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Whatever your religious belief, our nation now basks in goodness

Christmas is America’s national holiday, and while there are many Christians reminding fellow citizens that there is a more spiritual and faith based core to the holiday, it is, in fact, a glorious time of year no matter what your religious beliefs may be.

Seven days ago, Hanuka began on the 25th day of the Hebrew month Kislev, as usual. Just after Hanuka ends this year, tomorrow night, Christmas will then begin on the 25th day of the Gregorian month of December, as usual.

The two holidays are naturally linked, as early Christians both tied their new religion to the parent faith with a holiday (“Holy Day”) on nearly identical dates, and then separated from it from Hanuka with a new holiday, “Christ’s Mass,” which has been turned into a conjunction, Christmas.

Much has been said about the Judeo-Christian roots of America, and our Christmas holiday is just one more example of that shared religious basis of our nation’s founding. It is a testament to the tolerant and open sensibility at the root of American identity, to shared values among many different people.

You don’t have to be Jewish to like Jewish-style rye bread, and you don’t have to be Christian to enjoy Christmas. Every American should enjoy Christmas, and wish one another a Merry Christmas. There is no declaration of faith in that, but rather it is a declaration of love for all things good and for a shared, common identity in a truly good nation.

Probably the only really good nation on the planet: We have the rule of law, more opportunity than anywhere else, the highest standard of living, etc. Christmas crowns that all at the end of the year, and it reminds us that the sum total of our year is simply good.

In that spirit of goodness, I wish all my fellow Americans and our many guests here Happy Hanuka, and Merry Christmas!

Despite digital technology advances, actual humans are necessary

Digital technology is amazing, no doubt about it.

Yes, it enables all kinds of speed in research and communications.

But the internet has also inspired a “digital wall” response to basic inquiries that used to be handled by people answering phones.  You cannot just pick up a phone and ask someone a question, any longer.  Instead, you must navigate a maze of circular questions and answers and phone tree options, long before you get to hit the star key or number one and talk to a person.

eBay is the prime example of the digital wall.  You cannot get real customer service at eBay.  eBay’s digital artificial intelligence is supposed to satisfactorily respond to all customer issues, but it doesn’t.  It is a failure.

One online commenter says “It is easier to talk with the Pope than to actually speak with a person at eBay,” a sad but true fact that I myself have learned the hard way.

Here in Pennsylvania, the Tom Ridge Revolution for responsive government is looong over.

Remember how back in the 1990s, Governor Tom Ridge opened up Pennsylvania state government with a crowbar and a box of dynamite, and got the scurrying inhabitants of the many faceless concrete government buildings in downtown Harrisburg to actually view taxpayers as “customers”?

Maybe you don’t recall that time, but it was refreshing.  Suddenly, state workers at most agencies were required to actually answer the calls of the taxpayers they serve, and to act professionally, and to help resolve problems.

PennDOT was at that time a notoriously labyrinthine experience, kind of like the Vatican, one might guess, in that if a taxpayer was fortunate enough to find an IN door, they might spend a day shambling down shuttered halls with closed doors with jargon printed on them, searching yet more for the answer to their government-inspired problem.

The workers there at that time could not have cared less for serving the public, and no one took any initiative to make them serve the public, until the Ridge Administration arrived.

Then, PennDOT was required to post phone numbers, email addresses, have customer service representatives on call, so that no citizen had to waste their time trying to make sense of the bureaucratic maze while to trying to meet some official mandate.

After all, if the government is going to require something, then the government absolutely must provide the means to achieve that.

Well, now PennDOT is back to its bad old ways.  The foolish young punks running the disastrous Corbett Administration into the ground at Mach 4 wouldn’t know a damned thing about customer service or taxpayers, for that matter.  PennDOT has been allowed to crawl back under a heavy cloak of secrecy and impenetrable darkness.  Go ahead, call PennDOT.  Try to reach a human being through their main portal:

“Call 1-800-932-4600 (from within PA) or 717-412-5300 (from out of state). You can also send an email through our Driver and Vehicle Services Customer Call Center, or write to the following address:

Riverfront Office Center (Driver and Vehicle Services)
1101 South Front Street
Harrisburg, PA 17104-2516
1-800-932-4600

Oh, you will hear a human voice,  which right off the bat asks you that if you want to continue in English, “Press One.”  Imagine my surprise when I just held the line, did not press one, and was shuttled off into yet another maze of foreign languages, as if just wanting to encounter my own government in our native language was something we should have to ask for.

Anyhow, the phone options in English are another maze of options and circular loops.  One answer gives the locations of  service centers, but saves providing you with the hours for each one until the very end, as if you might actually recall which service center was “one,” “two,” or “three.”

This is the very essence of Bad Government.

Government absolutely must be responsive, open, transparent, or it is illegitimate.  If it cannot serve its citizens and taxpayers, then government has failed.  Once government has failed, it cannot hold citizens to a higher standard.

Governor-elect Tom Wolf faces a Republican legislature, which is not likely to go along with his tax-and-spend approach to government.

Well, here is an opportunity that is guaranteed to make Wolf a hero among all citizens: Force government to open up again; get our taxpayer-funded bureaucrats to be responsive, or get out.  No more digital walls for the people who pay the bills.

And maybe Wolf can talk to the owners of eBay, and persuade them to provide real customer service, too.

People ask me why

For some people, politics and political activism are their bread and butter.  Politics pays their bills.  With the right clients, they can make millions of dollars out of politics as a business model.

For me, politics is about personal liberty, freedom, opportunity and many other inspiring principles behind the founding of America.  It is also about the little freedoms we have that emanate from the bigger ideas:  The freedom to drive or walk somewhere without having to prove that you belong there, the freedom to choose where to live, the ability to select from a wide assembly of fresh food, to name a few popular ones.

Call it an innate sense of justice and right and wrong, which family and friends have said I’ve had since I was a little kid, or call it a lack of patience, an inability to watch, participate in, listen to, or tolerate BS/fluff/empty slogans/lies/self-interest, whatever it is that motivates me, I am passionate about good government.

Good government has been a passion of mine since I was a teenager, when I first got involved in political campaigns.  Back then, I was horrified at the way abortion-on-demand was changing our culture, I was against gun control, and nuclear missiles scared me.  Later on, watching police beat non-violent pro-democracy marchers in South Africa motivated me to put my voice behind change there (note that now the monumentally corrupt and un-just African National Congress government there is hardly better than the overtly racist apartheid government it replaced).  Age, paying taxes, and work experience have a way of shaping political views for normal people, and I was no exception.

So here I am, living a life that has meaning for me, trying to shape Pennsylvania and American politics in ways I believe are healthy, necessary, and just.  The citizens and taxpayers who are supposed to be served well by their government (of the people, by the people, for the people) are not being well served today.  This is why I am involved in politics.  That is why I will not go away, at least not until things are fixed to my satisfaction.

When the government just takes your land

About four years ago, Pennsylvania state government created a new regulation setting aside 150-foot buffers on waterways classified as High Quality and Exceptional Value.

This means that 150 feet from the edge of the waterway up into the private property, it’s designated as off-limits to most types of disturbances.

The purpose was to protect these waterways from the effects of development.

The end result is an obviously uncompensated taking of private property by the government. When the government takes a tape measure and marks off your own private land and says you can’t do anything with this huge area, or a road is going through, you’re simply taken advantage of. You’re robbed. It’s Un-American.  It’s unconstitutional.

Pennsylvania is a great state. I love living here. It’s saddening to see such top-down, command and control, clunky, one-size-fits-all regulations in this day and age. We can do so much better than this approach.

To start, create incentives for landowners to go along. Give tax credits and write-offs for land taken by government.

Do we all want clean air, soil, and water? Sure. Breathing, eating, and drinking clean air, food, and water are necessary to surviving. But that’s not the question.

The question is HOW we pursue those goals.

Requiring American citizens to simply give up their investments, with no compensation, creates losers in a system that was originally designed to make everyone a winner.

Instead of pitting government against the citizens, we need policies and laws that help and serve citizens, that are fair to citizens. That is by definition good government.

This current 150-foot buffer regulation is by definition bad government.

Oh, those funerals…

If you live long enough, you get to go to increasing numbers of funerals.

Friends, colleagues, family, acquaintances, leaders you admire, they all begin to fall as time marches on.  Because each of us is already “born terminal,” dying is a natural part of living.

Of course, it is not necessarily the dying part that is upsetting at a funeral.  Unless the particular ending is unexpected, violent, or tragic, what gets me is the sudden absence of the qualities that particular person brought into the world around them.  The absence of their warm personality, their humor, their bravery, their way of thinking or looking at and solving problems, friendliness, and so on.  Whatever vacuum suddenly appears in the wake of a deceased person is the foil to the wonderful qualities the person had developed over a lifetime.

Recently I participated in several funerals, all for older people whose families loved them very much.  At the last one, hardly anyone cried during the eulogies or the burial, not because the person was so horrible, but because they had lived such an utterly full and meaningful life.  She had squeezed every available drop of opportunity, family, love, and community from her time on Earth.  No one felt sad, because she had lived so well and had made so many people feel so good about themselves, and instead, there was much laughter and chuckling.

At each funeral I find myself somewhere in the back, musing, contemplating, listening, and reflecting.  There is not one deceased person I know, or knew, whose abilities, talents, personality traits, character, and strengths I did not wish were my own, in some way.

I am a pretty hard-charging person.  Trying new, entrepreneurial business models, speaking out about my own ideas and beliefs, challenging political orthodoxies I believe are destructive of American liberty and individual freedom, not to mention the outdoor adventures I do each year that put some wear and tear on my increasingly stiff frame and joints…all of this makes me the person I am, now.

Hopefully, with the increasing number of funerals under my belt and the personal qualities I see getting buried each time, I will be a better and improved person as I try to take on some aspect of the person we lost.  Bear with me…

Huffington Post: No democracy for you!

A Huffington Post headline reads “Congress Inaction Prompts Obama to Act Alone.”

American civics class 101 teaches citizens that the executive branch cannot act alone, not really. If Congress is inactive, the president can only enforce laws that are on the books. He cannot create new laws. That would be dictatorial.

Ah-hah. There’s the point. Obama fans LOVE his dictatorship. Unashamedly.

Just remind us of that love when we have a new president from the other party, surrounded by angry citizens demanding retroactive corrections to the Obama years. You’ll learn to love it then, friends.

Warmer weather can’t come too soon

What began as a happy trip to the wood shed for a load of seasoned oak in the Fall is now a crabby trudge through deep snow and ice, a drudgery opposite the cheerfulness felt with the first flames to beat back Winter’s early chill.

Spring warmth cannot come too soon.  Naturally, it will arrive, melt the Arctic snow cap occupying my lawn, and probably result in some Biblical flood carrying my home down river to the Chesapeake Bay.

Speaking of floods, and flood insurance, I am hopeful that the insane congresswoman Maxcine Waters will have her bizarre legislation permanently overturned, so that people can either afford to own their homes (something she is not familiar with or supportive of) or the Federal government will buy out the landowners so the societal costs and benefits are not concentrated on just the private property owners.  Government cannot change the social contract in one week.  Well, under liberals it can, of course.  Let’s rephrase that: Government should not restructure the social contract in such a short time that private property owners see their investments destroyed overnight.  That would be good government, something unknown to Maxcine Waters and her fellow liberals.

Happy New Year!

Friends, here is to a happy next year, a new year, The New Year, 2014, for you, for all of us.
And thank you for being part of my past year, which was good in so many ways, thank God.
Make it count.
Josh

Merry Christmas to one and all!

However it evolved into a fake insult, saying Merry Christmas is still the nicest thing one American can say to another.

Christmas is our national holiday. Religious Christians fret over its secularization, and certainly the commercilization and materialism surrounding Christmas stand in contrast to its roots.

But thanks in great part to 19th century British writer Charles Dickens, Christmas is, for all people, a time of cheer, good will towards one another, an abandonment of grudges, an embracing of love as the preferred force in human relations.

So, secularized as this all may be at this point, the message and culture now surrounding Christmas is good stuff.

So, whether you are Christian, Buddhist, Jew, Muslim, Baha’i, Zoroastrian, or pagan, I wish you a very Merry Christmas. You’re an American, you’ve earned it.

Say what?

“Never put in writing something you aren’t ready to see and defend in a newspaper,” is an old adage governing good government.

In other words, be prepared to be held to what you write, especially if it’s in government emails.

If there’s one thing I am proud of, it is my willingness and ability to stake out earnest policy positions. Nothing wishy washy on this blog. But don’t ever expect to find racism or personally belittling comments here. Or in my emails.

It’s often painful to see people held accountable for their mistakes. Then again, it’s often a necessary result of having caused unwarranted pain to other people.

With great power goes great obligation and responsibility. When these basic rules of conduct are forgotten, inevitable chains of events are uncorked.

Now that we’ve seen it here in Pennsylvania, wouldn’t it be pleasing to see it in Washington, DC, too?