A Commentary On The Budget Crisis

I have decided to do something I have not done in a long time: remark on a political issue.

The budget crisis that is gripping our country has seized my intrigue.  And, since I have been in a pretty intellectual mood lately, I can’t resist the temptation to weigh in.

The facts are these.  Republicans control the House of Representatives; Democrats control the presidency and the Senate.  A bill must be passed by October 1st (Tuesday) to fund the federal government, or it will be forced to shutdown.  If a bill to increase the borrowing limit is also not passed by mid-October, the federal government will default on its debts.

The House of Representatives is refusing to pass any bill that funds the government unless Obamacare is defunded or delayed.  The Senate and the President are refusing to pass any bill that defunds or delays Obamacare.

Public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans oppose the implementation of Obamacare.  The polls also show that a majority of Americans oppose shutting down the government.

Neither side appears willing to compromise.

The Democrats have accused the Republicans of using illegitimate tactics and have called some of them “anarchists” and “legislative arsonists.”  The Republicans have argued that their tactics are supported by James Madison’s Federalist No. 58.  They argue that this is the way our government is supposed to work.

James Madison is the father of the American Constitution and, accordingly, his writings carry great weight on issues of concerning the mechanics of our government.  He was, after all, the chief engineer who designed the machine.

A testament to his genius, Madison foresaw the exact dilemma we are faced with.  He wrote that the “power of the purse” — the House of Representative’s authority to fund or defund the government — is a key aspect of our democracy. Madison envisioned that such power would be used “address grievances” and to “carry into effect every just and salutory measure.”  James Madison wrote the following:

The House of Representatives cannot only refuse, but they alone can propose, the supplies requisite for the support of government. They, in a word, hold the purse that powerful instrument by which we behold, in the history of the British Constitution, an infant and humble representation of the people gradually enlarging the sphere of its activity and importance, and finally reducing, as far as it seems to have wished, all the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of the government. This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.

However, Madison believed that both chambers of Congress would have an interest in avoiding a government shutdown.  He wrote as follows:

But will not the House of Representatives be as much interested as the Senate in maintaining the government in its proper functions, and will they not therefore be unwilling to stake its existence or its reputation on the pliancy of the Senate? Or, if such a trial of firmness between the two branches were hazarded, would not the one be as likely first to yield as the other? These questions will create no difficulty with those who reflect that in all cases the smaller the number, and the more permanent and conspicuous the station, of men in power, the stronger must be the interest which they will individually feel in whatever concerns the government. Those who represent the dignity of their country in the eyes of other nations, will be particularly sensible to every prospect of public danger, or of dishonorable stagnation in public affairs. To those causes we are to ascribe the continual triumph of the British House of Commons over the other branches of the government, whenever the engine of a money bill has been employed. An absolute inflexibility on the side of the latter, although it could not have failed to involve every department of the state in the general confusion, has neither been apprehended nor experienced. The utmost degree of firmness that can be displayed by the federal Senate or President, will not be more than equal to a resistance in which they will be supported by constitutional and patriotic principles.

To summarize, Madison recognized that giving the House of Representatives the power to fund the government could lead to a government shutdown. However, he noted that such a thing had never happened in Great Britain.  He thought it was unlikely to ever happen, because the representatives would view it as an embarrassment to the country and a threat to their own personal security.

Dear Mr. Madison . . . it’s happening.  (And it has happened before.)

Of course, Madison is right.  Shutting down the government does not benefit anyone.  And it may cause severe damage to our international reputation and economy.

That being said, the power to defund the government exists for a reason.  If the President and Senate believe the government will never do it, the power means nothing.  The real question that faces us today is, “what are the legitimate goals that can be accomplished by that power?”

Madison had something to say about obstructionist behavior, too.  He advised against requiring a quorum of more than 51% in order to pass new laws for fear that doing so would result in minority rule.  He wrote the following:

In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority. Were the defensive privilege limited to particular cases, an interested minority might take advantage of it to screen themselves from equitable sacrifices to the general weal, or, in particular emergencies, to extort unreasonable indulgences.

It is interesting that Madison used the word “extort” which is the same term that has been used by President Obama.  Terms aside, Madison clearly saw obstructionism as an evil to be avoided — at least in cases where it was a minority doing the obstruction.

In sum, our Constitution gives the House of Representatives the power to shut down the government.  However, that power should not be used for the purposes of minority party oppression.  It should be reserved for rare situations where the interest is great enough to justify the disruption.

Turning to the crisis at hand, a majority of our representatives apparently feel that repealing Obamacare is worth shutting down the government to make a point.  These are the people we elected to Congress and I respect their decision, whether or not I agree with it.  If we don’t like the consequences, we can voice our opinions and vote them out next term if they don’t listen.  I predict they will come to their senses soon enough and realize that our national reputation and solvency is more important than the type of healthcare system we have.

Miss America Recap

Last Sunday’s Miss America pageant was one for the ages.  That was probably as much drama and suspense as I’ve ever seen in the pageant.

Now it’s time to toot my own horn a little about how everything unfolded exactly how I envisioned.  Well, maybe not exactly, but close enough.

For the second straight year, a Miss New York won the pageant.  And for a second straight year, Miss New York was not in my Top 15 finalist picks (or even my Top 20).  Naysayers out there might say I blew it again.  I say phooey to that.  Just read this prophetic passage I wrote on the eve of the pageant:

As a final comment I would like to make a special shout-out to all the contestants from the Northeast region.  The Northeast, which is usually one of the weaker regions, produced by far its finest class since I started following the pageant.  I could see almost all of the girls from that region doing very well.  Until last year, a girl from the Northeast had not won the pageant since Vanessa Williams won it in 1984.  I could easily see two in a row.

Now if that’s not calling it, I don’t know what is.  The Northeast had more contestants in the Top 10 (3) than any other region.

And, I carefully explained why I didn’t choose Miss New York as one of my finalists.  It was not because I didn’t think she had potential.  I just didn’t think her Bollywood dance would go over well at an American pageant.

So consider that criticism dismissed.

Overall, I feel like my picks did well this year.  Once again, I did not pick the winner but at least my #1 pick made it to the finals (unlike last year).  In fact, Miss Oklahoma came very close to winning it — she finished 3rd.  That makes the 3rd time in the last 4 years that the contestant I chose to win it all has finished in the Top 3.  Not a bad track record if you ask me.  Unfortunately, none of them took home the crown.

My #2 pick, Miss Texas, also finished in the Top 10, and probably would have made the Top 5 if she had not forgotten the words to her song!  I better not say anything bad about her because she lives here in Dallas and is a law student, so it’s possible that our paths might cross in the future.

My #3 pick, Miss Mississippi, made the Top 15.  I was shocked that she got knocked out after the swimsuit competition considering she won the preliminary swimsuit award.  Not sure what happened there.

Eight of the Top 15 finalists were on my finals list.  Miss Connecticut, who finished in the Top 10, was also on my initial list of 20.  I also explained why I did not choose Miss Florida or Miss Kansas.  Then Miss Florida passed me the salt and Miss Kansas passed me the pepper.  The show they put on was incredible.

For someone who “learned how to sing opera on YouTube” shortly before the pageant, Miss Kansas had a pretty amazing voice.

And we might as well call Miss Florida the Adrian Peterson of pageantry.  Not only did she grit out a swimsuit competition on an torn ACL (and advanced), she also powered through a evening gown competition (and advanced), and a talent competition that required her to spin and twirl while juggling three batons at once (and advanced).  I got some serious chills while watching her talent.  That was the moment when I felt like the pageant was over, and everyone else was playing for 2nd place.  What Miss Florida did on Sunday night was one of finest performances I’ve ever seen in a competitive event.  Ironically, the only thing that tripped her up was the one thing that did not require her to use her knee at all — the onstage question.

Last year, Mallory Hagan took the pageant by storm and claimed a decisive victory.  This year, the pageant turned into a BCS poll.  You could make the case for Miss Florida, Miss Oklahoma, Miss Maryland, Miss Connecticut, or Miss New York.  I think all five deserved the crown.  All five brought their A+ game.  But sadly, only one could win.  It was a tough call.

I have to hand it to Miss New York.  I felt like she won the swimsuit and evening gown competitions.  Based on her performance in those phases alone, she deserved to win.  With that said, she would not have been my choice.  My vote would have gone to Miss Oklahoma, because I felt like she would make the best Miss America all along and her impeccable performance confirmed my feelings.  My second choice would have been Miss Florida because she deserved it the most.  Although I originally wasn’t convinced she would make a good Miss America, after seeing her perform I was convinced she wanted it the most and that no one with that kind of heart could be anything but a good representative for our country.  My third choice would probably have been Miss Maryland, because I felt she was a solid overall contestant and her talent performance was exceptional.  It would have been tough to choose between Miss Connecticut or New York, but I feel Miss Connecticut would have made the better Miss America due to her immensely charming personality.

There is usually a moment in every Miss America talent competition when the winner emerges.  You immediately realize that what your seeing is about to played and replayed on every news network that evening, above the headline “Miss X _________ crowned Miss America.”  It happened in 2009, when Katie Stam sang Via Dolorosa.  It happened in 2010, when Caressa Cameron belted out Grammy-quality notes.  It happened in 2011, when Teresa Scanlan set the piano on fire.  It happened in 2012, when Laura Kaeppler delivered a spell-bounding rendition of “Il Bacio.”  And it happened last year, when Mallory Hagan took the pageant by storm with her tap dance routine.

I did not feel that at all when Miss New York performed.  At no point during her dance did I envision her winning Miss America.  It wasn’t that the dance had a distinctly foreign flavor — it just didn’t impress me.  Too many hand movements, not enough footwork.  Seemed like something anyone could do given enough practice.

On the other hand, there were moments in Miss Oklahoma’s, Miss Maryland’s, and Miss Connecticut’s performances where I felt like the stars had aligned for them.  And of course Miss Florida’s performance was off the charts.  But none of those girls did as well as Miss New York in the swimsuit or evening gown competitions.

Now a lot has been written lately about the hurtful remarks that have been directed at Nina Davuluri on social media.  Obviously there are idiots out there.  Although I personally excluded her from consideration due to the fact she was performing a Bollywood dance, I think we should be careful before labeling something un-American.  After all, how is a Bollywood dance any more “un-American” than the Irish riverdance that Miss Connecticut performed?  Or the Italian opera song that Miss Kansas sang?  There is a fine line between nationalism and racism.

The bottom line is, the dance just wasn’t done well enough for my tastes.  Regardless, I still feel that Nina Davuluri was a deserving winner based on the other phases of the competition and have high hopes that she will make a fine Miss America.

Miss America 2014… Nina Davuluri!

Congratulations to our new Miss America, Miss New York Nina Davuluri!  A very deserving winner of a fantastic thriller of a pageant.

Tonight was probably the best Miss America pageant I’ve ever seen.  The competition was incredible.  I thought there were several ladies deserving of the crown, including my pick to win it, Miss Oklahoma, who finished 3rd.  Very proud of her.  Also proud of Miss Arkansas, who made the finals despite me counting her out.  If only I had more faith.

And of course Miss Florida and Miss Kansas lived up to the hype… Boy did they ever.

More to come later….

The Rankings

It’s time to announce my 2014 Miss America rankings!

1.  Miss Oklahoma

2.  Miss Texas

3.  Miss Mississippi

4.  Miss West Virginia

5.  Miss South Carolina

6.  Miss Utah

7.  Miss New Hampshire

8.  Miss Tennessee

9.  Miss Minnesota

10.  Miss Georgia

11.  Miss California

12.  Miss Missouri

13.  Miss Indiana

14.  Miss Maryland

15.  Miss North Carolina

Interestingly, I noticed that there are two contestants named Crystal Lee — Miss Hawaii and Miss California.  What are the odds of that?

Here is a link to Good Morning America’s preview of the pageant, which predictably focuses on Miss Kansas and Miss Florida.  They actually show the video clip of Miss Florida tearing her ACL . . . looked very, very painful.  It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out this evening.

Miss America Preview

It is time to announce the contestants that I feel will be contenders at the Miss America pageant this year.  These are my initial Top 20 selections from which I will choose and rank my 15 finalists for tomorrow’s pageant.

Regional Representatives — to make sure I am not unfairly favoring one part of the country over the other, I choose contestants that represent at least 10 different regions of the country.  I generally hold these contestants in higher regard that any “wild card” contestants who are also from the same region.  This year, due to my late start, I have the benefit of knowing the preliminary winners.

Here are my ten regional reps: Miss Mississippi (South), Miss Oklahoma (Lower Midwest), Miss Minnesota (Upper Midwest), Miss New Hampshire (Northeast), Miss Washington (Pacific Northwest), Miss West Virginia (Psuedo South), Miss Indiana (Rust Belt), Miss California (Central California), Miss Utah (West), and Miss Texas (Texas).

And my ten wildcard contestants are: Miss Georgia, Miss New Jersey, Miss Delaware, Miss Tennessee, Miss North Carolina, Miss Ohio, Miss Missouri, Miss Maryland, Miss Connecticut, and Miss South Carolina.

I should temper expectations by recalling that last year, the contestant crowned Miss America was absent from my original Top 20.  She did not even have the courtesy to send me a text message in advance letting me know she was going to win.  And even if she had, I would not have believed her because she was a tap dancer.  A tap dancer had never won Miss America.  Until last year.

I watched the pageant and felt she was an excellent choice for Miss America.  I then kicked myself.

I also whiffed on Miss America in 2011.  Let’s not talk about that.

This year, the only thing I will be kicking is kicking back a tall, cold glass of victory when the ticker tape falls tomorrow night.  Unlike last year, this is not a pageant wrought with parity.  Don’t get me wrong, all the girls are quality contestants.  But this year, there are several ladies that are a cut above the rest.  That is why I am pretty confident that tomorrow’s winner will come from the group listed above (and hopefully my chosen winner).

And last year I actually did surprisingly well in picking the finalists, except for overlooking the girl who actually WON it.  A very minor detail.

Here’s to even better luck this year.

I have posted some pageant-related links below.  Now I must mention some of the noteworthy women who I didn’t pick for my Top 20.  One is Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, who made headlines this week by becoming the first ever contestant to compete at Miss America with visible tattoos.  If that does not make her interesting enough, she is also in the army and speaks Chinese.  And as any heterosexual man would tell you, she is super attractive.  However, she did not make my list for one simple reason.  Her talent was archery, and the Miss America Organization disallowed her from using a bow onstage.  So, she changed her talent to singing at the last minute.  Now, I am 100% impressed with this young lady, and would love nothing more than to see her buck the odds and suddenly become a pageant-winning singer overnight.  I just don’t see it happening.  Nothing is more important at Miss America than talent, and barring a miracle, she just ain’t got it.

Also, I’ve learned from past experience to stay away from contestants who generate controversy prior to the pageant, as it never bodes well for their chances.  But if this girl was to win the pageant tomorrow, it would be the story of the year.  And I would gladly, gladly eat crow to see it happen.

Another girl who didn’t make the cut is the heartwarming story of Miss Iowa, Nicole Kelly, who is competing despite having only one arm.  As with Miss Kansas, I am rooting for her big time, and would love to see her beat the odds and win.  But this isn’t my first rodeo.  Movie-script stories rarely have happy endings at Miss America.  It is survival of the fittest out there.

I actually feel kind of bad that this next girl did not make my list.  Miss Florida, Myrrhanda Jones, whose talent is baton twirling, was warming up for her routine this week when — prepare to grimace — she tore her ACL.  As in the type of injury that would immediately end any NFL player’s season.  Her kneecap was flipped around on the side of her knee.  Awful, hideous injury.  Clearly, her pageant was over.  Right?  No.  Oh no.  She goes to an orthopedic surgeon who twisted her kneecap back into place and fits her with a brace.  She then get back on the stage, brace and all, and proceeds to compete in the pageant by twirling 3 batons at once!  Hobbling around with a torn ACL!  You can’t make this up.  And apparently did it well enough to win a preliminary talent award.  Now that’s damn impressive.  She also lost her little sister in a 4-wheeler accident, which she said was a pain far worse than the ruptured knee ligaments.  Another girl I would love, love, love to see win it.  But let’s not forget she has a torn ACL.  I don’t see how she can even walk on the stage.  If she was on my fantasy football team, she would be listed as “doubtful.”  So to call her a long-shot would be sugar-coating it.  That’s why she didn’t make the list.

With that said, I would not be surprised if Miss Florida made the Final 15 since she was a preliminary winner.  Also, I think she completed her other rounds before the injury happened.  I cringe at the thought of having to watch her grit out a swimsuit competition with a torn ACL.  Hopefully, the pageant judges will spare us that sight by finding her a nice comfortable place to sit with the other 37 non-finalists.

The last girl I would like to mention who did not make my list is Miss New York Nina Davuluri.  It is rare for a state to miss the finals the year after it wins.  And I think Miss New York is a perfectly fine contestant with solid credentials.  The problem is that her talent is “classical Bollywood fusion.”  If she can pull that off, more power to her.  I just don’t see it happening.

As a final comment I would like to make a special shout-out to all the contestants from the Northeast region.  The Northeast, which is usually one of the weaker regions, produced by far its finest class since I started following the pageant.  I could see almost all of the girls from that region doing very well.  Until last year, a girl from the Northeast had not won the pageant since Vanessa Williams won it in 1984.  I could easily see two in a row.  It was hard to pick a regional representative, but I eventually settled on Miss New Hampshire as the only preliminary winner.  I must say, however, that Miss Delaware had the best intro video I’ve ever seen in my several years of watching the pageant.  A+++!

I can’t wait til the lights go down in Atlantic City tomorrow night!

Goodbye Xanga, Hello WordPress

Xanga has gone up in smoke, so I have decided to give WordPress a try.  I never did much blogging on Xanga anyway.  I mostly enjoyed reading other people’s blogs, which is probably what I will end up doing on here too.

One thing I’ve blogged about for several years now is the Miss America pageant.  I usually get started writing about it weeks in advance, but this year it snuck up on me.  Believe it or not, the pageant is this weekend.  Yes, as in Sunday.  For as far back as I can remember, the pageant has been held in late January.  One of the few things to look forward to after New Year’s, when the weather is still cold and icky.  It will be strange watching Miss America in September.  It’s not like people need anything else to watch in September.  We already have more sports than we can shake a stick at — NFL football, college football, baseball playoff races, and NASCAR, for those of us who like to drink beer and watch cars drive in a circle.

I may even blog a little about my life since it has become notably more interesting lately.  The elevator music of my life has changed tracks from Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville” to “In The City” by the Eagles.

Speaking of which, can we play music on here?  Does anyone know how to play music on here?