31 October 2012

States of Emergency; Not States of Panic

I’ve expressed my thanks to friends in Florida for sending Hurricanes Sandy our way. If I had any friends in Cuba, I would think them, too.

Illogical? Of course. Since when does humankind regard weather events with logic?

We give hurricanes names.  We talk about how “he” or “she” moves here or there at his or her whim.  We ascribe evil motives to the spirits of the whirling wind. Sometimes, we might as well be tossing the runes, too.

Oh, I almost forgot – let me also extend a hearty “thank you” to my Canadian friends for sending the cold front which froze Hurricane Sandy’s copious tears.

States of emergency have been declared in much of West Virginia secondary to blizzard conditions and flooding. The Governor has suspended campaigning. I have not heard about his opponent, but I’m betting that he has either suspended campaigning or toned it down.

Other states have declared States of Emergency, including the entire East Coast from North Carolina northwards. The president has declared parts of New York and New Jersey federal disaster areas. This morning, we have been treated to fairly heavy video of damage on the coast and in New York City.

Weather events which disrupt normal services, make an area unsafe or unlivable or present specific threats to life or health deserve lots of attention. That’s part of the proper task of Government, securing “the common defense.”

States of Emergency facilitate that.

States of Emergency change work/overtime rules and make no-bid purchasing by government agencies much easier. They change loan/grant rules. They shorten the chain of command and grant increased short-term powers to emergency managers.

Also, States of Emergency help to focus citizens’ attention on widespread problems.


States of Emergency are not States of Panic. Certainly, they are not declarations that the individual citizen is helpless or dependent upon a benevolent Government to save his/her ass from every bad thing.

Neither do States of Emergency eliminate or limit the citizen’s practical responsibility to make reasonable preparation for short-term self-reliance.

If a water system fails, a citizen should not need immediate access to some public emergency supply. If the food distribution network is temporarily disrupted, the citizen should be able to get along for just a few days.

The whole notion of disaster preparedness and rugged individualism/self-reliance has become something of a cartoon. Lots of responsible American citizens forecast a social/economic Ragnarok just around the corner where the entire system of distribution, law enforcement and public order collapses. This is, they postulate, the time of “every man for himself.”

These uber-disaster preppers lay in large supplies of arms and ammunition, food, water, medication, and fuel. They fix getaway bunkers, fashion ultra flex fuel vehicles, all with the idea they will be among the very few who survive.

Indeed, there are a number of unlikely yet possible national disruption scenarios which could adversely impact the entire or nearly the entire population for a long time. If the nationwide systems of distributing goods and energy collapsed, we would find very quickly that the remaining resources would not support a 300 million person population. This is especially so where that population is concentrated into urban, non-productive areas.

So I can hardly brand the energetic disaster preppers as foolish. For all I know, they may be right.

However, self-reliance and good citizenship is not an extreme-or-nothing thing.

Many resources discuss what citizens can and should be doing physically to prepare for short-term interruptions in goods and services. It’s easy to find quick and dirty lists of what you should have in terms of water, nutrition, radios, batteries, etc. I’ll not waste space here to reprise any of that here.

The message for today is that we seem to be coming to a cusp in the future of American civilization. We are going to have to decide if we are going to award “Government” an identity separate from the citizenry in the minds of the majority of the citizens.

Is the government “Us,” it is it “Them”?

When/if the government becomes “Them,” we will have surrendered our national soul some plastic neo-corporate icon. We would not just be admitting, we would be bragging that “we’re not good enough, smart enough or strong enough" to depend on ourselves. Or, for that matter, to depend on each other. And so, “Worshipful Daddy in Washington, help us, help us.”

As an emergency manager, there were a couple of instances where I used States of Emergency for our own jurisdiction (a County). There were good practical reasons involving obtaining resources more readily.

I also remember another occasion where everyone around us was declaring States of Emergency, but we didn’t deem it necessary or appropriate.

It was mid-January. One day there was a three-foot fall of heavy, wet snow. That is unusual in this area, although not unheard of, It did put some strain on resources responsible to get things moving. The next day, our friends from Ottawa sent an arctic air mass, and temperatures with down below negative 20 deg. F. That is also rather unusual in West Virginia. The combination of the two was extremely unusual. That combination created lots of issues.

But we still did not do an emergency declaration because that would not change management issues. Oh, we did staff up the Com Center to be ready to pursue ad hoc resources as necessary such as people way out in the sticks with snowmobiles. But that didn’t require a declaration. Other than that, over the next couple of days our job consisted of issuing informational/philosophical public statements, some of which were quirky enough to be picked up some distance away.

The informational part was things like not using unvented flames for heat. The philosophical things were reminders of who we are. We’re the kind of people who care about our neighbors and check on them. We’re the kind of people who don’t get a case of the willies just because we can’t drive down to the store. We’re the kind of people who maintain and endure. We’re the kind of people who know that, in the broad scheme of things, little things like bad weather will pass.

Managers of the Hurricane Sandy situation needed to declare States of Emergency for good, sound reasons. Citizens should not misread those reasons or feel diminished in their personal power or responsibility. Times of stress and even times of disaster are times to renew our unique dedication to a cultural ethic of taking control and being the ones at the tillers of our own lives.

26 October 2012

Romney as Bullshitter; And All the Rest of Them as Bullshitters; OK, and Some Tall Tales From The King Bullshitter Hisself

I voted this morning.

How did I vote?

Lyndon Johnson was asked that question in 1964. His answer: “I split my ticket. I always split my ticket.”

Me? I split my ticket. I always split my ticket.

I adhere to a political party over broad principles as they are held by the Democratic Party in West Virginia. I do not have a slavish devotion to “my party.”

It is statistically improbable that one party will have the most qualified candidate in each race in an 11 page ballot such as the one I used today.

I’m a big fan of early voting. It is a way that we have honestly expanded the franchise. (I look forward to Oce Smith’s Times-West Virginian column this Sunday. Two weekends before an election is his time for his semi-annual encomium about the right to vote.)

Some awfully “big news” this week is that President Obama gave an interview to Rolling Stone magazine. In that interview, he referred to Gov. Romney as a “bullshitter.” The news and talking heads are full of oh-my-goshes, fainting and harrumphing.

Look – Romney is a bullshitter.

Obama is a bullshitter.

Biden is a bullshitter. More entertaining than Romney or Obama, too.

Ryan is a bullshitter, although he is harder to follow than the other three.

All of the Senate candidates are bullshitter’s. Some of them are more accomplished than others, but they’re all bullshitters.

City Council candidates – bullshitter’s.

Hell, at times I’m a bullshitter.

(I wonder if there’s a 12 step group: “Hi, I’m Roger. I’m a bullshitter.”  “Hi, Roger.”   “It’s been 20 min. since I have spouted bullshit.”)

The naked truth – unalloyed by the base metal of bullshit – is brittle and toxic to a campaign.

Take jobs. That’s a big national issue, and huge in West Virginia. New EPA rules have led to a big slump in the coal mining industry.

All of the bullshitters swear that the other guy hates jobs (for some unexplained and idiotic reason) and wants to eliminate jobs (ditto) and he/she loves jobs and has a way to guarantee that there will be lots and lots of jobs for good wages to boot.

Jobs this, jobs that, all bullshit.

The truth is, we can eliminate the corporate income tax, the capital gain tax, OSHA, the minimum wage, and every other “impediment” to jobs; or we can throw tax dollars into a “stimulus”, raise the minimum wage and wave a chicken over our head, but none of that’s going to create one damn job.

Employers have to decide that it is economically advantageous to add jobs to businesses, and then they have to do it in the real world. Or, sole proprietors and small business organizations need to decide that they have goods or services for which there is a market and then take the risk of hiring people to fill the market need.

Government action may alter economic advantage. It must be some business entity which takes the action to create the job.

We have a lot more bullshit about Obama personally. Obama is not a very popular guy in West Virginia. Recall that in the 2012 primary election, an unknown convict from Arkansas got 40% of the vote in the Democratic primary, and 20% of the Democrats who voted left that part of the ballot blank.

So the theme we’re seeing in every Republican and some Democratic ads is that “My opponent is a bosom buddy of Obama.” It doesn’t have to be logical and certainly doesn’t have to be true, they just want it to be believed until the evening of 6 November.

Neither Gov. Tomblin nor Sen. Manchin attended the Democratic National Convention. That was an unheard-of rejection of the national ticket. Last week, Sen. Manchin was quoted in the press as saying he really doesn’t like either presidential candidate.

At least in national races, maybe the connection to Obama makes a little bit of sense. In state races, it’s gotten a little bizarre.

There is a hard race for attorney general in West Virginia. The incumbent is Darrell McGraw, a former Supreme Court Justice. Darrell is a shameless self- promoter and some of his PR devices – at public expense – border on the weird. His Republican opponent is Patrick Morrissey who the label says is the second coming of truth, justice and the American way.

Somehow, Morrissey figures that McGraw is Obama’s best bud even though there’s not one damn thing that Darrell can do to help, hurt, affect or even amuse Obama. No, I’ll take back the amuse – some of that PR stuff is genuinely goofy. Our attorney general’s office is not the one which armed Mexican drug cartels. That’s a national attorney general thing. 

And we look forward to Mr. Morrissey picking more anti-Obama ads out of his carpet bag. (See note below.)

Mr. Morrissey has a vague, passing connection to West Virginia. He is the long time partner in huge law firms around Washington DC. No doubt, he’s qualified for that work. I really haven’t a clue what his qualifications are for attorney general.

Okay, I have to say the same thing about Darrell McGraw.

This is the first election in a long time where I’m not inside any campaign. That’s okay with me – I have to confess that I’m a little jaded at this point. At the Supreme Court the other day, I was asked a question which required a quick bit of self-description. I came up with “conservative cynic.”

So as a conservative cynic, here are a few more views of 2012 in West Virginia.

The Governor’s race is a rematch between Earl Ray Tomblin and Republican Bill Maloney.

Earl Ray is the incumbent Democrat who has been in government for more than 30 years. He’s done a decent job. The Democratic Party has dominated government offices in West Virginia about 65/35 for 70 years. As the comfortable majority party, the Democrats can afford to be centrist. Oh, we do have our fringe (more comments below), but by and by, the West Virginia Democratic Party is remarkably Clintonesque in economic and social policy.

(Remember Clinton? That’s the guy who left us with the national budget surplus which two presidents and several congresses have been spending and borrowing on like drunken sailors. I’m willing to let slide quite a few blow jobs if it means avoiding $15 trillion in debt.)

Most Republican incumbents who are in office are from Republican “safe” areas and they, too, are fairly comfortable as centrists. As such, the majority of people in state government West Virginia can talk together, reason together, maintain dignity and act responsibly.

Statewide, the Republicans do not act centrist as a rule. They act as if the fringe is their base.

Mr. Maloney has never been elected to anything. He is a self-made millionaire mining engineer. I have met him, and he seems to be a very intelligent and thoroughly decent fellow. It also seems that he’s surrounded by refugees from the Unification Church and the Addams family. At his campaign events, there is a coterie of clean-cut (carpetbagger) ideologues and a cheering section of every disaffected voice from both parties. There are so many axes getting ground you track iron filings out of the room.

I hope that Mr. Maloney’s understandable ambition has not dulled his sense of discomfort on the road.

The United States Senate race is a worry. I’m a little invested in this one. Joe Manchin is my friend. I’ve always supported him. His Republican opponent, John Raese, is someone I find unpalatable. My opinion would be suspect if Mr. Raese were not embracing the fantasy fringe so hard that the choice is a no-brainer.

The last I heard, Mr. Raese’s family lives in Florida and he maintains a qualifying residence in West Virginia. I will say that he has better campaign advisers this time than he did two years ago. While he says a lot of idiotic fringe stuff, so far he stayed away from the bizarre and squirrelly stuff such as orbiting 1000 mythical lasers for $1.85 apiece.

The first district Congressional race is a tragedy.  My friend Alan Mollohan was a 28 year incumbent who was defeated in the primary two years ago. My personal view (and I’ve told him) is that so much of his work was on national issues such as the House Ethics Committee that was invisible to the folks back home. A moderately popular State Sen. screwed him in the primary with a campaign of particularly caustic bullshit. A Republican, David McKinley, then the beat the guy who knocked Alan out.

So now, we have a Republican incumbent. He, too, is a crusader against Obama. Just look at the cleverly timed (and publicly paid) mailings we have received in the past year.

Members of, Congress have a “franking privilege,” which lets them use the United States Postal Service for free. Also, they have things printed out of their publicly paid office budget.

The franking rules provide blackout periods prior to elections. Mr. McKinley has published really nice mailers just before the beginning of the blackout periods before both primary and general election this.

They are wonders of the pro bullshitter.  They’re printed on card stock in full color, multi-page, and if they were commercially printed and mailed by Jane Candidate, she’d spend about $2 each. There are about 600,000 citizens in the district. So maybe Mr. McKinley has mailed out 100,000 or so of his mailers in each of two batches.  That’s campaigning with tax dollars to the tune of $400,000.

Oh, Mr. McKinley’s mailers don’t say one damned thing.  Yay, me.  Boo, Obama.  Rah, rah, rah.  Total - you guessed it - bullshit.

His Democratic opponent could be weaker, but I don’t know how. She seems to be a pleasant person. She is an avid Obama enthusiast. She is also one of the architects of a really, really dumb political campaign of one year ago aimed at derailing Gov. Tomblin’s candidacy. In that, they took strong gratuitous shots against Sen. Manchin at a time when he wasn’t even on the ballot. No doubt, the intentions were ideologically pure of heart. Politically, it was a belly laugh.

One of the minor races is that for state Agriculture Commissioner. I really am not sure what the Agriculture Commissioner does. Commissions agriculture, I guess. The Constitution says clearly that it needs to be someone whose occupation is that of farming. The Democratic candidate is a former state senator who is not a farmer. That’s a little bit of chutzpah.

All in all, I fear that my jaded attitude may be some kind of sought after reaction. I wonder to what extent behavioral scientists are looking long-term for political campaigns. If people quit thinking and quit caring, will our once-glorious nation take a walk into Seldon-plan hell?

Just thinkin’.
Note about carpetbaggers: Carpetbagger is a term given to foreigners who come into an area with the idea of taking over. The term comes from the American Reconstruction. Union administrators would set up offices in the South bringing their clothing and effects with them in their carpet bags.

09 October 2012

How Irrational Corporate Decisions at McDonald's Will Help My Animal Friends; Silly Walks Under the Golden Arches

I am a man of moderate although predictable habits.

Much of my practice has migrated to the 19th Judicial Circuit, consisting of Taylor and Barbour Counties, West Virginia. Going to court there requires that I drive down Route 250, which follows a road first laid down in the early 1800s.

Court starts promptly at 9:00 AM and so I leave early in the morning for what has become a most pleasant drive. On the way, I will stop for a bit of breakfast at a particular McDonald’s restaurant.

I know that some nutritionists will disapprove. Since when is nutritionists disapproving with regard to me a big surprise?

In any event, the 300 calorie Egg McMuffin, coffee and sometimes milk makes for a perfectly adequate road breakfast, suitable for a barrister of moderate habits.

This morning, the sign under the Golden Arches advertised “TWO Egg McMuffins for $3.” Okay, I figured, a buck and a half apiece, sounds great. So I ordered one.

When I went to the window, the price seemed awfully steep.   I looked at the receipt, something almost never do. Lo and behold, they had charged me $2.84 for that single damn Egg McMuffin.

At the next window, I asked “What’s with this?”

Now when a business does something irrational or random, it seems to me that there are three possible responses:

1 - Keep silent and look passive aggressive.

2 - Rationalize and look stupid.

3 - Say “That’s our policy,” which depending on the inflection can say “Screw you” or “Don’t blame me, I just work here.”

Okay, you know the answer here – “That’s our policy.”

I do not bitch out employees. In corporate hierarchies, there is a disconnect between the people who make “policies” and the people who have to implement them. Killing the messenger may give some momentary pleasure, but it’s awfully hard on the messenger.

Corporations do not have a unified conscience and when it comes to honest self-criticism, most corporations have all of the insight of your average lynch mob.

So I wondered – The corporation won’t care, so is there any way to turn this to a little positive?

It didn’t take long.

People who know me know of my great fondness for all of my animal friends.

[Yes, Egg McMuffins use animal products. Society uses lots of animal products. Very few source animals die of natural causes. Anyone who wishes to point out the mote in my eye is welcome to do so. Do mind that log.]

Autumn is upon us and we are coming on the bad weather when food sources for the animals become scarce. Oh, right, I hear it now – feeding the animals disrupts some natural balance. Come on, that ship sailed when the 100th long rifle crossed the Blue Ridge.

So, by an irrational policy, McDonald’s will subsidize me giving my animal friends a wholesome snack for only 16 cents every time I drive by the restaurant.

Now, you see, I’m going to order the two Egg Macs for the $3. I will consume one. And then, at one of the wide places in the road, I will stop, shred the other, and spread it where the animals can feed a bit.

This is the old win - win - win scenario.

McDonald’s sells more sandwiches. At low cost? That’s okay, they’re the ones that set the price.

My animal friends get a little food.

I’m only out 16 cents.

So here is a tip of the hat to McDonald’s management.  Every day, they come closer to the perfection of Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks.

  • Happiest days
I was having a conversation this week with a very decent fellow, a working man who has two daughters.

He recalled the happiest time of his life. He said it was when his two daughters were little children and they lived together in a “piece of shit trailer,” and got around in an old thousand dollar car.

He described the joy of helping with homework and cooking Sunnday breakfast as a family and going fishing.

THAT is wealth.
  • Where I have done been.
Dammit, I’m busy. My trusty HAL 3000 puffs smoke out the USB ports. This is just the first time in a while I’ve been able to direct it to this place.