the Obama economic policies have been devastating to employment of black youth.

All as if to diminish the sense of outrage that many black people feel about the recent deaths of young black men.

King is often quoted not as a defense of these circumstances, but as an explanation of why black people shouldn’t be held to the same standards as others. I am not sure he would have that same perspective. I think he would have expected more of the people to whom he witnessed.

And yet.

I have a very intelligent and insightful black friend who immediately claimed that Michael Brown was murdered before hearing any of the evidence. Who still will not let go of the Trayon Martin verdict.

Another sensitive and passionate black friend made a blistering and staggering comment when told of a recent Boko Haram massacre in Nigeria that she guessed that black lives didn’t matter there either. The equivalency is incomprehensible.

Others are sure that murder was committed in the Eric Garner case and are apoplectic about the shooting of Tamir Rice here in Cleveland.

These people are educated, intelligent and often wise. Yet, these situations are immediately judged as racial in nature by them and their aggrieved sense of minority injustice is palpable.

I know them, trust them and believe in them. So, I cannot shrug off their evaluations as irrational, with some lingering racism in their hearts. There has to be more.

There are things that I have not experienced that affect their perceptions in ways that I cannot know. My friend that jumped on the Michael Brown bandwagon as murder was twice pulled over while driving black last summer. In the space of two months. Without doing anything wrong other than driving by a white police officer in a not-so-new sedan and being dressed in a style that might be considered modern pimp. Still, he was dragged out of his car, handcuffed, made to sit on the curb while his car was searched.

He is a Christian young man who rarely drinks, doesn’t smoke and who doesn’t do drugs and would be the first person I would turn to in a fight. Who I know would be there for me regardless of circumstances.

His shame and embarrassment must have been immense. And not for the first time.

A woman who I work with at a non-profit pregnancy counseling center recently described to me how her son was stopped blocks from her house several times by police because he was young, and black and in a car. This is in a city that prides itself on diversity and peaceful relations between races. She called and complained without effect.

I recently gave a ride to a hitchhiking young black man whose car had broken down and who immediately thanked me for not being afraid of him. And then apologized for the way he smelled because he worked on a road crew.

There are many, many more of these stories, but the issues are the same. Black people being told in unsubtle and stinging ways that they are suspicious, not good enough, and to be considered guilty even though innocent.

I don’t know that it’s racism. Police are not fools, they know who to be suspicious of with good reason most of the time. Yet the pattern is ultimately destructive to both black citizens and the police (black or white) who struggle to maintain order in dysfunctional neighborhoods. It is experience laced with bad assumptions and inherent suspicion.

I was young when the riots destroyed black neighborhoods in Detroit. But I saw the destruction and the shock of seeing armed federal troops on street corners and automatic weapons on the rooftops of nearby buildings. It was called a race riot. It wasn’t. It was a mob, an orgy of violence with no purpose and no results other than the harming of innocents and further deterioration of struggling neighborhoods as businesses moved out. Barry Gordy took Motown records to LA afterwards because he feared for his life. And Detroit has been in a downward spiral ever since.

The tragedy of Reverend King’s death at age 39 is that his work was undone. It still is. He has not been replaced. We all cry out for his moral leadership, and a way to restore families and give hope through education and opportunity. People that put fuel on the fire like Obama, Holder and Sharpton create issues. They do not want to assume moral leadership and certainly don’t know how.

More than anything right now we all need a black leader who can move the tide of history. To live and give substance to Reverend King’s principles and belief. And more than anything his faith: not only in God but in the basic decency of human nature.

I don’t know that we are struggling with race issues, but we are all certainly wrestling with black ones.

 

Doug Magill is a consultant, freelance writer and voice-over talent.  He can be reached at doug@magillmedia.net

 

Harfing: The Verb

I know Darvio the media mogul is working on a song for this: “He Ain’t Muslim, He’s Unemployed,” although we should be grateful to Marie Harf for adding the word Harfing to the national lexicon.  Still, the best take on the stupendously sophomoric stupidity dribbling out of the United States Department of State (nuanced or not) comes from our friend Ammo Grrrll:

Thoughts From the Ammo Line

Gallup-ing Criticism: Job Stats Don’t Add Up

By J.F. McKenna

No one would ever question that the folks at the Gallup organization, that redoubtable public-opinion numbers cruncher, can add, subtract and draw intelligent conclusions. So when George Gallup’s own successor challenges somebody else’s math, that somebody should take note.

Right, Uncle Sam?

“The official unemployment rate, as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor, is extremely misleading,” declared Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO at Gallup.

Ouch.

Clifton’s scolding, recently issued on the Gallup website, is on a par with a newspaper editor’s catching Albert Einstein in a math error. (That’s a story for a different day, though.)

“Right now,” Clifton continued, “we’re hearing much celebrating from the media, the White House and Wall Street about how unemployment is ‘down’ to 5.6%. The cheerleading for this number is deafening. The media loves a comeback story, the White House wants to score political points and Wall Street would like you to stay in the market.

“None of them will tell you this: If you, a family member or anyone is unemployed and has subsequently given up on finding a job—if you are so hopelessly out of work that you’ve stopped looking over the past four weeks—the Department of Labor doesn’t count you as unemployed. That’s right. While you are as unemployed as one can possibly be, and tragically may never find work again, you are not counted in the figure we see relentlessly in the news—currently 5.6%. Right now, as many as 30 million Americans are either out of work or severely underemployed. Trust me, the vast majority of them aren’t throwing parties to toast ‘falling’ unemployment.”

Other numbers guys are backing up Clifton’s attack on these so-called official stats. In fact, University of Maryland economist Peter Morici recently checked in as a fellow doubting Thomas, determining that “the real number is 10 percent.”

Double-ouch.

And as of early February 8, Clifton reportedly quipped on cable TV that he might “suddenly disappear” and “not make it home” after challenging these particular Obamamatics. One thing Gallup’s top guy isn’t joking about is what weak employment numbers really mean to America.

By defining “a good job as 30-plus hours per week for an organization that provides a regular paycheck,” Gallup is reminiscent of the tax preparer who holds in his hands the hard evidence to confirm the bad news facing the taxpayer. As Clifton insisted in his online critique, “the U.S. is delivering at a staggeringly low rate of 44%, which is the number of full-time jobs as a percent of the adult population, 18 years and older.”

“Yet another figure of importance that doesn’t get much press: those working part time but wanting full-time work. If you have a degree in chemistry or math and are working 10 hours part time because it is all you can find—in other words, you are severely underemployed—the government doesn’t count you in the 5.6%,” Clifton wrote. “There’s no other way to say this. The official unemployment rate, which cruelly overlooks the suffering of the long-term and often permanently unemployed as well as the depressingly underemployed, amounts to a Big Lie.”

That final comment calls to mind something Mark Twain said in a speech in 1882: “The history of our race, and each individual’s experience, are sown thick with evidence that a truth is not hard to kill and that a lie well told is immortal.”

And no greater immortality may be found than that in the government’s current employment numbers.

J.F. McKenna, a former resident of Cleveland’s West Park, has worked as a reporter, business editor and communication specialist. He is a former staff editor of such magazines as Industry Week and Northern Ohio Live. The Cleveland native and his wife, Carol, now live in Pittsburgh with their dogs, Duchess Holly and Lord Max. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com .

Reflections on Market Eggonomics

By J.F. McKenna

 

My first lesson in market economics came courtesy of my Uncle Don, who oversaw the family poultry-dairy farm in nearby Columbia Station. For yours truly, the youngest of the next-generation McKennas, the farm was my 35-acre venue for wandering aimlessly, jumping off hay bales in the barn, playing with the latest brood of puppies and collecting raw material for many of the memories I treasure today.

And, of course, that simple, one-time avuncular request to candle some eggs.

Charging an 11-year-old with the task of product assurance related to eggs—that is, holding up the aforementioned product units to a light source for evaluation—should not be considered on a par with today’s advanced strategies of quality control. But this 11-year-old huckleberry sought to take the relatively simple task to new levels of speed and complexity.

The consequences were swift as well as certain: broken eggs, an unhappy Uncle Don and no further requests to participate in entrepreneurship down on the family farm.

I offer this homey vignette as a cautionary tale to those in government who wield business regulations the way I once misapplied the otherwise simple task of candling chicken eggs. All this came into sharp focus (yes, pun intended) while I was reading about the new California law that takes a Holiday Inn approach to egg production.

As the Associated Press explained earlier this month, “…California starts requiring farmers to house hens in cages with enough space to move around and stretch their wings…. To comply, farmers have to put fewer hens into each cage or invest in revamped henhouses, passing along the expense to consumers shopping at grocery stores.”

While the well-intentioned folks who backed this so-called humane gesture congratulate themselves, folks on the frontline of the ag industry point to that old axiom of no good deed going unpunished in the marketplace. Let me lay on you (another pun intended) these additional comments from the AP article: “The new standard backed by animal rights advocates has drawn ire nationwide because farmers in Iowa, Ohio and other states who sell eggs in California have to abide by the same requirements. To comply, farmers have to put fewer hens into each cage or invest in revamped henhouses, passing along the expense to consumers shopping at grocery stores. California is the nation’s largest consumer of eggs and imports about one-third of its supply.

“Jim Dean, president and CEO of Centrum Valley Farms in Iowa and Ohio, said one of his buildings that holds 1.5 million hens is now about half-full to meet California’s standards, and another building may have to be completely overhauled. Farmers like him in cold climates will have to install heaters to replace warmth formerly generated by the chickens living close together. Dean said that’s something people in sunny California didn’t consider. ‘You’re talking about millions upon millions of dollars,’ he said. ‘It’s not anything that’s cheap or that can be modified easily, not in the Midwest.’”

Makes my youthful economic indiscretion look downright puny, doesn’t it?

On a more serious note, let me add that this hard-boiled regulation underscores what economist Thomas Sowell writes in his wonderful book Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy. “The Garden of Eden,” Sowell insists, “was a system for the production and distribution of goods and services, but it was not an economy, because everything was available in unlimited abundance. Without scarcity, there is no need to economize—and therefore no economics. A distinguished British economist named Lionel Robbins gave the classic definition of economics: Economics is the study of the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses.

“In other words,” Sowell continues, “economics studies the consequences of decisions that are made about the use of land, labor, capital and other resources that go into producing the volume of output which determines a country’s standard of living….When a politician promises that his policies will increase the supply of some desirable goods or services, the question to be asked is: At the cost of less of what other goods and services?”

Before state reps, Congressional chairmen and White House whiz kids begin their next round of well-intentioned legislative candling J.F. McKenna style, they might consider spending a little time inside the pages of Sowell’s tome.

I’m certain Uncle Don would approve.

 

J.F. McKenna, a former resident of Cleveland’s West Park, has worked as a reporter, business editor and communication specialist. He is a former staff editor of such magazines as Industry Week and Northern Ohio Live. His online work also appears on the site Steinbeck Now. The Cleveland native and his wife, Carol, now live in Pittsburgh with their dogs, Duchess Holly and Lord Max. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com .

Warmly Ruthless Holiday Greetings

By J.F. McKenna

As the old year winds down, if not outright unravels, here’s to happy holidays and a warmly ruthless coming year.

Sure, I know such end-of-the-year sentiment won’t make me the No.1 draft pick at American Greetings in 2015. But it’s a sincere wish for the hometown and the nation, even as I review the collective disaster generated by cop-citizen controversies, a generally party-pooped economy, a well-earned wimpy image on the international stage, and a generally lousy national self-image that has replaced self-evident truths and the securing of “the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

All that noted, you ask, why stock up on ruthlessness for the new year? A fair question deserving a reasonable response.

What initially triggered my novel holiday greeting was the reading of these lines from speechwriter and author Peggy Noonan’s Character Above All: “Ronald Reagan is always described as genial and easygoing, but [economist] Marty Anderson used to call him ‘warmly ruthless.’ He would do in the nicest possible way what had to be done. He was nice as he could be about it, but he knew where he was going, and if you were in the way you were gone. And you might argue his ruthlessness made everything possible.”

The Reagan legacy of peace and prosperity, of course, has migrated from the pages of contemporary history to the Big Book of Legendary Leadership. As even one of his successors—the current President—acknowledged, “When the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, I had to give the old man his due, even if I never gave him my vote.”

It may be a Paine to admit; but these are most certainly the times that try men’s souls. So a generous dose of so-called Reagan ruthlessness—that vision for the better America, one that must trump the vain and the venal—is my holiday wish for the nation that the 40th President called the “the exemplar of freedom and a beacon of hope for those who do not now have freedom.”

Without question, a Reaganesque renewal of American commitment to freedom on the world stage must top the coming year’s agenda. Nothing continues to blur our notion of war’s frontline more clearly than the jihadists’ perversion of the old Disneyland saying “It’s a small world, after all.” Yeah—small, lethal, unmerciful and aimed right at us.

For all those in office now, as well as for all those considering leadership roles in the future, Ronald Reagan’s words from May 1993 remain a guide to future success: “Despite the spread of democracy and capitalism, human nature has not changed. It is still an unpredictable mixture of good and evil. Our enemies may be irrational, even outright insane, driven by nationalism, religion, ethnicity, or ideology. They do not fear the United States for its diplomatic skills or the number of automobiles and software programs it produces. They respect only the firepower of our tanks, planes and helicopter gunships.”

President Reagan likewise recognized that a strong nation requires a strong economy, aka free enterprise. For that chief executive, there was no substitute—especially government. And the former movie star knew first-hand the personal tragedy of a weak economy. In a town of deals and connections, he was a ruthless advocate of the American worker, the man or woman who had to bring home the paycheck.

“To me, there is no greater tragedy than a breadwinner willing to work, with a job skill but unable to find a market for that job skill,” Reagan recalled in a 1976 speech. “Back in those dark Depression days I saw my father on a Christmas Eve open what he thought was a Christmas greeting from his boss. Instead, it was the blue slip telling him he no longer had a job. The memory of him sitting there holding that slip of paper and then saying in a half-whisper, ‘That’s quite a Christmas present,’ it will stay with me as long as I live.”

And undergirding the Reagan Era’s strong nation and robust economy were always the people who cherished the values that guarantee a lasting civilization. As Reagan recalled in his autobiography, “I learned from my father the value of hard work and ambition, and maybe a little something about telling a story. From my mother, I learned the value of prayer, how to have dreams and believe I could make them come true.”

If that be the portrait of the ruthless man, the nation needs many more ruthless folks, this holiday season and beyond.

Former West Park resident J.F. McKenna is a journalist, copywriter and communications consultant. McKenna and his wife, Carol, now live in Pittsburgh, to which he serves as Cleveland’s unofficial foreign minister. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com  .

 

‘Thanks—But No’: A Beltway Tale

By J.F. McKenna

The day in post-election Washington, mimicking a classic description from British novelist Somerset Maugham, “broke gray and dull.” Every indication was for more of the same until sunset. At least that’s what the longtime popular couple in town sensed, especially as they reviewed their holiday-dinner guest list.

“I just got a call from Harry and his wife, dear,” the lady of the house told the husband, her usually annoying self-confident tone ratcheted down to a simple whine. “They can’t come to Thanksgiving dinner, either. Some lame excuse about having to see the folks back home. What’s going on? That’s the seventeenth cancellation since yesterday. We’ve got a holiday table that’s two-thirds empty right now!”

“No good. No good,” replied her husband, a firm believer that rhetorical repetition more than compensated for actual content in almost all circumstances. “It’s one thing to have the tables run on you in an election. But it’s really bad optics to have NBC showing a Thanksgiving table this big and only half-filed. Appearances have consequences.”
Loyal as well as shrewd, the lady asked, “Does that mean?…”

“Yes,” he cut in. “We’re going to ask some regular people to dinner.”

After conferring with the ideologues and demographic geniuses that had guided the couple through so many other social engagements, the couple opted for a full-court press of invitations handled by phone. Given the impending holiday deadline, they extended the invitations personally. Just to speed acceptance.

“My wife and I would be honored to have you join us for Thanksgiving dinner,” the husband told the suburban widow. “You’ll love our chef’s sweet-potato recipe. Goes great with the entrée. May we count on you?”

“Just can’t come—sorry,” the widow said. “Got a houseful of family coming here. That includes my two boys and a niece. All three can’t find jobs. One actually hasn’t worked for two years. Just for the record, my sweet-potato recipe is the best in the country. Also for the record, my recipe is the entrée.”

Steve, a long-distance truck driver who never takes off his 101st Airborne cap, was as gracious as possible in declining a seat at the table. “It sounds quite nice, very festive,” Steve explained, “but I simply have to pass with thanks. I promised the Lewis family I would take their holiday shift at our Neighborhood Border Watch. They’ve got three little kids, and I’m a bachelor. You know how it is with these neighborhood watches—if they think you’re not keeping an eye on things all the time, those dangerous types just slip right across. What a mess.”

But the tone of enthusiasm shown by Professor Jerry quickly made up for Steve’s rejection. “Wow, dinner at your house! Who’d believe it!” Jerry cried over the phone. “Would it be possible to sit across from John and Mitch? John and I, as I’m sure you know, are fellow Buckeyes. We’ll have all sorts of things to talk about, from industrial policy to education reform.”

“Well…neither Mitch nor John will be in attendance,” quietly admitted the lord of the manor.

“Can’t come?” Jerry asked.

“Weren’t invited,” came the answer.

Jerry’s enthusiasm died. All that was left was the sound of the dial tone.
Jerry’s sign-off story was matched by Owen’s. The young retail manager, a former high school football all-star, was eager to tackle an old-fashioned Thanksgiving feast, saying that he “looked forward to a grand dinner, with a second helping of everything…big as the first.”

“Well actually, Owen,” said the hostess with the leastest, “we have decided to follow the recommendations of the Holiday Nutrition Task Force that I helped to establish last year. Belly-busting meals, even on Thanksgiving, are a tradition the nation can do without. I just know you’ll be thanking me when you wake up the next day and look at that bathroom scale!”

Hours later, the final invitation of the day was issued to Francesca, a pious, soft-spoken Midwesterner who had embraced her adopted nation 20 years earlier.
“I am honored to break bread with you on this most-important American holiday, a day when we give thanks to our creator for all the blessings he has bestowed on us,” she told the Beltway twosome. May I offer my services in repeating the very proclamation that George Washington offered to the country in 1789? I can repeat it from memory.” And she did, right then and there:

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;– for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;– for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;– and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;– to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
When Francesca finished, the longtime popular couple in town politely thanked her for the fine recitation, but added that “we’ve already staffed out a dinner message that is more contemporary, more inclusive in keeping with the times.”

That’s when the longtime popular couple in town heard that familiar and annoying dial tone.

J.F. McKenna, a former resident of Cleveland’s West Park, has worked as a reporter, business editor and communication specialist. He is a former staff editor of such magazines as Industry Week and Northern Ohio Live. His online work also appears on the site Steinbeck Now. The Cleveland native and his wife, Carol, now live in Pittsburgh with their dogs, Duchess Holly and Lord Max. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com .

Cuyahoga County in the Balance

by Doug Magill

When scrutiny is lacking, tyranny, corruption and man’s baser qualities have a better chance of entering into the public business of any government. Jacob K. Javits

All of us who live and work in Cuyahoga County are delighted at the new and exciting things that are happening. From the development of the Shoreway district, the Flats and the lakefront to the Opportunity Corridor we are seeing important investments and significant progress for the Cuyahoga County of the 21st Century.

But what about our political framework? We have just emerged from a decades-long history of corruption and mismanagement, and while more than 60 people have been convicted in the scandal what do we do to insure that the roots of all of these criminal activities have been eliminated?

Corruption on the scale we have seen in Cuyahoga County doesn’t begin with a plan. It is a series of decisions by individuals who feel they can get away with something for their own benefit. Then it becomes a group activity, with self-reinforcing events and discussions and actions that draw more and more people into the web of deceit and lies. It is reinforced by only hiring friends and relatives that will continue to contribute and benefit to the exclusion of those that wish to truly serve the people that pay their salaries.

Above all, it is the political party that filters those willing to forgo public service for self service, to the detriment of all. In Cuyahoga County, as in the notoriously noxious bellwether of corruption – Cook County in Illinois – it is the Democrat Party that has served as the enabler, conduit and source of the corruption.

We know that not all Democrat Party members were part of this. But, when the county has been dominated and controlled by one party for so long, it is not surprising that corruption ensues. It all becomes part of the framework of the government, personnel, policies, supporters, vendors, voters and media which purports to represent the best interests of the electorate.

While we are tired of being the object of attention from the FBI, IRS and U.S. Attorney, other than a permanent, ongoing investigation of the county the best remedy to insure integrity in our government is to change the political party of those that lead and represent us. We know that party patronage is still alive and well, even though we have changed the structure of our government. With the new charter form that we have just recently adopted, it is time to begin the long and rigorous process of evaluating the priorities of those in key positions to insure that their commitment is to the citizens of Cuyahoga County.

Not only will Jack Schron bring a business and economic development perspective to the role of County Executive, he will bring in the best people possible to run the county, regardless of political affiliation. That cannot be said of his opponent, who stubbornly prides himself on being a Democrat first and who will undoubtedly continue the long history of patronage that has led us to the recent national embarrassment.

Jack has publicly pledged to serve two full terms, because the work of streamlining county government and attracting and developing the best and the brightest won’t be done in a single term. His focus is on his home, Cuyahoga County, not on using the position of County Executive as a stepping stone to other political jobs.

The people that Jack will hire and develop to make this county an exemplar of local government will in turn be rigorous in their hiring and review policies, a personnel ripple effect that will shake up and revitalize the entire structure of government. It will also serve as a beacon of expertise and government entrepreneurship that will attract our young people to government service, and allow us to implement that vision of a lakefront dynamo that will be the turnaround story of the next decade.

The future of the county is too important to leave to the old, tired, corrupt interlocking framework of corruption and patronage that we have seen. We cannot afford to let the balance of progress we have made swing to lethargy because of a return to old habits. We not only need new leadership, we need a new team of dedicated professionals to insure the excitement we have seen in our county continues and grows.

Jack Schron will swing the balance of Cuyahoga County to the future.

 

Doug Magill is the Communications Director for the Cuyahoga County Republican Party.  He can be reached at doug@magillmedia.net

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