Misery In America

*No wonder we’re miserable. Do you remember when the former peanut farmer from Georgia harped on the misery index? To get the misery index, add the inflation number to the unemployment number. In the mid-1970s, the misery index was bad enough to help Carter get elected president. Today, according to John Williams of ShadowStats.com, the true number (not the fabrications the government now promotes) is 25 percent. That’s consumer price inflation of 10 percent, plus unemployment of 15 percent. The total is the highest it’s ever been. No wonder Barack Obama makes us feel miserable.

*“Sheriff” Joe Biden is doing a terrible job. Do you remember when the President put the Vice President in charge of the stimulus program because “nobody messes with Joe?” Obama went on to say, “If you’re misusing taxpayer money, you’ll have to answer to him.” It turns out that contractors who got $24 billion in stimulus money owed more than $750 million in back taxes. Where’s “the Sheriff” when you need him?

*A cheater gets cheated… and wants justice! This one is a hoot. A college senior in Colorado who ordered a custom-written term paper from a firm she found on the Internet felt cheated when it wasn’t delivered on time. When the company refused to give her a refund, she complained to the Better Business Bureau about its dishonest practices. I wonder what her professor said when he found out.

*If you own a cell phone, you must be… poor? Here’s a weird one. Relying on a cell phone is one metric government staticians use to decide whether someone fits the description of “poor.” I kid you not. The more people in a given area abandon land lines for cell phones, the “poorer” that area is considered. Leading the list of states in which citizens have done this are Arkansas and Mississippi, so obviously it must be true. What’s next, counting color TVs? (Come to think of it, that might be a pretty accurate indicator of someone’s ability to read and write.)

–Chip Wood

An Annual Patriotic Tradition

On June 14, 1777, Congress passed a resolution that read: “Resolved, that the flag of the thirteen United States shall be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the Union be thirteen stars, white on a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

The colors used in the flag were the same as those used in the Great Seal, the creation of which Congress authorized on July 4, 1776. In reporting to Congress about the Great Seal, Charles Thompson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, said: “The colors of the pales (the vertical stripes) are those used in the flag of the United States of America; White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness and valor, and Blue, the color of the Chief (the broad band above the stripes) signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice.”

In 1877, Congress passed another resolution, urging that U.S. flags be flown on all public buildings annually on June 14 to mark the flag’s birthday.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed “that throughout the nation and if possible in every community “ June 14 should be observed as Flag Day. And on Flag Day in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill adding the phrase “under God” to the pledge of allegiance.

Flag Day was yesterday.  I hope you remembered to fly the Stars and Stripes at your home and place of business. If not, make a note to do so next year, would you?

–Chip Wood

If It Weren’t For McDonald’s…

*Look who is hiring. That sure was a miserable jobs report for May, wasn’t it? The Labor Department said that after spending billions of dollars on Federal boondoggles, only 54,000 new jobs were created in the country that month. But here’s the real stunner: More than half of those jobs may have been from just one employer. McDonald’s hired 30,000 new employees in April, continuing its reputation of helping more young people enter the workforce than all other employers combined.

*And look who’s picking on McDonald’s. Did you see the ad signed by 500 doctors urging McDonald’s to “retire” Ronald McDonald? The docs’ complaint is that the McDonald’s mascot encourages children to make poor food choices. Have these people never heard of parental responsibility? What a bunch of pompous blowhards. If you see your doctor’s name on the list, I hope you will find another healthcare provider.

*Are fat people starving in this country?A USA Today headline warned that hunger is a serious problem in the land of plenty. It read: “1 in 6 hungry in America.” Another article in the same issue of the same paper warned that “rising obesity” costs the nation $344 billion annually. According to the paper’s experts, fat people are responsible for 21 percent of the healthcare bills in this country. According to 2007 figures from the Centers for Disease Control, about one in four Americans is obese.

*The butchery in Syria gets worse. Here is the first sentence in a New York Times article about violence in the Middle East: “Syrian security forces fired at mourners in the central city of Homs during a funeral procession on Saturday for eight protesters who died the previous day, killing at least five people and wounding several others, witnesses and human rights activists said.” For once, I am at a loss for words to express my disgust at what tyrannical government will do to its citizens.

–Chip Wood

Obama Betrays An Ally… Again

When a woman showed up at the Soroka Medical Center in Beer Sheva, Israel, she had burns covering more than 45 percent of her body. A tragic accident at her home in a Gaza refugee camp came close to taking her life.

There was never a thought of turning her away simply because she was Palestinian. That’s not how things are done in Israel. Jewish doctors worked day and night to save her, without expecting that they would receive even a penny in payment.

After extensive treatments that did, in fact, save her life, Wafa al-Biri was released from the hospital and returned to her family in Gaza. She was told to come back for a routine follow-up and assured there would be no charge for that visit, either.

Al-Biri returned to the border between Gaza and Israel and asked permission to enter. A routine security check revealed she was carrying enough explosives in her underwear to destroy the clinic where she was treated and kill not just herself, but the doctors who worked so hard to save her.

And that, my friends, is what it’s like to live in Israel these days.

As terrible as this story is, here’s a sequel that’s even more horrible: Had al-Biri succeeded in her deadly mission, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would probably have named a public park after her.

This is the kind of enemy Israel faces. These are the sorts of people who have taken a solemn vow to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth. They have been taught — and they honestly believe — that they have a sacred duty to kill any infidel they can. (That includes us, by the way; Jews are at the top of the list.)

Here’s the point of today’s column: These are the same people the President of the United States wants to guarantee sanctuary a stone’s throw (or a rocket’s launch) from Jerusalem.

Make no mistake about it: If Barack Obama’s insane policy of forcing Israel to retreat to its pre-1967 borders is implemented, the very survival of the most loyal friend we have in the Middle East will be at risk.

If you opened this article hoping to find a word of sympathy for the Palestinian cause, you will be sorely disappointed. I want to correct some of the appalling lies that have been told about the Palestinians’ so-called “noble struggle” for their homeland. First of all, the Israelis did not drive a single Arab from their “sacred homeland.” Arabs living in what became Israel in 1948 were welcome to stay. They might not enjoy all of the rights, privileges and advantages of the people who won the war. But they were not slain, enslaved or driven from their homes.

I visited Israel. I was a guest in the homes of several Arabs whose parents (and in some cases, whose grandparents) decided to stay. Every single person with whom I spoke was glad to be living in Israel. They were grateful for the opportunities they had, the affluence they enjoyed and the security they felt. Their lives were so much better — and in so many ways — than what their relatives in surrounding lands endured.

The women in particular were glad they were not subject to the ancient traditions of their Muslim ancestors. They were proud to be educated and independent. Not for them concealment behind a burqa that left only their eyes exposed.

They did not hesitate to tell me their greatest fear: that the jihadists in neighboring countries would start a war that would destroy them, their families, their homes and their homeland.

While I was in the Middle East, I also visited some of the refugee camps in Jordan, Syria and Egypt. Or rather, I visited camps in what used to be those countries, before they waged a surprise war on Israel in 1967… and lost.

In the aftermath of what became known as “The Six-Day War,” thousands of Arabs fled from what had been their ancestral homes into neighboring countries, where they were herded into concentration camps and forced to stay for the next 30 years.

Please understand what I’m saying: The Arab countries surrounding Israel refused to let their brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews assimilate into their own lands. Instead, they were kept in unbelievable squalor for a generation. Whole families were confined to one room in a mud hut, with no electricity and no running water. And they were forced to live like this not for a year or two, but for decades.

You will not be surprised to learn that the camps became breeding grounds for terrorists and suicide bombers. I, for one, believe it was planned that way.

In speech last month, Obama insisted Israel agree to return to borders that did not even exist prior to the Arab war against Israel. Since I agree that to do so would be suicide, I was glad to see that Israel’s prime minister wasted no time in rejecting our President’s outrageous demands.

I thought Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint meeting of our Congress was incredibly powerful. A lot of U.S. Congressmen obviously agreed, because they interrupted him with applause more than 50 times. It made the Democrats’ reaction during Obama’s State of the Union speech look pallid by comparison.

I have a few comments before I sign off and turn the rebuttal over to you. I always enjoy my readers’ responses. But I’m especially looking forward to seeing what some of you have to say when you comment at the end of this piece. First, let me make two more observations.

One is that I wish our President were one-tenth as passionate in defending our country and our interests as Israel’s prime minister is in representing his. We used to have Presidents who were proud of their country and eager to defend it; I hope next year we will elect one again.

The other is a question: What is it with Jewish people who live in the United States? No sooner had Netanyahu returned to Israel than a Zogby poll came out, stating that the majority of Jews in this country still support Obama.

To any sons or daughters of Judah reading this, may I ask you something? Don’t you realize that your people, their country and their noblest aspirations are being sacrificed by a scheming, amoral politician who happens to inhabit the White House? Wake up and smell the coffee, people, as my teenage grandchildren would say.

By your votes and your financial support, you are contributing to the destruction of everything you say you hold dear. Stop listening to media that have betrayed you and a leadership that has abandoned you. Open your eyes. Listen to your heart. Recognize the truth. And then join those of us who believe we must find someone else to represent this country, our people and our sacred principles.

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

–Chip Wood

Pay As You Go

One of the more nefarious schemes ever hatched by Congress turns 68 years old this week. It was on June 9, 1943, that the U.S. Congress ordered employers to begin withholding funds from workers’ pay to cover their income-tax obligation. The legislation — passed as “an emergency wartime measure” — was officially called the “Current Tax Payment Act.” But it became known as the “Pay As You Go Tax.”

For the first time in our country’s history, the money an employee would owe the U.S. government in income taxes was taken out of his pay before he saw it and sent to the Internal Revenue Service in Washington. The measure was sold as a favor to workers, who otherwise wouldn’t set aside enough funds to pay their taxes when they came due.

The real effect, of course, was to hide the increasing bite that government would take from everyone’s pay.

Today, most employees think of their “income” as the net amount they receive each payday. They never consider that 20 to 40 percent of their earnings vanished before they received them. Later on, if they do receive refunds of some of these paid-in-advance taxes, they consider them gifts from a beneficent government.

You have to admit it: The folks who think they can spend your money better than you can are awfully clever about how they get their hands on it.

—Chip Wood

The Grass Really Is Greener

*The grass really is greener. We’re just back from a family wedding in Worthington, Ohio, one of the Buckeye State’s beautiful small towns. And you know what? The grass really is greener there than it is in north Florida. It smells better when it’s freshly mown. And it feels better when you walk on it. I love a lot about the low country, but not the St. Augustine grass.

*The smell of summer. I admit it; if it weren’t for the fact that I love many of our creature comforts, I’d make a great beach bum. My favorite form of “exercise” is taking long walks on the beach. I love to watch the waves and smell the ocean. Two special treats are seeing the dolphins go by and watching the endless entertainment of pelicans dive-bombing the water. It’s funny, but all it takes is a sniff of suntan lotion, especially Coppertone®, to bring all those memories flooding back.

*Government can’t even get this right? Someday, I’m going to write a column about how outrageous it is for government to sponsor gambling to raise money for schools. I can think of few things worse at teaching people to hope for something for nothing — and taking from those who can least afford it — than state-sponsored lotteries. But at least the darn things are profitable. So would someone please explain how the bureaucrats in New York bungled Off-Track Betting so badly that it had to declare bankruptcy? Losing money when you have a monopoly on gambling; now, that’s really incompetent.

*This just ain’t right, either. Speaking of something that’s not right, have you heard about the latest fad among some dog owners? It’s coming up with a new breed. Cross a cocker spaniel with a poodle, I’m told, and you get a cockapoo. Breed a schnauzer with a poodle and you’ll get — do you really want to know? — a schnoodle. And maybe my least favorite is the blend of a beagle and a Pekinese. Anyone want a Peagle? Reminds me of that long-ago commercial that said, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”

–Chip Wood

‘You’re A Grand Old Flag’

When’s the last time you heard (or better yet, sung) the lyrics to George M. Cohan’s marvelous tribute to the country he loved?

“You’re a grand old flag,
You’re a high flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave.
You’re the emblem of
The land I love.
The home of the free and the brave.
Ev’ry heart beats true
‘neath the Red, White and Blue,
Where there’s never a boast or brag.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
Keep your eye on the grand old flag.”

Tell the truth now: Didn’t your pulse start beating a little faster, didn’t you sit up a little straighter, didn’t you feel a surge of pride in your country, just by reading those wonderful words?

Sure, you did.

The song has a fascinating history.  Here’s how the Library of Congress explains how it came to be:

“The original lyric for this perennial George M. Cohan favorite came, as Cohan later explained, from an encounter he had with a Civil War veteran who fought at Gettysburg. The two men found themselves next to each other and Cohan noticed the vet held a carefully folded but ragged old flag. The man reportedly then turned to Cohan and said, ‘She’s a grand old rag.’ Cohan thought it was a great line and originally named his tune ‘You’re a Grand Old Rag.’”

Wow, that sure doesn’t have the same patriotic sizzle, does it? One hundred and five years ago, a whole bunch of people thought so, too. The Library of Congress explanation continues:

“So many groups and individuals objected to calling the flag a ‘rag,’ however, that he ‘gave ’em what they wanted’ and switched words, renaming the song ‘You’re a Grand Old Flag.’”

Thanks, Cohan, that’s more like it.

The public heard the song for the very first time when Cohan’s musical “George Washington, Jr.” debuted on February 6, 1906, at the Herald Square Theater in New York City. Patrons left the theater singing the tune and promptly made it the most popular song in our history. Sheet-music sales alone surpassed 1 million copies — the equivalent of going quadruple-platinum today.

While the song has remained a huge hit for more than 100 years, the musical in which it first appeared has almost totally disappeared. I could not find any indication that “George Washington, Jr.” has been performed anywhere in the past 50 years. That’s too bad, because the plot sounds as though it would make a good TV drama today.

It concerns a U.S. Senator who wants a niece to “marry up.” So he’s arranged a marriage with a man who claims to be of European royalty. However, the Senator’s teenage son discovers the so-called count is not only a fake, but an international criminal. After much travail, the son saves his father’s reputation and his cousin’s virtue. Hurrah!

OK, I’ll grant you, it does sound a bit hackneyed and clichéd. So forget about that musical. Instead, I have another one I want to recommend to you: A classic black-and-white movie about the guy who wrote the play. It’s called “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” And if you’ve never seen it, you must.

This is the delightful and infectious movie that Hollywood made in 1942 about Cohan’s legendary life. As you can imagine, coming just as World War II was getting underway, the film bursts with patriotism.

To the surprise of many, America’s favorite gangster, James Cagney, was cast in the starring role. And what an incredible hoofer he turned out to be! If you’ve never seen Cagney singing and dancing, you’ll be amazed how good he is.

His colleagues in Hollywood agreed, because they gave him the Best Actor Oscar for 1942. The film also won Oscars for Best Musical Score and Best Sound Recording. It was nominated in five other categories. Imagine, there was a time when Hollywood honored patriotism. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

The film is a winner. But don’t take my word for it. Instead, go to your local video store and rent it. Or better yet, go to Amazon.com and buy a copy. If you have a drop of patriotic blood in your body, you will love it, too. And you will want to enjoy it again and again.

But believe it or not, watching “Yankee Doodle Dandy” isn’t my No. 1 recommendation for celebrating your patriotism. For that, I have an even simpler suggestion: Fly the flag. And especially, fly the flag a week from Tuesday, on Flag Day.

Why June 14? That is the day in 1777 when the Second Continental Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes as our national flag. Flag Day was first proclaimed by former President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. Strangely, Congress did not officially proclaim Flag Day for 33 years; it was not until August 1949 that National Flag Day was established by an Act of Congress.

Flag Day is not a national holiday. But it is a State holiday in Pennsylvania. Good for you, Pennsylvanians.

I was not home for the Memorial Day weekend, as any of you who have read this week’s Chip Shots already know. (If you’re not familiar with this weekly collection of tidbits, it appears at the bottom of each Friday’s issue of Personal Liberty Digest™. Check it out.)

But I did make arrangements with a neighbor to make certain our flag was proudly flying. Just as he did with his own flag, Dale put mine up every morning and carefully and respectfully took it down at dusk. (No comments from the peanut gallery, please, about Chip having a neighbor named Dale. No, we do not dress up as cartoon characters on Halloween.)

OK, that’s enough about flags and patriotism for today. But you can be confident I’ll be beating this drum again and again. For now, I’m going to turn off the computer and turn on the DVD player, so I can queue up “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

Hope you’ll soon be doing the same. Until next time, keep some powder dry.

–Chip Wood

How Soon We Forget

On June 4, 1789, the U.S. Constitution became the official governing document of a young United States, when it was ratified by a two-thirds majority of the 13 existing States.

Our Founding Fathers labored for more than a year to create a document that would make the people as free as possible — and the government (especially the Federal government) as limited as possible. Even so, a majority of States would not approve the document until 10 amendments were added. The Bill of Rights was even more definite in telling government what it could not do.

The new Constitution received extraordinary praise from other political leaders, including William Pitt of England, who said, “It will be the wonder and admiration of all future generations.” His colleague William Gladstone agreed: “It is the greatest piece of work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.”

It’s too bad this inspired document isn’t held in the same high regard today by the citizens who have benefited so mightily from it — or the politicians who have sworn to honor and protect it.

–Chip Wood

How to Make the World’s Best Burger

After all the heat and hyperbole of the past few weeks, let’s take a break today. Instead of politics, let’s argue about something that’s really important: how to make the world’s best hamburger. A former classmate of mine spent a fortune trying to determine the answer. With the official start of summer this weekend, let’s see if what he learned can help you be a backyard hero.

Years ago, I thought I had the best job on Earth. Back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, I got paid to talk. And unlike a salesman, I didn’t even have to get an order when I did. All my bosses wanted was to hear the phones ring.

This was in the early days of talk radio. My task was to sit behind the microphone and, when the light came on, try to say something interesting enough (or controversial enough) that a listener would pick up the phone and call “The Chip Wood Show.” All of us “ringmasters,” as the talk hosts on WRNG Radio were called, were pretty good. One, however, was the master. And he’s still at it today, 34 years later. Anyone heard of Neal Boortz?

My job at Ring Radio was so much fun, I almost would have done it for free. But then, at a high-school reunion a few years ago, I learned one of my former classmates had an even better gig. As the food critic for The Wall Street Journal, he got paid to fly around the world and eat. Yep, his publisher picked up the tab for him to dine on and then describe some of the hottest of the world’s haute cuisine.

Of course, you don’t just walk into the boss’s office and say you want such a job. You have to earn your stripes… and your expense account. My classmate Raymond Sokolov had certainly done that. For many years, he was the restaurant critic for The New York Times. He has written a number of award-winning cookbooks. Later, he became the Arts & Leisure editor at The Wall Street Journal. In short, he knows food. And he can string words together pretty well, too.

A few years ago, Sokolov told me he would be coming to my hometown of Atlanta to do some culinary research. He asked if I had any suggestions for him. No, he didn’t want suggestions on our greatest chefs, fanciest meals or finest wine lists, darn it all. His subject this visit was hamburgers.

As The Wall Street Journal said in the introduction to the lengthy article that resulted: “Our food critic takes a cross-country, artery-clogging journey to find burger perfection.”

Today, I will tell you about Sokolov’s quest… the characteristics all his favorites shared… and the surprising switch he made before his journey was over. I will also throw in some suggestions from other cooks and critics to determine what makes the world’s best burger.

Where’s the beef?

Sokolov says, and I agree, that the world’s best burger is made with ground chuck. Forget the fancier grades of meat. Ground sirloin is unnecessary; ground Kobe just a foolish extravagance. Sokolov says chuck has “the Goldilocks amount of fat.” It’s not too fat and not too lean. In short, it’s just right. The patty should be thick enough that you can char the outside and the meat will remain moist on the inside. And we both like ours medium rare — hot enough to melt the fat, rare enough so you get the full flavor of the beef.

Another food critic says the only way to get the perfect burger is to grind your own hamburger, from meat you have carefully selected from the butcher’s counter. He even gave instructions on how to pulse it properly in a food processor, but that sounds like a prescription for disaster to me. If you’re going to be this authentic (which certainly isn’t necessary), why not go all the way and buy an old-fashioned grinder with a hand-turned crank, like your grandma used? Does anyone anywhere do this at home?

How do you cook it?

Grill or griddle? Ah, there’s a division that could keep strong men arguing for weeks. It seems to be a truism in America that if it’s cooked on a stove, the women do it. And if it’s cooked outdoors, that’s a guy’s job. I don’t mean to be sexist here; I’m just passing on an observation I’ve heard many others make.

So I was surprised to learn that all of Sokolov’s favorites were cooked on a griddle — and most of the time (but not at his No. 1 choice) by a man. Maybe there is something special about the taste from a griddle that hasn’t been cleaned in years. (Scraped, sure. But washed — with soap, water, and a wire brush? — never!)

Cook and critic David Rosengarten says he comes close to duplicating the magical flavor of a well-seasoned grill at home. What’s his secret? He keeps some beef fat in his refrigerator for just such occasions. And don’t worry if it’s been in there a while. He says it won’t go bad. In fact, he insists a little age is good for it.

“Just get that pan a little shiny with melted fat,” he says. When you’re done, “put your fat treasure back in the fridge. You will have made a major advance toward the ravishing taste of griddledom.”

Personally, I think a red-hot grill seals in the flavors in a way no griddle can. In the past, I didn’t care if the flame came from propane or charcoal. That’s a view that would be considered heresy by all of my barbecue buddies in the South. I recently got a Big Green Egg® and I suspect by this time next year, I will be as intolerant of propane grills as they are.

There’s just something special about a burger that’s seared on a grill. Slap a piece of cheddar on top, close the lid and let the cheese melt while the burger steams. The result will transport you to hamburger heaven.

What about the bun?

I have heard there are places where hamburgers are served on toasted white bread, but I have never seen such apostasy with my own eyes. There are many ways to serve hamburgers that are wrong. Kaiser rolls, for one. But as far as I’m concerned, only one way is right. Go to your local supermarket and get yourself some plain hamburger buns. Not bagels or buns covered with sesame seeds. Not pretzel twists or other weird concoctions. Just plain buns. Nothing does a better job holding everything together while it keeps your fingers clean.

Slice them in half and, when your burgers are almost done, lay them cut-side down on the back of the grill. Keep them there for no more than two minutes. If your timing is right, your lightly toasted buns will be ready when your hamburgers are.

What else do you put on it?

If you think there’s disagreement about where the world’s best burger is cooked, wait until you ask a few folks what should go on it when it’s done. Or, in the case of cheese, just before it’s done.

I’m perfectly fine with turning a hamburger into a cheeseburger. I’m not even all that fussy about what kind of cheese is used. Those single slices of processed something are OK by me, but many critics will turn up their distinguished noses at anything but hand-sliced pieces of the finest cheddar.

Pickle slices? Not for me. But I’ll have them handy if someone else wants them. Lettuce and tomato? Sure. (But if I use them, I like a spoonful of mayo, too.) Crushed corn flakes? I’d never heard of such a thing until I read Sokolov’s column. That still strikes me as a bit weird. But hey, I’m the guy who believed for years that the only thing that would make a fresh-grilled burger taste even better was a big dollop of peanut butter. (Creamy, not chunky.) So who am I to argue?

Under the right circumstances, I can go for a nice slice or two of bacon on top of my cheese. But please don’t overcook it. I want it to be a little bit chewy, not dry and crunchy. And please note: If you’re going to put bacon on your burger, you must lay down a slice of cheese first. As Frank Sinatra used to sing, you can’t have one without the other.

What about onions? Most of the time I skip them. But sometimes, I really crave a medium-thick slice of a Vidalia onion. Others feel the same way about Bermudas. Raw is fine. Sautéed until they’re slightly caramelized is even better. But don’t expect that when I’m cooking; that’s too much extra work for me.

And if you want someone to sauté onions and mushrooms together for your burger, I’ve got news for you, buddy. You don’t want a hamburger; you want a Salisbury steak.

Now, are you ready for the shocker? Somewhere on his cross-country odyssey, Sokolov was persuaded that mustard is better on a burger than ketchup. How did this happen? Who got to him? I can’t prove it, but I suspect that money from the Mustard Council may have changed hands.

Out of respect for my former classmate, I did try a bite of burger with my favorite mustard — stone ground brown, with some real “bite” to it. Sorry, Sokolov, but I think both the burger and the mustard suffered. I’m still squarely on Jimmy Buffett’s side: “I like mine with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57® and French-fried potatoes.” And as far as I’m concerned, you can hold the BLT and the French fries.

Where’s the best burger stand?

Now you know all there is to know about making the world’s best burger at home. (Or at least start a mighty good argument about how to do it.) But where did my burger-buying former classmate find the juiciest, tastiest commercial version? I’m very proud to announce that it was at one of our down-home recommendations: Ann’s Snack Bar on Memorial Drive in Decatur, Ga.

Sokolov declared Ann’s “ghetto-burger” — a two-patty concoction with cheese, bacon and a light dusting of cayenne pepper — as “the next level in burgerhood.” So when you can, come on down and bite into one. Once you do, you will never need to ask: “Where’s the beef?”

Meanwhile, I hope you and your friends enjoy some fabulous cookouts this summer. I promise I’ll be following my own recommendations: ground chuck cooked medium rare, with cheese and some other accoutrements on top. If I’ve done it right, the bun will be lightly toasted. And the applause will be gratifying.

Happy Memorial Day, everyone. And until next time, keep some powder dry.

–Chip Wood

An Expensive Election

*The most expensive election in history. That’s what pundits expect the 2012 presidential race to be, with estimates that the Obama campaign will raise — and spend, of course — more than $1 billion. Three of the top five Democratic donors last year were the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the National Education Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Can anyone spot what they all have in common?

*Why don’t they practice what they preach? How many times have you heard a wealthy liberal say he thinks he should pay more in taxes? It’s a regular pronouncement from Warren Buffett, George Soros, Bill Gates Sr., Mark Zuckerberg and even Barack Obama. But how many actually do pay more, by making extra contributions to Uncle Sam? As far as I can determine, the answer is a big fat goose egg. What’s stopping you from putting your money where your mouth is, guys?

*Turning a movie into a Disney ride. Is there a movie theater near you equipped with D-Box seats? I haven’t experienced one yet, and it will probably be a while before my hometown has one. But apparently these seats — which cost $10,000 each — pitch, roll and vibrate to accompany the action on the screen. I don’t know how they do it, but I’m told the seats can generate up to 2Gs of force. Will they be worth the extra $8 theaters will charge for the experience? You tell me.

*Hey, Congress, start trimming here. While you contemplate how much your stocks have gone up in the past 10 years (for most people the answer is “zero”) and your salary (the average annual increase is less than 4 percent), consider this: Military spending since 2001 is up more than 70 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars. It’s not going to our fighting forces, of course; military pay still stinks. It’s the bureaucrats and their toys that rack up the big bills.

—Chip Wood

‘Woodstock Of The Web’

The “Woodstock of the Web” took place in Geneva, Switzerland, on May 25, 1994, when 380 scientists gathered in CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, for the first World Wide Web Conference.

Although only 380 people attended the conference, this seminal event has become so important in the history of the Internet that several thousand more have claimed to have been there. Thus, the event earned the “Woodstock” moniker.

Despite the claims by Al Gore, our pudgy former Vice President, that he helped invent the Internet, most reputable historians give the credit to British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee. Of course, Berners-Lee never won an Oscar for a propaganda film about the environment, either.

–Chip Wood



From The Peanut Gallery

*Please, Mr. President, shut up. There’s a lot I love about the South, particularly my adopted state of Georgia. But there’s one thing I am definitely not proud of: the wacky pronouncements from incredibly ineffective do-gooder Former President Jimmy Carter. Did you hear his latest? He said we are guilty of a “human rights violation” because we “deliberately withhold food aid to the people of North Korea.” After all, “one of the most important human rights is to have food to eat.” So every hungry person in the world has a claim on what we grow? Only a peanut brain — excuse me, I meant a peanut farmer — would say so.

*Someone should tell the Feds to butt out. The U.S. Department of Justice has promised to investigate whether college football is unfair in the way it selects its national champion. I kid you not; the Federal agency says it is concerned that the Bowl Championship Series may violate Federal antitrust rules. It wants to know why college football doesn’t use a playoff system, as so many other college sports do. If you think this issue sparks some heated debates now, just wait until Washington tells us how to pick the winner.

*Elvis no longer makes the list. For the first time in 55 years, “Elvis” is not one of the 1,000 most popular boys’ names in America. When he heard the news, Commissioner of Social Security Michael Astrue, whose agency tracks baby names via applications for Social Security numbers, said: “I was all shook up.” The most popular boys’ name continues to be “Jacob.” The most popular girls’ name is “Isabella.” Also continuing a very old tradition, “Barack” did not make the list.

*Aren’t you glad you didn’t bid? Here’s another example of how quickly computers can screw things up. It happened when two booksellers offered the same title on eBay — but one instructed the auction house to list its copy for a little bit more than any other copy. When a second seller told eBay to price his copy at 99.83 percent of the highest price, a robotic price war broke out. Before it ended, eBay was offering “The Making of a Fly” (surely not the most popular book it ever offered) for $23.7 million. You will not be surprised to learn there were no takers at that price — or even .01 of 1percent of it.

–Chip Wood

Jailed For Questioning Barack Obama

Some of the more emotional reunions I have ever witnessed occurred at airports. Few can match the joy of wives (and, sometimes, husbands) and children as they welcome a service member returning safely from overseas.

This past Saturday, such a reunion took place at Baltimore Washington International Airport. But in this case, the highly decorated veteran wasn’t returning from Iraq or Afghanistan. Instead, he had just been released from military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Lt. Col. Terry Lakin had been sentenced to six months in jail and dismissed from the Army because he had the temerity to question whether Barack Obama was Constitutionally qualified to serve as President of the United States and, thus, as his Commander in Chief.

But this is not just another “Birther” story. The issues Lakin raised, and the mockery of a trial he received, go much deeper than that. Bear with me while I tell you a little more about them.

First, you need to know that Lakin served his country honorably and well for more than 17 years. His numerous awards and decorations include: the Army Flight Surgeon Badge, Combat Medical Badge, the Bronze Star Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Achievement Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the National Defense Service Medal with Bronze Service Star, the Armed Forces Expedition Medal, the Army Reserve Component Achievement Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon sixth award and the NATO service medal.

Lakin previously served with distinction in Honduras, Bosnia, El Salvador, Korea and Afghanistan. His problems began two years ago, when he was first exposed to material that made him question whether Obama was Constitutionally eligible to serve as his Commander in Chief. Yes, Lakin got sucked into the whole “Birther” controversy.

For more than a year, Lakin asked — first through his chain of command (this was the Army, after all) and later through his congressional delegation — for proof that would satisfy his questions. Then, something happened that stiffened his resolve: He received orders in February 2010 to report for deployment in Afghanistan. And as part of his orders, he was told to provide a certified copy of his birth certificate to the responsible authorities.

Normally, Lakin would have had no problem complying with either the deployment (he had served with honor in Afghanistan once before) or with the request. He had provided a certified birth certificate when he was commissioned in the U.S. Army the first time, when he applied for a marriage license and when he received his first security clearance. This time, however, he had a concern.

Lakin asked his commanding officer why, if he was required to routinely provide such evidence, wasn’t his Commander in Chief?

As you might guess, Lakin never received a satisfactory answer. So he then did something he later admitted might not have been the smartest decision he ever made: He declined to go until he was shown the proof he had previously requested.

Uh-oh. That’s when the feathers hit the fan. (I suspect soldiers use a stronger term.) Asking a question about your Commander in Chief became disobedience of a lawful order. A court-martial would follow.

Lakin looked forward to his day in court. He hoped to present his case, tell a jury how he came to have such questions, call witnesses, ask for discovery, present evidence: all the things we Americans have come to expect as a normal part of the justice system.

But this wasn’t “the justice system;” it was the U.S. military. And as the saying goes, things are different there. A military judge ruled that the only issues before the court martial were “the facts of the matter.” That is: Did Lakin disobey a lawful order? He was not allowed to explain why he did so; he was not allowed to call any witnesses or present any evidence.

So no one, not even Lakin or his most ardent supporters, was surprised with the result: Guilty as charged. Lakin was sentenced to six months in Leavenworth (it could have been five years), a reduction in rank, the loss of pension and pay and dishonorable discharge. It is a heavy price to pay for what many will consider a legal dispute.

Then, just days before Lakin was due to be released from military prison — and after two years of stonewalling — Obama changed tactics. He asked officials in Hawaii for a copy of the long-form “Certificate of Live Birth” that would prove he was, in fact, a native-born American. So eager was he to get it that he had a staffer fly from Washington to Honolulu to pick it up. Express Mail wasn’t good enough.

In a statement afterward, a spokesman for the Lakin family said, “Had the Obama Administration agreed to allow the document unveiled today and other related documents as requested for discovery in Lakin’s first pretrial hearing, the matter would have been resolved and soldiers assured their military orders were lawful, given by a lawful Commander in Chief.”

The statement added, “A good soldier, having played his part in this issue, would have returned enthusiastically to the service for which he is so ably trained.”

Of course, none of that was allowed to happen.

As many of you know, I wrote extensively about the whole “Birther” issue last week, in a column called Obama’s Birth, Bin Laden’s Death. As expected, nearly 1,000 readers have added their 2 cents to the debate. In fact, many wrote so extensively and so passionately that I should probably say their $2 worth. The debate got hot and furious. And I don’t think it will calm down anytime soon.

But Donald Trump has declared he will not run for President next year. No other viable candidate seems interested in making Obama’s antecedents an issue. Time will tell if the old adage “ignore it and it will go away” will work again, as it has so many times in the past.

In the meantime, if you would like to thank one brave soldier for taking a principled stand — and who paid a pretty high price for doing so — go to www.terrylakinactionfund.com and send Lakin and his wife, Pili, a note of appreciation. You might even consider making a donation to help them pay the mountain of bills they face.

Lakin could probably make a bunch of money on the lecture circuit or writing a book about his ordeal. But until the military process is complete — and that could take years — he has been ordered to keep his mouth shut.

As I said, military justice isn’t what you’re used to seeing on Law and Order. I think it’s the right place to try any al-Qaida terrorists we capture. But I’m not sure it prevailed in this case. What do you think?

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

–Chip Wood

Lindbergh Flies Solo Across Atlantic

All pilots know this is an incredibly important week in aviation history. Leading the list was Charles A. Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic. It was a rainy morning on May 20, 1927, when Lindbergh took off from Long Island’s Roosevelt Field. He landed 33.5 hours later at Le Bourget field in Paris, France.

Lindbergh’s plane The Spirit of St. Louis carried so much fuel that it barely cleared the trees at the end of the runway when he took off for Paris at 7:52 a.m. But clear the trees he did and he remained airborne for 3,610 miles, averaging a mere 108 miles per hour. The flight made Lindberg an international hero.

Here’s an interesting footnote to that historic flight: My mother was a teenager working in New York City when she helped throw confetti from her office window several days later, as “Lucky Lindy” starred in a tickertape parade down Broadway. Fewer than 40 years later, Mom watched on live TV as an American astronaut walked on the moon. Imagine the progress those two events represent. What technological miracles we’ve witnessed in our lifetimes!

A mere 12 years after Lindbergh’s miraculous flight, Pan American Airlines began transatlantic passenger and airmail service on May 20, 1939, flying from New York City to Marseilles, France. The cabin actually had bunk beds built in, much like sleeper cars on trains today, so passengers could sleep part of the way across the ocean.

– Chip Wood




The Week’s Wackiest Headline

*To balance your budget, just do this. The wackiest headline of the week came from CNN.com, which promised “No inflation unless you eat.” Doesn’t that make you feel better? Your paycheck is bound to stretch far enough, if you persuade your family to go on an all-air diet. Oh, while you’re at it, you had better not use any gas, oil or other fuel; require any medicine or medical services; or attend college. Don’t do any of that, and you will be fine.

*Rigging the bestseller list. Well, I’ll be doggoned. I didn’t think I would ever see The New York Times admit it fudges the numbers on its list of bestselling books. And while it didn’t come right out and say it had, it did finally acknowledge that sales of Mike Huckabee’s book “A Simple Government” had earned it a place on the list. Now, how about admitting Fox contributor Dick Morris’s “Revolt!: How To Defeat Obama And Repeal His Socialist Programs” has also earned a place on the bestseller list?

*You didn’t have to do that, Mr. President. President Barack Obama keeps saying America’s millionaires need to pay more taxes. But when it came to his own tax return, our Hypocrite in Chief took every deduction he could. Had he instead used the simplified form with no itemization, his taxes would have been nearly $200,000 higher. Gee, Mr. President, how about leading by example here and just pay more?

*Welcome aboard, Mr. Ringer. I’m delighted to welcome a longtime friend, bestselling author Robert J. Ringer, as the latest columnist at Personal Liberty Digest. In case you missed his premier column, click here to read such gems as, “It’s time to get real and admit that Obama is not just another ultra-liberal President cut in the mold of Bill Clinton. It’s time to stop tiptoeing and pretending. It’s time to say it: We have a communist in the White House! Say it out loud. Say it clearly. Say it with conviction: communist.”

–Chip Wood

Obama’s Birth, Bin Laden’s Death

My goodness gracious, what a week it was for wild and wacky news stories. First, the President of the United States finally succumbed to the mounting controversy on April 27 and asked the State of Hawaii to produce some evidence that he was actually born there.

In fact, President Barack Obama had an aide fly from Washington to Honolulu to pick up the “Certificate of Live Birth.” Surely, the post office could have overnighted the darned thing to him for a lot less money. We were assured by the White House that we taxpayers didn’t pay any of the expenses for the trip. Sure. Like everyone involved made certain they were off the clock for the many hours they spent discussing the “birther” controversy and what to do about it.

Ever since Obama’s “Certificate of Live Birth” was released to the public, my mailbox has been full of articles and other postings allegedly proving the thing is a forgery. Frankly, I’ve never paid a lot of attention to the whole “birther” controversy. I suspect Barack Hussein Obama is exactly who he claims to be — the son of a white mother and black father who was born a citizen of the United States and raised to become a rabble-rousing redistributionist who couldn’t wait to get his hands on the reins of government so he could punish the productive and give to the unproductive. That’s what every Marxist tyrant in history has done. Obama has been treading a well-worn path.

Assuming he was born in Hawaii, as we’re supposed to believe, why did his grandmother say he was born in Kenya? And an even better question is: Why did he allow this controversy to drag on so long? He could have produced that “Certificate of Live Birth” years ago if he had so desired. Why didn’t he? I have never heard a good answer to either question.

I have to admit it was amusing to hear the president refer to Donald Trump as a carnival barker and for The Donald immediately to claim credit for accomplishing something the entire media had been unable to do — get Obama to show and tell.

Now that most of us can finally agree that Barack Hussein Obama is Constitutionally eligible to be president of the United States, how about we turn our attention to a truly important question? That is, how do we get him to follow the Constitution in his policies?

Will all of this finally put the “birther” controversy to rest? No. In fact, I can confidently predict I will receive even more emails on the subject (many of them telling me what an idiot I am to believe Obama is native-born). If you don’t believe me, come back to these pages in a few days and check the comments section below.

If you’re having trouble believing the 44th President was born in the U.S., how do you feel about the story of how Osama bin Laden was killed on May 2 in a daring U.S. military raid half a world away?

I am going to accept the whole incredible story hook, line and sinker. I believe an elite group of Navy Seals, after very specialized and secret training, flew from Afghanistan to northern Pakistan, landed behind the 10-foot walls of a mysterious compound, raced upstairs to the third floor where bin Laden was staying, shot two of his guards (and one poor, defenseless woman who was used as a shield), then shot Osama in the head — twice — when he tried to resist.

How an unarmed man “resisted” what must have looked like the SWAT team from hell, I have no idea. I don’t believe for a minute this was a dead-or-alive mission. I think the orders were clear from the beginning — either bin Laden dead or all of you. This was no bring-him-back-alive effort.

Thank goodness. Can you imagine what would have happened if the United States really had tried to enforce the “justice” Obama and his Attorney General promised? A “fair trial” in a civilian court, with a judge giving his lawyers full access to everything the CIA ever learned about him? What a disaster that would have been!

There were no U.S. fatalities, unless you count a helicopter that landed so hard it couldn’t fly again and had to be destroyed. (That reminded me of some of my favorite horse stories in which beloved stallions break their legs and have to be put down.)

This story has something for everyone, doesn’t it? I love some of the details, such as the rotten jihadist who tried to use a woman as a shield. As Dr. Phil would say, “How did that work out for you, buddy?”

I do have to say, it’s amusing to see Obama take credit for violating every campaign promise and nasty accusation he ever made about former President George W. Bush’s efforts to bring bin Laden to justice. We found out where bin Laden was via the “enhanced interrogation” of captives, which Obama denounced as illegal torture. We housed our enemies in secret prisons and Guantanamo. We broke more international laws than I can count during the mission — including not telling Pakistan we were invading their country.

The Navy Seals shot bin Laden to death without any hesitation or remorse. Yes, Obama made some brave calls in sanctioning the mission. He deserved the bounce in public esteem he’s received. Now, it’s time for him to do one more thing: Tell his Attorney General to stop the persecution of those CIA agents he’s “investigating” because of their harsh interrogation of al-Qaida operatives who had been captured. Without it, bin Laden would still be alive today.

Had I been giving the orders, I don’t think I would have told the U.S. military to dump the body at sea so quickly. I don’t normally disrespect the religious beliefs of someone else; but in this case, I would have made an exception. Unlike some of my British forebears, I wouldn’t have paraded bin Laden’s head around Washington on a spike. But I would have made certain the world got to see enough of the body to believe it really was bin Laden who descended to his eternal reward.

I’m sorry, but an alleged match of DNA records or fingerprints (where did the originals come from, by the way?) just does not carry the same credibility.

By the way, it will be fascinating to see what’s on the computers our soldiers seized. Maybe we will learn who had been protecting bin Laden for the five years we’re told he lived in that compound in Abbottabad. As Ann Coulter observed, “Pants are wetting throughout Pakistan’s military establishment.”

In any case, congratulations to everyone involved in this decades-long effort — especially to the incredibly talented, brave and resourceful men who carried it off.  They have earned free drinks at any bar in the country for the rest of their lives. What stories they will have to tell their children and grandchildren!

I have to confess, I was sorry this didn’t happen on Bush’s watch. Not that I was a big fan of the past President. As any longtime reader of this column knows, I was as a critical of that big-spending internationalist and his neoconservative cronies as I have been of his successor.

I do believe that the man who rallied the country after 9/11 deserved to see bin Laden killed a lot more than his successor. But let’s not quibble. Once again, America got her man. And it was thrilling to see the spontaneous demonstrations that broke out all across the country and, in fact, all around the world with the news that bin Laden had been killed.

It may not have been “justice,” as we Americans would normally use the word. But it sure was satisfying.

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

–Chip Wood

Babe Ruth Hits His First Homerun

In this column last week, we mentioned one important milestone in baseball – the longest game ever played ended in 1-1 tie after 26 innings. And both teams used only one pitcher for the feat!

Today, let’s celebrate the beginning of another important era in the Nation’s pastime. Because it was on May 6, 1915 that George Herman Ruth Jr. stepped up to the plate and hit the first of his legendary home runs. “Babe” was indeed a babe that day; the rookie player for the Boston Red Sox had turned 20 just three months earlier.

He would go on to become a legendary hitter (his record of 714 home runs lasted for half a century), pitcher and partier. With the possible exception of Mickey Mantle, the world has not seen another ball player like the Sultan of Swat. His accomplishments and his artifacts are still celebrated today.

–Chip Wood



NATO Murders Children, Spring Spheres, Where’s Easter? And Nice Hats

*Does this really help protect liberty? Over the weekend, reports from Libya say that NATO airstrikes in the city managed to kill three of Moammar Gadhafi’s grandchildren and one of his sons. Why are we murdering innocent children in a country that poses absolutely no threat to us?

*Political correctness run amuck. I have dozens of clippings that could fit this headline. But the craziest has to be from the school district in Seattle, Wash., that declared that from now on, all Easter eggs had to be referred to as “Spring spheres.” No, folks: That should be the description of the obviously brainless nincompoops who issue such edicts.

*Hey, Mr. President, how could you forget about Easter? For the first time in living memory, the White House did not issue a proclamation two weeks ago acknowledging the most important event in the Christian calendar. Not a word about Easter was uttered by the Oval Office. Previously, however, President Barack Obama issued at least three official White House proclamations honoring Muslim holidays.

*Most of all, I loved the hats. Did you force yourself out of bed at 4 a.m. EDT to watch the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton? Thanks to the miracle of digital recording, I was able to sleep in and still catch all the action. I was as enchanted by pageantry as those million Brits who lined the streets. Those Royals can sure put on a show, can’t they?

–Chip Wood

My Mother’s Escape from Communism

With Mother’s Day coming this Sunday, it seemed like a perfect time to tell you about some of my mother’s extraordinary adventures. Bear with me for a bit and I’ll even tell you how to get a free copy of the book she wrote about one of them.

What started out as a vacation turned into an adventure. The adventure turned into a tragedy. And out of the tragedy came one of the most amazing stories of courage, patriotism and perseverance it has ever been my experience to witness. Here’s what happened.

My father was “king of the hill” in the rural southern Indiana town where we lived in the mid-1950s. He was president of the largest employer in the county, on the board of the only country club, president of United Way and had been given just about every other honor and accolade it was possible to garner. As his wife, my mother was just as respected and just as involved in the social activities of the town.

It all came to a sudden end when my father died of a massive heart attack one Saturday afternoon. Years of abuse to his body and stress on the job had taken their fatal toll. After the funeral, my mother’s brother insisted she come to Ft. Lauderdale for a week or two to rest and recover from the trauma she had just endured. While she was with him, Uncle Harry treated her to a long weekend in one of his favorite cities, Havana, Cuba.

Little did he know what he was unleashing. My mother fell head over heels in love with Cuba. She had never seen a place so exotic, a people so friendly, a climate so delightful or prices so reasonable. Her widow’s mite would stretch a lot further there, she realized, than it would back home.

I was at boarding school in Michigan during what followed. I wish I had saved the string of telegrams, postcards and letters that began arriving in my mailbox. Most were as brief and cryptic as, “Staying at Hotel Miramar for a while; brothers are fine.” When I got one that read, “Have taken a job and am buying an apartment,” I went to my headmaster and said, “I think I should go down there and see what’s going on. Don’t you?”

So in late November 1957, I visited Havana, Cuba, for the first time. It was just as exotic as my mother had promised. Words can’t express the excitement I felt the first time I walked into one of Cuba’s legendary casinos and saw George Raft leaning against a wall, flipping a coin. (I learned later that he was hired to do this; the hotel provided him a complimentary gorgeous suite, all expenses, and, rumor had it, all the liquor and feminine companionship he wanted whenever he flew from Hollywood for a visit.)

I was quickly made a member of what was called the ABC Colony. This was a group of American, British and Canadian expats, most of whom worked for major U.S. companies and lived the good life in Cuba. And let me tell you, it was a very good life indeed, while it lasted. Maids, gardeners, cooks and chauffeurs cost a few dollars a week. The social life was frenetic; during my first two weeks in Havana, there was something going on almost every day and certainly every night.

Within a few months it was as though my mother had lived there all her life. She became the society columnist for The Havana Post, the largest English-language newspaper on the island. (One of her most popular columns was a weekly collection of goings-on she called “Woodchips.”)

In the memoir she wrote about those days, she described “bouncing on a bridal bed with Maureen O’Hara.” And how she ended up “on the cutting room floor with Alex Guinness.” One of my favorite tales was when she went out to buy a used ironing board—and ended up owning one of Havana’s most popular antique shops.

I think my two brothers would agree that it was an idyllic life… for a while. But it all changed on Jan. 1, 1959, when Fidel Castro and a bunch of “bearded ones” marched into Havana.

What would this revolutionary new leader be like? The New York Times called him “the George Washington of Cuba.” But he turned out to be—as every American in Havana had been warned he was—nothing but a murderous communist tyrant.

You will not be surprised to learn that within a few months, my mother had lost everything she had worked so hard to build—the newspaper had been seized, her shop had been closed, goods were impossible to get and freedom had become just a memory.

When she was finally able to leave Cuba, eight months after the Castro takeover, she was allowed to carry two suitcases; her sons could each carry one. Everything else was left behind. She returned to the United States almost penniless to start life over.

And there my story would probably end, except for one thing: Someone invited a representative of something called the Fair Play for Cuba Committee to speak at her church in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. That was all it took to get her Irish up, as she would put it. She went to the meeting and denounced the speaker as a liar.

In no time at all she was being interviewed by the media and was being asked to address a handful, then dozens, then scores of community organizations. I don’t think she ever turned down an invitation. She and her white hats (she must have owned 30 of them) became famous—or some would say, infamous.

My mother became a heroine among the many refugee groups in the area. I still have a few of the decorations some grateful Hungarian freedom fighters bestowed on her.

Articles about Mom’s activities began appearing in the Cleveland Press and in other media. She was even asked to write a series of stories for the newspaper. And the hate mail and phone calls came pouring in.

These only made her more determined to fight. She started a group called the Organization to Fight Communism which held regular meetings and sponsored a series of anti-Communist lectures in town. She debated Gus Hall, the head of the Communist Party USA, and organized people to picket his meetings. The more she was threatened, the more determined she became.

One of her favorite mementos of this time in her life is a letter she got from J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI, congratulating her on her many contributions to our country. To say she was thrilled to pieces would be an understatement.

As you can see, I come by my anticommunism honestly. For a while, in fact, I argued we should make the government bigger and stronger, precisely so it could do a better job fighting “the Red menace.” But the story of my own transition from the left edge of the spectrum to the right (some would say, the far-far-right) will wait for another day.

Many years after all of the excitement died down, Mom decided to write a book about her experiences. She called it “A Fool Walked In (To Cuba).” And while I may be a little bit prejudiced (OK, I’ll admit it: On this topic I’m a <strong>lot</strong> prejudiced), I think it’s a thrilling, exciting story of one person’s courage, dedication, determination and accomplishments.

That’s why I am delighted to announce that my publisher, Personal Liberty Digest, is making Mom’s book available—for free, with no strings attached—to anyone who wants to read it. Just click here (7.11 MB) to enjoy the memories and accomplishments of the feistiest lady it has been my great privilege to know.

Mom ascended to her heavenly reward 21 years ago this summer. But part of me hopes she knows about today’s column and is smiling in appreciation.

To all of you reading this, please celebrate your own mother’s accomplishments this Sunday, as you wish her a happy Mother’s Day.

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

–Chip Wood

On May Day

Perhaps the most significant event this week will be something that did not take place. There were no massive demonstrations of Soviet military prowess filling Moscow’s Red Square this May Day. A major communist holiday thus becomes just another space on the calendar. But as older readers know, it was not always so.

Among other significant events on May 1st in history:

On May 1, 1961, Fidel Castro announced that there was no longer any need to hold elections in Cuba. He proclaimed himself “president for life.” And, unfortunately for the Cuban people, it’s turning out to be a very long life.

On May 1, 1931, a 22-year-old singer was hired by CBS radio in New York for the princely sum of $10 a week. One month later, Kate Smith had become a huge hit — and negotiated a pay increase of 1,500 percent for herself. Three-quarters of a century later, her rendition of “God Bless America” is still a favorite at ballparks everywhere.

And speaking of ballparks, on May 1, 1920, the longest game in baseball was called after 26 innings, with the (Brooklyn) Dodgers and the (Boston) Braves tied 1-1. Perhaps the most amazing part of the event was that both teams used only one pitcher for the entire game. Both Leon Cadore for the Dodgers and Joe Oeschger for the Braves pitched all 26 innings. Now, that’s stamina.

–Chip Wood

What Training Monkeys Can Teach Us About Congress

Many thanks to the Alert Reader who sent me the following story about monkeys. I think you’ll agree, it has important lessons for us about how to make changes in Washington.

Start with a cage holding five monkeys. Hang a banana from the top of the cage and underneath it, put some stairs going up. Before long, a monkey will start climbing the stairs to get the banana.

When he does, spray cold water on all of the monkeys. The first monkey will scamper into a corner. But after a while, another monkey will start climbing the stairs. When he does, spray all the monkeys with cold water again.

Do this a few more times when a monkey tries to climb the stairs and pretty soon you won’t need any water. As soon as a monkey gets on the stairs, the other monkeys will stop him.

At this point, remove one of the monkeys and replace him with a new one. The new monkey will see the banana and start climbing the stairs. To his surprise, the other four monkeys will grab him and start beating him up. After two or three efforts to get the banana with the same thing happening, pretty soon he’ll give up, too.

When that happens, replace another of the original five monkeys with a new one. Not knowing any better, he’ll try to get the banana. But as soon as he starts climbing the stairs, all of the other monkeys – including the previous newcomer – will start beating him.

When the new monkey has been trained not to try for the banana, replace another of the original monkeys and repeat the process. After three more switches, all of the original monkeys will be gone. None of the ones that remain will have ever been sprayed with cold water.

But here’s the amazing thing: None of them will try to get the banana. Each one knows that if he does, the other four will beat the crap out of him. Why? They have no idea. They just know that’s the way it has always been.

The Straight Talk reader who sent me the story said the moral is obvious: This is how Congress operates. And it explains why, from time to time, YOU HAVE TO REPLACE ALL OF THE MONKEYS.

Right now, the banana is deficit reduction. Everybody wants to reach for it… or at least say they want to. Heck, even our President recently declared:

“We have to live within our means, reduce our deficit and get back on a path that will allow us to pay down our debt.”

Like many of his predecessors in the Oval Office, President Barack Obama has mastered the art of saying the right thing – while most of the time doing the exact opposite. There has not been a single second since he took office that he has demonstrated the slightest interest in living within our means, or reducing the deficit or paying down our national debt. Just the opposite, in fact.

I didn’t have the stomach to watch Obama’s speech about the deficit he delivered at George Washington University two weeks ago. It was all I could do to read it the next day. I didn’t expect much in the way of honesty, humility or contrition. But even I was shocked by the partisan bitterness of his remarks.

Rather than applaud Republican efforts to reduce the deficits, or acknowledging the amazing courage of Rep. Paul Ryan and a handful of his colleagues for putting such sacred cows as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security on the table, the president declared that his opponents were heartless monsters who would pit “children with autism or Down’s syndrome” against “every millionaire and billionaire in our society.”

As the Wall Street Journal noted, “Mr. Obama then packaged his poison in the rhetoric of bipartisanship – which ‘starts,’ he said, ‘by being honest about what’s causing our deficit.’ The speech he delivered was dishonest even by modern political standards.”

The Journal is being too kind. Obama’s speech about the deficit just may be the most dishonest assemblage of bluff, bluster and baloney that I have ever read. But we can at least thank our vice president for one of the lighter moments of what was a very dark occasion. In case you missed it, Joe Biden slept through much of his boss’s speech.

I kid you not. You can see it on YouTube by clicking here. And don’t believe anyone who tells you the VP was merely thinking deeply about what his boss was saying. I’ve slept through enough boring lectures myself to know he’s asleep, for crying out loud.

Would that you and I could take this same easy way out to ignore all of our president’s dishonest posturing and phony promises. But we can’t. Unless we force Congress to change, we are going to be willing participants in one of the greatest crimes in U.S. history: saddling our children and our children’s children with a debt they will never be able to pay off.

The promises made by the Federal government to its citizens – the so-called “unfunded liabilities” that are already written into law – now come to more than $100 trillion. And there is not a single cent set aside to pay them. Not one copper penny.

Even Social Security is bankrupt. You must understand that there is no money in the horribly misnamed Trust Fund. Every dollar a young worker pays in today is sent out immediately to an older retiree. All that the worker will have to show for 40 or 50 years of contributions will be some IOUs.

By the way, the idea that the “rich” in this country aren’t paying their fair share is absolutely preposterous. The top 1 percent of taxpayers in this country earns about 11 percent of the income. So you’d expect them to pay 11 percent of the taxes, right? Not at all: The top 1 percent of taxpayers pays more than twice that amount. They account for 22 percent of all income taxes collected. Meanwhile, the bottom 50 percent of the population pays nothing. In fact, the vast majority of them are net tax recipients.

Wasn’t one of the founding principles in America that we are all supposed to be equal before the law? Please tell me, what is “equal” about a tax rate that is many times higher for a successful person than someone who is not? Has anyone ever heard of the truism that if you want more of something, subsidize it? But if you want less of something, tax it? Apparently, our would-be masters in Washington want more people on the dole. And fewer paying the taxes that make it all possible.

In case you’ve forgotten, our Founding Fathers made a progressive income tax illegal for the first 137 years of this country’s existence. This vital element of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto wasn’t inflicted on us until 1913, when a devious conspirator named Edward Mandell House got his puppet Woodrow Wilson to throw his support behind the Sixteenth Amendment.

But here’s the amazing thing: The vast majority of legislators who voted for the darned thing had no idea what they were doing. Sound impossible? Not at all. Let me quote every word in that amendment; then you tell me what you think it says:

“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

And that’s it. Those 30 words are all it took to unleash the monstrous tyranny of our present tax system on us. Do you see anything there that says, “Hey, Congress, we really think Karl Marx had the right idea. Let’s sock it to the ‘rich’ with a progressive income tax.”

Of course not. The people who would enslave us were not any more honest 100 years ago than Barack Obama and his supporters are today.

Thank goodness, a whole bunch of Americans are catching on. As Howard Beal said, they’re mad as hell. And they’re not going to take anymore.

Neither should you.

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

Chip Wood

Victim of your own success?

*Are you a “taker”? If you’ve been even halfway successful, apparently our president thinks so. During a town hall address last week, President Barack Obama said, “[My opponents’] basic view is that no matter how successful I am, no matter how much I’ve taken from this country… somehow I now have no obligation to people who are less fortunate than me and I have no real obligation to future generations to make investments so that they have a better (life).”

The truth of the matter is just the opposite.  We Americans are the most generous, caring, giving people who have ever lived on this Earth. It’s Obama and his socialist schemers who hate our private good works. They want the State to seize our money so they can decide who to put on the dole.  That’s not charity; it’s theft.

*Can’t the post office afford an artist? Have you seen the new Ronald Reagan postage stamp?  It came out just in time to celebrate the Gipper’s 100th birthday. And to say that it looks like the work of some fourth-grade artist would be to insult 10-year-olds everywhere. It’s not that the stamp  is ugly, it’s just that it bears almost no resemblance to our former president. Please, USPS, don’t reprint more of these; hire someone else to try again.

*One thing to applaud in the budget compromise. Granted, there isn’t much to cheer about. So far, our politicos have slashed a $1.4 trillion deficit all the way down to a $1.24 trillion. Big whoop, as my grandson would say. But congratulations to House Speaker John Boehner for saving the school voucher program for our capitol. Obama and his Democrat buddies were perfectly willing to condemn inner-city kids to stay in some of the nation’s worst schools, just to score political points with the teachers’ unions.

*The “Happy Days” gang ain’t happy. I’m sorry to see that some of the “Happy Days” cast is turning to the courts to get what they think they’re due. Potsie (Anson Williams) and three other cast members, plus the estate of Tom Bosley, are suing for merchandising revenues they say they are owed. Guess those “Happy Days” slot machines didn’t pay off for them.

—Chip Wood

Mutiny On The HMS Bounty

On April 27, 1789, a criminal act took place that led to one of the most amazing ocean voyages in history, as well as numerous books, films and popular songs. The criminal act was a mutiny on a British Royal Naval ship, the HMS Bounty. Fletcher Christian led the revolt against his commanding officer, William Bligh.

According to the stories, the mutineers were attracted by the idyllic life they had discovered on the Pacific island of Tahiti and were repelled by the alleged cruelty of their captain. They took over the ship, put Bligh and those loyal to him on a small boat, burned the Bounty until it sank and settled down to enjoy life in a tropical paradise, many with native women they married.

Bligh and his 18 crewmen set off on what became a 3,618-mile voyage. Guided only by a sextant and a pocket watch, Bligh led his men to the closest British outpost he could find: Timor Island in the Dutch East Indies. Only one crewman was lost during the voyage. John Norton was stoned to death by natives of Tofua, where they had stopped for provisions. Bligh then returned to England and reported the mutiny.

Novelists and filmmakers have been fascinated with the story ever since.

–Chip Wood