Saturday, December 28, 2013

EPA, the Enforcer of Federal Pollution Control Laws

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), created in 1970, is the primary federal agency and key player with boundless authority to develop and enforce regulations to allegedly protect human health and the environment from harm caused by pollution. EPA regulations are issued based on the following Acts enacted by Congress:

-          Clean Air Act

-          Clean Water Act

-          Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund)

-          Safe Drinking Water Act

-          Solid Waste Disposal Act/Resource Conservation and Recovery Act

-          Oil Pollution Control Act (1990)

-          Environmental Planning and Community-Right-To-Know Act

-          Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act

-          Toxic Substances Control Act

-          Pollution Prosecution Act of 1990

“EPA promulgates national regulations and standards” with help from the Department of the Interior, Army Corps of Engineers, states, tribes, and NGO stakeholder groups. (CRS Report RL32240, The Federal Rulemaking Process: An Overview, Maeve P. Carey)

EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance in coordination with the Department of Justice and EPA’s 10 regional offices provide day-to-day federal enforcement activities, monitor compliance, provide incentives, and fines.

Disagreements between the federal EPA and state governments occur in regards to environmental priorities and strategy, compliance assistance, and enforcement.

Enforcement issues debated in congressional hearings and legislation:
      -          Constant increased compliance monitoring and reporting

-          Environmental enforcement and penalties to the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy

-          How to measure success – via measurable health and environmental benefits or via total dollar value of penalties

-          Are penalties enough to deter polluting or too harsh, causing economic hardship? The EPA and environmentalists say that it is not enough while Americans believe that penalties not only cause hardship but actually harms business, freedom, and property rights.

-          How effective is pollutant trading programs and enforcement?

-          Are punishment and pollution deterrence effective through litigation?

“There is no readily available, current, comprehensive list and description of the complete universe of those who are regulated under all of the major pollution control statues. EPA has been criticized for not adequately defining the regulated universe, a step that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) determined to be a critical component necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of enforcement.” (p. 15,

The EPA monitors 31 economic activities and industries: aerospace, agriculture, automotive, chemicals, computers/electronics, construction, dry cleaning, education, federal facilities, food processing, furniture, health care, local government operations, marinas, metals, minerals/mining/processing, paints and coatings, petroleum, pharmaceuticals, ports, power generators, printing, prisons and correctional institutions, pulp/paper/lumber, ready mix/crushed stone/sand and gravel, retail, rubber/plastics, shipbuilding and repair, textiles, transportation, and tribal.

EPA monitoring is achieved by:

-          Self-monitoring/reporting

-          Review of records

-          Full and partial inspection/evaluations

-          Area monitoring of the vicinity of a facility

EPA enforcement includes:

-          Notice of violation (the initial process)

-          Requirement of a violator to take specific action

-          Revocation of a violator’s permit to discharge

-          Penalty for non-compliance

-          Negotiated settlements through civil administration actions

-          Civil judicial process (lawsuits filed in federal district court by DOJ on behalf of EPA and for states by State Attorney General)

The EPA’s criminal enforcement program had an estimated 191 investigators assigned in 2013. In 2009, the EPA built the “EPA Fugitives” website which

contains “photographs and information about alleged violations of individuals who have avoided prosecution for allegedly committing environmental crimes.” (p. 26, CRS Report RL34384)

Finally, some members of Congress showed interest in the sanctions and penalties imposed by EPA in settlements that require redress of environmental damages known as “injunctive relief,” fines, “permanent or temporary closing of facilities or specific operations, increased monitoring/reporting, revocation of existing permits, denial of future permits, and barring of receipt of federal contract funding or other federal assistance.” (CRS Report RL34384, p. 27)

Fines collected by the EPA are deposited with the U.S. Treasury. But, under the Superfund and Clear Water Acts, money collected for replacing or restoring natural resources must be used to restore the resources. In the November 6, 2013 Federal Register, the EPA published the “Civil Monetary Penalty Inflation Adjustment (Final) Rule.

EPA and DOJ use the following templates to calculate civil penalties:

-          BEN, to calculate economic advantage/savings if the violator does not comply

-          ABEL, to measure a corporation’s ability to afford compliance, cleanup, and civil penalties

-          INDIPAY, to assess an individual’s ability to afford compliance, cleanup, and civil penalties

-          MUNIPAY, to gauge a municipality’s ability to comply, to cleanup, and to pay civil penalties

-          PROJECT, to evaluate a violator’s ability to fund instead a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) to mitigate pollution compliance such as a public health project, an emergency preparedness project, etc.

Waiving “sovereign immunity” the EPA assessed nearly $615 million in penalties in 2012 against 61 federal agencies. Regulated businesses and individuals were charged in 2012 $9 billion for judicially mandated pollution controls, cleanup and “beneficial” SEP projects.

In 2012 EPA claims that 2.2 billion pounds of pollutants were removed from air and water, $208 million were levied in civil penalties (administrative and judicial) and $44 million in criminal fines and restitution. EPA issued 1,780 penalty orders and referred 215 civil cases to the DOJ. (Congressional Research Service, RL34384, December 16, 2013, Robert Esworthy, Federal Pollution Control Laws: How Are They Enforced?)

To fund the EPA’s enforcement/compliance activities, the President FY 2014 budget request was $625 million, more than the previous year’s $615.9 million. Detailed allocations for the EPA were not available. The DOJ’s FY2014 budget request funding for its Environment and Natural Resources Division was $112.6 million and 520 FTEs.

According to Robert Esworthy, one important issue for the 113th Congress regarding EPA should be “additional oversight hearings,” review of grants award process associated with EPA-states’ partnerships, and “statute-specific legislation to address long-standing concerns that affect certain aspects of EPA enforcement/compliance activities under the various pollution control laws.”

American taxpayers, business owners, and some members of Congress are concerned about more legislation that would further expand the overreaching power of the EPA while environmental groups (NGOs) are upset about reining in and constraining the enforcement/compliance power of the EPA.

EPA’s unchecked power has been blamed for destroying economic prosperity, the supply of food, Americans’ means of support, and preventing the exploration of much needed resources that fuel the economy, in an effort to protect the habitat of a small fish, a rare bird, a mouse, while wind and solar farms are given federal permission to chop and fry thousands of birds with their “green” wind turbines and solar panels, including the endangered bald eagle in California.




Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Butler on Business, 12-20-13, Budget Deal

Alan Butler and I discuss the new budget deal as it relates to the military pension cuts and the continuation of giving illegal aliens earned income tax credit, a form of welfare to illegals with taxpayer dollars. I come on in the second hour at the 6 minute mark.

Butler on Business, 12-19-13, Hate mail

Alan Butler and I discuss some of the nasty e-mails I get because of my anti-Agenda 21 stance. I come on at the 28 minute mark.

Butler on Business, December 11, 2013, "Living Wage" vs. Minimum Wage

Alan Butler and I discuss minimum wage legislations and all its implications. I come on at the 28 minute mark.

Sweet Lucy

Sweet Lucy moves painstakingly slow and carefully, her arthritis twisting her back in pain, forcing her to slow down. The sunshine turns her hair into a fiery mane, warming and soothing her painful arthritic joints. She sits down in her favorite chair on the patio, taking in the gentle breeze with a sigh of elation and a smile when she notices the ducks floating on the nearby pond.

The first 48 years of her life were very hard and deprived under communism. When she arrived here in 1980, she was so thin and malnourished - she looked like a skeleton, with sunken eyes and pallid skin. She never returned to Romania except for brief visits. Her life was so much easier here and my beautiful daughters became our lives and her universe.

She looked back many times on her decision, analyzing everything; sometimes she had regrets, missing her siblings, but most of the time was happy to be free. She used to jump every time there was a knock on the door. She thought it was the police looking for her although she had done nothing wrong. She was re-living the totalitarian state and the dreadful treatment of its citizens under the brutal regime of Ceausescu.

She has fallen down a lot lately. She has not broken anything but has gotten some nasty bruises that are slow to heal. She still goes up and down stairs, making sure she does not miss a step. Sometimes she passes out on the patio from the heat, self-induced dehydration, or plain dizziness from old age. She is never thirsty or hungry. We remind her to drink water and force her to eat with us.

We nicknamed her Lucy a few years ago when she dyed her hair flaming red and the nickname stuck. Her real name is Mimi but her grandchildren call her Maia, like the Roman goddess of dew.

She used to move mountains with her energy, tirelessly taking care of everyone’s needs but her own. She gets frustrated because she is so slow now and her hands are weak and unsteady.

Lucy dreams often that her legs will work again like they used to; she would visit her great grandson who lives so far away; if he lived nearby, she could take care of him, she says, instead of sending him to a nursery during the day. I am not sure, she would be up for the challenge but the desire is still there.

Her eyes are as sharp as ever. She complains that her cataract surgery 10 years ago was a total failure – the doctor had no idea what he was doing. Yet she can thread a needle in no time and make sewing repairs. I cannot even see to thread a needle with glasses on and am several decades younger.

Lucy stopped doing her masterful crocheting a decade ago. I don’t know why she stopped – her macramé doilies were a work of art. Maybe she lost interest because nobody seemed to appreciate what she created. There was a store in Starkville that loved her work - she sold quite a few pieces over the years. It is sad that I’ve never learned how to do it when she tried to teach me. I saw one of Lucy’s macramé doilies on my daughter’s table when we visited. It surprised me and made me happy – one young person appreciates hand-made beauty.

Most Americans no longer understand or appreciate the painstaking art of counted-cross stitching, needle pointing, knitting, or crocheting. Everything is done by machines, uniform and without the creative flair of two gifted hands.

My cousin Mariana still makes paintings with her tiny cross-stitch needle and canvas. You cannot tell, it is not a painting, until you get up close to the picture. I bought several of her pieces last year and she had them framed. It was difficult bringing them back across two continents but it was worth it. The custom officers asked me what they were. It is masterful beauty sewn by hand, I said, a lost art in the U.S. They gave me strange looks and waved me on through.

Lucy tells me often that it is going to rain during the night. She knows for sure because the moon has lost all its water, it is a crescent moon. We laugh at her astronomical assessment, but then a steady rain starts falling after midnight. Maybe it is coincidence but it happens too many times.

Lucy refuses to go to the doctor to have any more blood drawn. She read somewhere that she may be left without blood if he draws too many vials of her precious blood. What if her body can no longer produce it? She heard on her two favorite TV channels that it may be true.

It breaks my heart to see her so unsteady and her gait so shaky; she gets frustrated with herself and refuses help sometimes. She is beginning to mix our names up but she can still remember beautiful poetry from her childhood. She lives trapped between two worlds, the old world she left behind 33 years ago and the current reality. Watching constant TV from the old world, she often confuses events happening there with events happening here.

She has not been able to learn English; she just knew enough to get in trouble. The most memorable incident was the wedding of a close friend. Mom commented to a guest she had seen before, a rotund lady, “You look good, you so fat!” Mortified, I had to explain to the lady that in our culture, being fat was a compliment. Communists kept us so starved, food was rationed and very expensive, so if you were fat, that meant that you were doing well economically, you could afford food on the black market. She did not buy the story and avoided us like the plague. We stopped making excuses for Lucy; we just file every new incident under “Lucy’s hilarious pearls of wisdom.”

We sent Lucy to college classes, our English professor neighbor offered to teach her, to no avail. She would return from class frustrated, complaining of real or imagined headaches, and vowing to go back to Romania. She depended 100 percent on us to translate everything. We thought the birth of her granddaughters would force her to learn English. Instead, she taught her granddaughters Romanian as soon as they started to speak a few English words. They knew at an early age that Maia does not speak English and what language everyone spoke. On daily walks, the oldest granddaughter served as the official translator.  As a three year old, she would stomp her foot when anybody addressed mom in English – “Maia speak no English!” Embarrassed at her plight, the teen-aged girls asked Lucy not to speak Romanian too loudly in public. As they grew older, they were happy and proud that they knew another language.

Lucy took her favorite granddaughter on walks in the nearby cemetery – it was quiet, green, and peaceful. Eileen would ask her with childish innocence and naiveté, “Grandma when are you going to die so I can come visit you?”

Lucy can no longer travel by plane to see her country, her brother and sister. She refuses to use a wheelchair and it would be futile to try to catch a flight while walking so painstakingly slow, she would never make it on time or people would knock her over. Besides, she has become scared of leaving home for distances further than the mall or her favorite neighborhood restaurant.  She refuses to ride several hours to see her great-grandchild – perhaps when she feels better, she says, but that day never comes.

She talks to flowers and to our 13 year old Snowshoe Siamese cat Bogart as if they understand Romanian. Strangely though, Bogart still obeys her commands.

She still has the green thumb to bring flowers back from the brink of death. I watched her pick discarded dried roots intended for trash from the street; somehow she made a beautiful green plant grow back. She has nursed so many gardens and so many of us through the years! It frustrates her that she can no longer care for herself much less for us.

We know when she breaks something when we step on shards of glass or we look for the 20 year old crockpot with glass cover and find a strange metal lid on it. When we leave for a few hours, we know, when we return, she has already rearranged something in the house that did not suit her tastes.

I watch her struggle to wash her cup and teaspoon which she insists on doing and it makes me sad. She talks about past events with clarity as if they happened yesterday. She still talks to her younger brother and it makes her happy as if he is right there with her.

Lucy’s world is so much smaller now, the house, the deck, and the patio. Tiny things in life, that we are too busy and too tired to notice, make her happy – the hummingbird in flight collecting nectar from her begonias, the deer that wonder into our back yard in the afternoon and eat the flowering tomatoes, the occasional fox that chases Bogart to our back door, the resident beaver in the nearby pond collecting twigs, the pair of Canadian geese that fly in and graze at the ridge of our yard, and the perfumed blooms of her favorite rose bush.

Lucy is still full of life on the inside but her body is failing her and so is the scant and careless medical care she receives – she is too old, they say. But I still see the vibrant, young Lucy who raised and loved so many of us, never asking for anything in return. I am thankful to God that I still have my devoted mom.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Leave Your Secularism at the Door

The atheist minority in this country is challenging everything the majority holds dear in their traditions, faith, and beliefs in order to satisfy their agenda of fundamentally changing America in their view of “social justice” promised by the hollow “hope and change.”

Merchants have caved in afraid to say Merry Christmas anymore. We now have Happy Holidays. Nativity scenes, Christmas trees, and decorations seem to offend liberal atheists more and more each year. Frivolous and vindictive lawsuits are filed to remove crosses that have been in place for decades, honoring those who served in the military and gave their lives to our country.

Christmas parties are now holiday parties and start without a prayer – they don’t want to offend anybody.  If liberal atheists are so offended, why not leave your secularism at the door or come to work on Christmas Day and Easter? They are federal holidays designated to celebrate our Christian traditions, the birth of Christ and the resurrection of Christ.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation challenged the two nativities scenes in the public dining rooms of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and caused their swift and immediate removal. If the plastic crèche was so offensive, why isn’t anybody among the 18 soldiers who complained, coming out to tell us why they must be removed?

Bill O’Reilly, in an interview with the Religious Freedom Foundation president debated that “The crèche and the nativity scene just basically portrays what happened on Christmas Day and because it is a federal holiday it seems to be in context, it’s not like you’re making anybody at Guantanamo Bay pray or go to church or say, ‘Hallelujah! I love Jesus.’ It’s a depiction of the federal holiday.”

Weinstein argued that “Christian privilege previously unchallenged <is>being challenged….Christian privilege is now gone and now welcome to the land of equality. You must all share your toys.” When he talks about the “land of equality,” is he talking about the progressive agenda of "social justice?" I thought all Americans were free to practice their faith and could take time off to observe days that are not necessarily sanctioned as a federal holiday. And what “toys” is he talking about?

O’Reilly insisted that Weinstein did not make any sense and called the complaints cowardly. “It was cowardly because this is a depiction of a secular holiday that was signed into law… and if someone’s offended about it, I want to know why and your guys don’t have the courage to stand up and tell me.”

Weinstein contended that “… your Christian personal rights will always be trumped by the civil rights of your fellow American citizens.” As I said earlier, these employees who are offended by our Christian traditions and holidays and demand their civil rights can go to work on Christmas and Easter.

Liberals argue all the time when it is convenient to their agenda and want to stifle their opponents’ freedom of speech that “we cannot mix church and state.”  I never read that exact statement in our Constitution yet they conveniently use and hide behind the deliberate misinterpretation of the First Amendment to the Constitution that says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; …”   

Phil Robertson was released by A & E from the successful Duck Dynasty show because his honest opinion based on Biblical beliefs outraged the small minority who abusively and vitriolically silence anyone who disagrees with them. The majority must now give in to the minority in order to keep their jobs. The PC police have become the official “controller” and “stifler” of free speech, followed by universities with their “free speech” corners.

Yet the government runs outrageous ads, urging people to enroll in ObamaCare, one with semi-nude men prancing around and dancing in pairs dressed in speedos that leave nothing to the imagination. And this is not offensive to the majority of Americans?

We cannot walk through life with such a degree of sensitivity that we are offended by others with a different point of view, opinion, or belief system. Liberals do not have carte blanche to pick and choose what they deem bigoted and hate speech, especially when they are the biggest offenders at times.

As a wise person said, “If you want ‘change’ in this country, it won’t be achieved by censoring those that don’t want change, it happens from just living your life as you see fit.” You should not impose your value system on others by hiding behind government fiat or the judicial system.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas, the Season of Faith, Family, and Charity

Christmas was my Dad bringing home proudly a scraggly fir with sparse branches - fragrant with the smell of winter, tiny icicles hanging from the branches, miniature crystal daggers, melting on my mom’s well-scrubbed parquet floor. I never knew nor asked how he could afford it from his $70 a month salary that barely covered the communist subsidized rent, utilities, and food. No matter how bare the branches of my Christmas tree were, it was magical to me.

We decorated it together with home-made paper baskets filled with hard candy, raisins, and small butter cookies, crepe paper garlands, small pretzels, an orange wrapped in fine tissue paper coming all the way from Israel, a few apples dangling from a string, and 12 red and green 3-inch candles clipped carefully away from overhanging branches that could catch on fire.

Mom’s hand-stitched table cloth made a convenient tree skirt. Two metal bars forged by hand helped Dad nail the tree to the floor at the foot of the couch where I slept in the living room that doubled as my bedroom.

I fell asleep and woke up every morning setting my eyes on the scented tree. It lasted two enchanted weeks before the dried needles fell all over the floor.

Christmas was lighting one of the 12 candles for a few minutes every night, careful not to set the tree on fire, basking in the soft glow while Daddy’s twinkly eyes were beaming with pride that he made his family happy once more. We were rich with love and God’s blessings.

Christmas was standing in shorter lines for freshly baked bread, butter, milk, cooking oil, flour, sugar, and the small pork roast mom always baked in the gas oven. Grandpa’s homemade smoked sausages with pretzels toasted on the stove top were always on the menu. Grandpa used to joke that life was so spectacularly good, even the dogs ran around with pretzels on their tails. Pretzels were sold by big bags, hard and stale, but toasting them on the stove made them taste just baked.

Christmas was Daddy opening the ceremonial bottle of red wine freshly brewed that year by cousin Mircea from Grandma Elizabeta’s vineyard grapes.

Christmas were the village carolers in hand-sewn folk costumes coming door to door, trudging through 3 ft. of snow, pulling a plough decorated with a real fir tree, singing traditional songs and snapping their whips in spite of the Communist Party moratorium, forbidding the observance of such religious traditions.

Christmas was sneaking at midnight to the village Orthodox Church with aunt Leana, the singing deacon, lighting candles and praying, surrounding the building when the crowd overflowed its tiny confines into the yard and the cemetery. The cold chilled us to the bone but the inside eventually warmed from our bodies, the candles, and the excitement of prayers and closeness to God.

Christmas was eating with my Mom and Dad, feeling full, happy, and loved in our tiny apartment, sometimes sharing meals with family members who had traveled far to be with us. The spare wool comforter aunt Nicuta had woven, a blanket, and set of sheets painstakingly hand washed would make cozy beds on the floor for the tired traveler – no fire place to light up, just the coils of steam heat which the government generously made sufficiently hot during Christmas to make up for the cold misery during the winter.

Christmas was peering in the shop windows at the glass ornaments we could not afford but I wished I had. They were made in Poland, whimsical fairy tale characters, no religious symbols of any kind, they were “verboten.”

Every Christmas I longed to have the same doll in the window at Omnia department store, dressed with miniature detailed  clothes, real curly hair, blue eyes, and eyelashes. I never asked my Dad because Mom said it cost three months of his salary. I still had my raggedy cloth doll aunt Stella, the village seamstress, had made for me when I was two years old. When my first child was born, Dad mailed her a large doll similar to the one I had longed for. The doll was so big, it stayed in a corner untouched. My spoiled children had too many other toys to play with and never appreciated the sacrifice their Granddad had made in sending such a gift of love.

On Saint Nicholas Day, December 6, I would put my boots outside the door, hoping that they would be filled with candy in the morning and not coals. Grandpa had a wicked sense of humor – he would sometimes fill one boot with switches and another with candy and a chocolate bar. Chocolate was always in short supply and hard to find.

Grandpa never bought a blue spruce - we cut a fir tree from the woods. We were careful not to cut down a tree that had bird nests in it. We decorated it with garlands made from shiny and multi-colored construction paper. We cut strips, glued them in an interlocking pattern and voila, we had our garland. For ornaments we used walnuts and shriveled apples from his cellar, tied with Grandma’s red knitting wool.

The warm adobe style fireplace built from mud bricks mixed with straw cast a dancing glow on the tree decked with  tokens of food, something our heathen Roman ancestors did during the celebration of Saturnalia. On December 17, the polytheistic Romans celebrated Saturnus, the god of seed and sowing, for an entire week. As Christians, we celebrated the birth of Christ and the religious traditions in our Orthodox faith, in spite of the communist regime forcing the transformation of Christmas into a secular holiday.

On Christmas Eve, after we ate Grandma’s traditional Christmas supper, roasted pork, sarmale (stuffed cabbage rolls with ground meat and rice), and mamaliga (corn mush with butter cooked in a cast iron pot), we went to the midnight service at the Orthodox Church not far from her house. Sometimes it was a sloshy trek and other times it was icy and slippery. If we got lucky, a heavy snow would turn our walk into a winter wonderland with dancing snowflakes shining in the weak street lights. We had to bundle up well – the church was not heated and we circled it three times during the procession with burning candles in our hands. I always wore my flannel pajamas under many layers of warm clothes. To this day, pajamas are my favorite garment – cozy and comfortable, keeping my body warm.

When my children were born, Christmas became a tradition of toys and happiness seen through squeals of innocence and twinkly eyes when unwrapping a favorite game, book, toy, stuffed animal, or bike. I taught my children to be charitable and to share with other children who were less fortunate than we.

I decorate my Douglas fir with beautiful lights and shiny ornaments now. My heart fills with loving and longing memories of glowing Christmases past and of family members lost who made our Christian traditions so special.

I hope and pray that American Christmas traditions will be passed on to future generations to light up the season of faith, family, and charity.


Art Imitates Painful Life

Radu Mihaileanu’s 1999 award winning movie, “Train of Life,” is a metaphor for the resilience of the human spirit and the desire to be free with a decidedly anti-communist and anti-Nazi message.

Art imitates life in a series of comedic one-liners describing a very serious topic, the deportation of the Jews to the concentration camps during World War II. But it is a fairy tale with a twist. An entire shtetl (village) in Eastern Europe is self-deporting to the Promised Land, Eretz, Israel, via Ukraine  - Russia – Palestine, in the year 5701 (1941) on the advice of the “crazy” village fool, Shlomo Rothschild.

The Nazis (National Socialists) have arrived beyond the mountains, deporting Jews, “God knows where,” entire villages are never heard of again and the Rabbi must save his own flock by any means necessary even though it is “a sin to dress up like a Nazi.”

The unnecessary cruelty of man against man is evident in the naïve and innocent question, why would anyone want to kill us, we are nice people and some Germans are nice people. Why don’t they stop them?

“Let the Germans deport us! Let them sweat! Why make it easy for them?” But the Wise Men decide to buy a fake train, supplies, fake documents, tailor German uniforms, and train 30 Jews to be German soldiers and 5 to be officers.

Mordechai Schwarts, the wood merchant, who speaks German and understands German culture, is chosen to be the commander of the train. The locomotive with the 8 wagons has seen better days but, with love, paint, and major repairs, the train is ready to chug along once they find an engineer. Yenkele, the accountant, objects vociferously to the purchase price of 10,000 and the leather seats in the commander’s wagon.

Israel Schmecht, the local writer, teaches the fake Nazi soldiers how to speak German in a precise, dry, and humorless manner. The Rabbi jokes that maybe that’s the reason the world is at war with the Germans, “we make fun of their language.”

A wise woman, unhappy with the idea of leaving their village and homes behind, and with her fellow Jews dressed as shameful Nazis who carry guns, laments on the wisdom of God who lets “men run the world, with a fool to lead them.”

The non-Jewish neighbors are worried that “their Jews” are leaving and they will lose their businesses. The real Germans are burning down their village, their homes and possessions.

The local beauty, Esther, is pursued by many, including Sammy, Mordechai’s rich son, which she prefers, Shlomo, who confesses his love for her, and Yoselle (Yossi), the commune’s young communist agitator. The Rabbi advises everyone to avoid the wayward Yossi because his craziness is contagious. All he talks about is the communist slogan, “Men and women of the world, unite!”

Preaching communism, Yossi, who has shaven his traditional beard, talks about the New Man, enchanting his hapless and rapt audience with the secret Messiah who has arrived and is going to make all men equal and workers, but nobody knows yet who the illusory Messiah is, “it is a code name so he does not get arrested.” But we are not workers, says one, we are Jews.

We revolutionaries stay undercover, said Yossi, we “lurk in the shadows, confronting danger, we’re incognito, stowaways, clandestine, utopians, adventurers.” The Rabbi had had enough and challenges his ridiculous description calling him a “proletarian good for nothing,” rabble rouser.

Finally a train engineer is found -  the shoeless Shtrul Goitzl who works at the Archives, has never driven a train before, but is able to find a manual, “How to Drive a Locomotive.” The locomotive is an absolute piece of junk held together by rust, presented as good as new - once it’s painted red, it will go around the world. The accountant with an ulcer faints.

And so they embark on the train of survival in the middle of the night, each taking with them their most precious possessions. The village fool Shlomo wraps two pebbles carefully in a white handkerchief, symbolizing love for his ancient village, his deep roots, and the hardship ahead.

Past midnight, the children of Abraham and Moses pray one last time and, with fear, joy, anticipation, and faith in their hearts, climb aboard. With a shrill whistle of the engine, the train moves into the night, into the scary and shadowy darkness.

The chugging train has eight cars (wagons), six of which are cattle cars like those that took Jews, gypsies, and other innocents to the gas chambers of Auschwitz and Dachau.

The next morning, the mail man arrives with accountant Yenkele’s loan approval but the village is empty, papers flying in the wind in the deserted streets. The mailman is assured that they will come back - Jews are family people, they will “return to their roots.”

Yossi the Marxist, continues his indoctrination on the train. “The poor should be rich and the rich should be poor because it is not their fault that the poor are born poor.” But is it not their fault that they stayed poor?

One young man tells Yossi that he will become a communist when he can keep his side-locks and his faith. That is of course, not permitted, the New Man has to be different than the Old Man. As he continues offering empty promises, Yossi names Sammy their Soviet ideologist.  Sammy declines on account that he has not read Marx but Yossi confesses that neither had he.  

The first station they pass identifies them as a ghost train; the underground resistance plans to blow up the tracks, mistaking them for a real Nazi train, taking Jews to the gas chambers. Without a timetable, it is almost certain they will not be able to pass the next station unless they detour. Eli Grossman, the chess champion, suggests a route detour to avoid detection.

The engineer, full of sweat and oil, wipes his brow of a stray underground resistance flyer that hit his face in the wind – he now has a large black ink Nazi emblem emblazoned squarely on his forehead.

They barely avoid a collision with an oncoming train, the resistance is not sure if they should blow them up or not, while the Germans are loading up troops to search and destroy the abandoned village.

Yossi the Marxist is stirring up trouble, demanding better accommodations for his followers. They want Mordechai’s car and bed. A fascist Nazi should not sleep in better quarters than communists, he says. When the Rabbi defuses the tension by promising everyone beds in Palestine, Yossi laments in typical projective psychology, “Beware of empty promises. The bells of a new era are tolling.”

The resistance fighters decide to let them go unharmed. The train struggles into the night like a sick patient taking a labored and rhythmic breath, trying to stay alive.

A Grandmother soothes her grandchild with stories of “Palestine, an earthly Paradise, with gardens, brooks, animals, birds, and treasures underneath the sand.” In reality, she is holding the fairy tale book, “Little Red Riding Hood.” The symbolism is ever present. The child wonders, “We’ll never make it <alive>, will we?”

When the train stops for Shabbat, Yossi, the communist, advises his flock not to pray, “We are not doing Shabbat, we are Marxist-Leninist materialists now! The Messiah has come! God doesn’t exist!”

A fight ensues as Mordechai, the fake German officer, attacks Yossi, the commie materialist traitor. “Come pray and let the others pray too! You’ll corrupt the children! Dirty communist!”

Shlomo, the “fool,” gets in the middle and embarks on a philosophical monologue on God, man, and creation, concluding with the question “whether we exist.” Shabbat shalom! Did you understand that? One elder responds in total confusion, “God is not sure whether man exists!” To which the Rabbi answers with aplomb, “What am I, a monkey?”

After a series of comedy of errors, the movie ends on the Eastern front with bombs flying around the train in both directions. Shlomo narrates, “Once in the Soviet Union, everyone espoused the communist cause; some went to Palestine, mostly the gypsies, others went to India, mostly the Jews. Shtrul went to China where he became stationmaster. Beautiful Esther went to America and had lots of beautiful children. That’s the true story of my shtetl. Well, almost true.”

As the camera pans out, Shlomo is behind the wired fence of a concentration camp. Was it all true? The story kept him alive, the folly of the train of life.
















Friday, December 13, 2013

Sonny and the Red Shouldered Hawk

Sonny the "rescue dog"
Sonny was running back and forth in the wet snow, barking furiously in the direction of the back yard fence. Scott Lingamfelter’s yellow lab was normally quiet, he rarely barked. Something must have really attracted his curiosity.

At first, they ignored him. He will eventually calm down, they thought. Perhaps he saw neighborhood kids outside playing in the snow or building a snowman and he got excited.

It was a cold, snowy day, and everybody was enjoying the cozy fireplace. Scott’s son, Paul, decided to go outside and investigate the source of Sonny’s unusual barking and irritation.

Perched on the fence, resting, was a Red Shouldered hawk, totally unperturbed by the noise made by the agitated yellow lab. When seeing humans, the seemingly calm bird did not fly from his perch. He sat there motionless for hours, occasionally moving his head, uninterested to fly away in spite of Sonny continued barking.

The hawk perched on the fence.
After several hours, Scott decided to call the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fishers (DGIF), asking about this particular hawk. After contacting a raptor rescue, an individual arrived to capture and check the hawk out to make sure he was not injured.

To their surprise, the hawk could not fly away even if he wanted to flee. His wings were indeed damaged, not by another animal, they had been clipped. The hawk got away from his owner who held him captive by clipping his wings. He could not fend for himself but had made it as far as Scott’s back yard fence, causing the commotion with Sonny.

The hawk was very dehydrated and hungry. Caring and safe hands fed him and gave him water. He will be held and cared for until his wing feathers will grow back and he will be able to fly and fend for himself. New feather growth will take about a year and, if able to fly and feed himself, he will be released back into the wild.

Sonny “the rescue dog” saved the beautiful hawk’s life. Without Sonny’s canine instincts, Scott and his family would have never known the terrible condition the raptor was in. While the hawk is being cared for by the Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries, Scott Lingamfelter, a Virginia delegate, will post regular reports on his Facebook page on the hawk’s condition and progress.

Photos by Scott Lingamfelter


What Is a "Living Wage?"

The recent fast food workers strike sponsored by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) demanded a “living wage” of $15 an hour. In progressive public policy, the “living wage is considered the minimum necessary for a worker to meet needs considered basic.” Who decides what the “basic needs” are? Are everybody’s needs the same? Why stop at $15, why not $50 an hour?

Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier, while director of the Poverty in America project at Penn State University, developed a city/county Living Wage Calculator based on census data and economic statistics. I am not sure what the assumed biases are in this particular calculation, but we do know that economic statistics are easy to manipulate, depending on the desired outcome.

“There’s almost no place in America where you can live on $20,000 as a family of four…you need at least $36,000 to pay basic expenses.”

The Living Wage Calculator (released in 2004, all dollar values were adjusted to 2004 dollars), Community Economic Toolbox, and Poverty in America websites were developed by Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier. The data was “collected, processed, and aggregated by Eric Schultheis, a doctoral student in the Department of Urban Studies at MIT.”

The included definition of “living wage is the hourly rate an individual must earn to support a family, if he/she is the sole provider and is working full-time (2080 hours per year). The state minimum wage is the same for all individuals, regardless of how many dependents they have. The poverty rate is quoted as gross annual income.”

The “living wage” as described by social justice proponents ignores the fact that labor markets are ruled by the forces of supply and demand and does not include the earned income tax credit families receive and cash and non-cash welfare benefits.

The “living wage” also overlooks the glaring reality that a labor market is composed of many labor submarkets, each with its own supply and demand curves. 

In a centralized socialist or communist economy, the “living wage” was subsistence level remuneration decided by ideologues/bureaucrats, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 provided workers with a minimum wage. A minimum wage law imposes a floor on wages and prohibits employers from paying their workers less than that amount. “Tipped employees may be paid less than minimum wage but their wages and tips must equal at least the basic minimum wage.” (CRS, p. 4)

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have minimum wage rates higher than the federal minimum wage rate. The basic minimum wage rate was raised in 2007 from $5.15 to the current $7.25.

Citing 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a recent Congressional Research Service report stated, “94.8 percent of employees who were paid by the hour were paid an hourly wage that was greater than the federal minimum of $7.25.” (, R42713, The Fair Labor Standards Act: An Overview, Gerald Mayer, Benjamin Collins, David H. Bradley, 2013)

Minimum wage, which is not indexed to the price level, has been raised 22 times since 1938 in order to keep up with inflation which has eroded its purchasing power. “In nominal value (current dollar terms), the minimum wage has risen steadily from 25 cents to $7.25 an hour.”(, R42973, Inflation and the Real Minimum Wage: A Fact Sheet, Craig K. Elwell, September 12, 2013)

Adjustments to the minimum wage are made with the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) and expressed in July 2013 dollars.

Craig Elwell calculated that the peak purchasing power ($10.77) of the minimum wage was attained in 1968. In order to equal that purchasing power, the current minimum wage real value of $7.90 must increase by $2.87 or 36 percent.

The liberal argument is that the minimum wage is not high enough; workers are not paid enough, and are thus forced into poverty. But there is silence when American jobs and investments are legally shipped overseas with Congress’ blessing - it is a global economy. Liberals have little to say about local businesses that hire illegal cheap labor under the overused excuse that these are jobs that Americans won’t do.

In 1964, the federal government adopted the official definition of poverty as families with incomes less than $3,000. The line between poor and non-poor was named the poverty line.

The 1976 goal to move all Americans above the poverty line was not met even though in a decade (1963-1973) those living in poverty dropped from 20 percent to 11 percent. Subsequently, the poverty line was modified to account for family size and is adjusted yearly to the cost of living. In 2005, the poverty line for a family of four was $20,000, leaving 12.6 percent of Americans below the poverty line.

According to economists, poverty is associated with homelessness, illegitimacy, drug dependency, and poor health. Critics argue that official data badly overstate the number of poor persons, making poverty a relative concept.

Some economists argue that if the current definition of poor based on cash was changed to include other goods that the poor receive such as public education, public housing, health care, food, WIC, etc., the number of poor would drop precipitously.

Poverty can be gauged based on a family falling behind a certain minimum standard of living or falling behind the average income. The progressive argument and definition of the “living wage” could be based on both, average income and standard of living (“basic needs”).

Income statistics based on household can be very misleading. Low-income households are often composed of single mothers on welfare, their children, retirees on Social Security, or individuals not working, working sporadically, working part-time, and disabled. We have more people on disability currently than the entire population of Greece.

“Most households in the bottom 20 percent by income do not have any full-time, year-round worker and 56 percent of these households do not have anyone working even part-time.” (Dr. Thomas Sowell, Economic Facts and Fallacies, Basic Books, 2011, p. 143)

Politicians, do-gooders, and government think that they can legislate and mandate people out of poverty through re-distribution of wealth and forcing employers to pay a much higher minimum wage than the labor market can bear. The war on poverty made few gains in spite of trillions spent to fight it.

What are the unintended consequences of offering the demanded “living wage” for fast food workers who call their wages, “poverty wages?”

-          Higher shortage of minimum wage jobs

-          Higher unemployment among those seeking minimum wage jobs such as teenagers

-          Higher employment of illegal aliens because employers are not required to comply with the ObamaCare mandate and thus are not required to pay a penalty for not providing health care insurance to illegal alien employees

Minimum wages were not set in place as a life-long career; they were temporary stepping stones to better training, education, and higher income.

The federal government established in 1976 generous earned income tax credit to help low-income earners with children.

According to David Neumark, Director of the Center for Economics and Public Policy at the University of California, Irvine, the federal government spent $55 billion in 2011 on earned-income tax credit, twice as much as it did on welfare. A low-income family with two children, earning $13,430, could receive 40 percent of its income subsidized or up to $5,372, phasing out gradually to $487 or 7.6 percent of income for families with no children.

Neumark asks, “Do we really care if a low-wage teenager in a middle-class family makes an extra dollar an hour?” Sam Lundstrom found out that increasing the minimum wage by one dollar affected only 21.3 percent of workers from poor families; 30.9 percent of those affected were from families with incomes three times higher than the poverty line.

What are the reasons then for demanding a “living wage?” Obviously it fits the “social justice,” “income inequality,” and “redistribution of wealth” progressive narrative.
What are then the reasons for unequal incomes? The favorite narrative of liberals places blame on the evil rich who prevent the poor from improving their economic condition by stealing from them.

There are several reasons for unequal incomes that economists William J. Baumol and Alan S. Blinder describe in their book, Economics, Principles and Policy, 2007 ed., pp. 450-452)

-          Differences in ability (some people are more capable and talented than others)

-          Differences in intensity of work (some people work longer hours and more intensely than others)

-          Risk taking (in business ventures, stock market)

-          Compensating Wage Differentials (better compensation for unpleasant and dangerous jobs)

-          Schooling and other type of training

-          Work experience

-          Inherited wealth

-          Luck

Before you demand a higher wage, ask yourself, how valuable am I as an employee, what are my wants and needs, what is my worth to the company from my perspective and the company’s perspective, what are my unexpected expenditures, how much does it take for me to live in a certain area vs. another area, how indispensable am I to the company, aren’t some people more valuable to the company than I am, and last but not least, can the company afford raises in a depressed economy when payroll is the highest expense?

The scariest question remains, if the government mandates everyone’s worth, are we really in control and free to choose?