Monday, November 16, 2015

A Room Full of Bees

"France is at War" according to French President Francois Hollande as he addressed a special joint session of their Parliament today and further proclaimed "Terrorism will not destroy France because France will destroy it."  These are strong words but, apparently, the French intend to carry through as they increased bombing on suspected ISIS training bases and ammunition storage facilities in Syria and Iraq and continue to do so as we speak.

First, let me say that every peaceful and freedom loving American has to sympathize with the French people who lost 132 of their countrymen and women with another 350 wounded, 99 seriously, in a series of dastardly and cowardly attacks on Friday. Innocent people gathering to watch a sporting event, a concert, or just out for a nice dinner with loved ones - all were indiscriminately and ruthlessly slaughtered, in the name of Allah. Our prayers, to our God, for the victims, their families and friends are legion at a time when other such attacks and threats against the west continue to mount.  My wife, Vicki, sends out a "Prayer of the Day" email, each and every day, to family and friends.  Today's prayer was:
I grieve with the people of Paris.
I grieve for the lives lost in senseless violence.
My tears are shed for those who have been wounded.
My heart aches for those who are consumed by hate.
Please give wisdom to those who make decisions.
Give your strength to those who seek to protect.
Give guidance to those who must respond.
Lord have mercy.

Two things stand out to me in this heavenly petition - give wisdom to those who make decisions and guidance to those who MUST respond.  Was this prayer answered as Hollande declared all out war on radical Islamic terrorism (ISIS, Al Queda, et al) and escalated the bombing of suspected terrorist strongholds?  I wish I could answer that question definitively.  But I can't.  All I know is there appears to be no way to peacefully negotiate with these people. 

I liken it to being naked in a closed room with a thousand bees, one hundred of which are angry killer bees.  You are getting stung here and there and it is very painful.  You fight back.  Swatting a bee here and one there but, sadly there are too many of them.  They are coming at you from every direction, stealthily, and you can’t see them all coming. You are totally vulnerable and as the attacks increase you come to the realization there is a strong possibility you will eventually suffer death from a 1,000 stings.  All along you have had a can of Raidtm wasp spray by your side.  This is a powerful fogger which has the capability to kill bees on contact.  You have been reluctant to use it because it will mean killing some of the docile and productive honey bees along with the evil killer bees who are doing the stinging.  Using the Raid will end the attacks, once and for all, but there will be a price to pay.  What do you do? 

The French have said their response to the attacks in Paris will be “merciless”.   Is that the guidance they have gotten from God or is it purely a vengeful – and in my mind understandable –  response, driven by grief, the horror of the situation and the realization that it will only get worse.  ISIS not only took "credit" (a dubious choice of words) for the Paris attacks, but went on to say that "there will be more attacks and the United States is next".  If you are trying to convince yourself that you should take that threat with a grain of salt, I am afraid you are making the same mistake our current administration has made for the past seven years.  Despite Obama's assertion that the threat from radical Islamic terrorism has been diminished, I think last Friday's events show exactly the opposite. These terrorists are not going away unless we put them away.

I am conflicted, as any Christian would be.  Do we apply the "turn the other cheek" principle and pray for forgiveness for these mentally deranged perpetrators of evil or do we fight to defend our people and our freedoms and eradicate this horrific perversion of one of the world's three great monotheistic religions.  And if you pick the later, are you going to be willing watch some of the honey bees die along with the killer bees?  Do you continue to swat at one here or there or do you get out the can of Raid and end this thing?  Lord have mercy.

I would love to hear how you feel about it.  Comments?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

On Turning 70

I suppose every birthday that contains a zero is a milestone of sorts.  Turning 10 was a big deal for me.  I remember when turning 20 that 21 was just a year away and represented so many freedoms.  Becoming a 30-something had a ring to it and 40, well, at the time people said 40 was the crest of the hill.  We partied like crazy at 50 just because we still could and wanted to prove it.  60 was the harbinger of 65 - Medicare, the specter of retirement, becoming a "Senior Citizen" and oh so many bodily changes we won't go into here.

However, if I thought all those milestones were significant, I had no idea until the BIG 70. My family and friends went crazy.  We celebrated my birthday for nearly three months, from two months before to days after the actual date, I was treated to one surprise after another.  Huge parties, intimate gatherings, dinners out, dinners in, a relaxing week with Vicki at the site where we honeymooned 47 years earlier - you name it, we celebrated my seventy years on the planet in style.  

Let me say immediately that I thank God for this day and every day which has come before, all 25,550 of them. All of the people He has put into my life have been amazing. Family, friends, mentors, teachers, classmates, employers, employees, suppliers, customers, just an incredible number of good people to share the ride. He has blessed me with the best wife any man could ask for - a beautiful woman, inside and out, who is my stalwart supporter, my companion, my partner, my best friend. God has blessed me with two of the most wonderful children - two people who represent perfection in womanhood; beautiful, intelligent, creative, successful and superb wives and nurturing mothers. Which brings me to the reason I know there is a God; grandchildren.  I knew He liked me before, but after my three grandchildren, I KNOW He LOVES ME.  What a blessing.  Perfect little people.

So what now?  I am 70 and my life, like a lot of others, with all of its ups and down, its trials and occasional disappointments, has been exceptional.  So what is next?  Is this the crest of the hill or are we on the down slope and just didn't realize it?  Many people talk about life as a journey.  Mine has been so positive.  I was on a plane one time traveling from California to Ohio.  It was late evening and the sun was going down in the west.  We were traveling over the Four Corners region and as I looked down upon the desert at the mountains and bluffs, the rivers and canyons below, the low sun had turned the landscape into a pallet of deep, rich colors; vibrant blues, dark reds, bright yellows, burnt oranges, and deep purples. It was positively gorgeous and nearly took my breath away.  Behind me there was a couple, the man sitting at the window seat and the woman on the aisle.  I overheard her ask her husband to look out the window and tell her what he saw.  His response was, "Nothing but desolation."

I could not believe my ears.  Here was one of the most beautiful panoramas I had ever witnessed and all he sees is desolation.  What is it that makes one person see the glass as half full and the other as half empty?  There is beauty in every part of the journey, you just have to be positive enough to see it.  

One of my favorite songwriters and vocalists is Enya.  O.K., I know she was big in my fifties, but her lyrics still ring true today.  Consider these from her song, "Anywhere Is..."

"I walk the maze of moments, but everywhere I turn to, begins a new beginning but never finds a finish.  I walk to the horizon but there I find another.....the turn I have just taken, the turn that I was making, I might be just beginning, I might be near the end."

New horizons have presented themselves to me all my life and I am looking forward to discovering the next one.  As we negotiate this maze of moments, I know I am not just beginning, but I am pretty certain I am not near the end just yet.  Let's do it together.

Comments?  Love to hear from you.

Jud Smith

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Second Republican Debate....REALLY?

As many of those who follow my blog realize, I do not weigh in on a plethora of subjects and certainly not daily, weekly or even monthly.  But last nights 2nd Republican Debate has forced me to, once again, comment on reality.  Basically, are you kidding me?  

First, let me say, I have never seen a more prejudiced and circus-like atmosphere for a presidential debate than that created last night by CNN.  Every single question was designed to pit one opponent against another in an endless, almost three hour, tortuous attempt to discredit as many people as possible standing at the podiums.  Despite numerous attempts by the candidates to take the focus off of themselves and their past interactions with each other and focus on the issues and problems facing America, the moderators from CNN and their liberal counterparts forced the farce beyond ridiculousness.  Shame on CNN for this ludicrous format.

Second, the debate was watched by a reported 23 million viewers.  With a reported 169 million registered voters in the U.S. (85 million Democrats, 55 million Republicans and 28 million Independents or other), even though it was the largest audience ever for CNN, that only represents 13.7 % of registered voters.  And that is if all the viewers were voters, registered or not.  What these people saw, in my opinion, did not represent exactly who these candidates are or what they stand for.  What they saw were ten very intelligent men and one very intelligent woman forced into an unnatural arena designed to humiliate them all.  Again, same on CNN for this ludicrous format.

Third, I admit to one error in the above statement.  Make that nine very intelligent men. I'm sorry, but Donald Trump is a JOKE.  How the polls continue to put this man as the Republican front-runner is beyond comprehension.  He showed himself to be five things last night:

1.)  Uneducated About the Issues - every time the subject at hand was able to be focused by the candidates on the issues (domestic or world economy, foreign affairs, the threat of radical Islamic terrorists, immigration, tax reform, job creation, et al) Trump was either absent from the conversation or offered nothing but meaningless platitudes and empty promises.
2.)  Argumentative and Combative - He attacked his fellow candidates both personally and professionally without regard for accuracy or truth.  In fact, throughout his campaign the only reason he is getting all the press time he does is because he attacks and belittles every thing and everyone.
3.)  Untruthful and Misleading - originally he said that he never declared bankruptcy. This is only partially truthful, if you are talking only about personal bankruptcy, but the facts are, as his fellow candidates were pointing out, accurately, is that Trump and his business interests have declared bankruptcy FOUR times, leaving lenders, and his partners, holding the bag for billions of dollars in losses. Trumps answer to that?  It was the lender's fault. Give me a break!
4.) Smug and Arrogant - this is a man of colossal ego, nearly as narcissistic as Obama, and to watch him stand up there, in the center of his (dare I say) peers, sneering and chortling at their responses and responding to their questions and challenges like he is above it all is not only galling but onerous at best.
5.)  Has No Plan, No Clue - Donald Trump has absolutely no plan on any subject.  No plan for tax reform, no credible plan for immigration reform ("I am going to build a really big wall"), no experience or understanding about our military or how to maximize its effectiveness, no plan for dealing with our allies or our adversaries and no plan for sustainable economic recovery.  He has nothing America needs and never will.

It is time for the American public, voters, to wake up and recognize this man for what he is and what he isn't.  What he is is summarized above.  What he is not is a viable presidential candidate.  He needs to drop out and allow serious, qualified presidential candidates take the point.  In my opinion that includes every other person on that stage last night, both in the preliminary debate and the primary debate.

O.K., so who were the winners?  Marco Rubio scored the highest on my rating scale. Clear, concise, intelligent, informed, passionate and compassionate, Rubio showed me last night he has what it takes to be President of the United States.  Second, and right behind Rubio - despite a slow start with her first question - was Carly Fiorina.  Forceful, decisive and on point, Fiorina showed the drive and directness that catapulted her to the top echelons of corporate leadership.  While her performance in some of those positions might be challenged by some, her successes in the corporate world are still impressive. She was impressive last night.  A close third, Jeb Bush. I know, I know. Is it a dynasty, a nepotistic family of perpetual presidents?  Who cares. The man is intelligent, extremely knowledgeable, incredibly connected and informed and can express a coherent sentence without pronouncing America like his brother did, "Murica".  I actually love Chris Christie, but don't think he can be elected.  He belongs in upper levels of government and should be in the president's cabinet. Rand Paul is everything Christie is except too mild-mannered and an isolationist, not the forceful leader we need to protect America at this time. Ben Carson is an intelligent, talented neurosurgeon with good values and a descent tax plan.  Too soft-spoken/slow spoken and needs to be in a conservative think-tank, not the Oval Office. He didn't hurt himself last night but didn't help himself either.  I was intrigued with Gov. Scott Walker up until this debate.  He did not shine and his record isn't strong enough to pull him up.  Ohio Governor Kasich is a practical, career politician who knows his stuff, but I don't think he is fresh enough for the American public. Ted Cruz.  Brilliant lawyer, too right wing. He has alienated too many people to gain broad party support. Finally, Mike Huckabee.  Love this guy, but he is too much in the pocket of the evangelical right to be accepted by the mainstream.  He did well last night, but can't make it stick.

All-in-all, I think Republicans have a lot to think about after last night.  I saw at least five strong candidates who can possibly make it to the end, which, BTW, is a long way off. A lot can happen between now and election time.  But the one thing that must happen NOW, is for Donald Trump to sit down and shut up!

Comments?  Let me hear them.   


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Supreme Court - The New Legislature

Practically every American who made it past the seventh grade remembers from their Civics class the basic idea of the separation of powers.  Our Founding Father's, in their arguably infinite wisdom, designed our form of government with three, independent branches; The Legislative Branch, the Executive Branch and the Judicial Branch.  Each has its own specific powers and responsibilities in regards to supporting, amending and protecting our Constitution.  As a refresher, please review this simple graph below:

The Congress makes the laws, the President executes the laws and the Judicial evaluates the laws.  It is a unique and, mostly, perfect system of checks and balances.  That is until one of more of them steps outside of their specific sphere of influence.  In today's vernacular, it is called "overreach", but whenever it happens, it not only is a potential threat to the sanctity of the Constitution, but usually involves a sharp division of opinion, often rancorous, amongst the populous.

Two such instances of what some would describe as gross "overreach" occurred when the Supreme Court (Judicial Branch) ruled on matters affecting health care and marriage. First, the SC interpreted a particular phrase found in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) to mean that all recipients of medical insurance premium subsidies are eligible to receive them regardless of whether they are in a Federal health exchange or one that was established by an individual state.  Personally, I think this decision was a bit of an overreach in as much as the argument for interpreting this four-word phrase was simply, "We think this is what the Congress intended to say."  Whether it was or it wasn't could have been open for debate; however, no re-election seeking politician is about to voice their true opinion when they can just be silent and let any blame fall on the SC. Those Congressmen who have voiced opposition to this interpretation are branded by the liberal media as right-wing heretics or anti-egalitarian or both and dismissed as irrelevant.  

Will this SC "overreach" ensure more Americans will have health insurance benefits?  Yes, it will. Is it a good thing?  Probably for most of the multiple millions of Americans who claim inability to afford insurance premiums on their own without subsidies. Will it cost the American taxpayer's billions of additional dollars...adding to the overall $ 4 trillion dollar cost of Obamacare?  Absolutely. With one cleverly written majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts created a new law without regard for the cost but with the full intent of saving, once again, a flawed and incomplete national health care (read that national insurance) system.

Next subject....marriage.  O.K., right up front I will tell you whomever you chose to sleep with is your own dang business. I couldn't care less. The second case of SC "overreach" has, in my opinion, nothing to do with homosexuality. While I, personally, never supported a constitutional amendment to define "marriage" as only "a state sanctioned union between a man and a woman" I admit to choosing that definition for myself.  I do not believe the Federal government should become involved in that personal choice by defining it for everyone. And, as it turned out, our legislators, those responsible for making the laws (see above graph), didn't.  It was our Supreme Court, responsible for "evaluating" laws, who, in this instance, made a law all on their own.  That, my friends, is not only "overreach" but an egregious and surreptitious abuse of judicial power.

At this point, another caveat is in order.  I believe every citizen, regardless of race, color, creed or sexual orientation, deserves to benefit from the same civil rights enjoyed by all citizens.  No law should discriminate, in any way, or act to deprive anyone of those rights. This includes those who choose to engage in a formal union, be it a contractual obligation, a spiritual commitment or a social declaration (i.e.; common law relationship). In reality, we have dozens, if not hundreds of laws already on the books guaranteeing these civil rights to all, but I guess those weren't enough for some.

Unfortunately, what the SC has done is open up Pandora's Box on an issue that should be a private and personal matter.  Merriam Webster's definition of "marriage" already acknowledges same-sex unions and has for years; a concession to political/social correctness.  Some people accept it, some don't, usually based on their long-held religious beliefs, be they an accurate interpretation of Scripture or not.

Full Definition of MARRIAGE

a (1) :  the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law (2) :  the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage <same-sex marriage>
b :  the mutual relation of married persons :  wedlock
c :  the institution whereby individuals are joined in a marriage
:  an act of marrying or the rite by which the married status is effected; especially :  the wedding ceremony and attendant festivities or formalities
:  an intimate or close union <the marriage of painting and poetry — J. T. Shawcross

In the past, individual states had laws that were allowed to supposedly reflect the personal beliefs of the majority of their own citizens.  In some cases, this meant that same-sex marriages were illegal.  I never did agree with that, but that was their choice. Making something illegal just because you disagree with the choice two informed individuals make that does no harm to themselves and/or others is onerous at best. Making something legal, in fact mandatory, for everyone regardless of whether it violates their religious beliefs or infringes upon the exercise of those beliefs is just as, if not more, onerous.

Inside this Pandora's Box, opened by the Supreme Court, is this huge liability for potential lawsuits which will not only clog our judicial system for years to come but cost billions of dollars to resolve.  By legally defining marriage the way they have and forcing this definition to be accepted by everyone nationwide, our SC has created a lawyers heaven. If I am a pastor of an evangelical church somewhere in Jasper, Alabama and I refuse to marry Joe and Harry, I could, and probably will be, sued.  If I am a member of a Lutheran congregation in Austin, Texas and we decide we do not want to allow Beverly and Becky to be wed in our sanctuary, we could, and probably will be, sued.  If I am a devout Catholic wedding planner in Gladwin, Michigan and Bob and Ted, and Carol and Alice, want to have me plan their double-gay wedding and I refuse on religious grounds, I could, and probably will be, sued.  Ultimately, the Supreme Court will have to decide all of these and a thousand more potential conflicts.  Many of them will come down to which is more important, gay rights or religious rights.  Only time will tell if our Legislature, remember that's the branch who is supposed to be making the laws, will step in to resolve the conflict with new legislation designed to strike a balance between protection of the rights of the gay/lesbian minority while not violating the religious (moral, ethical) sensibilities of the majority.  Or, we can just let the New Legislature run rampant over the constitutionally mandated balance of powers. In that case, my apologies to Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Jefferson, et al.  

Comments?  Give me your opinion.     Jud