The Learning Curve

by M. Scott Douglass

So what has our recent experience with shutting down the government and flirting with default taught us about Ted Cruz and his cadre of crazies?

It’s taught us that there are still those who would gladly, even thankfully, drink the Kool-Aid and hold a gun to the head of those who did not voluntarily join them.

It’s taught us that even the kid in Pee Wee football who gathers a fumble and runs to the wrong end zone has fans in the stands jumping up and down, waving pom-poms because they don’t understand the rules of the game well enough to know their kid just scored points for the other team.

We’ve learned that there are districts in America with constituents willing to proudly walk around in clown face as though it were the natural thing to do.

And the list goes on—if you are paying attention. Too many don’t. Too many will be cheering again in January for another government shutdown, another embarrassing slap from the right that will reinforce to the common sense folks that, hey, this was a really fun party, dude, but whose going to clean up before the parents get home?

On a personal note, I’m gratified that the Tea Party and Republicans in general have acted predictably and will do so again in January. This is the Boehner/Rove/Koch brother legacy. The biggest question I have is: Are the voters whose representatives forced us in this direction smart enough to realize this is the wrong way to run a government or will they continue to send the same chuckleheads back to behave the same way?

If they do, I’m fine with that. I can do my best to avoid buying things made in Texas and other places that support this kind of radicalism until they come to their senses. After all, that’s what they promote: a shutdown of commerce on the basis of philosophical beliefs. Happy to oblige.

We’ll know soon if we have learned anything from our experience with incompetence. In the meantime, I’m careful how I tie my shoes. I don’t want to give anyone the opportunity to Ted Cruz me.


By M. Scott Douglass


I had a piece that focused on writing all set to post, but shutting down the federal government…  sorry, that requires a response.

I’m glad the Republicans forced this shut down. No, I’m not a right wing fanatic. I am a proud supporter of the Affordable Healthcare Act.

No, I don’t think we need a further demonstration of dysfunctionality within our two party system, but ineptitude can breed new and better things. And what might they be?

For one thing a moderate third party. All these Republicans who are running scared from Senator Cruz and the crazies within their own party, who are afraid of getting primaried, should just concede that their party doesn’t want them anymore, band together with conservative Democrats and form a party that is willing to do what it takes to do the nation’s business as it pertains to ALL of the nation’s citizens, not 10% who gerrymandered their way into office.

Second, if John Boehner is so afraid of people within his party, then he should step aside and let someone else do the job; someone who would be willing to call a vote on a clean bill and let the chips fall where they may.

We’ve allowed elected government positions to become an oligarchy to the point where we now have families whose chief trade is politics. Examples: Kennedys, Bushes, Clintons, Pauls—and the list goes on. So, losing a seat, a job in either house of Congress, is like a black mark against the family legacy. Is this how we want our representatives to decide how the government should be run? As a matter of whether they lose an election as opposed to doing the right thing?

Immediately after forcing a shutdown, House Republicans started a series of political stunts to show the public that THEY are not the bad guys here. These stunts would be amusing if they didn’t use veterans and sick children as tools in their battle to defund Obamacare. That’s what it’s all about—and they believe we’re too stupid to understand what they’re doing.

I heard one Congressman—I believe it was Robert Pittenger—ask the question, “Why can’t we wait another year to enact this law so we can at least see what’s in it?” Which begs a question: “If you couldn’t figure out what it says in four years, what will waiting another year do?”

What it will do is prevent Americans from getting the healthcare they need and being happy with this program. Having people happy with the program will prevent Republicans from ever taking it away.

Waiting a year would allow Republicans something to run against that is ethereal as opposed to real with measurable results. That don’t want math entered into the equation because they would be on the wrong side of it. They don’t want this program to see any measure of success and THEY KNOW, if enacted, it will work and that would make their task of getting rid of it that much harder.

So, why would they want to get rid of it? Aside from the fact that it’s yet another government program and a redistribution of wealth—two things that are against their religion—it would bite into the wealth at the top of the healthcare pyramid and those folks are their contributors. Remember, a recent study showing a breakdown of who actually made up the top 1% of wage earners in America showed that, at the time Ronnie Reagan passed a law to allow hospitals to be for-profit thereby causing healthcare costs to grow 300% faster than the rate of inflation of ALL other sectors in our economy, AT THAT TIME only 6% of the top wage earners had anything to do with the healthcare industry. Today that number hovers near 20%. Tell me, to whom are the Republicans beholding?

Now Republicans in the House have proposed funding bits and pieces of the economy rather than passing one whole thing and they are blaming Democrats in the Senate for not approving these token offerings. This is where they are wedging veterans and children with cancer to tug at the heart strings and show that they are the compassionate dealmakers who want to negotiate, not Democrats. Why shouldn’t the Democrats take this deal?

Have you ever heard the term getting back-doored? Remember the Republicans’ stated goal:  to defund Obamacare. Well, if you piecemeal everything out, it’s the same thing. The Republicans will only approve for vote on items they want to fund and NOT vote on items they don’t want funded. They could go through a checklist until the only thing remaining is Obamacare and then they do nothing.

That’s the plan. That’s why funding the government has to be ALL or NOTHING.

This is no less than economic terrorism. Forty House Republicans cannot be given that much power to dictate what the entire nation wants and whether it should be funded. If we let them, then that favored phrase of We do not negotiate with terrorists will no longer have any meaning.

HOMEMAKER by M. Scott Douglass

Silly Scott

Before I committed to opening a publishing company and doing this full time, I’d done a variety of things to pay the bills—aside from the 22 years I spent as a dental technician. My first jobs were lawn care and dog sitting. Before I had a driver’s license I hustled peanuts, popcorn, coca cola, and hot dogs in the upper deck of Three Rivers Stadium. For two and a half years I worked in a hardware store where I learned there are usually a thousand different names for the same part. I’ve done construction and demolition, worked retail and security, even done some less than savory jobs like breeding rats for the Pathology Department at the University of Pittsburgh. I’ve produced with my hands as well as my head.

So, imagine my surprise when I was reviewing the paperwork for refinancing our house. Aside from the fact that they used three different versions of my name, they had my occupation listed as homemaker.

I have nothing against the hardworking homemakers of the world and while I realize there is a certain amount of uncertainty involved in the publishing field these days, listing me as a homemaker just didn’t seem quite accurate.

But that’s only part of the story.

We started this process back in May with the bank where my wife works. Because she works there, we were being very careful not to step on any toes. In fact, I sat in on the initial phone call and from that point on, let my wife handle it because she is more patient and has a more pleasant demeanor and this was the company where she works after all.

Through June we went back and forth. The paperwork I offered them in May (which they said they wouldn’t need) was requested one   document   at   a   time over the course of three weeks. It was agonizing and the team that handled it was incompetent. There is no other way to put it.

We were finally scheduled to close on Monday, August 5. They brought the paperwork right to the house, but what they brought was the exact package that we had rejected and asked them to restructure the last week of June. They had ignored everything we said. And so, they were forced to deal with the less patient member of our household:  me.

I’m an ultimatum kind of guy. You’ll get it right, or I’ll take my business elsewhere. I won’t go into the details of my exchange with the office, but the paperwork they had spent 10 weeks screwing up was rewritten and signed by Friday, August 9, but here’s the catch: They still had two different versions of my name on the document only this time they used one I’d never used—ever. It’s something they apparently made up. BUT—on the good side—where it appeared, it was listed as an AKA.

It really rankled me to have to sign my name this way and I do wonder if there was a person with this name and if he has done things that might now cause me grief, but we were anxious to get this over with and, given my experience with their vast abilities to screw things up, I had no faith that they would get it right if we kicked it back to them anyway. So we signed. The deed is done.

But then there’s that matter of occupation. I asked the contact person about it. I told her I realized that being a paperback book publisher may not ever put me on the Fortune 500 and asked how I’d become a homemaker. She said they were not using my income because self-employment makes for more complicated paperwork. So—in short—I am a homemaker on the paperwork for my new home loan because my job does not make a significant enough contribution to the household income to be considered.

Homemakers of America should be up in arms over that statement, but me…  I learned back in my hardware days:  There are a thousand different names for every part. I see they’re still inventing new ones every day.

HANDY WORK by M. Scott Douglass

I’ve said on more than one occasion that America’s economic problem revolves around the fact that we don’t make anything here anymore. We’ve spent an entire generation shipping production overseas and importing laborers to do the work that we don’t want to do while at the same time teaching our children to believe that manual labor is beneath them, that working with your hands is what you resort to when you’re not smart enough to get a real job.

This came back to bite us recently when the economy tanked because the folks with money were making it through the stock market and the stock market tends to reward companies that cut their costs while increasing their profit. Since that is the model and labor is cheaper overseas, most of our production jobs (and the income that accompanies them) disappeared. When you have manual labor people out of work, you have a whole segment of society with limited income to spend. That stagnates the economy. And here we are.

The interesting thing is: when retirement comes around, what are we expected to do with our time? We could golf every day—if we could afford it—and that will take up a few hours. There’s always reading. Exercising, if we are still able. Volunteer work is a worthy use of time. All of these and more are physical activities. If we choose to knit, paint, build knick-knacks, garden—these all come under the heading of manual labor—the same things we are teaching our children are not skills of value when they are growing up, become our fallback position once the earning period of our lives expires.

And when you talk to people who have taken up a new activity, a new hobby, you find how gratifying the work is. The joy derived from doing something.

I’ve written in this blog before about buying tools for woodworking, about building shelves and doors for the man cave I have in the back yard—now being dubbed The Cycle Shack. I could spend hours out there fussing with tools, trueing bicycle wheels, repairing something that didn’t work or making something new from scratch. I get so much enjoyment out of visualizing a concept and bringing it to light, that much of my spare time activity has shifted from writing poetry to working with wood. This is the same kind of enjoyment I get when I design a book, then print it, then bind and trim it.

Working with my hands is not a new concept for me. I have construction and demolition in my resume and wood carving has been an art form of choice since my grandfather first taught me to whittle when I was eight-years-old. Regardless of the quality of the work, the act of doing, of making something, provides an outlet I don’t get anywhere else.

The problem is: We don’t value these skills and activities enough in America. We make jokes about things like basket weaving or knitting, but have you ever tried either? It takes manual dexterity, skill, practice, an eye for design. And yet, we often reserve the latter part of our lives for these activities and view people who take them up at an early as not doing something financially worthy or productive with their time. To those who feel this way, I have a question: Whose value system is off-kilter, the person who invests his or her time in the joy of making or the person who looks at the end product and tries to find a way to get it made for less?