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Disaster relief props up politicians

Another Perspective

By Howard Rich

There are plenty of reasons why America is teetering on the brink of fiscal collapse - unsustainable entitlement costs, unprecedented welfare expansion and loose monetary policy from the Fed (to name just a few) - but another reason is the shameful exploitation of disaster relief funding.

The latest example of this contemptible practice is the massive $60.4 billion "Hurricane Sandy recovery bill" currently making its way through the U.S. Congress. Like prior "emergency relief" resolutions, this legislation - the largest disaster appropriation in American history - is more about propping up politicians and bailing out bureaucracies than it is about helping those in need.

Before addressing this latest boondoggle, though, let's make one thing clear: Government shouldn't be in the "disaster relief" business in the first place.

"Except for the deployment and coordination of National Guard units, local police, and fire fighters to enforce the rule of law and to protect private property … national government ought not to bear the primary responsibility for disaster relief," writes William F. Shugarth, a University of Mississippi professor who investigated public and private sector responses to Hurricane Katrina. "The price tag is simply too high."

Shugarth's extensive research chronicles the "bureaucratic paralysis" that afflicted the public sector during the Katrina debacle - contrasting government's inefficiency and corruption with the speed and humanity of the private sector response.

"In the case of Hurricane Katrina, as in many other natural disasters, the immediate reactions of for-profit businesses, nongovernmental organizations large and small, and countless individual volunteers amply demonstrate that the private sector can and will supply disaster relief in adequate and perhaps socially optimal quantities," Shugarth concludes.

Of course in Obama's America these corporate citizens exist only to be vilified - and then taxed into oblivion - even though they are among the very first to reach needy citizens during times of crisis.

"(Private sector) companies did not tend only to their narrow interests when catastrophe struck," Shugarth notes. "The disaster plans they had in place allowed them to fill broader needs far in advance of the official first responders."

The public sector's response on the other hand was an unmitigated failure from the start - a case study in bureaucratic mismanagement and resource misappropriation. In fact the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) not only botched its own response - it actually impeded non-profit first responders in their efforts to help those in need.

The Red Cross begged to be allowed to go (into New Orleans) to distribute essential relief supplies but was prevented by government officials from doing so," reveals a 2006 report published by The Cato Institute, one of numerous instances in which Homeland Security bureaucrats stood in the way of vital aid.

TThe Cato report also reveals the extent to which political considerations dictate the appropriation of disaster funds, concluding that "as long as the federal government has the power to dispense disaster relief funds, its incentive is to do so in a way that maximizes political ends instead of dispensing them to those with genuine need."

Permitting politicians and bureaucrats to manage a disaster makes about as much sense as letting them manage a budget in the first place. Which brings us back to the so-called "Sandy recovery bill."

What's in this boondoggle? Well there's a $300 million bailout for Amtrak - government's money-losing train system. There's also $150 million set aside for "fishery disasters" - including money earmarked for Alaska and Mississippi. There's even $50 million for the National Park Service's Historic Preservation Fund.

But these are just a few of the fringe expenses associated with this monstrosity. The "Sandy recovery bill" also includes $1.5 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers to spend on unrelated dredging projects and "damage from previous natural disasters." Billions more in "community development block grants" will also flow far outside of the impacted areas.

It's a bureaucratic free for fall, in other words.

It's been said that the federal government never lets a crisis go to waste. Apparently it never stops wasting money in a crisis, either. In either case it's time for this failed top-down approach to give way to the proven efficiency of the private sector. That's the best way to protect citizens - and taxpayers - when disasters strike.

Howard Rich is chairman of Americans for Limited Government.

The rise of a new religious America

Inside the First Amendment

By Charles C. Haynes
First Amendment Center

The first Hindu elected to the House of Representatives, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, will take the oath of office in a few weeks - and she has chosen to place her hand on the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred text of her tradition.

M eanwhile, the woman she replaces in Congress, Mazie Hirono, will be sworn in as the first Buddhist elected to the U.S. Senate.

Welcome to the new religious America.

Religious diversity, of course, has long been part of the American landscape. But in 2012, religious minorities became newly visible and vocal in a society historically dominated by the symbols, values and leaders of the Protestant faith.

Now that Protestants are no longer in the majority - as reported in a study released by the Pew Forum in October – even the term "religious minority" will need fresh definition in our newly minted minority-majority nation.

The electoral victories of Gabbard and Hirono are just two of many recent signals that demographic shifts and changing attitudes are rapidly transforming America's increasingly crowded public square.

Consider, for example, that for the first time in our history, none of the presidential or vice presidential candidates of either major party was a white Protestant.

Even more remarkable, the Mormon candidate not only received nearly half of the popular vote, but Mitt Romney was also supported in large numbers by evangelical voters who polls previously told us would not vote for a Mormon.

Religious affiliation (or lack thereof) is still a factor in public life. But the level of voter acceptance of candidates affiliated with historically unelectable faiths is growing.

When Congress convenes in January, significant numbers of politicians from groups with long histories of discrimination in America - notably Jews, Catholics and Mormons - will fill both chambers, many in leadership positions.

And let's not overlook the fact that the current U.S. Supreme Court is made up of six Catholic and three Jewish justices and - another first - no Protestant.

Not surprisingly, there has been some backlash and resentment from those who don't like the changing religious face of America - or who fear a falling away from the "Christian nation" they believe we are intended to be.

In 2012, American Muslims continued to be prime targets of both resentment and fear with debates in many state legislatures over anti-Shariah bills and protests in many communities over the building of mosques.

The most tragic religious-bias incident occurred on Aug. 6 when a white supremacist gunman attacked a Sikh temple in Wisconsin (perhaps in the mistaken belief that Sikhs are Muslims), killing six and wounding four.

But 2012 was also the year that American Muslims joined by many interfaith coalitions pushed back, defeating or stalling anti-Shariah legislation in a number of states and defeating several anti-Muslim candidates at the ballot box, including Florida Congressman Allen West.

The growing visibility and strength of America's religious diversity is good news for religious freedom. The First Amendment affords legal protections, but it cannot fully prevent people in the majority from imposing social discrimination and political exclusion on those in the minority.

As James Madison argued at our nation's founding, religious freedom is best secured in a society of many faiths and beliefs - with none in the majority. "For where there is such a variety of sects," wrote Madison, "there cannot be a majority of any one sect to oppress and persecute the rest."

Religious diversity, in other words, helps level the playing field, giving people of all faiths and none freedom to compete in the marketplace of ideas.

In religion, as in economics, monopolies stifle growth and innovation. That's why the end of the Protestant hegemony in America will be no loss for religious people of any tradition, including Protestants.

On the contrary, as domination of one faith recedes, freedom for all faiths and beliefs expands - moving us ever closer to fulfilling the promise of religious liberty under the First Amendment.

Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. firstamendmentcenter.org. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

A fond farewell to a teacher, mentor

Guest Column

By Don White
Contributing Columnist

As many of you know, I love writing about the good old days. Back in November my wife and I went back to my home town of Peoria. In fact we made two day trips. Each one was full of reminiscing with family and friends. The first trip was to visit my 91–year-old mother. My niece joined us for lunch and we had a wonderful time.

The second trip started out as a sad journey, but ended up filled with hugs, smiles, tears and fellowship, all in celebration of the wonderful life of a very good man. On Nov. 27 I received a call from my high school classmate, Jerry Ross, with the news that our high school coach and history teacher, Edward Herzog, had passed-away earlier that day.

Jerry and I knew that Edward had been seriously ill and we were anxious for his health. The day before Helen and I made our first trip to Peoria, I called to ask Mrs. Herzog if we could stop by for a short visit. She said no, that Mr. Herzog was not up to it. After talking for a while, I knew his time was short but was still shocked to learn of his passing. As soon as we found out when the visitation and service would be we made plans for the second trip to Peoria.

I first met Mr. Herzog in the fall of 1953 as we both began our first year at the brand new Limestone Community High School in Bartonville. Mr. Herzog was a history teacher and the freshman-sophomore basketball coach. I came in as a sophomore after attending my first nine years in the Peoria school system.

After serving in the Navy during World War II, Mr. Herzog received a bachelor's degree from Bradley University and a master's degree from the University of Illinois. He taught and coached at Bellevue Grade School before coming to Limestone.

I was privileged to have him as a history teacher and basketball coach. During my sophomore year, many of my classmates made the varsity team which allowed me to be-come a starter on the freshman-sophomore team. Our team played the first game in the new gym, which we won. The team finished the season with a 17-6 record.

In the spring of 1954, Mr. and Mrs. Herzog had a picnic for the team. This was the first time I remember meeting Mrs. Herzog and their two small children, Mark and Susan - Lori came later. Those early years at Limestone were filled with fun times.

When you have a teacher the likes of Mr. Herzog you don't always realize at the time that you are being taught things other than the lesson of the day. Likewise, as my basketball coach, I did not realize that he was teaching me much more than how to win the game.

Mr. Herzog broadened my love of history to a passion that has stayed with me until this very day. In the acknowledgment section of my book, I say, "To Mr. Endsley and Mr. Herzog, thank you for planting those seeds of learning, oh so many years ago." (Mr. Endsley was my typing teacher.)

Also during the first school year Mr. Herzog was the freshmen class advisor and Helen McCabe, my future wife, was a freshman class officer. I did not know anything yet about Miss McCabe. Not until my senior year did we finally meet and fall in love.

As the basketball team traveled around the state to represent our school, Mr. Herzog reminded us many times that we were ambassadors of the school. Wherever we went he expected us at all times to conduct ourselves accordingly. As I recall those days many years ago, I don't believe we ever let coach down. Many times when we traveled a distance for a game, we stopped at an upscale restaurant for dinner. Well, upscale for me anyway. (Not many fast-food establishments back then.)

After graduation in 1956, I still attended many of the games. As you may recall, I had a vested interest in a senior student by the name of Helen McCabe. After we were married in 1957 and after we moved to the Chicago area in 1967 we did not see much of Mr. Herzog.

He stayed on at Limestone for about 10 years, later becoming head basketball coach. He then took a job with the Hinsdale high school district where he remained for 20 years. Throughout most of this period we had little or no contact with Mr. and Mrs. Herzog. It was not until sometime in the 1990s when we began attending homecoming games and class reunions that we saw them again.

Whenever we saw Mr. Herzog, we would shake hands and hug, then he would say, "hello Donnie." (He is one of five people that still called me that.) It was amazing that he remembered so many of us after so many years. We always took time to talk about the good times we shared at Limestone. The last time we had seen Mr. and Mrs. Herzog was at our 55th class reunion in September 2011.

We made the second trip to Peoria on Friday, Nov. 30, this time to say farewell to coach. Anytime you attend a funeral service, it is a sorrowful time. Many times you don't know what to say to the family. You pay your respects and attempt to say a few kind words to the family before the service begins.

That is the way this service began. The pastor, Dean Reeverts, talked some about Mr. Herzog's life. A few verses of scripture were read and the usual hymns were played. Then the tone changed as Mr. Herzog's Aunt Ruth, who was playing the organ, played a few lively tunes such as "Bill Baily won't you please come home?" - that was one of his favorites. The pastor then asked if anyone might have a story about Mr. Herzog to share.

Some family members spoke, then some of those who had worked with Mr. Herzog over the years and some that were his students had some tales to tell. We were all laughing and crying and realized more than ever just what a wonderful man Mr. Herzog was. As we left the service we all felt it was our privilege to have known him.

The service was a celebration of the life of a man who worked in the field of education for nearly 40 years. Think of the lives he touched and the encouragement he gave to so many young minds. Those of us who were fortunate enough to have him for a teacher or coach were blessed to have someone who cared about us. Not just about how well we did in class or how many games we won or points we scored.

Mr. Herzog was someone that I looked up to as my teacher and coach. Well, yes, I did literally look up to him as he was 6 foot 5 inches tall and I am 5 foot 6 inches tall. But you know what I mean. He gave me the gift of self-confidence that I have carried with me all of my adult life.

We should all take the take time to stop and think about a teacher, coach or mentor that may have influenced our lives. If that person are still around, please take time to let him or her know just how much you appreciate them.

Rest in Peace Coach Herzog.

Don White is a resident of Palos Hills.

Great plans go nowhere without action

Live Without Limits

By Bryan Golden

The New Year is a time of resolutions. It's a time when people commit to making a change in their life. Losing weight, changing jobs, saving money, making money, a new relationship, getting in shape, going back to school or giving up smoking are just some of the goals people set for themselves on Jan. 1.

Although it's possible for anyone to make a change or a new start, it takes determination, commitment and persistence. A new goal must be your own. You have to really want it. Without a burning desire, your motivation will fade quickly. It's virtually impossible to make a change due to external pressure.

You may agree to what someone else wants you to do, but it's very difficult to succeed without an internal drive. So, in order to successfully make a change or reach a goal, you have to make sure it's what you really want.

Don't start off on the wrong foot by making excuses as to why you will probably fail. If you don't truly believe you can do it, you won't. People who do this will say something like, "I'll try to do it, but …" Or you may hear, "I tried before and it didn't work but I'll give it another go." Before you begin, make sure the only things you are telling yourself are, "I can," "I will" and "I will do whatever it takes."

A new beginning is a three step process. You have to first know what you want, formulate a plan to achieve it, and then take the necessary action to get it. Setting a specific goal is essential. The more detailed the better. If you want to lose weight, how much and by when? If you want a new job, what will it be and how much will it pay? If you want to save money, how much and how often?

Next, you need a plan. Just like your goal, your plan must be as detailed as possible. If you are going to lose weight, what will be your menu each week? Are you going to go on a specific diet, cut out certain foods, or just eat less? For finding a new job, what will be your strategy? Do you need a new resume? Will you look on line, in the classifieds, use an employment agency, network, cold call, or all of these? If you want to save more money, in what areas will you cut back? Do you know where your money is going? Have you created a budget?

You want your plan to be doable. The smaller the steps are, the more likely you will be to succeed. Any time you feel a step is too big, break it down further. It doesn't matter how small each step is so long as you keep going and never give up.

Losing 20 pounds may feel overwhelming, but dropping two pounds a month doesn't seem too bad. If you keep at it for 10 months, you will reach your goal. Saving $3,000 might appear beyond reach, but cutting back $9 a day on family spending is manageable.

Finally, you must take action. The best goals and greatest plans will go nowhere without action. The reason you divided your plan into small sections is so it would be easy to take action, one day at a time. All you have to do is keep going, until you achieve your goal.

Bryan Golden is the author of "Dare to Live Without Limits," and a self-development expert, syndicated columnist and professor." Visit DareToLiveWithoutLimits.com. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . © 2013 Bryan Golden

Resolve to preserve, use and celebrate America's core freedoms

Inside the First Amendment

By Gene Policinski
First Amendment Center

New-year resolutions often have the real-world substance and life expectancy of steam vapor. We resolve to lose weight, communicate better, stay in closer touch with family - often to no avail.

But then there are resolutions that stick.

Think of the five freedoms of the First Amendment as a resolution by the nation's Founders, setting out the goals of religious freedom, freedoms of speech and press, and rights to assemble freely and petition the government for change. Goals for a new nation and at the same time the workings of a free society.

Of course, the Founders set out their promises of freedom of expression and faith not just for a new year but for a new era, with no expiration date. Their resolution was binding on succeeding generations.

So how are we doing?

In the wake of what critics have called "journalistic bedlam" after the December school shootings in Newtown, Conn., came calls for "common-sense media control" and even outright government censorship of breaking-news reports.

When the deliberately shocking Westboro Baptist Church advertised an intention to parade its anti-homosexuality views during some of the Newtown funerals, public pushback included attacks on the group's and members' websites by hackers. A petition started on a White House website to have the protesters declared a "hate group" - presumably to remove legal protections afforded Westboro and its ilk by a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Snyder v. Phelps.

And after a New York state newspaper published the names and addresses of gun-permit holders in several counties, not only were angry comments aimed at the editors, but a Maryland legislator also proposed banning publication of the "private" information of who holds gun permits in his state.

Until news media and public-accountability groups mounted a successful challenge, Congress was considering legislation to greatly restrict which bureaucrats could speak with the public or journalists about work even remotely connected to national security. The original proposal probably would have eliminated a long-standing practice of background briefings on terrorism and other security matters.

To be sure, our national debates on First Amendment issues have sometimes produced less-than-ideal situations: the 1798 Sedition Act, the 1950s "blacklists" of authors and playwrights, Vietnam-era and post-9/11 surveillance or suppression of protesters or religious faiths deemed extreme or weird. But the good news is that we've generally come to our First Amendment senses after flirting with such limits, controls and pogroms.

Congress as editor? The specter of government "media control" raises questions not just of constitutionality but also of practicality. Who makes the final decision on what the "one, true story" is? How would government stop publication of "wrong" facts immediately after an event without a massive bureaucracy that would, at the very least, be far too slow to deal with any kind of breaking news? Moreover, do we want government to produce a single set of approved facts?

As to Westboro's antics: Far better for the public to hear and see the hate-filled messages directly. Yes, without its sidewalk performances, few would know of this family-run group from Topeka, Kan. But our Founders believed the cure for speech you don't like is more speech, not less - and in each generation, the marketplace of ideas will have a few stalls operated by the wildly unpopular.

Finally, trying to close off public and press access to government officials to stem leaks hasn't worked in the past - and with the Internet, there's even less reason to believe it would work today. Government secrecy is needed in some matters, and laws on treason and espionage already are on the books. Case in point: Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, facing trial in March for leaking huge amounts of secret documents to the global web organization WikiLeaks.

But whistleblowers who disclose waste, fraud and abuse are positive factors in self-governance, not turncoats. Let's not condemn a mid-level official who exposes internal policy disagreements on water-quality standards in the same voice as a spy whose work endangers national security.

So let's keep faith with the Founders and resolve to step into the New Year with a goal of preserving, using and celebrating our core freedoms.

Gene Policinski is senior vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center in Nashville, Tenn. Web: www.firstamendmentcenter.org. E-mail: gpolicinski@facorg.