TIL – Nostalgia

Today is July 30, 2014, and I am sitting in a Mexican restaurant in Orange, California.

This eatery has just reopened after a multi-decade long hiatus.

When I was growing up and living in the Golden State, my parents would bring home food (usually burritos, tacquitos, enchiladas, and great heaps of chips) from this establishment and we would devour the fine vittles.

I was already gone from Orange County when this restaurant closed, so I was never able to miss it. However, my parents did and when me and my family came to visit this summer, they were eager to take me back to a place from my youth.

Back at the restaurant, I ordered a red enchilada which I seem to recall was one of my favorites. I took the food back to my table and drove my teeth into the meat-filled tortilla and it was there and then that I learned today’s lesson.

TILSome things are better left as memories.

In the two decades since this restaurant closed and opened, I have had the opportunity to eat food prepared by Mexicans and even dine in Mexico City. In other words, I have had authentic Mexican food.

What now filled my mouth was as far from Mexican cuisine as I was from being a Latvian neurosurgeon (which, if you don’t know me, is an extremely long way). Whether the food at this establishment had always been this lackluster (and my inexperience knew no better) or whether the new owners and cooks were at fault is beside the point. What I took away from this adventure as I slowly chewed my way through a flavorless meal was that the land of Nostalgia is a nice place for the brain to visit, but I don’t want to live (or eat) there.

It’s a good day when you learn something new.

TIL – Teff

Today is Monday, July 28, 2014, and I am sitting on a couch in the living room of my sister-in-law and her husband in Rockville, Maryland.

I am devouring game after game of QuizUp, an app that I was introduced to on Friday by my nephew (as previously seen on Mr. Sandosen).

I am working my way through the Science category to achieve Level 5. I am attempting to earn the achievement that shows that I have climbed to the fifth level in three topics in each and every category.

I am winning about two out of every three quizzes that I play and so I am climbing up the ladder towards unlocking the Voyager I badge. While unlocking achievements feels good, what I also like about this app is the ability to learn something new. It was while I was in the Science category – and the exact question eludes me for the moment – where I discovered today’s nugget of knowledge.

TILTeff is a grain from Ethiopia.

I had never heard of teff before, but the Internet is all over it. There is The Guardian proclaiming that teff will supplant quinoa as the “next big thing” in Western groceries. The Washington Post chimes in with an introduction to the grain (and also tells quinoa to watch out).

There’s even a place out in the Snake River area of Idaho that grows the grain. Not surprisingly, it is called The Teff Company.

Oh, and teff is gluten-free.

It’s a good day when you learn something new.

Nonprofit Tax Havens Are a Thing?

While the news is full of stories about the current do-nothing Congress (see here and here and here for examples) and even this here little blog pokes light at the lack of working days under the dome of the United States Capitol, there are moments when the members of the House of Representatives and the United States Senate (and even…gasp…the President of the United States) can actually come together and pass legislation.

Although funding the federal government doesn’t seem to be one of those things.

However, in the lane of cooperation, the federal government did pass Public Law 113-163, which started life as S.1799 and which is officially known as the Victims of Child Abuse Reauthorization Act of 2013.

The Victims of Child Abuse Act (VOCA) of 1990 created a program that would allow the Department of Justice (DoJ) to “…make grants to develop multidisciplinary child abuse investigation and prosecution programs.” The DoJ created the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to distribute those grants to establish regional and local children’s advocacy centers, strengthen court appointed special advocate programs, and improve the prosecution and court management of child abuse cases. The head of the OJJDP is the Administrator and it is this position’s role to make those grants (and if you like to see the actual law, you can pop on over to Title 42, Chapter 132, Subchapter I, Section 13003 of the United States Civil Code to see the technical legal language concerning the Administrator and grants).

The reason the word “Reauthorization” is in the title of Public Law 113-163 is because funding for VOCA was not included in President Obama’a budget for Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14). In 2013, the junior Senator from Delaware, Democrat Chris Coons, introduced legislation that would restore $20 million in funding to VOCA programs for FY15.

Helping abused kids is a rather non-partisan issue in the halls of Washington so it is not surprising that in June of 2014, the Senate passed S.1799 by unanimous consent and on the next month, the House passed the legislation by voice vote. The President signed the bill in August and the OJJDP is back in the grant-making business until the end of FY18.

But none of the above is why I chose to write about VOCA, the OJJDP, Senator Coons, or child advocacy centers. Instead, what I found intriguing about S.1799 is some of the wording that happens after the text that extends funding through the end of Fiscal Year 2018.

Section 2(b) of Senator Coon’s legislation adds text to the original 1990 law that created VOCA (also known as Public Law 101-647 which was first known as S.3266 and was introduced by the then-junior Senator from Delaware, Joe Biden, the current Vice President).

Section 214(c)(1) has now been added to PL 101-647 that mandates that the DOJ’s Inspector General conducts audits “of recipients of grants under this subtitle to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse of funds by grantees.” Obviously, these audits weren’t being done before which is why the Senator from Delaware had to add this language to look for malfeasance on the part of grant recipients.

Has the news been filled recently with child advocacy center grant recipient using federal money in a wasteful manner? I have not been able to find any, but then I must admit my on-line search was not entirely exhaustive.

In a like vein, section 214(c)(2)(b) states that the “Administrator may not award a grant…to a nonprofit organization that holds money in offshore accounts for the purpose of avoiding paying the tax described in section 511(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.”

Basically said, if you are a nonprofit helping abused children and you also store money in a bank outside of the United States to avoid paying a certain tax, the OJJDP wants nothing to do you.

Again, has the news been filled recently with nonprofits stashing dollars in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying Uncle Sam?

I find it weird that the United States government would let it be known via legislation that nonprofits are not welcome to park their cash outside America. However, this same government has absolutely no issue with giving the green light to companies that do make a profit to put money away in international banks to avoid paying federal business taxes.

According to this Newsweek article, “Apple and GE owe at least $36 billion in taxes on profits being held tax-free offshore, Microsoft nearly $27 billion and Pfizer $24 billion…” all in perfectly legal and Congress-approved ways. This article from Bloomberg states that companies like Apple and IBM have parked a combined $1.95 trillion (yes, with a “T”) overseas to avoid paying taxes. These companies still can play with the United States government.

But if you’re the Pennsylvania Alliance for Child Advocacy (or a similar-named outfit), don’t even think about opening up a bank account in Ireland…you tax dodger, you.

TIL – Sweet Frog

Today is July 27, 2014, and I am in a store in Sterling, Virginia.

I am dispensing strawberry frozen yogurt into a cup as I am in a Sweet Frog shop.

After I add my crushed-up Heath bar, cherries, and white chocolate chips, I approach the cashier and begin to pay. As I am waiting for my change, I look at the wall behind the employee counting out my quarters and nickels and see a shirt that has the Sweet Frog mascots on it.

It also has some words on it.

TIL – The “Frog” in Sweet Frog is an acronym that stands for “Fully Rely on God”.

The Wikipedia entry on this business mentions that the creator of Sweet Frog, Derek Cha, founded his company on Christian principles.

It’s a good day when you learn something new.

Deadlines…Shmeadlines

“Deadlines are meant to be broken. And I just keep breaking them.” – Sara McLachlan

The folks over at the United States Congress are the living embodiment of the above quote.

This current month of September is the last month of Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14), which means it is up to Congress to pass the collection of appropriations bills that will fund the federal government for the next twelve months. For FY15, Congress has to fund eleven bills from Agriculture to Transportation/HUD.

As of this writing, the full Congress (House and Senate) has not passed a single appropriation bill to send to the President for his signature. In fact, the Senate has not even voted on one funding bill. The House, at least, has given their ayes and nays on seven. Congress.gov has the full figures here.

Now, please recall, that appropriating money is one of the functions the United States Constitution gives to legislators (Article I, Section 9, Clause 6 for those who want to refer to the pocket version of the document I’m sure you have on you) so missing the deadline to allocate funds for the start of fiscal year is to akin to you failing to do one of your job’s responsibilities. Not sure how long you would remain employed if you consistently fell short of a mandated deadline.

Now that Congress is back to work (or sort of back to work as I wrote about in this post), one would think that the Representatives and Senators would roll up their sleeves and pass the eleven appropriation bills before September 30 rolls around.

One would be dead wrong.

At least one member of Congress already knows the jig is up and that the legislators will emulate Sara McLachlan and break a deadline (for the umpteenth time). On September 9, the second day back from their August recess, Representative Harold “Hal” Rogers (R, KY) introduced House Joint Resolution 124 which is a continuing resolution, or CR.

This CR from the gentleman from Kentucky would continue to fund the federal government at FY14 levels until December 11, 2014. It’s like he already knew that Congress would not do their duty. Well, he has been in Congress since 1981 so I guess he has some experience in watching those appropriations deadlines be broken.

Back to Work…Sort Of

“Recess is over!”

That was a phrase that would always bring terror into my third-grade heart whenever I heard it on the school playground. There was always one more game to play, one more ball to kick, and one more swing to swing.

I don’t know if this phrase brings dread to the 532 members of the United States Congress, but as of Monday, September 8, those three words are in effect.

(Yes, I know, that there should 535 members of the U.S. Congress, but the House of Representatives has three vacancies courtesy of the empty seats in New Jersey (1st District), North Carolina (12th District), and Virginia (8th District).)

So what is one of the first things the legislators working under the dome of the United States Capitol do after spending nearly the entire month of August away from Washington, D.C. (The House adjourned on August 4; the Senate on August 8)?

They hold a hearing.

This one, held at 10:00am on their first day back, is brought to you by the House Committee on Natural Resources and it deals with the northern long eared bat. Testimony will be heard about the proposal to list the flying mammal as an endangered species and how that designation would affect Pennsylvania and thirty-seven other states. Representatives from power companies, farms, and energy companies will testify.

I wonder which of those invited groups will go to bat for the bats.

Back at the House, the whole gang comes together at 2:00pm (because who likes early meetings on a Monday…oh, apparently the Committee on Natural Resources does). The representatives dispense with the formalities such as the daily prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance in just under two minutes.

The House takes up their first real bit of business at 2:03pm when they officially receive the resignation of Eric Cantor (R, VA) from the House.

Five minutes into the new session, the House breaks into a round of one-minute speeches. The first comes from Frank Wolf (R, VA) who announces he will be introducing two bills “…to address the most pressing national security threat since 9/11, the rapid advances made in ISIS in Iraq and Syria, as well as territorial gains made by al Qaeda-affiliated groups in Libya, Nigeria, and Somalia.”

Lest you think that Representative Wolf’s introduction of legislation meant that perhaps Congress would do some work and maybe back away from verbally attacking the President, the next two speakers would disabuse from that notion. Let the record show that it took Congress under seven minutes to partake in potshots at POTUS rather than deal with unemployment, minimum wages, etc., etc., etc.

Representative Joe Garcia (D, FL) starts the ball with “…the President signaled that he would not move forward on comprehensive immigration reform, and we are deeply disappointed.”

Not satisfied by a mere statement of disappointment, the next speaker, Representative Joe Wilson (R, WI), took to the floor and said, “The President has been negligent for the past 2 1/2 years, as ISIS fought to seize control of the very country we liberated with our dedicated military…”

This goes on until a quarter past two and then the House knuckles down and passes legislation. Ladies and gentlemen of the United States of America, you can stand proud knowing that in their first day back after a grueling summer recess, the United States House of Representatives voted and passed S.231, the Multinational Species Conversation Funds Semipostal Stamp Reauthorization Act of 2013. This august piece of legislation means these types of semipostal stamps can continue to be sold for four more years.

Our long national nightmare is over.

Riding high on a postal wave, the House then went on a binge and, over the next six hours, voted to rename fourteen post offices.

Oh, there was other stuff discussed and more speeches given, and the gavel fell at 8:40pm and Congress called it a day.

While I have written about a great number of numbers (532 members of Congress, five minutes before the Obama sniping began, four more years for the semipostal stamp, fourteen renamed post offices), the number I want to highlight in this post is nineteen. An aspect of our federal legislative body that has always amused me is the amount of time they spend away from their primary workplace. As I wrote above, the House was out from August 4 until September 8 and the Senate was out from August 8. For the People’s Chamber, that means that they were away from the District of Columbia for twenty-three work days. Members of the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body were away from the nation’s capital for nineteen (there’s that number) work days.

But wait, there’s more.

After their exhausting schedule of two four-day work weeks (September 8-11 and September 16-19…hey that includes a four-day weekend!), the House takes the following week off before engaging in another grueling four-day work week.

Then they’re away from October 6 until Halloween. That’s a grand nineteen (there’s that number again) work days away from the workplace.

Oh, that can’t honestly be right.

Well, it’s good work if you can get it and avoid it.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Fray

In a first for this aspect of my blogging portfolio, I will be using this space for my response to a Weekly Photo Challenge from WordPress.

The theme this go-around is fray.

My response takes us back two years to July 2012 when I visited the Hirshhorn Musuem and Sculpture Garden, located in Washington, D.C.

One of the paintings I saw at this museum caught my eye because the artist took his paint outside of the confines of the space of the artwork. This produced an effect where the splotches of color fray at the edges and seem to spill off the cardboard.

Here, take a look at a closeup of this artwork…

DSCN2608

The shadows on the wall showcase the effect of the physical oil paint moving off the boundaries of the rectangle and fraying off into space.

For those with a thirst for knowing, this artwork is entitled “Untitled (Rotating Eyes of the Falling Tree Monkey Face 43.35)” by American painter Mark Grotjahn.