Sunday, May 22, 2011

To debt or not to debt?

So, the United States government has reached its legally allowed debt limit of $14.3 trillion, or $46,278 per US citizen. Despite reaching this "limit" the US is continuing to function with only a delay in paying government pension accounts being affected (after August 2, all hell will break loose). Both sides, Republican and Democrat, seem to be digging into their respective positions as if this is World War 1 and trench-style warfare was suddenly in vogue.

Both sides have played a role in this mess and an agreement by both sides (not one side forcing the other into an "agreement") will be the only way out of the constant deficit issue. Entitlements, as politically painful as they are to touch, will have to be changed. Whether that means extreme draconian methods, such as that proposed by Rep. Ryan, or a more reasonable approach, change needs to happen. The budget will not be fixed by giving more tax cuts (although a modified flat rate is intriguing) nor will it by raising taxes (closing existing loopholes should be looked at, however). Fixing the "little stuff", reducing financial aid, or reducing the size of the federal government workforce will shave only a fraction of the budget. The larger items, including Medicare, Social Security, Homeland Security and the Department of Defense, where we are continuing to spend more on defense than the next 43 countries combined, is where we will, in all likelihood, need to see a lot of the cuts. Even though the smaller line-items won't shave off much, we cannot exclude them either as eventually, they will add up.

All one needs to do is look through the current and proposed budgets for the federal government to see the lunacy in spending that currently takes place. When was the last time the President (who, in all fairness, only proposes a budget, it is up to Congress to pass it) or the Chairmen of the respective appropriations committees actually went through the budget line-item by line-item. Local government has to do this and so do some states. It is time consuming and tedious but it is necessary. If the department cannot explain the need for a program or a line-item expense then it goes to the bottom of the funding list. If you can make a strong argument for it, the priority goes up. As a personal request, please stop passing the budget in pieces (this year, there were 14 appropriation "Omnibus" bills, with only 2 actually making it into law before the recent budget agreement for the 2011 fiscal year). Work it out and then pass the budget as a whole. This will not save money, it is just something that ticks me off.

If we can accept some basic truths or simple facts, reaching an agreement will become easier. Three of these simple truths are: 1) you cannot and will not please everyone. Many people will be upset and will let their irrational side take control of their actions. Just accept this fact and try to do what is right, not what will piss the least number of people off. 2) Nothing can be off the table. As soon as you start putting restrictions on what can be discussed, the effort will quickly spiral into smorgasbord of restrictions and we will be right back here where we started and by then it may be too late. 3) While we have several years before the country would be in a similar situation as Greece or Ireland, delaying is not an option anymore. We cannot fix the budget in one year as fixing the budget will be a multi-year process and as such, delaying will only move fiscal Armageddon closer to reality.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Le poisson nage

With everything going on in the world today, whether it be Israel's blockade of Gaza; Iran and the ever increasing sanction; North Korea's sinking (allegedly, of course) of a South Korean warship in "disputed" waters; the wonderful (not) political nonsense that is the midterm elections; to the oil spew in the Gulf of Mexico, is it any wonder why we are so messed up as a species? I mean let's think about it for a brief minute. We have so much going on today that the news cannot possibly (or won't) fully cover it all to a degree that is more than superficial nonsense and a quick 2-minute summary of opinions that have not changed and continue to spout the same biased information. So we are left with generalized statements and 5 second sound bites (since this is all that we have time for nowadays) about some very complex and vitally important information and events.

Can you honestly say that after watching 2-hours of your favorite news channel (take your pick, they are all really the same) you really understand the issues going on today? I mean really understand the issue beyond the dummyfied (new word) synopsis of "BP still cannot stop the flow, fish and birds are dying" that now replacing true intellectual conversations and debate. One side will take anything and make it about being unpatriotic or hating God while the other will spin it to oppressing a group of individuals or the damn caribou. If we continue down this path of quick, superficial discussions as the only real conversations, we will be doomed as a people. There would not be any "if" but rather the definite "when" that we will be left with.

The news channel that is devoted to "high" level financial debate and coverage recently had a "film" about the largest corporation collapse in the history of mankind (Lehman Brothers). The concepts behind the collapse and the attempts made by the Federal Reserve to intervene (through a private sector bailout) are indeed very complex and I do not fully understand them but can you tell me how this story could be told in 40 minutes? 40-minutes would not even cover the CDO and credit default swaps that helped led to near complete collapse of the entire western financial system and yet this is what we get. So much potential that got wasted in the new "dummyfication" of the world.

Even the once renowned foreign press has given in to the modern age of nothingness journalism and, to be frank, it scares me. After this, where do we go from here? How much more can we shrink our understandings and intelligence? The Oil will still be spilling into the gulf, we will still be addicted to this deadly and very limited substance, war will still be around the corner, we will still be arrogant, and the left will still be the left (I had to get a quick superficial political jab in to this blog since everyone else is doing it). Judgment for human stupidity, intelligence loses.

PS, the title of this blog is French as I am in the process of learning a new language… can you guess what language?

Monday, February 16, 2009

From the Earth to the Moon…

Last month, this country celebrated one of the great aspects of the American republic… the peaceful transfer of power and the inauguration of a new President. In today's world, we take the simple transfer from one individual to another for granted. Let's face it, we are not accustomed to seeing the two parties engaged in armed conflict (although it seems so at times). For the most powerful individual in the world to simply pass control to someone else, let alone a member of the opposing party, without so much as a hesitance is quite amazing. Despite the now infamous Oath mess up, Barrack Obama became this country's 44th person and the 43rd person to hold that office. He also became the first non-white President, much to the chagrin of the Ku Klux Klan.

I personally did not vote for President Obama. While I do not agree with his political views, I am proud to have seen the day that someone other than the typical middle-aged white man take the oath office… twice. I know there are many out there who place 100% of the blame on the Chief Justice and some place the blame on the shoulders of Obama. The truth is, both made mistakes that seemed to confound the other. Regardless of who started it, both should be embarrassed. There is no excuse for the Chief Justice to make that mistake. Also, there is no excuse for the President… who happens to be a constitutional law expert, to jump the gun either. Obama started to repeat the oath too soon; the Chief Justice then got confused and changed the placement of "faithfully" which then threw the new President for a loop. It was just one big happy mix-up. I think it is funny that they decided to have the oath take place again even though the first oath was not necessary and is more of just a formality. The 20th Amendment specifies exactly when the term begins and does not require the oath to be administered. I have high hopes for the new President.

On this day, we celebrate President's Day. Now, in a four part series that will be tied to my next four blog entries (I know it has been a while), the top 42 Presidents from worst to first. I will give some reasons why I placed them where I did. You may be curious as to why only 42… well, Grover Cleveland does not get placed twice even though he was the 22nd and 24th President. Also, Obama is saved from this list as he has not completed his time in office and it would be unfair to rank him for just under 1 month of service (a time even less than William Henry Harrison who takes the honor as my 42nd placed President (spoiler alert). This first grouping is called "The Dire" (The others are "The Forgettable" "The Honored" and "The Divinity"). Enjoy!

**This list will differ from yours. After all, our own political backgrounds and life experiences will shape our opinions of each President. I look forward to your suggestions…

42.    William Henry Harrison

Why last? Well, he died in just thirty days, insisted on giving the longest inaugural address in history (at more the 8,000 words) while not wearing a coat on a very, very cold day in Washington. He caught the cold and died 30 days from the oath of office. His death also marked the beginning of the end to the Whig Party.

41.    Richard Nixon

He would have placed much higher if it were not for his Watergate and Vietnam issues. He did go to China, which many have said only he could have done that. His resignation also lifted the only man to never have won a Presidential election into the role as President and Commander in Chief. Believing that he was not a crook and he had the right to bug his political opposition, which struck at the heart of the American republic, was shameful. So much so that it dropped him as far down on the list as he could go before you hit someone that died before he could do anything.

40.    Andrew Johnson

When he assumed the Presidency after the tragic assassination of Abraham Lincoln, he was quickly outsmarted and out played by the radical Republicans who controlled Congress. Despite this, he did begin to process of reconstruction (although Congress was not in session at the time) and pardoned all southerners who agreed to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. Certain former confederate leaders and men of wealth would not receive a general pardon but would be required to seek a special Presidential Pardon. By the time Congress resumed in December 1865, most of the southern states had emerged from reconstruction, although more "Jim Crow" style laws began to pass in the South. The republicans in Congress began to counter act Johnson and also passed laws designed to reduce the power of the President. They passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 through an override of a Presidential Veto, the first such override of a veto on such an important piece of legislation. In 1867, Congress passed its own Reconstruction plan and placed the southern states back in the hands of the military. After Johnson "violated" one of the laws designed to reduce Presidential powers, the House impeached Johnson. His conviction was sparred, by one vote, in the Senate. Johnson spent the remainder of his Presidency not opposing Congress.

39.    Herbert Hoover

Known to many as the champion of Lazier Faire economics, he did attempt some reform that went against the Adam Smith philosophy. He was the scapegoat to for the great depression, was an outspoken critic of the New Deal and "statism" tendencies, he did fail to properly act as the country and then world spiraled into recession/depression. He did ask congress to increase spending on public works programs and believed that Americans should not suffer from cold and hunger. Responsibility for caring for the hungry should be up to local and voluntary efforts, not the federal government. When the recession first started, what was his announced plan of attack? A balanced budget. Yeah, right.

38.    John Tyler

He was the first VP elevated to the office of the President after the death of the worst President, William Henry Harrison. Under his tenure as President, the first resolution for impeachment was introduced primarily because of his love of the Presidential Veto. His vetoing of several US Banking bills led the unsuccessful cause of Impeachment. He signed the Log Cabin Bill, which allowed settlers to claim land before a public auction and then later pay $2.50 for it and also annexed Texas. He later helped create the confederacy.

37.    James Buchanan

He was the only President to have never married. He seemed to be out of touch with most Americans as he continued to use constitutional arguments to combat Northern and Southern debates over slavery. On a topic like Slavery, reason does not generally work, which he failed to see. He thought he could rely on the Supreme Court to settle slavery arguments and even boasted that the supreme court was about to hand down a decision that would be of little importance. A few days later, they handed down the Dred Scott Case. In 1858, the federal government actually came to a stalemate with the house being anti-slavery and the Senate/President being south leaning. Not much was passed after 1858. He later would deny the legality of secession but acknowledged that there is little the federal government could do.

36.    Martin Van Buren

When he became President, the nation entered into a normal cycle of recession. He subscribed to Jacksonian style finances (deflationary policies) which seemed to escalate the recession and, like today, hundreds of banks began to fail and thousands of Americans lost their lands. He blocked Texas' annexation as it would expand slave state's power and bring war with Mexico, which actually may have reduced the length of the depression as we experienced in the 1940's.

35.    Franklin Pierce

Pierce entered into office during a seemingly tranquil period of time, thanks to the compromise of 1850. He hired southern advisers to help him maintain the tranquility but his actions helped to further disintegrate the country's stability and helped speed up the approach of the Civil War. He decided that we needed more expansion, which once again set off the slavery debate. He purchased more land from Mexico to give us the present day southern Arizona and New Mexico. He later suggested that territories be allowed to decide the slavery question for themselves. This caused a rush of northern and southern settlers to Kansas. This set off the "bleeding Kansas" crisis and essentially became the first bloodshed of the Civil War.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Salus Nobis Totus

Life and more importantly, living itself should not be that of hate. For when we spend our time living in hate, no matter how we justify or even deny it, we lose that which separates us from evil… compassion and love. In today's world, we have many different groups of people that believe in a great many things. Most of the time, these beliefs do not amount to any hatred or anger towards others but all too often, one specific area of beliefs do turn to hatred shrouded in the notion of civility, morality and peace.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to Justice everywhere." Today's world is vastly different from that of just 50 years ago. For the most part, our schools are not segregated, we do not have separate restrooms or drinking fountains, the right to vote is not denied to someone because of the color of their skin, and yet we still have injustices that continue to go on, even in the face of what some have called the modern version of the great Civil Rights movement. A movement that brought us great persons such as Dr. King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Rosa Parks, and all the other greats who gave their sweat, blood, and even their lives for the advancement of peace and compassion. I know there are some who may fear this new movement, some who believe it is against the laws of nature, or against the word and the grace of God; just as there were those who feared it in the sixties.

They pull out their scriptures, whether it be the Torah, Qur'an, or even the Bible, telling us how God hates this group and their actions condemn them either in this life or in a version of Hell. Some tell us that they pray for these "sinners", others simply quote Leviticus as the basis for their hatred and disgust. For it is within this book of the Pentateuch that states "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination," (Leviticus 19:22) and later describes the punishment as "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them" (Leviticus 20:13). It is these simple words that have caused so much suffering and hatred towards our fellow mankind, even though their hatred derides that which their faith is based. For Christians, we must focus more on the teachings that come later in the Bible, such as First Corinthians where we are told to abide by three things: Faith, Hope and Love with the greatest of these three being Love (I Corinthians 13:13). For love, even in the face of conflict or the great unknown is more difficult to manifest than hate, yet it is love and compassion that we must aspire to.

It is not up to us to enact a punishment on these individuals who are seeking the same civil rights as everyone else for even Leviticus, which was written by man, can be wrong or interpreted to mean something else. It is not up to us to interpret the teachings of God for them, whether you side with the narrow-mindedness that uncovered itself with the recent passage of a hate filled law, or if you side with compassion, love, and doing the right thing. For those who take such an obdurate stance on this issue, holding on to the Bible as your justification, I ask you this: How can you be so sure and set in your ways when the Bible states "as for prophecies, they will pass away, as for tongues, the will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect," (I Corinthians 13:8-9)? Our interpretation cannot be perfect for only God is perfect. Let us work towards bettering this place in this lifetime and let the judging and final determination on the morality of this great issue be decided by the only one that will get it right, God.

Salus Nobis Totus… indeed.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Voting… With fries on the side

I will dispatch of the typical political hoopla that has been going around for the past 2 years (can an election really take two years?) and keep this one short and sweet. I hate the expression "It doesn't matter who you vote for, just vote!" I think that everyone should vote but do not condemn those who do not. Our military has fought in countless wars and tens of thousands have died since this country's inception just so you can have the right to vote (or not to vote). It does very much matter who you vote for and what you are voting for. Instead, I will offer this amended phrase "No matter who you vote for, just vote."

Hopefully, tomorrow we will have a clear Victor, unlike the 2000 and even 2004, although 2004's uncertainty lasted only a day or two. I personally am voting for McCain and Palin but most of my friends are not (I would be willing to go so far as to say they are voting for Obama). I disagree with the politics of Obama but would still support him should he be elected… at least until he takes office, then the gloves come off. The same would go for McCain. I am an equal opportunity glover-off'r person. Also, for you California voters, I am voting No on 8, No on 2 (I really do not care if the animal I am about to eat was able to turn around while it waited to be slaughtered for our consumption… although I do care about the sanitary conditions but that is a different matter). Call me cold, heartless or whatever adjective you can think of. I really do not care what you think of me or my vote.

Also, I am voting against school bonds and other state initiatives that will further add to the required spending mandates of a state with financial difficulty. People complain that education is always the first thing that gets cut in financial difficulties. Well, there is a reason for that. Education and welfare programs represent the largest non-mandated expense of the state's budget. They cannot cut other programs that you may feel are less important to those big ones but because of the stupid electorate, the state has to fund them.

Anyways, I think I have done enough to cause letters to be written so I will close with this. "Denny Crane."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Inter arma enim silent leges

For this post, I am not going to talk about the latest issues or problems that the world is facing (at least, not the main issue(s) the media has decided is important for us to care about at this very moment). This has been a huge issue not too long ago and I feel that it is too important to let it fall off of our radar screens.

Although the Latin phrase above is translated as "For among arms, the laws fall mute", I am going to use the more modern interpretation of this classic phrase "In times of war, the laws fall silent." Cicero, from Roman times, coined the phrase and it holds true today.

As many of you know, I am a Republican and a supporter of the war(s) that the U.S. is currently engaged in. I am also one of the very few (and I mean very few) general supporters of President Bush. He has done decent things, some of which have gone without press releases and the typical political "look at me" stunts that BOTH sides are guilty of doing. Do not get me wrong though, please, he has done some Stupid and idiotic things that make you go "Really?" but then again, everyone has had some of those moments. I consider myself a "realistic conservative" (that's right, a new catch phrase for my conservative compadres) in that I actually listen to the other side, try to understand where they are coming from, looks at all the facts and then make my opinion. My bias is always there and I make no attempt to hide that but we all have our bias, even those who claim they are just giving facts and are unbiased. With that said, I am also a staunch believer in this country's greatness… or at least the greatness we could be.

Since the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the American people and Congress have been signing away our freedoms and our moral integrity in the name of National Security. We allow the Government to listen in on us, we are more than willing to take off our shoes and submit to personal searches so we can "freely" move about the country and world (while following other countries' immigration laws, of course), and allow the country to increase its use of torture on individuals. I can support limited torture (non-physical and non-sexual humiliation torture) on those who are actually bad guys and terrorists but I cannot support and am outraged at the use of both physical and psychological torture on people. What really gets me pissed is the fact that we do this not because they have information or they are guilty of something, but because they might have information. We torture people to see if they are guilty of something that we can then use to justify more torture. Why?

We do not do that. We are the United States. We treat enemy soldiers with respect, humanity, and compassion. We are supposed to be treating our prisoners of war like we expect and demand our citizens be treated. We give all persons, citizens or not, access to a fair trial and judicial process (as fair as it can be given Humankind's suckiness at being fair). After three years of being locked up, we have "enemy combatants" still locked up without having any access to lawyers, family, or even a hearing to let them know why they are being held. Why? We place any name that may have a link to terrorism on a no-fly list, even if that name includes those who are known NOT to be associated with terrorists. Even after we know they are not terrorists, we leave the name on there because of the chance that they will let one slip by (yet we still put inmates to death when DNA proves someone else was there). Why?

Everyone deserves to be treated fairly and in a humane way. All of us are, after all, endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The next line of that great document provides justification to alter or even overthrow a government in certain cases. I do not think we are at the point. Far from it. But we need to be wary because we do not want to be the last ones left. I am reminded of Martin Nummular, a German pastor who opposed the Nazis. "In Germany they came first for the communists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionist and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me and by that time there was no one left to speak up."

In times of war, humanity ceases to be evolved or even compassionate. We allow the laws to fall silent and for that we should all be ashamed.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Meat is Murder! (Tasty, Tasty Murder)

It seems that we cannot turn on the TV, open a newspaper, or open our cell phones (with the internet, of course) without seeing some story about how messed up our economy is and that another financial institution is about to go under. If you continue to read on, I have no doubt you will see another story about how the government is going to take over or is in talks to take over that failing institution. We have spent several hundred billion dollars already rescuing mortgage and financial "giants" to prevent them from going under.

In one instance, the government provided assistance for a $30 billion buyout by Morgan Stanley of one of its "competitors" in the financial world. What the outrageous part of that "assistance" was is that Morgan Stanley put up a measly $1 billion while you and I, okay, it is really the Chinese that did, put up $29 billion. Really? The government provided over 96% of the funds and we allow this other institution to buyout its competitors? At the same time of all of these rescues, the government decided not to rescue Lehman Brothers, which had to file bankruptcy because the government would not secure a loan. It can be assumed that unlike the other bailouts, the foreign markets were not as heavily invested in Lehman's and so, it could be allowed to disintegrate without allowing a foreign major investor (China) from losing billions of dollars that could force them to stop buying U.S. Debt.

Last week, the government bought out AIG and took that institution, the world's largest insurance company by the way, over and nationalized it. Since when is it the role of Government to rescue and bail-out bad businesses that have made even worse decisions in the world of business. Let's face it, this is a (semi) capitalist world and business natural selection should be allowed to play out. Now, don't get me wrong, the Government should not sit back and practice the Hoover style Laissez-faire economics and allow the U.S. and world financial system to collapse. That would effectively ruin all governments (to the joy of lots of people, I suppose). The bailouts, most of which I do not agree with, are only treating the symptoms and not the cause of this collapse. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was very cleverly set-up so that its funds would be so well insulated and protected from market collapse except in the case of a financial perfect storm. Well, we entered that perfect storm and their wide distribution of funds now required the US government to re-nationalize those institutions.

Of the bailouts, I agree, mostly, with the AIG takeover. Not because of the significance of the institution or its importance in the world market but because of how it was structured. The US Government, you me and the Chinese, is now able to get 80% of the stocks and become a major shareholder. This means that we now have a ventured interest in the success of this company because we are part owners. This means that, assuming the market stabilizes and bounces back in the next year or so, the profits that these companies make (in good economic times) will provide a new stream of revenue for the Government because we own 80% of the stock. These companies have and can make a fortune and since we bailed them out, we deserve a piece of the pie. This is the Government thinking of new ways to provide a stable new source of revenue that will allow us to start to reduce our reliance on deficit budgets. New Non-Tax revenues are a vital component of a stable government balance sheet and more governments, Federal included, should start running their business like just that… a business.

Now, I know this is not the answer to all of our problems. We still need to prevent this from happening in the future and in the mean time, if a vital institution is about to fail that would further destroy the market, then by all means Government… Intervene. Just do so smartly and continue to look "outside" the box for long term solutions, not short term bailouts of businesses that were, for the lack of a better word, STUPID.