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Monday, June 29, 2009

Skate Parks, Pork, Road Signs, Pork, Jobs Lost, Pork....

In January I strongly wrote against newly sworn in President Obama's stimulus plan presented to Congress (Stimulus? Try Democratic Pork) and the $825 billion proposed spending. I am proud that Congress listened to me and paired down the final spending for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) all the way down to $767 billion. Presented to Congress and the American taxpayer as a bill that would stimulate the economy by providing funding for jobs that would provide jobs and concentrate on "shovel ready" infrastructure projects, the final bill seemed to ignore the premise with many spending items shoved into the hastily crafted bill that have no longer impact on the economy, nor have any business receiving federal funding. The final bill actually extended the reach of the federal government, extending payments to those already receiving federal assistance and expanding the number of eligible recipients. Right out of the box the Act spent billions of tax payer funds on programs that would have zero impact on our economy.

The basic premise of the ARRA is that the government can spend money and pull America out of a recession. By taking more tax dollars from one American, washing it through Washington's bureaucracies and then sending what is left to state and local run governments and washing the funds through them to pay for projects, America's economy is better off than allowing the original holder of those dollars to decide where and how to spend or save or invest the money. This premise is incredibly flawed but one that is central to the Democratic economic theory that the more taxes collected and redistributed the better our economy will be. Unfortunately this theory was tried on a grand scale under President Franklin D. Roosevelt and failed to help the country out of the Depression, even more unfortunately is that today's politicians currently in the majority in Washington D.C. know nothing of history or economics. Governments cannot spend taxes from one segment of an economy to stimulate the entire economy, trying to do so worsens or lengthens recessions, or if in recovery leads to severe debt, higher interest rates and inflation when the recession ends. Look for the latter to come to America starting in 2010.

Locally, for me, in Long Beach, California there is some hand wringing and whining because of a report issued earlier this month from Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. "100 Stimulus Projects: A Second Opinion" lists the top ten projects receiving ARRA funding that Coburn considers a waste of tax payer dollars, leading the list is a project in Coburn's home state for a waste-water treatment plant. The town already planned to build the project and applied for funds to help. In receiving $1.5 million in funding the town was ready to go, it was a "shovel ready" project. Unfortunately the funds also came with federal strings to the project that add 25% to the total cost of completion and increases the local residents utility bills by 60%. Thanks for applying.

What causes many in Long Beach to be upset with Coburn is listed at project number 96 is $620,000 for a skate park in our fair city. The skate park in question is already in existence in a park that is located in one of the poorer parts of the city where there are gangs and high crime. Local politicians and "community leaders" decry a Senator for Oklahoma of all places (the ignorance of bigotry rearing its big head) saying our city does not need this skate park! A meeting is being held! We need this skate park! All this is quite amusing in that, a) the funds have already been secured evidently so the funds will be coming anyway b) the City of Long Beach previously pulled funds for the skate park from the budget to zero complaints from any locals c) members of the Obama administration are on record as agreeing somewhat with the Coburn assessment saying the feel the project is not in the spirit of ARRA and d) the skaet park already exists! Yes the skate park that is receiving $620,000 in federal funds already exists, the money is not to build the skate park, but to make it more skate-parking with better ramps, bumps, and whatever will go into the design. This is not a waste of federal funds?

In the on-line and in bar conversations on the project I have asked two questions again and again and never received any answer: 1) How many jobs will the spending of the $620,000 create? 2) How long will those jobs last? Being asked by others is why it is costing over half a million dollars to pour some asphalt and shape it into humps, but that is for others to ask.

So why is a skate park renovation worthy of federal dollars when the local government deemed it not worthy of local dollars? Why the uproar? Half the people spewing venum at "that Senator for rural Oklahoma" on the blogs and comments of local websites have no idea the skate park already exists. My feeling is they see (R) after Coburn's name and therefore he must be bad, especially because he is from backward, hickville Oklahoma. But is this project really worthy of federal funds? Does it create jobs? Does it stimulate the economy? How many of those complaining about what Coburn as said have actually read his report? I have and here is a random sampling of projects that most people in Long Beach who support the skate park would (or should) decry as a waste of their tax dollars:

$150,000 for road signs in Illinois to announce that projects are paid for by stimulus funds--tax dollars to pay for signs to tell tax payers their taxes are being spent.

$5.5 Million to pay for a new factory in Georgia that will close a factory in Dayton and cost that town 1,200 jobs. Creating jobs by helping a corporation move and lay off currently working Americans. Your tax money going for more corporate welfare and costing Americans jobs.

$628,100 to Yale University, which has an endowment of $17 Billion to study if diet and exercise affect obesity.

$300,000 for a parking lot in a town in North Carolina that was in the local budget and ready to go. How many jobs does building a parking lot create? More or less than the amount needed to renovate a skate park?

$2.5 Billion for rural broadband, the funds going to the Rural Utility Services (RUS), which the Inspector General says is inefficient and wasteful in its use of funds--according to the Inspector General since 2005 90% of the loans approved by RUS have gone to communities that already have broadband.

$4.2 Million for Seapoose, Oregon (pop 6200) to raise the local railroad tracks eighteen inches to be level with the main road, despite local voters rejecting a bond measure to pay for this project--not good enough for local funds to be spent but good enough for the rest of America's taxes to be spent.

And on and on the list goes. Coburn picked just 100 of the projects in the ARRA totalling approximately $5.5 billion, and is taking heat in Long Beach and other communities across the country looking for the federal hand out. But if we look at what Coburn is saying in his report, as a United States Senator worried about American tax dollars and future debt obligations, he is right. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is $787 billion of wasteful government spending that in the end will create over $1 trillion in debt so skate parks and road signs and parking lots across America can be built. Beyond the actual funds being spent it is estimated that $55 billion will be lost in waste, fraud and abuse, not bad for a government program at less than 10%, but $55 billion nonetheless of your tax dollars being lost. According to Vice-President Joe Biden in early June, "Some people are being scammed already." I agree with the Vice-President, the scam started when the bill was passed, shoveling $620,000 to my city for park renovations just adds to it.

Is this the purpose of our Federal Government?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Below are questions I have asked myself throughout the past week. Instead of writing what my answers to them would be I am interested in any answers you may have, or additional questions you have asked yourself.

For the week starting Monday June 22, 2009:

When will cities and counties enter the 21st Century?

Seeing what Twitter is able to accomplish with pushing information in Iran, why are cities and counties not creating Twitter accounts—which are free—to disseminate information to their constituents, of which the majority of those under 30 do not get newspapers, listen to radio or watch news on television?

Ever heard of Lucas Glover before last Saturday morning?

What is the greatest threat to liberty?

What is the proportional relationship between snideness, hostility, and/or snarkiness and “Anonymous” when commenting on blogs and internet postings?

Why should I care what a Frenchman in Paris or a Spaniard in Madrid think about me if I don’t care what an American in Toledo, or Carson, or Belmont Shore, thinks about me?

If Social Security sends 10,000 checks to dead people under stimulus package, how many are they sending every month to dead people?

Is it me or are tattoos progressing up and down the age spectrum?

Follow up: Would you let your high school daughter get a tattoo?

Numerous estimates place the number of fraud in MediCare at 10%, Obama’s healthcare plan tops $3 Trillion, what will be the amount of fraud in dollars?

Is it the obligation of the state to try to make the imperfect perfect?

Why is gasoline in Arizona, which has not oil fields that I am aware of, fifty cents a gallon cheaper than in California?

Will the Dodgers get worse when Manny returns?

Why has South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford not yet resigned?

Your thoughts on a back-and-forth I had on Facebook: Is it hypocritical for environmentalists who have decried the current processes of manufacturing and delivering energy to sue to block the transportation (i.e. power line) of energy created by solar and wind generation plants?

Now that Rosie O’Donnell will have a daily show will you subscribe to Sirius Radio?

Did you, or your brother, have the iconic Farrah in a red swimsuit poster?

Can you, or could you ever, moonwalk?

How many thousand plus page bills that will fundamentally alter our economy and our future will Congress pass this session without reading any of the pages?

Does Congresswoman Laura Richardson (D-Long Beach; Foreclosed homeowner Sacramento) know that her vote on Cap and Trade will reduce the amount of traffic through the ports in her district and reduce the amount of work for one of her supporters: the Longshoremens Union?

When will the first lawsuit be filed over Michael Jackson’s estate?

Cookies or Pie?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Changing Behavior For Better Future

It is said that my industry, the mortgage industry, is the first into a recession and the first out of a recession. The current recession began officially in December 2007--you tell me when it began for the Smith family. Starting early in 2007 we began tightening our belts on small expenditures in our budget as income shrank. As the year progressed we kept adding items to the "not needed" list. As we entered 2008 the list of what we previously thought was needed became shorter and the list of "luxury" expenditures lengthened.

Clothes, shoes, meals, day trips, toys, games, were all on the list of being examined before bought. I liked to joke, "you can tell the severity of the economy by the number of brown paper lunch bags you see walking across the parking lot every morning." Every opportunity is taken to provide economic lessons for the kids.

"Daddy why are you bringing a lunch?" Well at an average of $6 per lunch times five times per week times fifty-two weeks if Daddy brings his lunch every day he saves over one thousand five hundred dollars. That pays for most of our electric bills for the year.

"Daddy why don't we go to XYZ Restaurant anymore?" Well if we eat at the local restaurant we can walk to once a week, plus go to the diner restaurant once a week we spend about $150 a week on eating out. I've shown you how we can make a delicious dinner at home for about $10-12. When we eat at home every night we save about $135-140 per week. That adds up to over seven thousand dollars per year, several mortgage payments for the house.

We quickly noticed that much of our budget was being spent on paying others to make some of our meals and clean up the dishes afterwards. Simple budgeting saves us close to $10,000 per year--a huge number we had never really studied, until we had to. When we did treat ourselves to meals out, such as on date night, we did so using coupons and looking for bargains--like Hennessey's two-for-one burger night. We have become adept at changing our habits so we still have quality family time, and relationship time, without spending a lot of money and having any fiscal guilt over our expenditures.

Our current vacation is a great example of not diminishing any family time and being very cost conscious. We are spending the week in Scottsdale, Arizona where it is over 100 degrees every day--and everyone is loving the trip, including the Family Budget Man.

Several years ago we received in the mail an invitation to spend several days at a resort hotel on Maui for a ridiculously low rate. Checking our points accumulated with American Express we could travel round trip for all four of us for "free." We knew the purpose of the low room rate was to entice us to purchase a time share from the host company. Leslie and I went into the presentation with arms crossed and a "no-way" attitude. After listening to the facts, and getting the costs we were left alone. I do not want to use the term "great deal" because there was a decent amount of money involved, but it was a make sense transaction that was presented.

Going over the merits there are two items that stick with me still. First, Leslie said, "If we get this it will ensure that you will take at least a week away from the office every year." Second, we were locking in a significant cost of any vacation, accomodations, for the long term while we had funds to do so. I will spare you all the details that make our time share better than anyone else's, after all nobody admits buying anything inferior, but suffice to say we have been very pleased with all the various options and aspects.

The biggest benefit for us these past two years is the ability to maintain a family vacation in the summer with minimal costs. Had we not had the time share we would not have had a family vacation last year, or probably this year as well. Last year Leslie came to me and said that while times are tight we need the time as a family to get away, what were my thoughts.

I thought of the prospect of the in vogue "stay-cation" and rejected it know that while Leslie and I may be around the house most of the day, we would not be on vacation. I would be on the phone and/or laptop all day every day. Leslie would be working on her business--since she has a home based office every day is an office day; plus she has a very difficult time just sitting and relaxing when home. There is always a project, a fix-it, a "just let me finish this..." going on the keeps her moving. The "stay-cation" does not work well with the Smith family.

I told Leslie that as long as we can drive to our destination and use the time share we could take the family vacation. Leslie, the whiz of manipulating the time share points and trades and whatever else is involved in the transactions, went to work. Soon thereafter I learned that we would be travelling to Scottsdale. Perfect. Six hour drive and a condo style unit for the week.

This year we had the same conversation, no way we are paying for airfare--with the points changing on airlines and our decreased consumption flying four people to Maui is a cost burden we are not prepared nor able to make. Back to Scottsdale in the family van.

As I reflect back on the week I realize we are probably spending less money for maintaining the household this week than if we had stayed at home. With a Safeway across the way and a Trader Joe's around the corner we stock up, at lower prices than back home in Long Beach, on essentials for breakfasts, lunches and dinners. We will have two dinners out this week (one being Father's Day so that is a wash with home) and one lunch by the pool. Other than that every meal will be prepared in the unit. With grills located conveniently around the resort I grill many dinners (lemon garlic chicken, jalapeno lime pork, fajita style sirloin...) that are turned into lunches then next day.

Despite a bad economy, because we planned ahead during more prosperous times, we are able to spend a week together playing in the pool, playing board games, just relaxing and talking and being a family. While very skeptical about time shares several years ago when being pitched on their benefits, it has not hit home how beneficial they can truly be until these past two years and our weeks together on vacations our daughters, and we, will remember for many years.

Think about your vacation costs, they break into three major expense categories: travel (cut costs by driving and using less than three tanks of gas), accomodations (paid for when purchased the time share) and food (making all our own meals saves 90% of the total if we had to eat out every meal).

Tight times means tight budgets and changing our habits. We get into the habit of bringing our lunches to work, and learn that what we bring is usually better than what we were buying. We get into the habit of buying our cars and keeping them for a longer period of time instead of leasing the newest model every two or three years. We get into the habit of more family dinners and teaching the kids how to cook instead of going out two or three, or more?, times a week. We get into the habit of teaching our children lessons about home economics and values.

We get into the habit of loading up the family van with many of our personal comforts and driving to our family vacation. We get into the habit of a family vacation being about the family being together not about where the vacation is taking place.

When this economy turns, and it will, we need to hang on to the habits and changes we have made in our lives during the tough times--our futures will be better for it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Deceptively Nice Honestly

"What is more important, being honest or being nice."


"So I can lie to you as long as I am nice when I do it?"

"Honesty is more important, I don't want you to lie to me."

This conversation took place in about ten seconds yesterday between me and my nine year old daughter. Without hesitation she went for the positive emotional response when confronted with a values question, when a bit more detail was given as to possible outcomes of her answer she quickly understood the negative potential of not being honest was far greater than the negative potential of not being nice. She got it completely in less time than it has taken you to read this far.

Sadly, what my nine year old quickly grasped in seconds is illusive to many; and our media and most politicians know it. Honesty is a fundamental value my wife and I are instilling in our children, being honest not only with themselves but also with others--all others. As they get older we will be able to teach them about deception and how it is possible for someone to be honest, while being deceptive in their honesty by not revealing everything about a situation.

"Adolf Hitler was the leader of the German people from 1933 to 1945; Franklin Roosevelt was the leader of the American people from 1933 to 1945." These statements are both true, taken together and out of context--say read to a nine year old with no knowledge of world history--it may convey that Hitler and Roosevelt were similar men, both led their nations for a twelve year period. But is the statement honest? Or is it deceptive in what is being left out of the statement?

Such is the coverage of our nation's politics and government. Would the public rather have honesty or a nice message? Much of the reporting during the Bush Administration concentrated on the "nice" aspect of his Administration, portraying Bush, and even more so members of his Administration like Vice-President Dick Cheney and advisor Karl Rove, as not nice nor honest ("Bush lied people died" etc ad nauseum). As his tenure wore on more and more effort was concentrated on the characterization of those around him as evil and sinister. The more this was reported the more traction it gained in the public consciousness, the more "honest" it became. Not reported because it may impact the "honest" reporting being sent from the White House and Washington D.C. is that approximately 95% of the White House press corps, those assigned to report on the President and his advisers, voted for Al Gore and then John Kerry; those reporting on the President did not want him to be the President.

During the last Presidential campaign we witnessed a new media falling in love with a candidate. At last here was someone the majority of our nation's media could cover with nice stories, someone whose positions they supported and could write about in a positive light. Because of Barack Obama's liberal ideology aligning with the majority of reporters, editors, publishers and news directors across the country, those covering his campaign, and now his presidency, could write positive articles and columns on politics instead of the negative articles they have been writing for almost eight years against a President and Administration they held in disdain.

Now that Obama is President the coverage has continued in the same vein, so much so that many news outlets are able to edit the President's messages to more appropriately conform with their own ideals and values. While not changing the President's messages, they frame them in such a way that they often change the meaning. At the same time the media is able to focus on the President to the exclusion of those who disagree with him, in doing so presenting the President's messages as "honest", and given their fawning coverage also "nice." A major factor also being fear by the reporters and editors and publishers that if they are not nice to the President their access will be restricted--and how honest is that?

Over the past decade the majority of the media have been able to coax the majority of Americans into their positions, especially of nice over honesty, that even though President Obama is continuing almost all of the foreign policy positions as his predecessor, it is done more "diplomatically" or "with consensus" or "restoring America's image." We have a nice President and that is so important in dealing with dictators and terrorists that surely they will now succumb to the wills of the United States because we are saying "please."

Many in the media have become so effusive in their coverage of the President and his policies that they have completely blurred the line between news reporting and editorializing--this line has been crossed repeatedly in the past but rarely as obviously as the past six months. A case in point is the interview CBS news had with Obama on Friday nights newscast with Katie Couric.

During the past week many, myself included, have strongly criticized Obama for not coming out with a strong, declarative statement of support for the demonstrators in Iran. Without stating he supports any one candidate, Obama could have come out with a statement supporting the demonstrators. Doing so stood by our principles as Americans, and also would give encouragement to those demonstrating against the theocratic tyrants running the country. There could be the potential of the support emboldening more Iranians to participate in the demonstrations and eventually lead to the toppling of the Mullahs running Iran. Potentially toppling a government that sponsors terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, that supplies arms, money and transportation to terrorists into Iraq and Afghanistan to kill American soldiers. Potentially toppling a government pursuing nuclear arms and that has vowed to eradicate the state of Israel.

On Friday CBS aired and interview between its reporter Harry Smith and President Obama. Or rather it aired an edited interview between the President and Smith. When the interviewed was aired it omitted the following statements from Obama:

What you're seeing in Iran are hundreds of thousands of people who believe their voices were not heard and who are peacefully protesting and--and seeking justice. And the world is watching. And we stand behind those who are seeking justice in a peaceful way. And, you know, already we've seen violence out there. I think I've said this throughout the week. I want to repeat it that we stand with those who would look to peaceful resolution of conflict, and we believe that the voices of people have to be heard, that that's a universal value that the American people stand for and this administration stands for.

But the last point I want to make on this--this is not an issue of the United States or the West versus Iran. This is an issue of the Iranian people. The fact that they are on the streets under pretty severe duress, at great risk to themselves, is a sign that there's something in that society that wants to open up.

Here is the President of the United States telling demonstrators in Iran "we stand with those who look to peaceful resolution of conflict...we believe the voices of the people have to be heard...that's a universal value that the American people stand for and this administration stands for." Yes! This is what many Americans have been waiting for the President to say. Show support for the demonstrators from the American people over shared desires for freedom to speak, to protest. And CBS cut it from its broadcast. The full transcript is here, you can decide for yourself it CBS in trying to present the news it wanted was honest, or just trying to be nice as not to provoke the Mullahs and tyrants in Iran.

In editing its interview to conform to its own wishes CBS completely missed a major statement from the President, a statement that would have been replayed all over the world with the CBS eye logo on the screen. And the American and Iranian people missed what might have been the most important statement made by Obama since taking office.

As we read, listen and watch news reports on President Obama's health care plan, tax policy, taking over of corporations, regulating industry, we must ask how is the information being presented to us? Is it honest? Is the reporting overly favorable to a "nice" man or is it allowing for discussion and criticism from those who disagree? Are we getting news that is framed in such a way as to shed positive light on the President to insure continued access?

Is it more important to be honest or nice? My nine year old knows the answer.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Just Some Questions

NASA is researching if we could live on the moon, is anyone who moves to the moon an illegal alien?

Can anyone give me one good reason to vote for a candidate that has support from any or all the public employees’ unions within his jurisdiction?

Do you agree that the rigging of the election in Iran in Ahmadinejad’s favor should move us closer to a resolution with Iran and its totalitarian and terrorist regime?

What are the chances the surgeon in Washington D.C. who saved Holocaust Museum killer and white supremacist James von Brunn was not white or Protestant? God at work ensuring he lives to faces his penalty in this life knowing he is alive because of someone he detests because of their race or religion?

When is a fee imposed by the government not a tax? What if the “fee” is on top of another fee or tax already being charged is it still not a tax?

If I gave you $600,000—even as a very low interest loan—what kind of viable business could you start and how many jobs would you be providing?

When you heard/read about PETA’s admonishing President Obama for killing a fly did you think it was from The Onion or Conan O’Brien? Did PETA finish marginalizing itself with the ridiculous protest over the killing of a fly?

What age is appropriate now days to provide our child with a mobile phone?

I ran a poll a few months ago asking what people would do if they receive an unanticipated sum of money from the Federal government, almost everyone who answered said they would pay down debt; did you?

Fries or onion rings?

What are your feelings to incurring more debt as a tax payer to pay down your personal debt?

Leslie and I had a brief conversation on this, to be continued I’m sure, can you have compassion without having integrity? Can you have integrity without having compassion?

Along those lines, which is worse a crisis of faith or a crisis of trust?

Why can government contractors ignore the local ordinances for construction as it relates to when they can work and sound? If they are working at 2:00 a.m. is it necessary for them to have the piercing “beep-beep” noise on their equipment when in reverse?

Is your local government as poor as mine in community outreach for public works projects?

How long does it take to drive from Long Beach to Scottsdale in an Odyssey with two kids?

Cookies or pie?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Twittering A Revolution

My intent yesterday was to write today on Senator Tom Coburn's "100 Stimulus Projects: A Second Opinion" which takes to task over $5 billion of the $787 billion rushed through Congress in January as a stimulus package. Calling out a project in his own state (Oklahoma) as Number 1, Coburn lists 100 projects that are, in his opinion, a waste of taxpayer funds. It made news locally as a $600,000 skate park expansion in Long Beach is on the list, near the bottom but on the list.

Rather than address what Coburn has already addressed, and comment on a by-product of our democracy and representative form of government, I woke up this morning and was again incredibly moved by the courage and bravery of Iranian citizens who are standing up to the powerful Mullahs, the Supreme Leader and the President of their country over the results of elections held last week.

Officially the nation is the Islamic Republic of Iran. "Republic" invoking the idea of republican rule, elections, representative government. Iran does hold elections, the candidates selected by the Mullahs (the "Islamic" part of the nation's name) and the people then get to vote on who will represent them. To understand the relative futility of elections in Iran we must look at its government. Iran is an Islamic nation, governed by the "Assembly of Experts" a group of 86 Mujtahids, or Islamic scholars. This group then selects the Supreme Leader, currently Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei then has the power to appoint virtually ever position in the country that holds any power: heads of the police, army, radio, television, mosques, judges, all are beholden to the Ayatollah. He, and with the consent of the Mullahs, also approve all ballots in the country.

This past week Iran went through such an exercise, the world watched as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was being challenged by Hossein Mousavi, who is the last Prime Minister of Iran before the Mullahs changed the constitution in 1989. Due to unrest in a nation facing increasingly dire economic hardship the Mullahs approved the placement of Mousavi on the ballot. As the election neared it became more and more evident that Mousavi was very popular in Iran and could win the election. Maybe he did. After the votes were supposedly counted the Mullahs declared Ahmadinejad as the winner of the election with over 60% of the vote. And then the trouble started.

Iranians have been protesting for many years. Most protests have had little news coverage in the United States, but they have occured often with brutal reprisals and results from the government. Several years ago students in the universities protested and hundreds were killed or are still missing. Having the opportunity to cast their ballots, the Iranian people feel they should have a voice in how they are governed; not an unreasonable feeling. Unfortunately the casting of ballots in Iran is somewhat of a sham and more of a gratuitous experience allowed by the Mullahs. This time the gratuity appears to have bit the Mullahs in their robes.

After the results were announced that Ahmadinejad was the winner of the election supporters of "reform candidate" Mousavi took to the streets and protested the results. And the government has responded with force. Shooting into crowds, sending in the army and state police with clubs, the government response has been brutal as it attempts to shut down the protests and once again control the nation. Unlike 1979 when a revolution overthrew the Shah and led to the current system of government, today's protesters have a weapon not even considered in 1979: the internet and Twitter. In 1979 as the Ayatollah Khomenei was trying to consolidate power among all the various groups that revolted and overthrew the Shah his followers stormed the United States Embassy and took American hostages--diverting the attention of the various factions against each other and on the Americans. As the coalition began to fall apart the Ayatollah provoked Saddam Hussein and Iraq into a war, a bloody and brutal war that lasted seven years, and focussed the people on another enemy outside of the state and led to even more power for the Mullahs and the Supreme Leader.

Today they are having a more difficult task of controlling the people as with cell phones posting pictures and videos on YouTube of police calmly firing their guns into crowds, and using Twitter to organize protests and pass news along. The democratic principals so strongly desired by so many Iranian people are being supported not by the leaders of free Western governments, but by the leaders of technology in Silicon Valley. As the Iranian government shuts down Internet Service Providers and websites in the country word gets out and around the world ordinary people with keyboards are opening new portals for Iranians to get out the word of their desires for their votes to be counted and their words to be heard.

Reading the tweets of persiankiwi I learn that he, and others tweeting throughout Tehran and the country, are being sought by the national police, that the police are posing undercover as doctors in hospitals to arrest people coming in for treatment, that the government is trying to jam Twitter and other sites with false information to lure protesters into certain areas where they can be arrested or worse. Searching #Iran one gets hundreds of tweets per second as people across the world reach out to support the people of Iran who simply want their votes counted--they probably want much more but for now they want honesty in their ballots.

What really touched me as I watch from a monitor a revolution half way around the world are the numbers of people who are changing their computers to be show they are in Tehran and on Tehran's time zone in order to jam the cyberworld and confuse the Iranian government, making it harder for them to trace Iranians posting to the world the abuses being inflicted by the Iranian government. I remember just standing in awe staring at my television during the first Gulf War as Wolf Blitzer and CNN brought a war into our homes, live. Watching video from the cone of a smart bomb as it slammed into an Iraqi military installation, seeing tracers being fired into a snipers' nest, watching Patriot Missiles from Israel shoot down Scud missiles heading to Tel Aviv. Now we sit at our desks and on our laptops watch video shot minutes before in the streets of Tehran as a man calmly stands in a window, points his automatic weapon down into the street below him and shoots, again and again and again.

Whoever is elected as President of Iran matters not much in the big picture of ruling Iran. He holds little real power and is there to speak publicly for the Supreme Leader and the Council of Experts. Many are naive in thinkiing a Mousavi victory over Ahmadinejad would mean a cessation of pursuit of nuclear weapons, forgetting Mousavi started Iran's nuclear projects when he was Prime Minister, and a softer tone against Israel. But in reality a Mousavi victory would mean just another puppet for the Mullahs who hold all the power in Iran. Sure his tone might be softer but the course of the nation supporting terrorists with cash and weapons, sending terrorists into foreign countries to fight and bomb, disrupting peace in the Middle East and the globe, would continue.

In the end the best thing the Mullahs could do for promoting true democracy in Iran was what they did do--rig an election. By stealing their votes the Mullahs have pushed young Iranians, and older ones who have bristled against the government for three decades, into risking their lives to lift their voices. It could be that the oppression of democracy has given the strength to those fighting the oppression to rise up in great numbers to combat that oppression.

As I sit at my laptop admiring the courage and commitment of people thousands of miles away I am inspired by their determination to have even part of what I enjoy: freedom to speak my opinions, freedom to criticize my government, freedom to visit my place of worship, freedom to punch a ballot and know it will be counted. It lifts my spirit to watch as thousands and thousands of other individuals around the world share their support for the persiankiwi and others as they struggle to fight a battle that may become a war.

As they risk their lives to post "Beware false communications from govt trust only mssges this source" our nation watches from afar. Supporters of President Obama feel he is doing the right thing by doing and saying nothing to support the protesters; Obama's detractors (myself included) are upset that the person known as the "Leader of the Free World" sits on his tongue in order not to upset the oppressive government of Iran. At this point the people of Iran appear to have gained enough momentum that they may be able to sustain their protests into a revolution and other throw their government, we won't know for several days or weeks; but what if they do not yet have that momentum. What if words of encouragement and support from the country that has proven the success of democracy and liberty could make the difference in their cause?

I encourage you to call your Congressional Representatives and the White House (202-456-1414) and voice your support for those in Iran who are asking for fairness, who are asking for their government not to kill those who speak against it; ask that our Congressional leaders and President Obama vocally condemn the Iranian government for killing protesters and rigging an election. In the meantime if you are on Twitter, send messages of encouragement to those in Tehran.

This post is a bit more disjointed than my posts are normally--the result of not having an editor but as well the result of my writing this on the fly trying to capture the strong emotions I feels as I watch a people try to take control of their country. Reading tweets of someone I will never know hoping to read just one more knowing he is okay in his struggle to enjoy just some freedom.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Who Controls Your Health?

President Obama has said that he wants a comprehensive health care bill through Congress by October. "Comprehensive health care bill" covers a lot ground and when most people hear it they think of universal health care in the form of a Federal health insurance program to cover those currently without insurance. To many this is one of the single biggest issues in our country--the millions of Americans without health insurance--and it is there goal to ensure every American is insured. But "comprehensive health care" can, and will, go far beyond insurance, count on any such bill to include regualtions on the food and restaurant industries, health care providers, labs and any sector of the country that in somehow impacts personal health. It will offer another opportunity for Obama's growth of the Executive Branch and Federal Government into our daily lives--this time under the guise of health.

The focus by the media, and those in government who craft the bill, will be on the health insurance component. Count on Obama's media machine, and his allies in the Mainstream Media, to touts the benefits of a universal insurance plan and that every American will have health care. Count on them to ignore the details, as they did for the stimulus package and his budget. Having seen first hand and upclose the financial intricacies of health care delivery in our state I am very certain the current system is seriously flawed. But with this knowledge I am even more skeptical of any program that comes out of Washington to "fix" our health care system, and any program that provides universal health care run by Washington. No amount of positive spin from the policy makers or the media will allay this skepticism.

Obama is saying that any national health insurance will be paid for by the "wealthiest Americans," his favorite source of cash. The group of Americans that already pay in the neighborhood of 80% of taxes will be asked to shoulder a bill that is now priced at $1.2 trillion. To further pay for the package will be employers, large and small, either through health care providing mandates or penalties--I'm sorry, contributions--to a health care pool. On top of this is a proposal to stip away the tax deduction for health care insurance premiums, so those employers who are now paying all or part of their employees medical insurance premiums will no longer be able to deduct those premiums from their income tax, or if they are allowed to do so the recipients--the workers--will have to pay taxes on the benefits. On the one hand Obama is throwing trillions of dollars in "stimulus" funding into the economy to create jobs, on the other he is proposing increasing taxes on everyone who works, and/or their employer, which will result in job losses due to higher operating costs.

When it comes to taxing working Americans to pay for the health care insurance of others, I ask: Do we not already pay a tax to provide health care to those without insurance? Look at your paycheck, do you see deductions for MediCal? For MediCare? What is the purpose of these deductions? To fund health care for uninsured Californians and Americans.

Further our hospital and health care system is also self-funding health care for illegal aliens who are treated the same as those who are benignly clasified as "self-pay." The law, and morality, mandates that hospitals treat anyone who walks, or is transported, in the door, whether they have the ability to pay or not. To stay in business hospitals raise their charges to try to cover the amount of free care they are providing from those who are paying through their insurance coverage. This increases the costs to the insurance companies, who in turn charge higher premiums. In the end, through a very flawed system that is costing the health care system the most, everyone who needs treatment gets it. Realizing this is very broad stroked and there are Americans with serious medical situations without coverage that are struggling, overall the vast majority of those within our borders have their most basic health care needs met--whether insured or not.

So that brings us to what will change? If there is a national insurance program what will change in our health care delivery? Besides even more government beauracracy than there is today. Besides even more resources having to be spent by hospitals and doctors to hire employees just to bill the government and follow up when they do not pay--as happens today. Besides have someone at a government desk with no medical training making a decision as to whether a medical procedure is necessary or not. Besides increasing the taxes on every American with a job--not just the "wealthiest among us." Besides that what will change? A base level of health care insurance for all Americans currently without insurance? That we already have but is being funded by the hospitals?

A major reason our health care system is screwed up today is government intervention. In California the state is so involved in health care that it mandates how many nurses have to be on shift for every patient that is in the facility--whether it be two in the morning or two in the afternoon--thanks to union influences on health care legislation. Government is involved in micromaging what equipment can be used in hospitals, where it can be placed and how health care programs can be run. Regulations mandated by elected politicians with only the advice of the lobbiests with the most money, not the most experience. Patient health is not nearly a primary consideration. Need proof: Martin Luther King Hospital.

Ask yourself how will the overwhelming majority of Americans be better off by more control of our health care system taken out of the local hospital, out of your doctor's office and out of your own control and put into the hands of politicians who are already making decisions based on campaign contributions and not what is best for the rest of us. Ask how a new level of spending in excess of $1 trillion, on top of the $2+ trillion already dedicated in five months, will be paid for if not by you and your taxes. Ask how our economy can absorb yet more debt, force yet more taxes on employers, and expect to add jobs? Ask how a system that currently has a fraud rate of about 10% will not maintain that same rate of fraud when the spending increases to $1 trillion (that would equate to $100 billion in fraud)?

My solution to the health care crisis is somewhat simplistic. First, any hospital that is licensed in the state is eligible to receive MediCal/MediCaid/MediCare funding. Second, all payments are the same to all hospitals for the same procedures and treatments, no more contracting with specific hospitals. If all hospitals have to take all patients when they come in, then all hospitals should be reimbursed the same for the same treatments. This includes private insurance--no more separate contracts for every group and hospital. Third, no more system where the more patients a facility or state has under MediCal/MediCaid the more funding they get from MediCare; fund based on need not on what is already being billed. Fourth, use Oregon as a model with promoting treatment and payment of preventative medicine first, encourage well-checks and screenings on a regular basis. Fifth, for those uninsured with employment when they file their taxes they are billed for a health care account; for those without a job their other public benefits are adjusted for the medical coverage provided.

There will always be a small minority of our populace that will not work, that will not pay for insurance, that will not take care of themselves. Our most fundamental question must be: to what extent must we burden the responsible to care for the unresponsible? I know this opens a big can of worms, especially among the most liberal among us, but that is the most basic question. How much must you pay to care for the drug addict, the habitual alcoholic, the woman who sees no problem in multiple children with multiple fathers, what is your personal responsibility through your hard work and success to support those among us that are least responsible? Obama and his allies think it is all your responsibility and the health care bill going through Congress will show that philosophy.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Just Some Questions

Now that I have established a good routine of providing incredibly rivetting and quality content to stimulate your intellect like no other with my twice weekly posts on Mondays and Wednesdays, it is time to add a bit more value. Starting this week I will have my "Just Some Questions" posts on the weekends. My objective will be to write down questions I ponder through the week that I have not taken the time to write about. My hope is that you too are thinking about these questions and corresponding answers, solutions or just throw up your hands as I often do. Welcome to "Just Some Questions" for the week:

Why doesn't Congress just go ahead and ban cigarettes? Why the charades of chipping away at individual rights to use a legal product trying to get people to not use the legal product?

Am I the only one doubtful that Arnold will keep his promise to shut downt the state rather than borrow any more money?

John Greet asked this great question in the comments section of my post "Political Fearmongering": If "non-essential services" can be stopped when the state "shuts down" why are they being provided in the first place if they are non-essential?

Long Beach City Council voted to ban cigarette smoking at bus stops with fines for those violating the ban, will cops really stop their patrols to write up people smoking at the bus stops? Will this give cops a good excuse to search someone and pat them down if they look shady and are anywhere near a bus stop with a cigarette?

What if you live in an apartment that has a bus stop in front of it and you smoke?

Pretend that Rush had said about the President's daughter what Letterman had said about Governor's Palin's daughter, what would the reaction have been? Is that acceptable? The different reactions that is.

My daughter asked me why we call it working "out of the house" when we are inside?

Shouldn't Ford be really, really pissed at this point?

Obama is intent on capping executive compensation, why stop with banks? How about a cap on compensation for attorneys? Say $500,000 per case or 20% of the verdict whichever is less?

Don't vegans have to be pro-life?

Cookies or pie?


Wednesday, June 10, 2009


In January 1981 I began my second semester of college. In the fall semester I had taken, and passed, Macroeconomics to fulfill part of the required course list for my major; now in the spring semester I would be taking Microeconomics. Both courses were taught by on campus legend Harvey Botwin who leaned on a text book written by economist Paul Samuelson. While Samuelson himself has become somewhat famous in economic circles for wildly missing on his macroeconomic predictions, his textbook, and Professor Botwin's lectures, provided a solid foundation of economic understanding and tools for economic analysis.

A significant portion of our Microeconomics class was spent on money. The exchange ones goods or services of greater value than the goods or services being offered in trade led most cultures to develop a system of currency so economic activity could occur. For currency to be effective it must be universally recognized as valid currency, its value must be universally accepted and it must be portable--one must be able to transfer the currency in order to complete a transaction.

Of great interest to me was the development of the currency system on the Island of Yap. Located in Micronesia, Yap is famous among college students for the term, "the stone money of Yap." The people of Yap, isolated from Western culture, economy and trade developed their own currency. The currency was easily recognized and accepted, the value was easily apparent and it was portable, as can be seen in the picture at the top of this post. In Yap the money was made of stone, hewn into circles with a hole in the middle. In Yap the larger the stone the more value the unit of exchange and units ranged from the size of our quarters and half dollars to the huge wheels seen in the picture. The holes allowed a pole to be placed through the "coin" and transported from payor to payee. It was effective as its value was recognized and accepted and it was portable. Did the people of Yap experience inflation? Certainly scarcity and over supply impacted the island economy, but to what extent I do not know.

Further exploring money in my college career I learned about inflation, the increase in prices in an economy not through scarcity of products but as a result of over-supply of money in the economy. With more money available to consumers more money can be bid on the goods and services for sale, resulting in inflation. If there is an extreme over supply of money in the economy then "hyper-inflation" occurs, think the Weimar Republic in the 1920s, Argentina in the 1980s and early 1990s, Zimbabwe recently. Hyper-inflation is when prices are rising over 50% per year, in many cases it runs away to inflation rates of 100-200% per year. The cost of a loaf of bread in the morning is $1.00, at the end of the day the same loaf of bread is selling for $1.20. Currency becomes almost worthless in hyperinflated economies because instead of $1.00 for a loaf of bread it is $100 or even $1000.

The amount of money in an economy is controlled by the government--it has the printing presses to create currency. By printing more money the government adds currency to the economy and devalues the currency currently in circulation--the $100 bill you have in your pocket is worth less if the government prints puts more $100 into circulation than are taken out of circulation. To much printing and the government is creating inflation in the economy as each $100 has less value, more than $100 is needed to purchase the goods or services that used to cost $100.

Monetary supply by printing is not the only way the government impacts the economy. The other way is the taking on of debt and issuing debt obligations--called bonds. Bonds are sold to investors and investors expect a rate of return on their investment--interest payments. The rate of return, or interest, is dependant on the amount of bonds that are available for investors to purchase. In order to get investors to buy their bonds a rate of interest must be offered by the issuer that is attractive to the investor who must balance the risk of not being repaid the bond, the other investment opportunities available and the rate of return being offered. The more bonds that are available on the market the higher the rate of return that must be offered to investors to entice them to purchase the investment. If there are only 100 bonds available from a really strong company that almost certainly will pay off the bond when it is due, then the scarcity of the bonds will create a high price--and subsequently a low rate of return. Conversely if the company were to issue 1000 bonds more investors would be able to purchase the bonds, there is not scarcity so the company would need to offer a higher rate of return to sell the 1000th bond. More bonds on the market higher interest rates.

If I said you could invest in a company for $1000.00 and it was somewhat risky if you would get your money back, and also when the bond is to pay off in five years there would be significant inflation in the economy--making your $1000.00 today worth only $900.00 then--would you demand a lower or higher rate of return on your $1000? Of course you would demand a rate of return at least as high as the expected inflation, plus a premium for the risk involved in the investment. Instead of a 5% rate, you would probably factor in a 10% rate of inflation, plus the risk that the investment may not be paid off in five years so you would want a higher return early on to make up for that risk, so to invest you may require 15%, 17%, 20% return on your $1000 to be paid in five years.

Yesterday the United States Supreme Court upheld the Obama Administration's orchestration of thetake over of Chrysler by the United States government, giving some of the company to the United Auto Workers and some of the company to Italian automaker Fiat. In the process investors who held millions of dollars of bonds issued by Chrysler saw their investments wiped out--zero return.

General Motors was restructued through bankruptcy by the Obama Administration. In the restructuring tier one investors in General Motors who had invested in hundreds of millions of dollars of bonds issued by the company were given less than thirty cents on the dollar--a discount of 70% of their investment; while the Federal government was given 60% of the company and the United Auto Workers approximately 20% of the company.

In the past five and one half months the Obama Administration and Congress have passed spending bills and budgets that surpass $2 trillion. Which means that the United States government will put two trillion additional dollars into the economy and put over two trillion dollars of bonds into the investment market.

Economies depend on investment to grow. Investors depend on risk-reward scenarios that will ensure a reasonable expectation that their investments will pay-off, the less reasonable the expectation the higher the rate of return they will demand. Financing high interest debt to grow a company is very risky and most companies are not willing to take on the risk and the high debt payments, along with salaries, rent, cost of goods, etc. that are rising in an inflationary economy.

With the wiping out of Chrysler and GM bond holders investments the Obama Administration has signalled to all investors in the U.S. economy that their investments in American corporations are at significant risk, not because of economic factors but because of political whim and power. This risk of government taking your investment and giving it to another entity, such as a labor union or a foreign company, adds considerably to the rate of return companies raising capital for growth and expansion will to pay to attract investors; i.e. higher interest rates.

With the addition of trillions of dollars into the United States economy the government is putting a huge supply of currency into the economy, making the currency in your pocketbook worth a little less every day. With the addition of trillions of dollars of debt into the capital markets, the government is creating a huge oversupply of bonds, in order to attract investments those bonds will have to have higher and higher rates of return, i.e. higher interest rates.

With the knowledge that corporate debt is riskier due to government intervention, that there will be an oversupply of currency in the economy and that there will be an oversupply of debt in the capital markets, investors are already demanding higher rates of return on their investments to account for inflation that will erode their returns.

Money, we all have it, we all need it. How much we have and how much we need are the results of many factors, including the actions of the United States President and Congress. Given their actions the last five months we will need a lot more it in the near future just to buy what we are able to buy today--that is what inflation is all about, look for it at your neighborhood grocery store soon. If we lived in Yap we would all be out in the yard looking for bigger stones to buy a carton of eggs.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Political Fearmongering

This past weekend our church hosted Dr. Terry Cole-Whittaker, new thought guru, inspirational speaker, motivator and someone who just has her head on right. She conducted a few workshops and on Sunday gave the sermon to the congregation. Dr. Terry's main message is that we are trapped in thought and because we are trapped in thought our potential is limited to the thoughts that trap us. Freeing ourselves from negative thoughts and thinking frees us to attain what we desire in life and gives us the freedom to be ourselves and be truly happy.

Advertising and marketing are created and presented to capture our thoughts and evoke emotional responses that in turn cause us to purchase products and services or what we think of someone or something. Hum a jingle, re-use a slogan, repeat what is now known as a "talking point" and the marketers and advertisers have done their job. Punch a certain hole in a ballot and the marketers and advertisers have done their job; always punch the same or similar hole in a ballot and they have really done their job as they have hooked you on a party the same way Phillip Morris hooks others on cigarettes.

Dr. Terry spoke about the fearmongering that surrounds us. Creating a sense of doom and failure if certain events happen or do not happen, many of which are far exaggerated to create false power for those creating the fear. Politicians, especially in California state politics where there is no competition for the elected officials, excel at fearmongering and delivering the message of fear. Their purpose is to get you to trust them to protect and save you from the evil that awaits if you do not react as they wish.
Paramount in the fearmongering process is the budget process that consumes our state every year. Every year members of the California Legislature majority, aided by their friends in the major media in the state, tell us all that we will lose in this state if they are not allowed to spend more money. Eventually a few members of the minority cave in to the pressure and pass a budget that increases spending in California and because the spending was not cut enough services are not expanded enough, and the following year we must spend even more money.

This year we finally have arrived at a breaking point. After a decade of increasing spending against increasing revenue elected officials are finally faced with declining revenue. Incredibly their first reaction is to raise taxes on citizens struggling in a declining economy. They hammered us with fearful messages of taking away funding for education, health care and public safety. With a payroll that has ballooned to 235,000 employees in the state we are told to pay even higher taxes so each of them can keep their jobs, providing fewer services than a decade ago when the state payroll barely reached 150,000 employees.

As the June 30th fiscal year end rapidly approaches and a budget is one again ready to be debated and deadlines missed, and payments from the state to hospitals and local school districts are withheld, we can count on more fearful messages eminating from Sacramento. Messages that we must raise taxes or we will see funding for hospitals cut, but no state employees, funding for schoold districts cut, but no state employees. To protect their greatest financial supporters the majority in the Legislature, aided by the media and the Governor, will give us messages of fear and hope we support their protecting the employment of many in a wasteful beauracracy.

Our state government is filled with inefficiencies and waste. Health care delivery in local communities is severely hampered by state workers and regulations that waste billions of dollars that could, and should, be delivered to local health care providers. Instead tens of thousands of workers are supported at the state level monitoring a system they created so they can have something to monitor. Education is hampered for the same reasons with the state employing thousands of workers who having nothing to do with educating a child, but rather exist to create a beauracracy to monitor the school districts who could use those funds.

Enough with governing by telling us all the bad things that will happen. It is time for our elected officials to quit talking and start working. Instead of putting fear into the citizens of the state put the fear into the managers of all the programs and departments you have created, fear that they need to be more efficient and waste less of our tax dollars or they will lose their jobs. Instead of trying to gain our support by using fear to show why we need more spending, our politicians need to show us the positive results from their working with senior state leadership to pare spending and payroll.

Across the state businesses are making hard decisions to become more efficient and stay open. Meanwhile they are facing increasing expenses from a group of politicians in Sacramento afraid to make those same hard decisions. Unfortunately with no competition in their elections for office due to gerrymandered districts, fearmongering works. Voters always punch the hole with the (D) or (R) next to it--over 65% voting (D) in California, and keep electing the same person year after year after year. Sure the name may change but the person filling the seat is no different than the person who filled it before.

As we approach a new round of elections in 2010 California voters need to ignore the messages of "incumbent" and party affiliation and instead start looking at the person, the actual person, on the ballots. Are they participating in politics of fear? Will they continue the same failed policies and politics that have led our state to where it is today? Did you vote for "change" in 2008 but are willing the punch a ballot for "same" in 2010? Would you rather have leadership that is telling you all the bad things that can happen if they do not get their way, or a leader telling you all the good thing that will happen if you join them and elect them to office?

Dr. Terry's message is very true in a democracy, we get what we desire and what we think we desire. Our government failure is a result of voter failure to discern the facts from the messages. To reward the politics of fearmongering that has proven successful thereby perpetuating the message and the process have proven successful by the voters and therefore will continue--until voters decide to stop listening to the messages delivered by those with the most to benefit from our believing those messages.

We can attain what we want--honest governance, solid public fiscal management, safe streets and schools, quality healthcare and education. We can attain these things as soon was we as a people decide to elect those people who want the same things. We can attain these things as soon as we decide to quit electing those who enrich a few while impovershish the many, trapping them in fearful thinking and reactions.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Labels: What Am I? What Are You?

"He's a solid Democrat." "She's a good social conservative." "That guy is so liberal, he's just a moon bat." "They are very Green, what a good example." "Republicans are all wing nuts." "Liberals are ruining this country." "She's moderate."

Fundamentalist, socialist, hard liner, liberal, conservative, wing-nut, moon bat, extremist, moderate, Libertarian, Democrat, Republican, Green, and many more are the labels we use to label ourselves and each other. But are they accurate? What do they mean? The saying is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I say ideological and political labelling is in the definition of the labeller.

How often is it that we comment about someone, "Boy that person is so (fill in the blank: liberal, conservative, extremist) only to have a friend or someone say, "Oh I don't think so. I think s/he's rather moderate." Our President is a very good example. Poll the country to place him on the political scale of extreme liberal (far left) to extreme conservative (far right) and the chances are the arrow will rest somewhere just to the left of center. Many of those who voted for him will consider him somewhat moderate--most Americans do not want to be led by someone they consider very liberal or very conservative so they will not identify someone as such that they support. Many of those who did not vote for him will label him liberal or an extreme liberal. Many of those to the far left of the political scale will think he is too conservative--especially since his inauguration with the many policies of President Bush he has continued.

Which label is correct? Are these labels fair? Do they help us in identifying someone and their ideals, opinions and character?

I have been thinking about this idea of labels following the comments made on my post last week on "Lady Justice and SCOTUS" . The discussion, and thank you everyone for your civility, allowed for labels of liberal, conservative, activist, etc. based on the arguments posited. One issue, one opinion, one label. So using this context, one issue, and the prevailing labels of our day, what label do we put on this person:

This person: is in favor of legal abortions with limitations, wants a strong military and international presence, supports gay marriage and the Iraq War, is in favor of very strong border control and repealing the 14th Amendment but feels there is a limited amnesty solution to illegal immigration, strongly opposes higher taxes and big government, supports conservation efforts within reason but agrees with those scientists debunking global warming. Liberal due to stances on gay rights, abortion, amnesty? Conservative due to stances on 14th Amendment, Iraq, taxes and limited government? When voting this person can find issues with which to agree with a Democrat on social issues and with a Republican on economic and political issues.

What am I? How am I labelled? In my own family I am too liberal on many issues. To my friends I am too conservative on issues. Am I a moderate because I move across the political spectrum from issue to issue? Many have said, "You are a Libertarian." And in looking at the party of Libertarians and the candidates they have put forth I cringe.

What about you? Are you in agreement with all the solutions presented for the issues by the political party with which you affiliate? If you are unaffiliated and registered as an Independent what is the filter by which you determine for whom to vote? Is there one issue that presents itself that is your guide? A series of issues?

In 1984 I did my senior thesis on the decline of party identification from Eisenhower's election in 1952 through Reagan's election in 1980. During that period a series of issues came forth that became the primary filter for most Americans. They identified less with the political parties of their parents and through the social discourse and discord of the period found specific issues to claim as their political identity. Without conducting any research, but just based on my observations, readings and listening, if I were to recreate my thesis today covering from 1980 through the Obama election in 2008 my thesis would not be the decline of party identification but the decline of issue oriented identification. Given the rise in Independent registration the thesis seemingly would be disproved, however the rise of electronic media has given rise to so many specific issues that voters have become more attuned to the labels, which connote ideology, which they feel they can more easily identify with or be repelled from.

Back to our labels. Why do we label? Is it because it makes it easier for us to define someone? One argument that is often made, and I find to be true, is that when we label someone it makes it easier for us to dismiss them. If I do not like your position on gay rights I can simply label you a bigot and then because you are a bigot I do not need to listen to you--you are dismissed. But I know many people against gay rights that I know not to be bigots, that I know to be compassionate people with a diverse range of relationships and great moral compasses. But taken on one issue they are easily labelled and dismissed. As in our discussion on SCOTUS nominee Sonia Sotomayor, based on the opinion presented we can easily label that person based on our definitions and their arguments. But can we dismiss them?

So what am I? What are you? I am against illegal immigration and the huge financial burden placed on the American tax payer and social services by illegal immigrants--am I a bigot? I supported and still support the decision to go to war in Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein--am I a war monger? I support personal responsibility and accountability, less government intervention and support in people's lives who have made bad decisions and more feeling of the consequences of those bad decisions--am I lacking compassion?

What difference does your label of me make? None really. I am uncaring of what you label me, as long as you do not use that label to dismiss me. Label me, your neighbor, the columnist and the commentator, label everyone how you will, but do not use the label as an excuse not to listen to what someone has to say and the opinion they present. I often learn more from those with whom I disagree than I learn from those with who I do agree. Were I to label and dismiss this would not be the case--I would never learn anything but what those with whom I agree desire me to learn.

What am I? What are you?


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What To Do With Gitmo Prisoners?

On the campaign trail Barack Obama promised to close the detention facility holding foreign nationals at Guantanamo Bay. This was an important part of his campaign and many Americans may have cast their votes for Obama based on this promise.

To follow through on his promise he must send the prisoners somewhere to be incarcerated or he must release them so they can go back to being terrorists.

If he keeps them incarcerated the question is where should these prisoners be held?

Hopefully this map will help.

Monday, June 1, 2009

We Need Paul Gann

In 1978 I was not yet of voting age, I was not living in California and my interest in politics was observation from abroad as I was attending high school in Brussels, Belgium. So I was too young and too far away to experience the now labelled "tax payer revolution" of the 1970's in California that began with Proposition 13. I am however old enough and close enough to experience the current tax payer revolt occuring in our state and our nation. Of interest to me, and it should be to you, is how our elected officials and salaried government employees are reacting to the people's wishes and desires for fiscal responsibility.

In the Press-Telegram on Sunday Fifty-Fifth District Assemblyman Warren T. Furutani (D) had a letter published (letter here 3rd and final letter). Reading the letter I was stunned that this was an elected official earning a salary in excess of $125,000 per year and not a high school junior writing a letter for the school newspaper. Furutani submits a very whiny and defensive letter to the residents of his district, he "finds (himself) a part of one of the most maligned, discredited and unpopular political institutions in California's history." And he says he needs some help and understanding. Furutani then begins to assert the biggest canard put forth by Governor Schwarzenegger and members of the California Legislature: our state's fiscal problems are part of the bigger economic crisis enveloping the globe.

To which I say, "Bovine Feces." This state's fiscal problems started more than a decade ago when spending outpaced revenue year after year after year and the state payrolls bloated to the current 235,000 individuals. Salaries, benefits and perks have eaten up our budget and the largesse can be found in the paychecks of those who have contributed to the campaign coffers of Furutani and his fellow Democrats through the public employee unions. The budgets passed year after year for the past decade have outpaced inflation, population growth and a huge growth in tax revenue during the same period--but it is an economic crisis that is a mere eight months old that caused the problem?

What our state needs is a few more politicians like Paul Gann and a few less like Warren Furutani. Gann co-authored Proposition 13 with Howard Jarvis limiting the tax increases imposed on California homeowners. While many in government who want to continue to increase spending even in our current fiscal climate point to Prop 13 as the basis of our problems, Prop 13 has allowed millions of Californians to keep their houses and not lose them to the tax increases that would have forced them out of their homes.

As importantly as the authoring of Prop 13, was Gann's authoring of the Gann Limit which was passed in 1979. Because Sacramento is Sacramento and has always had an insatiable appetite for residents' tax dollars and a glutonous desire to pass on higher salaries to its state employee supporters, Prop 13 saw the probability to more taxes would be raised in the state to enable more spending by the government. The Gann Limit capped the amount spending could increase in California.

Using a formula that included inflation and population growth, the Gann Limit based spending increases allowed by the Legislature not on revenue collection but rather by needs in the state. From 1979 until it was gutted by propositions in 1991 the Gann Limit served the state very well. So well in fact that in 1987 California taxpayers received over $1 billion in rebates--imagine that rebates that were funded by budget surplus. Current calculations show that had the Gann Limit remained in effect, today the state would have over $1 billion in surplus collected and retained during the growth revenue years from 2002 through 2007; a $1 billion cushion to help maintain government services during the current economic cycle.

Instead of a surplus we have threats from Sacramento that child health care and education will be cut, state parks closed and public safety slashed. No comments about Furutani's salary, or that of his staff, or the commissioners who earn over $100,000 per year for not meeting but two or three times, or the renegotiation of salaries and benefit for state employees. Instead of whining about being part of the problem and asking me for help maybe Furutani should look at history and find help was already here and perhaps he can have the courage to resurect it.

We do not need elected officials writing whiny missives to local publications about how hard their jobs are, we need strong leadership from individuals willing to stand apart from their party positions and supporters who have led us to where we are today.

We need someone with the foresight and courage of Paul Gann.