What would Abe think?
What would Abe think?

By John Ruberry

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has been representing his Southwest Side Chicago district since 1971.  He’s been speaker since 1983, except for two years in the 1990s when the Republicans held a majority in Springfield.

The district is safely Democratic, especially since he and state Senate President John Cullerton, also a Chicagoan, gerrymandered Illinois’ remap in 2011 in the spirit of Pablo Picasso.

But that’s not enough for Madigan. He still has to run for reelection every two years, but he usually faces Republican opponents that few people have heard of, who don’t campaign, don’t set up political committees, or raise money. That’s because in all likelihood they are front candidates placed on the ballot by the Madigan organization.

Oh, I almost forgot–Madigan is the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party.

Madigan’s most recent phony GOP opponent, Terrence Goggin, is a prior candidate. But Mike’s juggernaut may have overreached this time. The Chicago Republican Party–yes, there is one–challenged Goggin’s petitions. Not only does anyone not recall petitioners roaming the streets of the Southwest Side gathering signatures for Goggin, many of the autographs on those documents have similar handwriting.  Just before Christmas, the Chicago Board of Elections granted the Chicago GOP’s motion to subpoena Goggin’s petitioners.

“Terrence Goggin has run four times before, yet we have never met him,” the Chicago Republican Party’s Chris Cleveland told ABC 7 Chicago.  “We have never spoken to him there are no known photos of him.”

On Thursday, and hour before the Goggin petitioners were to testify about the validity of the signatures on those petitions, the ephemeral Goggin withdrew from the race.

This affront to democracy seems like something the Illinois attorney general should investigate. But don’t hold your breath–the holder of that office is Lisa Madigan. Yes, she is the daughter of the speaker.

Illinois is very ill.

Meanwhile, the Chicago GOP is seeking real candidates against Michael Madigan.

By Steve Eggleston

It is the end of the year, so it is time for a look back at the year 2013 was. Everybody and their brother will be ranking the top stories, so I will present an unranked list.

The Boston Marathon bombing – The first successful Islamist attack on American soil in 12 years can not be ignored. Several of the red flags that were missed prior to 9/11/2001 were missed this time, crowd-sourcing of a potential suspects list fell flat on its face, and a manhunt that actively shut out the larger populace only became successful after said populace was released from a “shelter-in-place” order and one of their number found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Then, a magistrate judge, with the acquiescence of the Justice Department, effectively shut down the interrogation of Tsarnev by reading him his Miranda rights before he could finish telling investigators what he and his brother did.

The rise of the Imperial Presidency – One could do an entire book on all the executive orders that violate standing statutes issued by President Barack Obama. Perhaps the most egregious example was the elimination of the work/work-search requirement for food stamps, which was part of the Newt Gingrich-led Congress’ biggest victory against former President Bill Clinton. It is effectively an admission that, as long as Obama’s economic policies are in place, 1 in 4 Americans of prime working age, between 25 and 54 years old, will never be able to find a job.

The spectacular failure that is ObamaCare – What can I say that hasn’t already been said? The last several instances of the Imperial Presidency have revolved around the failures, and thanks in part to a threat of a Presidential veto of a codification of the decrees, none of them have actually been codified.

The search for a new base by the GOP – To say that the Republican Party and the business interests that seem to be the only element of its current base the party wants to keep are Whigs would be an insult to Whigs. The other reason why none of the ObamaCare decrees was codified was because the GOP acted as though they didn’t really want even a temporary delay in the employer health insurance mandate. Now, the US Chamber of Commerce is going to commit at least $50 million to remake the GOP into the Democrat Party circa 1978.

The $750 million settlement in the NFL concussion lawsuit – The rules on hits to the head and returns from concussions had already changed radically over the last several years in both the NFL and college football. What this settlement became was a wake-up call of sorts to other sports. For example, Major League Baseball set out to explicitly ban collisions at home plate and instituted a special 7-day disabled list for those who had been concussed. NASCAR strengthened its concussion protocol to include a mandatory baseline test.

More than 1500 years ago, the great Theologian Tertullian posed the question:  What has Jerusalem have to do with Athens?

This is an interesting point of inquiry.  On the surface, one might think that this is an inconsequential issue.  However, perhaps it is not so much what the two cities of antiquity have in common that is important as much as it might be what they both represent.

Without the Jerusalem and Athens of antiquity there would not be modern Europe or the United States as we know them today.  Each of those two cities have made invaluable contributions to both the moral and intellectual mosaic of what is known as Western Civilization.

Jerusalem takes on tremendous significance because it symbolizes our great Judeo-Christian heritage.  Nearly 3,300 years ago the great Hebrew prophet Moses led the children out of 450 years of cruel Egyptian bondage.  According to the book of Exodus in the Old Testament, Moses is divinely chosen by GOD [literally the great “I AM”] to lead His people known as “Israel” out of Egypt and into a land that “flows with milk and honey.”  As the children of Israel depart from Egypt, GOD commands them to stop at a mountain known as Sinai where he imparts to His people the “Divine Law” which is popularly known as “The Ten Commandments.”

GOD instructs Moses to tell the children of Israel that they are not to wander in the wilderness doing what is right in their own eyes [Deuteronomy 12.8], but they are accountable to GOD’S Law and to each other in a Covenant relationship.

What many people in the United States today may not realize is that in our colonial period, the great legal jurist Sir William Blackstone use to literally carry a copy of the Bible with him along with his law books as he handed down his legal decisions.

[One could only imagine the hollering that would take place by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union as they would accuse Blackstone of attempting to impose a “theocracy” on our land.]

The Old Testament law imparted to us the notion that neither King nor Queen has absolute power but that ultimately “the Law is King.”  We later became a nation of “laws and not men.”

Athens is important to Western Civilization because it was here nearly 2,500 years ago that the ancient Greek itinerant philosophers began to ask questions such as:  “Who am I?”  “Where did I come from?”  Where am I going”  “How did I get here?”  “What is the ultimate meaning of life?”

In our law schools today, professors employ a questioning method of teaching known as the “Socratic method.”  The Socratic method has irritated many a law student!  Professors continually ask their students why they hold a particular opinion or view on a legal case or issue.  What many of the prospective law students may not realize is that Socrates use to walk around Athens asking disturbing questions that upset that the “status quo.”  Socrates averred that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

Where would Western Civilization be – and the United States in particular – if we did not possess a people with both the moral imagination and the philosophical moorings to question whether or not a particular action is just or unjust?

Great movements such as the American Revolution and the Abolitionists struggle and the fight for Women’s Suffrage would not have taken place were it not the legacy that was passed on to us from both Jerusalem and Athens of yesteryear.

The New Year is an excellent time to study the Holy Bible and the literary classics and to remind ourselves that Civilization is both a blessing and a trust that we must faithfully preserve for ourselves and for our posterity.

May GOD richly bless ALL of you with a great and joyous 2014.

pasteles

Christmas in my native Puerto Rico is an extended party. It starts around Thanksgiving week and ends after the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th. Of all the countries I’ve visited, only France has more work holidays than Puerto Rico.

In-between there are a lot of parties, and an endless array of delicious foods, most of which would be banned by Mike Bloomberg for their fat, sugar, and salt content.

First, the drink of choice for the entire season is coquito, the “very yummy creamy tropical coconut eggnog made with spices and white rum.” While all the men drink their rum straight, ladies disguise it in coquito. Salud!

Most people celebrate Christmas Eve with a huge dinner: lechón asado (roast pig) or pernil (pork shoulder), which must be marinated at least 24 hours in advance; arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), red beans, tostones (fried plaintains), and pasteles.

Oh, pasteles! Delicious, but such hard work that my mom once commandeered my sister and me for a full day of preparation (which included peeling and grinding yuca, a thankless task if ever there was one), wrapping the pasteles in plantain leaves, cooking, and clean-up (you must wash down the whole kitchen afterwards because of the lingering odor). It was such hard work, mom bought them from an acquaintance for many years after. “Lesson learned!” mom said.

Some may also include bacalao, salted cod fish with tubers.

All these foods are served at the same time, and washed down with rum, beer, wine, or soda.

A couple of hours later, it’s time for dessert: The table is cleared, and out come arroz con dulce (rice pudding – I like mine with raisins), flan, plátanos en almibar (ripe plantains in syrup), tembleque, majarete, and pineapple upside-down cake, which must have a perfect maraschino cherry in the center of each pineapple. Someone always brings cookies and pies, too.

Of course, high-octane fully caffeinated Puerto Rican coffee goes with the dessert, served in expresso cups.

By then it’s midnight Mass (if you go to church), and after that, you open your presents.

Merry Christmas!

by Linda Szugyi

It just so happens that we’ve been watching a great deal of Duck Dynasty for the past month.  We don’t have cable so the way it works is, we find something to watch on the Roku.  If we like it then we may watch a few episodes in a row.  With no ads, a whole season can go pretty quick.

The boys have enjoyed Duck Dynasty so much that we are already on season 4.  The first episode of that season, in which the patriarch Phil Robertson renews his wedding vows with Miss Kay for their 48th anniversary, is playing as I type.

Generally I’m doing other things while the TV is on, but still in the same space and half-listening.  So lately, my living room has been a bit of a crash course on the Robertson clan.

Now, many reality shows involve the exploitation of clueless chuckleheads who are desperate for fame.  That’s why some of us make it point to avoid them.  But this show is mercifully better than that, or I couldn’t put up with it.

I’ve gleaned a couple of relevant points from my crash course.

First, these individuals clearly understand that they are starring in a comedy show.  They are smart and humble enough to make light of themselves without being demeaning.  For example, Willie is often set up as the ham handed boss–like the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island.  Yet, Willie Robertson has successfully run a multimillion dollar business for over a decade.  He can’t be too bumbling.  He just plays up that role for comedic effect.

Second, these individuals clearly are not the type to back down or temper their opinion for the sake of political correctness.  Watch just a minute or two of Phil Robertson in this fifty (50!) minute video that has recently “emerged.”  Read this interview where you learn that as a young man Phil Robertson walked away from a potential football career.  Phil Robertson doesnt care what you think of himHeck, just look at his face.  It is the very embodiment of “I don’t care what you think of me.”

Given the current crisis over Phil Robertson’s GQ interview, the second point is significant for the future of the Duck Dynasty show.  The family will not back down.  Either A&E will give up on punishing Phil, and the show will continue, or A&E will not give up, and the show will be cancelled.

The Robertson business will thrive regardless.  The only ones that will really miss out will be the fans.

I wonder what A&E will decide to do.  Perhaps the cultural influence of GLAAD has reached a high water mark.  Cracker Barrel has already noticed this mark, and adjusted course accordingly.

Marathon Pundit New Year
Author on the North Branch Trail

By John Ruberry

It’s time, at least for me, for a break from politics.

My blog is Marathon Pundit, I called it such because at the time I  founded it in 2005 had run about two dozen marathons. I’ve run some since then–and I hope to run a few more.

For most of December, snow has covered the Chicago area and the trails where I run–alongside the North Branch of the Chicago River.

While many runners hang up their shoes during the cold weather months–or work out on NordicTracks, I head outdoors.

The winds are stronger during winter, so my upper body becomes more toned. The uneven surface of snowy paths bolsters muscles that I would not ordinarily use. When spring comes around I am a better runner than the previous fall.

Do you want evidence? My personal records for the 5K, half-marathon, and the marathon were all achieved in spring races.

North Branch of the Chicago River
North Branch of the Chicago River

The solitude–there are far fewer runners on the paths in the winter and almost never a bicyclist–relaxes me. And nature doesn’t hibernate when snow falls–it’s just a beautiful, only in a different way.

And I achieve, for lack of a better word, a sense of power after a winter run. When someone tells me it’s too cold or too snowy to do anything outside, I smile and think of how I ran ten miles outdoors earlier that day.

But I’m still glad when spring arrives.  I can welcome long-lost friends such as leaves on the trees and the wildflowers.

by Steve Eggleston

Last week, I presented the case against a divorce between conservatives and the Republican Party. This week, it’s time to present the case for said divorce.

It boils down to two “not likes” – the GOP is not like us in philosophy, and the GOP does not like us. I could easily go back to the Goldwater days on both fronts, but I don’t want to do a 50,000-word missive.

The lack of conservative principles in the budget deal is merely the latest manifestation of Republicanism not equaling conservatism. Earlier this year, House Speaker John Boehner and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan kicked several fiscal conservatives off the Budget Committee for being too fiscally conservative. Every penny the Democrats demanded of discretionary funds for ObamaCare the last 3 years was given by the House. Even with the now-crippled sequester and a series of tax hikes, itself not exactly a conservative idea, total spending and deficit spending are still greater than anytime before 2009.

A lot of people, including the GOP leadership, say that all they need is a return to power, and then they will be conservative. The last time that happened, we got budget-busting programs like Medicare Part D, the largest expansion of federal spending on health care between the creation of Medicare/Medicaid and the creation of ObamaCare, and No Child Left Behind, the largest expansion of federal meddling in education since the creation of the Department of Education.

The current Congressional leadership, which is the de facto party leadership, doesn’t much like conservatives either. I already mentioned the booting of fiscal conservatives from the House Budget Committee. Both Boehner and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell had disparaging things to say about conservatives in the last couple months, while the National Republican Senatorial Committee is spearheading a boycott of groups that do business with the Senate Conservatives Fund.

As I said, the battle is not a new one. The problem is, even though the Democrats have done their best to maintain a difference between the two parties as the Republican Party is appearing to transform itself into the Democrat Party circa 1978, the country has decayed beyond the point where those remaining differences matter. There simply isn’t enough money in the world, much less in the US, to keep the welfare state afloat for much more than another decade, yet the one Congressman who had put forth a plan to mitigate it abandoned that plan in order to increase spending on both a 2-year and a 10-year basis.

The divorce has, arguably, already happened. In 2010, the Karl Rove types determined it was more important to bury Sharron Angle than bury Harry Reid. In 2012, they determined it was more important to bury Richard Mourdock than get a seat closer to kicking the Democrats out of the majority. On the flip side, in Wisconsin, supporters of Mark Neumann decided to repay a 14-year-old grudge against Tommy Thompson for his abandonment of Neumann in a quest to get re-elected as governor with 60% of the vote by staying home and denying Thompson the same thing Neumann wanted in 1998, a Senate seat.

Update: (DTG) This should be read in conjunction with the NH 2nd Amendment protest.

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in exchange for helping Brazil investigate American spying programs:

Edward Snowden asks Brazil for asylum
Edward Snowden writes open letter to Brazil saying he can help investigate spying claims – but for something in return

In an “open letter to the Brazilian people”, Snowden said he was willing to help the Brazilian government “where appropriate and legal” but said the US government would prevent him from acting unless he was granted asylum.

After making stops in China and Russia, and missing his flight to Cuba, Snowden’s Open Letter to the People of Brazil claims that

My act of conscience began with a statement: “I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded.

That’s not something I’m willing to support, it’s not something I’m willing to build, and it’s not something I’m willing to live under.”

Snowden may not be aware that Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff is proposing that the Brazilian government effectively control internet availability in the country.

Snowden’s asylum in Russia ends next summer. As “a condition of his stay there he cannot talk to the press or help journalists or activists better understand how the US global spying machine works,” according David Miranda, the partner of former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald. Putin probably figured a 12-month stay was all he (Putin) needs.

“Where appropriate and legal”, indeed.

UPDATE:
Well, don’t pack your bags yet, Edward: Thanks but no thanks — Brazil uninterested in giving Edward Snowden asylum: report
An unnamed Brazilian government officials said the nation wasn’t keen on investigating NSA spying in the country, potentially endangering vital ties with the U.S.

The facts so far: Snowden has not submitted an official request for asylum. A Brazilian government spokesman said that without a formal request, asylum will not be considered.

It’s not exactly a hot news flash, but here goes.

With all of the media events of recent years that have been molded and shaped by reporters to fit a certain set of narratives, why would anyone not believe that the fix has been in for decades with respect to almost every topic and every persona? After CBS’s Rathergate and the MSNBC reporting shenanigans with respect to the George Zimmerman trial, does anyone really believe that we get the whole story on anything of political or social importance? After the establishment media’s failure to report anything of importance about the background of the man who is now the president of the United States, do we really know about anything which we haven’t observed with our own lying eyes?

When I first began to blog in 2003, I recall how people like former Vice President Al “30 degrees in LA” Gore and  Daily Beast/Newsweek editor Tina Brown reacted to being contradicted by normal people. Cries of “brownshirts” and “StaSi” filled the Internet air. All that specific sort of whining amused me because, as a normal person who has a decent handle on 20th century German history, I knew that both brownshirts and StaSi  were arms of consecutive tyrannical governments. To toss these epithets at private citizens with an opinion, a modem and a laptop (or whatever) was laughable and, it showed that having a degree from distinguished universities did not guarantee that the bearer was able to think at all, much less think anything through. Or so I thought. (For a proper deployment of the Stasi weapon, see one Angela Merkel.)

But now as I think things through once more, I’m not convinced that persons like Brown and Gore—persons of the Left–care that such epithets make no sense when used against their enemies. I forgot that almost all media sagas are carried on for the sake of the type of observer who does not want to find information independently or who cannot/won’t think topics through. Such a person—the low information voter (LIV)–will probably not understand the historical illiteracy of calling a private person ‘a brownshirt’ for mere disagreement. All that matters is that a person of trust calls out his/her enemies as an enemy–as someone to fight against–and that this call falls on as many ears as possible. Brown and Gore were merely painting their targets, just as their political fellows have done before and after them.

All I’m really saying: keep your third eye open.

Juliette Akinyi Ochieng blogs at baldilocks. Her first novel,Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game, was published in 2009; the second edition in 2012. Her new novel, Arlen’s Harem, is due in January 2014. Help her fund it and help keep her blog alive!

by Linda Szugyi

Last week, I mentioned how tough it is to opine on something that impacts me in a personal way.  In that post, the topic was the war in Afghanistan.

This week, it is the budget war on the Hill.

Sheesh.

How do I objectively assess the Ryan-Murray budget deal, when it stands to cost thousands of dollars a year for my husband and all others who plan to retire or have already retired from the military at a younger age than 62?

The cut sounds inconsequential at first blush:  a 1% cut in Cost of Living Adjustment (“COLA”) until you reach the age of 62.  But if you retire at age 42, then you have the cumulative effect of 20 years of inflation–dollar value shrinkage–before you get the 1% adjustment back.  In other words, that wee 1% cut ends up a 20% loss in value for the person who retires at age 42.

Let’s talk more about that young retiree, shall we?

First of all, retiring at a younger age isn’t just an employee perk.  It’s necessary for a functional military.  We all know that the military is in the business of fighting, and fighting is a young man’s job.  Still, it probably looks like a pretty sweet deal, getting this full military pension at such a young age, and getting to add it to whatever second career you choose post-military.

That’s because it is a pretty sweet deal.

That’s why people agree to it.  They agree to risk their lives.  They agree to uproot their family anywhere from 4 to 12 times (we are on our 7th move in 15 years).  They agree to lose the ability to invest in real estate with the sweat equity that requires years of living in the same four walls. They agree to be worn down by hard labor, dangerous work environments, regular sleep deprivation, and battle stress.

They agree to give up all the earning growth potential of entrepreneurship or corporate ladder-climbing.  (That goes for their spouses, too.  The spouse who can maintain a lucrative career while being dragged to the four corners of the world is a rare one indeed.)

There’s another important aspect to consider:  you can’t just put in two weeks notice and quit.  We call quitting an Unauthorized Absence (“UA”) in the Navy, and it’s a crime under the UCMJ.  In order to function successfully in a military career, you have to understand that you don’t own your own life.  You are the military’s indentured servant.

That’s why it takes a pretty sweet deal to lure enough motivated individuals into an all-volunteer military for twenty or more of their very best years.

It’s a major expense for the U.S. government.  Lifetime pensions that can start as young as age 38 will in most cases be paid out for a very long time.  With healthcare costs soaring, it’s no surprise that Tricare for Life is the most expensive part of all.

This ballooning cost of military personnel might be getting out of hand.  It may need reforming.  Congress already created a commission to study this very topic, and its recommendations are due this coming May.

Instead of waiting for the recommendations of their own commission and crafting non-retroactive reform, however, the House chose to renege on a promise.  The House chose to retroactively shrink the benefits that untold numbers of service members relied on when they weighed their options at re-enlistment and decided to continue their military career.

Paul Ryan can take his rugged, good-looking fiscal conservatism and stuff it in a sock.  The federal government spends $11 billion dollars a day, and I bet he can find his $7 billion of savings somewhere else.  As you might have noticed, I’ve thrown objectivity to the wind for this post.  I am emphatically stating that this budget deal blows monkey chunks.

At least you can use my subjective view in order to make an objective assessment of your own.  The fact is, moves like this will impact the career decisions of every service member.  And they won’t be holding their breath for an Armed Forces panel to review this retirement cut before it takes effect.

So Congress, do you want an all-volunteer military that is capable of the sustained action that your foreign policies have required?  Or are you going to reinstitute the draft?  Or what?

Update:  (DTG)  Usually the lead post of the day is reserved for me but Linda as a Military wife asked special permission for the blog to lead with it and given this deal directly impacts her I decided to go with it.

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