Goodness can rise after evil deeds

(Originally published in the Freeport Journal-Standard, 20 December, 2014. This version is somewhat longer than the one which was submitted to the J-S.)

I heard the bells on Christmas day

Their old familiar carols play

And wild and sweet the words repeat

Of peace on earth, goodwill to men

Like me, the great poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a son of Portland, Maine. He’s immortalized in bronze there, seated in a chair in a casual listening pose, looking perfectly wise, holding some papers, his books close at hand under the chair. At this time of year he’s usually sporting a striped scarf and has a wrapped Christmas present on his lap.

He had enormous success—in 1874 he sold a single poem for $3,000, about $60,000 in today’s money—but faced enormous tragedy. The lyrics of “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day,” flowed from deep heartache.

His first wife, Mary, who had been a friend from childhood, was only 22 when she died after a miscarriage. While suffering from agonizing grief, he met Francis Appleton and was stricken with a deep, yearning love for her, a love so great he would court her for seven years. They had six children, and he wrote of her as his “morning and evening star of love” in a published sonnet. But in 1861 she was burned to death in a freak accident. He was badly burned trying to save her and was never able to shave again, hence his famous, magnificent beard. He never fully recovered and was haunted by the fear his grief would drive him mad.

In 1863 their son Charles joined the Union Army against his father’s wishes, becoming the commander of an artillery battery. In late November a Confederate bullet passed through Charles’ back close to his spine. On Christmas morning, the poet put pen to paper and poured out pain:

And in despair I bowed my head

There is no peace on earth,” I said

For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, goodwill to men

Longfellow would understand what gushes out of our radios, televisions and browsers today. Hate is strong.

In Ferguson, unreasoning hate burned a neighborhood. Those who claimed they wanted justice for Michael Brown burned the church where his parents worship. They wrecked black-owned businesses, including the cake shop of Natalie Dubose, a single mother of two who had sold cakes at flea markets for years to fund her dream. A photo of her weeping went viral, symbolizing the city’s pain.

In Iraq, ISIS sweeps forward, crucifying and enslaving. They paint an Arabic N, for “Nasara” or “Nazarene” on the homes of Christians, then give them a choice: Convert, leave or die. Most leave, giving up virtually every material possession and their professional lives.

Peace? Goodwill?

Then rang the bells more loud and deep

God is not dead, nor does He sleep

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail!

With peace on earth, goodwill to men!”

The day after the riots, Natalie DuBose weeps again. Donations have poured into a charity website set up for her. “I can’t stop crying, finally trying to actually read all your supportive and loving words,” she writes on Facebook. “Phone is ringing AND [I’M] BAKING! I love you all so much ! God Bless America!” She receives nearly $500,000 in donations, almost all from perfect strangers.

The Iraqi refugees are hopeful. “God is giving us grace,” says one displaced pastor. Christian relief agencies such as Voice of the Martyrs have stepped in to address their needs: housing, beds, food, water, reading materials. They are bloodied, but not defeated. “[T]hey have united us as Christians,” a local leader says. “The next generation will forget who persecutes us. But they will not forget those who help us and support us.” Ongoing relief efforts will be partly funded by “I Am N” T-shirts sold in the West. They’re emblazoned with a scarlet Arabic N.

And Charles Appleton Longfellow lived and thrived. He became a skilled writer in his own right and accompanied the U.S. ambassador to Japan on important missions there, including a tour of the country that brought them to places no American had yet gone.

I don’t pretend all is healed and wrapped in a red bow. Our world is broken. ISIS boasts. Ferguson stings. This weekend unreasoning hate took the lives of two NYPD officers. But what was it Dr. King said? “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Then ringing, singing on its way

The world revolved from night to day

A voice, a chime, a chant sublime

Of peace on earth, goodwill to men

Humans hated. God sent love. He sent a Son, willingly. And He lives, too. That’s why more hope than despair poured from Longfellow’s pen that day. To borrow from another carol, our streets are dark, but in these dark streets shines the everlasting light.

Can you hear the bells? Don’t ask for whom they toll. They toll for thee.

Peace on earth, goodwill to men!

Merry Christmas.


One from the archives: 655,000 Reasons To Laugh At CBS News

(Originally published in the Freeport Ink, October 19, 2006)

If I put on my reporter hat and told you President Bush’s approval rating is 77%, but might be as high as 137%, how would you view the quality of my reporting and of this newspaper? You can view some recent conduct by the three major broadcast networks the same way.


All three prominently covered a study published in The Lancet, the famed British medical journal, by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. I use the terms “study” and “researchers” very loosely. The researchers claim post-invasion violence in Iraq has killed 655,000 civilians there. Introducing the CBS segment, anchor Katie Couric said, “Now we’re learning that the war has been a lot more deadly than we knew,” and reporter David Martin lead off his report with: “A new and stunning measure of the havoc the American invasion unleashed in Iraq.” He went on to note that these 655,000 people killed “as a consequence of the war” would be “2.5 percent of the entire population.” “To understand how large,” he continued, “consider this: The same percentage of the much larger American population would be 7.5 million dead.” ABC and NBC ran with the story like an Olympic sprinter, and it was discussed over graphics showing Iraqi bodies.


As you’ll see below, presenting this study on a major newscast was arguably an act of journalistic malpractice on the order of presenting a story about how JFK was really assassinated by Mother Theresa. But even worse, while there was mention of the study being rejected by President Bush and one top general, there was no discussion of why critics have dismissed it as a hunk of academically produced toilet paper.


Such discussion would have gutted the story. Just ask the New York Times. The Times has criticized the liberation of Iraq more than any other major American newspaper, but they stuck their story about the study on page A-16 and began debunking it in the second paragraph. The Washington Post gave it similar treatment, and put it on page A-12.


The study is based on interviews with randomly selected Iraqi families, who were asked if they had lost a close relative to violence since the invasion. To believe the results, one must only believe the following:


1. Fifteen thousand Iraqis are being killed by violence each month, even though that would mean (for example) that over 14,000 Iraqis died each month from 2003-2005 without the media noticing or the bodies seeing the inside of a morgue.


2. The terrorists found a way to kill civilians (or our forces have found a way to accidentally kill them) so super-efficient that 95% or more of the victims are killed before they can be treated at a hospital. Maybe it’s some sort of disintegrator ray, which would explain the missing bodies.


3. As Robert Blendon, director of the Harvard Program on Public Opinion and Health and Social Policy pointed out to the times, you have to believe that you can extrapolate over 650,000 deaths from the 547 death reports the families gave to the researchers. They based their extrapolation of the pre-invasion death rate on only 82 death reports This led them to a “finding” of 426,369 to 793,663 deaths. In other words, give or take 56%.


At Houston’s M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, the chairman of biostatistics, Donald Berry, told the Times the study has “a tone of accuracy that’s just inappropriate.” Now that’s understatement, ladies and gentlemen.


4. You have to ignore the realities of Iraqi tribal life. As radio producer Franklin Raff, who did a stint in Iraq as an embedded reporter, points out, a study by Arab scientists in 1986 found that 58% of Iraqi marriages were consanguineous, or between blood relatives, usually first or second cousins. A similar study found that 30% of Iraqi marriages were between first cousins. How would this affect the study? “In a city of 100,000,” Raff wrote, “one hundred men can say ‘my cousin died – Mahmoud was his name.’ …Same dead Mahmoud, 100 reported deaths.”


Ignorance would be no excuse for the networks, but this was not ignorance. The anti-war Iraq Body Count Project uses media reports to keep track of civilian deaths in Iraq, and their count is about one thirteenth of the Johns Hopkins number. To believe the study, these networks would have to believe that reporters are missing a dozen civilian deaths for every one they report. No, this is that special blindness the media has when it comes to anything that might damage George W. Bush, which makes them do things like present “fake but accurate” forged memos about his National Guard service. But then, given the shaky relationship the national media has with truth these days, perhaps blindness is too kind a word.


The promotion of this study is reminiscent of the last years of Vietnam, when the media believed every word about “systematic” atrocities, but somehow the thousands of reporters swarming the country failed to notice them when they were happening.


Were the networks playing the Vietnam card less than four weeks before Election Day? Something tells me they are, and I’m not just guesstimating.






Park the Bike, Pass the Tofu

Originally published in the Journal-Standard on August 3, 2013

In one episode of the comedy series Futurama, the activist group Mankind for Ethical Animal Treatment (MEAT) is protesting a restaurant. Leela, the mutant space captain who is one of the main characters, tells them, “Animals eat other animals. It’s nature.”

No it isn’t,” MEAT’s leader responds haughtily. “We taught a lion to eat tofu!” We then see the lion. He’s scraggly, emaciated, miserable and coughs weakly.

That moment has come to mind often recently in response to some economic silliness.

The Wemstroms assertion the last thing we should do is open the two-lane bottleneck on Route 20, because any moment now we’ll all convert to bikes and tiny Smart cars which make a Cooper Mini look roomy. Plus there will be buses, trains, and other abundant public transport to move us across Utopia.

I expected a proposal for a regional network of solar-powered organic hemp ziplines. Or zeppelins. Zeppelins are cool.

Leftist utopianism only requires two things: Ignoring what people are and what people do. People don’t drive cars because sluggish government has failed to lead us to a new tomorrow. They drive them because they make their lives more pleasant, free, time-efficient and economically empowered. Plus, if you’ve tried to take a load of plywood home from Menard’s on the bus, you know why I own a Ford Explorer.

Moreover, the Wemstrom’s insist our mayor lobby vigorously for an Amtrak line. Never mind passenger service over this route has died out for lack of passengers repeatedly. Never mind that Anthony Haswell, “the father of Amtrak” has described it as a “sick, failed organization which should be put out of its misery” because it has few riders and hemorrhages taxpayer dollars.

Government’s role, apparently, isn’t to build infrastructure consistent with the way commerce and travel actually occur. Government should push us into a preferred lifestyle with a pointy stick. You know, for freedom. In other words, the lion is going to eat tofu and bloody well like it.

It’s not just broad economic issues where some expect the King of the Jungle to eat bean curds. Recently the Board terminated our agreement with NIDA as our agent for the Mill Race Industrial Park. The Finance Committee was looking at options to advertise for new agents, including newspaper advertising. But wait! We were presented with an email from NIDA Director Dave Young, recommending we contact a list of about a dozen industrial real estate brokers and ask for their help. Imagine the money we’d save putting stamps on a few envelopes instead of running newspaper ads, huzzah! The peasants prepared to rejoice.

Just one small problem: GVA Williams, the same topnotch worldwide broker that had been brought in by NIDA to market Mill Race was on the list. Most importantly, they were the folks who wrote to Stephenson County in late 2010 to say the park was “unable to compete effectively for tenants” “in its current state” and because there were 23 other rail served parks in the region.

So, after eight years of trying to make this site work as an industrial park, we’ll save the taxpayers money by going back to experts who say it can’t be sold as an industrial park and ask them to tell us how they will sell it as an industrial park?

One could describe this as “lather-rinse-repeat.” Or one could say after we decided our lion was malnourished, the National Association of Tofu Distributors gave us a list of the best guys to buy our tofu from in the future.

It’s your government; you’re the boss! Learn it, live it and vote it!

Psssst! Want to buy a giraffe?

Originally published in the Freeport Journal-Standard, 7/20/2013


Detroit filed for bankruptcy on Thursday, which was possibly the least surprising news ever.


Detroit’s population was 1.8 million in 1950. It was called “The Paris of the Midwest.” In 2010 that number was a little over 700,000. As a result of the population reduction, 70,000 buildings are vacant, with 38,000 considered dangerous. In April, the Brisbane Courier-Mail reported the average selling price for homes in 2012 was $7,500 and there were 47 homes listed for $500 or less, with 5 of them listed for $1.


Average police response time nationally is 11 minutes; in Detroit, 53 minutes. The cops are very busy, too. Many supporters of gun rights make much of gun-controlled Chicago suffering over 500 murders in 2012. Yet Detroit, with a quarter of Chicago’s population, had 386 homicides last year. Milwaukee, with about 600,000 residents, had only 85.


We’re going to hear a lot over the next few days about how “complicated” the sources of Detroit’s troubles are. Many of those voices will still point to a single cause: Racism (both against blacks and against whites), suburbia, Democrat over-regulation, the Republican governor, etc. As a person who says cities are so complicated that planning them is a fool’s errand, I won’t say there’s only one cause. Still, there is primary cause of death here which wasn’t black, white, red or blue.


It was green. Detroit taxed and spent itself to death.


Consider this fact put forth by author David Freddoso: The property taxes on a $50,000 Detroit home add up to $3,354. In Washington DC, the tax bill would be just $425.


It turns out the principle behind the Laffer Curve—if taxes rise above a certain level, revenue actually decreases—is very real and applies to property taxes as well as income taxes.


Consider the vicious cycle: First, politicians raise taxes. Some residents and businesses who have the mobility to move to a lower tax environment will do so. The sharper the hikes, the more move out. Government now has less revenue, so politicians usually “solve” the shortfall by raising taxes again. That causes more people to move…you get the idea.


The worst part? Those with the lowest incomes and wealth are hardest hit. They can’t move and they lose services. Eventually some of them just don’t pay the taxes—almost half of Detroit property owners didn’t in 2012. Detroit has raised all taxes to the statutory limits allowed by Michigan but can’t find enough dollars to fund basic services.


On the spending side, the city’s pension liabilities ($9.2 billion) are about half of their debt and add up to $13,000 for every resident. City leaders could see population dropping, but piled on benefits anyway. Now those cops, firefighters and other real public servants will get the shaft, just like the taxpayers.


So, the city manager ends up exploring which assets can be sold off, including Van Gogh paintings from the Institute of Arts, antique cars from the historical museum and the ground the zoo sits on. By the way, if you want a giraffe you’ll need $80,000. The Detroit Free Press says there’s almost no chance the animals will be sold, but who knows? With the right bankruptcy judge, you might get a shot at it.


And in Illinois? Shrinking population, fleeing businesses, steep tax hikes (including a 67% corporate tax increase), bloated pensions politicians won’t reduce…is this sounding familiar? And Stephenson County? Yearly tax levy increases adding up to a 26% hike over the past decade or so.


Detroit is an example—admittedly extreme, but coldly real—of what happens when the political class assures itself there’s always enough money to pay for their largesse. Sadly, even a giraffe could have figured this out.


It’s your government; you’re the boss! Learn it, live it and vote it!






On Stephenson County Board: TIF a form of corporate welfare

Today we’ll continue to examine the exciting world of Tax Increment Financing (TIF).

Last week I explained how TIF puts unnecessary stress on bodies providing crucial services and enables crony capitalism. TIF also does the following:

Encourages risky borrowing

As I mentioned last week, a TIF which works as advertised will require local governments to take on added responsibilities without additional tax dollars. They’re often established with particular developers in mind, so infrastructure needs to be provided immediately. Unless millions are already available, the governments involved must borrow funds to support it.

Instead of borrowing against property taxes which roll in reliably every year, the community is suddenly borrowing against PowerPoint presentations showing the certainty of new construction in the TIF district.

What if you take out a $6 million loan for improvements in an industrial park which never gains any tenants? Or a new subdivision is built just as the real estate market implodes, and suddenly you’ve borrowed for (and built) infrastructure for a residential neighborhood with devalued houses and a fraction of the new taxpayers you were promised?

Suddenly, you have a hefty debt load and no revenue stream to pay it off.

Becomes the standard for new development

If a government spends funds on one developer’s project and tells taxpayers the project would not exist without the subsidy, what’s the next developer to do? Insist on fairness, i.e., a TIF subsidy of their own.

This tendency is so strong a study by economists at Iowa State University found that TIF had “become a de facto entitlement for new industry and housing development in much of the state.” Government planning expert Randall O’Toole gives the example of a hotel development built in Wichita with TIF funds.Anyone else who might have built a hotel in Wichita simply stopped their plans unless they, too, received TIF subsidies,” he writes. Taxpayers ended up funding at least two more major hotel projects.

An entitlement for wealthy developers? Is that really our best route to growth and good paying jobs?

Doesn’t assist growth and may actually slow it

That same ISU study found there was no statistically significant benefit from TIF and counties in their state were “specifically burdened” by the practice. Two joint studies from professors at Loyola and Lake Forest (one examining six counties near Chicago and the other examining 1,242 municipalities in all 102 Illinois counties) found that Illinois cities which use TIF grow more slowly than those which don’t. “Commercial and industrial TIF districts both show a significantly negative impact on growth in commercial assessed values outside the district,” they wrote.

Instead of coming to an area because the TIF existed, developers already coming to the area were encouraged to locate in a certain spot, but growth of property values outside that spot declined, leading to a wash or net loss in growth for the total community.

Links to both studies will be available on my blog,

If those in favor of government-centered economic development want to claim we need to engage in this type of corporate welfare because the playing field has changed, that’s one thing. But let’s not pretend TIF is a magic bullet and criticism of it is some rarefied ideological exercise driven by arguments in some poorly xeroxed libertarian newsletter. The concerns raised by practicality and principle are too real to ignore.

You’re the boss; it’s your government. Learn it, live it, vote it!


Do Tax Increment Finance Districts in Iowa Spur Regional Economic and Demographic Growth?

Tax Increment Financing: a tool for Local economic Development (See page 2)

And the policy paper I mentioned last week: Crony Capitalism and Social Engineering–The Case against Tax-Increment Financing

TIF-tastic or TiF-arific? Actually, neither

Note: Journal Standard readers, the link I promised is in the article, but I’ve also placed links at the end of the post. Thanks for reading!

Recently the County Board approved the extension of a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district in Orangeville, and I’d like to take two columns to give you some information I shared with my colleagues about TIF in general. In short, it’s ineffective and fraught with practical problems. Let’s start with two concerns:

 1. TIF puts undue stress on crucial taxing bodies

Imagine a community establishes a TIF district in the year 2000. From then until the TIF expires in 2023, the taxing bodies who receive funds from that area will receive the same number of tax dollars they received in the year 2000. Any revenue which comes in above that line (from increasing property values) is held back, supposedly to fund infrastructure improvements in the TIF.

The problem? Randall O’Toole, an expert on government planning, lays it out on his blog  by imagining a school district and fire department which are both within the TIF. Development in the TIF means more structures and people for the firefighters to protect, but they have to do so with the same dollars they were getting before they had that responsibility. Meanwhile, the school district has to educate more students with the same dollars it had before those students arrived.

 Add to this the additional increased costs from inflation and a shortfall becomes inevitable. On top of that, their costs are increasing anyway. They end up having to do more with less and are soon left with three options: Shrink their services, take on unsustainable debt or raise taxes. In Stephenson County, we’ve done all three.

 By the way, TIF also hurts state governments, because there is pressure on them to increase the funding they deliver to local agencies (schools in particular) to make up the shortfall in local taxes.

 2. TIF is ready made for slush funds and crony capitalism

Leaving a pile of money lying around where politicians can get at it is always a bad idea. Some governments have used them to pay the salaries of elected officials or staff. Let me know when you figure out how paying for a politician’s groceries will raise the property value of a certain tract of land. But often it’s used to benefit local businesses directly. For example, a GM Dealer in Belleville received $152,000 in TIF funds and a California dealership received $2.3 million to remodel its location and even build a whole new showroom. In Ann Arbor, a deli was given $400,000 to expand, and was declared a “brownfield” even though there was no pollution there.

 To borrow a concept from one of our Founders, this process could only stay clean if angels ran it.

 We have been told our only hope is for every local government and agency to work together as one prosperous entity, but TIF makes our taxing bodies into competitors scrambling to grab revenue from each other that should be guaranteed for all. We’ve been told we will attract employers with better schools, but we’re choosing an economic development method which deprives them of revenue for two decades or more.

The real shocker? There’s data showing cities who use TIF actually grow MORE SLOWLY than those who don’t. Stay tuned for that in the next column, and in the meantime remember…

You’re the boss; it’s your government. Learn it, live it, vote it!

Article links:

Randall O’Toole: What’s Wrong With TIF

“Crony Capitalism and Social Engineering: The Case against Tax-Increment Financing”–This policy paper from the Cato Institute is an excellent take on the effectiveness of TIF’s and their inherent problems.


Open letter to Chairman Hadley Regarding Dist. G Appointment

Mr. Chairman:


We have on our next agenda the appointment of a representative to the vacant seat in District G. Information I have recently received in light of the appointment process leaves me scratching my head, and I’d like your help clarifying a few issues.


Precinct Committeeman Deb Leininger has stated you informed her on March 26 that you had already found an appointee for the District G seat. In a conversation with me this past weekend, Mrs. Leininger said she is very clear about this date because of emails the two of you exchanged later that same day.


Who was this replacement?


Was it indeed decided (at least 14 days before the GOP was notified of a vacancy) that the Republican Party selection process would be ignored and/or supplanted? If so, why? Why was party leadership left with the impression that they would be playing an important role in selection for weeks afterward?


If the candidate in question was Gail Clore, why did the first notification she was interested in the position occur on May 3, a full 38 days after your conversation with Leininger and 22 days after the seat had been vacated?


On June 8, all County Board Members received a packet sent from your office containing three endorsement letters in favor of Ms. Clore. It brings to mind a couple of questions as well.


In a conversation on or about May 16, you told GOP Vice Chair Cheryl Hartman you were receiving numerous phone calls because she had put your cell phone number in an email about the District G appointment. Her message also included your email address and home address, as did an email sent out by Citizens for Better Government and my Journal-Standard column the following Saturday.


Therefore, it seems extremely likely you received emails and/or letters in favor of Dr. Whitmer. Did you? And if so, why were none of these messages forwarded to the Board along with the messages in favor of your preferred* candidate?


On May 18, you received an email (which was carbon copied to me) from a constituent in your district who had signed your ballot petitions in the past, stating that he had served on the board of the Cornerstone Credit Union. He went on to state that he had resigned from the board and moved his personal funds out of Cornerstone because he had lost confidence in Ms. Clore’s management.


Can you explain why this view was not shared along with the support letters for your preferred candidate sent to us at taxpayer’s expense?


Recently, you described yourself as a life-long Republican. It’s clear the Republican Party conducted a process which was completely open and transparent. Every other part of this process has been about as transparent as a steel tank full of crude oil. In fact, it seems we have returned to the mushroom farm operated by the previous Chairman and the Republican majority on the Board is being kept in the dark and receiving regular applications of manure.


Perhaps I’m wrong in that assessment. I’m sure you can clear this matter up and restore transparency as you promised those who voted for you. Please do so.


Respectfully Submitted,

Christopher Clukey

District F


*This word is used based on your statement to Chuck Sweeny of the Register-Star that you would not appoint a “Tea Party Republican” to the District G seat.