Thursday, January 26, 2012

Column for Jan. 26, 2012

Before I start ranting, I wanted to rave a bit.  I want to brag on my son, John, who took first place in the Pack 95 Cub Scout annual Pinewood Derby this past weekend.  He put a lot of thought and effort into his car, as did all the boys who competed.  I am the Bear Den leader, and all of “my boys” did well.  I am very proud of the sportsmanship, creativity, and effort that went into each car.  I can honestly say that I enjoy Pinewood Derby more as an adult than I ever did when I was a scout.  It is amazing how much I get out of Cub Scouts as a parent and leader, as well as how much my boy gets out of scouting when he has an active, supporting parent to work with him.   If you have a son in elementary school that would like to learn more about Cub Scouts, feel free to contact me.  Now, in the words of M.C. Hammer, “It’s column time!” or something like that.

I hate toll roads.  Whenever I drive through the northeast corridor or some parts of Florida, I end up paying a lot of money in tolls.  Some states hit motorists at a high rate, others just nickel and dime you.  A trip to New England costs over $20 in tolls, one way.  My last trip to Miami was over $10.  Now we have a toll road in the Triangle area.  I was just reading about North Carolina wanting to have tolls on I-95.  This is nothing new and the topic comes up every once in a while.  Now that the ice has been cracked in getting an initial toll road, I knew that it would be just a matter of time until the I-95 toll idea actually took a stronghold.  

The state Department of Transportation has just issued a report suggesting that I-95 be widened significantly, some bridges be raised, and some bridges replaced.  I understand road maintenance, but widening I-95, putting up toll plazas, and spending $4.4 billion?  Johnston County has the oldest stretch of the interstate, so it also has some of the oldest and lowest bridges.  I cringed when I saw that rather than replacing bridges over the past few years, the DOT spent millions of dollars just raising the height of some bridges by a mere eighteen inches.  Why not spend the extra money, do it right, and replace the bridges rather than having to come back later and replace them, anyway?  That was a waste of taxpayer money, but it would not have given the DOT as much job security with some expensive busy work now, and some guaranteed work later.

We pay a high tax rate as it is, but a lot of money is seemingly squandered on busy work projects.  I just pulled up an article I saved from last September when the DOT was going to hold public hearings on proposed road “improvements” on Highway 70.  These so-called improvements included median closures at key intersections that will inconvenience motorists and are totally unnecessary.  It was bad enough that the DOT closed the median crossover on Highway 70 at Oak Street in Selma.  I used that crossover almost every time I drove home, but now I waste more gas and time going further down the road because some pinhead who has to justify his existence on the state payroll wants to improve a roadway at great taxpayer expense.

I used to live near where the Booker Dairy Road extension was going to cross Wilson’s Mills Road in Smithfield.  That road now runs right next to where my driveway was.  Now that the roadway is finished, I still fail to comprehend its great necessity or benefit over its cost and inconvenience with eminent domain and development processes.  Furthermore, like a lot of bypassing roadways, some local businesses will suffer.  

I have a friend in Shallotte, North Carolina whose business is suffering from a similar road “improvement”.  About every business trip to Shallotte, I stop by his restaurant for some of the best chicken wings known to mankind.  His restaurant business has dropped off considerably since a new roadway was built, bypassing a mile or two of roadway.  The road was not so busy as to be burdensome in terms of traffic.  The local residents, mayor, and town council are all baffled as to the need for the project to this day.

Even worse, these two bypassing projects were partially paid for with the so-called “stimulus package” federal spending.  The boondoggle allegedly meant to stimulate business actually has helped kill business.  Even worse still is that the DOT wants to nail us for even more money to pay for interstate improvements via toll roads all over after they continuously squander our tax money on road improvements that are unnecessary and inconvenience the very ones paying for it.  We already pay taxes, and now it looks like we are going to be taxed a second time to drive on the roads for which our tax dollars pay.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Column for Jan. 19, 2012

So, we have the Iowa caucuses down, the New Hampshire primary election down, and we are about to have the South Carolina primary election. I know from experience that the Granite State residents are happy to have their state back from the political sharks, pundits, and media hacks. I grew up there, and every four years the little state was invaded. I got to meet some politicians, even when I was in elementary school. I remember talking to Ted Kennedy when he made his run for president. Thankfully, he never did get elected. Still, he had plenty of influence and inflicted plenty of damage on our country as a Senator from Massachusetts.

Four main players in the Republican race have now bowed out of the race. I suspect that more will follow soon. But with 1144 delegate votes needed to win the GOP nomination, New Hamster (as I affectionately call the state) and Iowa only account for about 38 total delegate votes. Mitt Romney (whose first name is really Willard, so I guess I understand going by the middle name of Mitt) only has 14 pledged votes so far with the other candidates not at all far behind. The race is still wide open.

I am truly weary of the press constantly touting Romney as the front runner and basically the most electable. Many in the Republican Party think the same. I am no fan of Romney. There have been way too many changes of position by Romney on important issues and he does not have a solid track record of conservatism for my taste. Still, if he does get the nomination, I may hold my nose this time around and vote for him.

This week, John Huntsman dropped out of the race. That does not surprise me, since he never really stood a chance of winning, anyway. Of course, he endorsed Mitt Romney for President. That is also not surprising, since Romney, like Huntsman, is a former governor, and more importantly, is a fellow Mormon. Even Mormons I know think that Romney is not conservative enough for them. Non-Mormons seem to either have a problem with the fact that Romney is a Mormon, or think that he is not Mormon enough. Personally, both are true for me. If he was a strong, conservative Mormon, I would feel more sanguine in his ability to govern according to my own values. On the other hand, I have some serious theological problems with Mormonism and some of their beliefs on government and the prevailing religious positions in our country, and that truly dissuades me from throwing support behind such a candidate. I realize that I am voting for a president, not for a savior of the human race, though I wonder if the current President knows that distinction.

I used to like Herman Cain, and as I predicted, the knives came out when he was perceived as a threat. Because Cain was a conservative, he was going to be accused of being an Uncle Tom, a sell out, or some other derogatory name. Just like with Clarence Thomas, I knew that the liberal establishment would attempt to impugn his character in one way or another. Sure enough, the stories of bimbo eruptions started to emerge. The opposition kept at it until he finally bowed out of the race. I don’t know if the last major allegation was true or not, but it took him out of the race. These tactics are not new. True or not, allegations and rumors can kill a candidacy. However, if Cain was a Democrat, the allegations would probably be a resume enhancement.

Michele Bachmann, though intelligent, attractive, conservative, and articulate, was never going to win. This country is just not ready for a female president. I liked many things about her, but as with every GOP candidate, there were a few things that made me scratch my head in bewilderment.

Yes, I mean that about every last GOP candidate. I left the GOP years ago. They were no longer the party of small government, thrifty spending, and freedom. There are few candidates that truly represent that except maybe Ron Paul. Even though I had a “Ron Paul for President 2008” sign in my yard last election (and may have one in my yard again), there are things on which I strongly disagree with Dr. Paul.

With this being possibly the most important election in decades for the soul of America and the opportunity to bring us back to sanity and core values, one would think that we would have a better crop of candidates from which to choose. If Mitt Romney is the best we have, God help us. Still, if he is the predicted nominee, I will vote for him just to help get the socialist, Marxist usurper out of the White House. The only great thing about the Obama presidency thus far has been that it makes Jimmy Carter’s tenure look good. I pray that both Obama and Carter have the same duration of tenure in office.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Column for Jan. 12, 2012

It has been said that politicians and diapers both need to be changed every so often...and for the same reason.  As a father of two and another baby on the way, I can relate to that axiom.  In our area, we changed our diaper when we voted Congressman Bob Etheridge out of office last year.  Now, like a bad slasher film or Rocky movie series, he wants to make a comeback after just half of one term out of office.

Old Bob has been around a long time in North Carolina politics.  I remember after he decided to leave his position at the Department of Public Instruction to run for Congress.  I interviewed Mr. Etheridge on numerous occasions when I was working in radio.  I had a habit of asking tough questions, regardless of party affiliation.  I quizzed Democrats and Republicans alike with similar zeal.  When it became evident to Old Bob that I would not throw softball questions at him each time he called the radio station, he stopped trying to get free public relations airtime.

I have followed Bob Etheridge’s congressional career over the fourteen years he was in office.  When he did well on issues, I praised his performance.  When he did poorly, I was critical.  I believe in being fair and if I am willing to critique, I had better be willing to give kudos.  Bob was relatively good on Second Amendment issues, but he had a serious problem with staying within the powers granted to Congress.  He wrote and sponsored many bills that were patently unconstitutional.  Then again, most congressmen have that same problem.

One thing that Bob Etheridge was known for was bringing federal tax money home to his district for various projects and issues.  I remember seeing countless photo opportunities in which Bob was giving a symbolic giant check for road improvements, fire and police services, farmers, or whatever the current gimmick was.

I have relatives who literally were his neighbors and think that Bob Etheridge is a great, honest politician.  From my experiences with him, I think that he was the stereotypical, constitutionally illiterate, dishonest sleazeball who was more concerned with his own re-election than with the well being of his constituency.  Believe me, that has made for some interesting conversation at family gatherings.  The measure of a good politician is not how much money is brought back to his home district from Washington, D.C., but rather how much money stays at home to begin with.

Bob Etheridge was quoted in the News and Observer as saying, “I’m like any American right now – frustrated at what is going on with our tea party folks up there. I think they have pushed our country to the brink three times this year, and lost our country its AAA bond rating as a result of that."  

Say what?  No, Bob, it is not the Tea Party that has been the issue.  As a matter of fact, I am rather disappointed with the Tea Party candidates, in general.  After one year in office, they have not done all that We The People have elected them to undo what politicians like you did while you were in Congress.  There has been the occasional slight glimmer of hope, but we eventually get the same old garbage that got us into this mess.  Still, I will take a flawed Renee Ellmers over a politician like Bob Etheridge any day.  We lost our AAA bond rating as a result of the reckless spending that has been rampant for the last two decades, for which the majority thereof, Bob, you were a member of Congress.

What irks me is that since the recent redistricting, Bob Etheridge now lives in the 4th Congressional District.  He wants to run for office in the 2nd District, which was the seat he recently lost.  For some incredibly stupid reason, law allows him to do that.  If I have to live in the 2nd District in order to vote for representatives from the 2nd District, the representative should have to reside within the 2nd District.  This is just another outrageous example of politicians writing the laws so that they themselves will not have to abide by them.

If you are not outraged by the current state of governmental affairs, then you are not paying attention.  Our government was instituted by God (Romans 13), and in this country, we were entrusted with a form of government that requires our participation and assent.  To that end, we must keep dishonest weasels out of office and elect morally strong, constitutionally literate individuals who will be more like statesmen than politicians.  But, do we actually have any to elect?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Column for Jan. 5, 2012

I have a rather libertarian bent in my views and I make no apologies for that.  This is not to say that I am a member of the Libertarian Party, a political party.  It means that I preach liberty as a way of life.  This has been my guiding philosophy in my views in government, politics, civil affairs, and even in church life.

When I was a member of the Planning Board in the Town of Selma, I voted with liberty in mind.  I believe in private property rights as long as they do not infringe upon the rights of others.  With that in mind, there is a place in society for rules and regulations on property use and business, but a limited one, in my opinion.

I realize that my views are about to sound like fingernails on a chalkboard to legalistic church folks, especially here in The Bible Belt, but I really don’t care.  My views are theologically sound and I am at perfect peace with what I am about to say.

Back when Johnston County was debating about whether to allow liquor by the drink, I heard some preachers hammering against the evils of alcohol.  It is not the alcohol that is the problem, it is the people who abuse it.  Alcohol consumption is not a sin, drunkenness is the sin mentioned in Holy Writ.  I believe in Christian liberty, and since I doubt Jesus turned water into Welch’s grape juice as his first recorded miracle, I don’t want to hear some legalistic whining about it.

I take the same view on gambling.  I had no problem with North Carolina instituting a lottery.  I lived in states that had lotteries before.  Our country has a history of colonial and state lotteries.  What I had a big problem with was the way in which North Carolina passed its lottery bill.  It was sneaky, underhanded, and unethical, but that is another discussion for another day.

When I was in Florida recently, I took note of how many internet sweepstakes cafes there were.  In the city of Jacksonville, they were all over.  When visiting my cousin, she took us to one and my wife and I both spent $20 each.  After depleting my online credits playing video slot machines, I recouped all but $3 or so of the cash staked.  My lovely bride actually won $66 or so, for a net profit of $46.  My cousin and her boyfriend did not fare as well.

The Town of Selma has decided to delay action on a petitioned request to open an internet gaming cafe.  The whole idea was to put off the decision on allowing the business or not until the state clarifies a ban on the businesses.  This to me is the epitome of hypocrisy, on both the part of the town and the state.

The town wants to increase business but has declined to allow a tattoo parlor and delayed a decision on an internet gaming business within the past year or so.  Personally, I don’t plan on allowing myself to be stabbed with a needle and ink, nor do I plan on sitting in front of a computer terminal playing video slot machines or Texas Hold ‘em poker.  However, a town cannot constantly cede their decision taking authority to the state, nor frown upon every legitimate, legal business that some may find a tad unsavory.  I hate tobacco products, but I defend wholeheartedly the right of JR’s Outlet to sell all the cigarettes they can to interstate travelers and locals alike.

Every once in a great while, I will buy a Powerball ticket.  I don’t do it often, but when I was in Florida for the aforementioned trip and the jackpot was over $200 million, I did buy five tickets.  I won $15 and am still waiting for the State of Florida to process my claim and send me a check.  

I don’t drink a lot, but I do like the occasional mudslide or Samuel Adams draft beer with my dinner.  At least we have decent quality restaurants in Johnston County and not just McDonald’s, country buffets, or barbecue restaurants because we chose to allow liquor by the drink and attract better quality restaurants.  I am sure that also helps with sales tax revenues.

I am not a big gambler, but if I want to put a few dollars in a slot machine or play a few video games, that is totally my business and my freedom.  I was recently in two casinos, one aboard a cruise ship and one in the Bahamas.  I spent nothing at the casinos.  If I wanted to, I could have.  That is my choice, and my freedom either way.  There is an internet gaming establishment across the walkway from the church my family attends each week.  If I want to walk over after Sunday service and play video poker, that is my choice.  I don’t do so, but I would have no problem with my conscience even if I did.

I would rather err on the side of liberty than tyranny when it comes to what some consider vices.  That is the freedom we have in this country, and we should not hesitate to encourage it rather than defer or decline it.