Sunday, November 30, 2008


Over the Thanksgiving holiday I spent some time in a house full of people I didn't know all that well. In this group was a man named Trace that, among other things, runs the website After talking with Trace for 15 minutes or so I found myself conflicted - did I like him or did I not? Smart, articulate, informed, etc., etc. but also, well, scary.

Trace's thing is finances and the economy. Over the last few months I've learned more about the economy than I ever cared to know. Just when it was making sense and I was feeling comfortable that the bottom of the decline was just round the bend, I run into Trace who tells me that the economic framework of the last 100 years (maybe even the last 600 years) is coming apart and crashing to the ground. The speed and depth of the "vaporization" of assets and capital is on a scale that is unimaginable. It was at this point I realized the first thing that I am thankful for - I don't have too much money so even though my personal capital has vaporized right in half it turns out that half of not much is also not much. The power of poverty!

Amongst the many interesting things Trace had to say I was struck by his thoughts about the politics of the last election. Trace explained that there are three layers to society. At the bottom are the poor and/or lazy that want the government to pay for everything. At the top are the ultra-wealthy who are either well-connected enough or insulated enough that they exist outside of party politics. In the middle are those that want to make their own money and keep it for their own purposes. The middle has been squeezed out by the bottom and narrows with each election. When an economic system collapses, Trace explained, there are only two options: liberty or repression. American Revolution = liberty. Rise of Nazi Germany = repression. The masses are easily susceptible to each. Trace did not go on to elaborate on whether the Obama administration was repressive or not, though he did point out the Patriot Act was the ultimate tool of financial repression allowing the government nearly unfettered access to financial information. The bailout, or government control of the economy, also is repression.

While Trace did slip very close to the edge of presenting himself as a wacky libertarian, conspiracy theory, Ron Paul clone, I feel his pain. I visit that same domain from time to time. I always come back, but I wonder if next time I'll stay.

I've been distrustful of the bailout, adamantly opposed the Patriot Act and continue to believe Ron Paul wasn't such a bad guy, so in the end I liked Trace. He didn't make me feel good about coming out of this with any money - actually he made me realize I don't have any money, just the promise of money that doesn't exist - so I'm not going to be calling him up for any warm and fuzzy chats. I'll remember his perspective on this whole mess, though. I'll remember and I'll shudder a little each time.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008


A strange thing has happened in my neighborhood. A new celebrity has taken root here. For the last couple weekends as I've strolled around to the grocery store or the ATM or wherever it is my feet may take me the local street entrepreneurs have multiplied. Their goods - Obama paraphernalia.

There are buttons. There are shirts. There are collectible issues of major American newspapers.

Booths spring up on Saturday afternoons in Bank of America parking lots. Teenagers wear button covered aprons. Instead of flowers being hocked at the stoplights there are lanyards and bobble-heads.

I had feared that Obama might crush the business world under his regulatory foot, but for now, in this neighborhood, it seems he's inspired a whole gaggle of capitalists ready to cash in on his celebrity. My kind of capitalists, too - I'm betting not a one of them is paying a dime of sales tax (and to that I say, God Bless America!).

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Free the GOP

Christine Todd Whitman and Robert M. Bostock wrote and op-ed piece in today's Washington Post called "Free the GOP".

The most interesting tidbit in the piece was that the proportion of white evangelical/born-again voters increased from 2004 and yet John McCain (who presumably won those votes) still lost the election.

My original attraction to John McCain in 2000 had been his brazen disregard for this group of voters. I cheered when he called Jerry Falwell an agent of intolerance.

I respect the evangelical/born-again and even the Christian moral tradition. Other than regular attendance at church I could live happily within the bounds of Christian teachings (a condition that fools friends into believing I am something I am not - a Christian). This respect and my own life choices does not translate into political agreement. Though some may believe I'm setting the stage for the degredation of society I maintain that imposing my religious beliefs and my sense of social normalcy onto others is unacceptable. I would hazard to argument that it is an un-Christian thing to do.

One should not force their religious leanings on another. They should lead by example. They should demonstrate their righteousness through the workings of their lives, not the number of souls they set about to save.

What I am saying is that I agree with Ms. Whitman and Mr. Bostock. Social conservatism cannot be the only foundation of a majority party. It may still function as a pillar of the party, but when it's the focus it relegates that party to the permanent minority.

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Where To Now?

As fascinating to me as the new administration may be one thing draws my interest even more - what next for the Republican Party?

In the face of fresh losses, party members and media look over the landscape wondering what made it so. Some will conclude that it is all George W. Bush's fault. Some will conclude it was the terrible economy. Some will think it was because the party wasn't conservative enough. As they do, they could draw the party into permanent minority status.

I recall thinking that the Democratic Party had no ideas. They were running on a solitary mantra - Bush is bad. If Bush wanted something, the Democrats didn't want it. I imagine that had Bush supported unionizing the entire workforce of America, the Democrats would have opposed it. When the Democrats took control of Congress in 2006, they did nothing to prove me wrong. I encourage anyone to list the significant legislative accomplishments of the 110th Congress. Even as the presidential season got into full gear, it wasn't so much that Barack Obama was running on fresh, new ideas as he was running on the idea that Bush is bad.

Then the Republican Party went and did the same thing. They'd won enough legislative victories that their platform had grown a little stale. Dismal poll numbers and minority status led to the same defensive posturing as the Democrats had employed for the last 8 years. In the face of a Democratic opponent running on charisma even more than substance, the Republican Party failed to offer up anything new...and lost.

Ronald Reagan formed the modern incarnation of the Republican Party by marrying the wealthy and corporate fiscal conservatives to the evangelicals and social conservatives. For thirty years it worked. Yet the Republican Party has spurned both wings of the party. Taxes may be lower, but the size and spending of the government has run rampant. Abortion is still legal. Gay marriage continues to advance. Family values are more campaign talking point than political reality. It isn't that the Republican Party has been a failure. The Republican Party has simply run its course.

It seems to me that the Republican Party has two options - develop innovative, new, free market solutions to the problems Americans worry about or quietly fold the tent. The Democratic Party has become an amalgam of political philosophies (many that were elected in the last two years would have been Republicans a decade ago). Something has to give. In a country that has become so enamored with the niche, it seems hard to believe we can continue to be satisfied with only two parties.

Perhaps it is time that the Republicans choose to be the party of social conservatism. Perhaps then the Libertarian Party could get over its propensity for nominating crazy people and adopt a pragmatic libertarianism (classical liberalism, if you will).

James Madison favored factional government. Maybe the time has finally come.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Regarding The Pied Piper

The masses are a nutty group, and ever have they been, but are we ready for aristocracy or plutocracy?

I've already commented that democracy can be ugly. Even now, after Californians did their share of direct democracy, they are protesting in the streets over the results. Not everyone is pleased with the outcome - is your concern that people don't know what they are voting for or does it have more to do with the result?

The nuttiness of the masses cuts both ways. While the Obama supporters were voting for him because McCain was having heart attacks on the campaign trail there were McCain supporters voting for him because Obama was a Muslim that disavowed not only his Islamic faith, but the Christian faith he adopted after it (as noted by 7 members of Latinas for McCain).

I'm reminded of the words of Winston Churchill, "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

I am in complete agreement that it is a dangerous world in which voters can vote themselves wealth they have not earned, but have the Republicans been doing such a fantastic job of not redistributing wealth. They lowered taxes, but they increased spending. Instead of redistributing the wealth of the rich to the poor they've redistributed the wealth of the those not yet born to those that are living now.

A final thought...we've already elected one pied piper. It was 8 years ago and he played his evangelical flute luring in the far right and the God-fearing, family values, rural votes but once in office increased the size of federal government enought to make Roosevelt and Johnson blush. My recollection of the pied piper story is that the piper took away the rats, asked for more money than anyone was willing to pay and then took the children. If I know the Brothers Grimm, the kids never came back. If you are correct, and we've voted in another piper then I'm glad I haven't any kids to sacrifice.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Pied Piper

Well it appears that Barack Obama has won the election and will now be the next President of the United States of America. I am concerned. Mostly because a large number of adamant supporters of Barack can not provide one single issue that they agree with Barack on. They can tell me that they are ready to be done with the Bush administration. When pushed they will tell you that they do not 'Like' John McCain. One voter, after calling in to a local radio station to celebrate that they voted for Barack stated that they did so because they were concerned that McCain had already suffered two heart attacks and they didn't think he would live to fill out his term. This voter then went on to say that they 'HATED' Sarah Palin. Since McCain has not suffered even one heart attack, this voter is obviously uninformed.
Our founding fathers were very concerned that those casting votes would not be educated on the issues. This is the reason that they created the Electoral College. The Electors were to take the will of the people in to account, and then make the best decision whether that decision was in line with the people or not.
They were also concerned with giving the right to vote to those who did not pay taxes. This was why the right to vote was originally given only to those who owned property, because the concern was that those without property would would vote the property out of the owners hands.
I am sincerely concerned that with the momentum of this Presidential election and the majorities that will be enjoyed in the houses of Congress, the capital of this country will be voted into the hands of those who do not pay taxes, nor who are educated on the issues. My concern is simply this, that we have asked the pied piper to rid us of the rats, I just hope we can afford to pay the price when it is asked.

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

My Ballot

We are afforded a secret ballot when voting, but I'm not ashamed of my votes. I may be later, but for now, they are what I believe.

When I go to the voting booth Tuesday evening, my ballot will look like what follows. It leans Republican and its relies heavily on the option of no. I did not support a single bond measure believing that if the people want it they should fit it into the normal operation of the budget. If there isn't money or credit enough for the project then the project doesn't need to be completed.

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Terry Pratchett on Politics

I stumbled across a quotation that sums up the race for political office, particularly when looking at presidential candidates.

"If cats looked like frogs we'd realize what nasty, cruel little bastards they are. Style. That's what people remember."
Terry Pratchett (Lords and Ladies)

It's also an accurate assessment of cats.

Barack Obama has style. He has a biography that can compete with John McCain's biography. It doesn't matter all that much what positions these men try to sell. It's the style and the Barack Obama style is what America appears to be craving.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

All Politics Are Local

The campaign fliers are arriving hot and heavy these days. The best of these is from Mark Ridley-Thomas, a candidate for county supervisor.

The flier at first appears to be an ad from Bernard Parks, the other candidate for county supervisor. Even as I read through it, I was still thinking it endorsed Bernard Parks. His name was prominently placed on the top. The picture was not the most flattering, but it said "Republicans for Parks". There was a RNC logo in the corner. "Closest Thing to a Republican," it said in large type. "Embraces Republican principles," it continued. A cropped picture of President Bush and Vice President Cheney peeking over a Parks sign appeared elsewhere.

In most of the places I've lived this would have gotten Bernard Parks elected to office. Not so much here. On the other side of the flier, it becomes apparent that this is an ad attacking the character of Mr. Parks. On the more cheerful side of the flier it tells us that Ridley-Thomas is endorsed by the Democratic Party. The picture is of Ridley-Thomas standing next to Barack Obama. It asks for my vote.


Now I'm confused. I was ready to vote for Bernard Parks. Then I remember that in my precinct during primary elections they reserve only 1 voting booth for the Republicans. That's the same number they give to the Libertarians. In my precinct the elephant logo in the corner is a mark of death.

It's a shame Mr. Ridley-Thomas spent all that money convincing me to vote for his opponent. Politics is indeed local, but it seems I'm not yet a local.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Democracy Run Amuck

I have it all arranged here with me. There's the 143 page California General Election Official Voter Information Guide, the 15 page supplemental California General Election Official Voter Information Guide, the 32 page City of Los Angeles Voter Information Pamphlet and last, but never least, the 48 page Official Sample Ballot and Voter Instructions.

Ah, so this is democracy.

I don't care for it.

We are supposed to live in a representative democracy. In theory, this form of government allows us to choose a couple people that we think share our values and our general ideology and then we trust them to take care of the details. In conducting this work for us that may not live up to our expectations and we vote them out of office. It's a nice system. It's nice because it doesn't require me to read over 200 pages of voter information.

California has a notoriously incompetent legislature backed by a weak governor. To make up for this, the good people of California and the legislature put everything up for public vote. I get the opportunity to be heard on 12 state initiatives, 3 county measures and 2 city issues. This includes 13.2 billion dollars in state bonds and 7 billion dollars in LA Unified School District bonds. I also get to voice my feelings on crating animals in industrial farming, parental notification for abortion, renewable energy, same-sex marriage, victim's rights, redistricting, mass transit, gang prevention, and low rent housing.

There's 63 pages of statutes with italics, strikethroughs and all the things that make lawyers get all giddy.

I say again, I don't like it.

The safest bet is to just vote NO across the board. With the exception of Proposition 11, that puts redistricting in the hands of a group of unelected registered voters plucked from anonymity (because the Assembly is too busy putting initiatives on the ballot), I will vote no on everything.

The weather's nice here. If the schools crumble, the kids can just sit outside with books on their laps.

Confined animals are cheap food. Parents that didn't know their kids were having sex shouldn't care if they know the same kids is having an abortion. If we let the gangs get big enough maybe they'll just wipe each other out.

I'm not going to use the 9 billion dollar high speed rail, nonviolent offenders can rehabilitate on their own dime, renewable energy should be market driven, the police can increase their funding by stopping more people speeding on the freeways and the California veterans can just be happy with the money the federal government gives them.

If I've left anything out, I apologize...I can't remember everything. Besides, I have to save some brain power for picking a president.

My ballot is six pages long because government has stopped functioning in California. It's the same thing in Washington, we just don't have federal initiatives, but give it time and who knows? Maybe we can all sit around the table staring at 4 thick pamphlets of point and counterpoint. Then we can all go to the voting booth and say yes to a bunch of things we cannot afford because we really don't have a clue what the budget looks like, we just know that a high speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco sounds cool.

Next year I'm going to push for my own ballot initiative. It will ask that for every public office on the ballot there be included, in addition to the candidates names, a choice of "No, thanks." If "No, thanks" gets the most votes, the seat remains unfilled. What law is passed by the people through proposition is made by the judges these days anyway. Why waste the money with a legislature?

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Monday, October 13, 2008

The Trouble with John McCain

For a long time, I've sought a handle to my thoughts about John McCain. Long have I supported him. Long have I watched in anticipation of his second run at the presidency. Then, on the eve of it, I doubt.

As the California primary drew near last summer, I hesitated. I started shopping for a new candidate. The old John McCain wasn't showing up. Something had changed. In the end, I voted for him and on Super Tuesday he didn't win the nomination, but he made it almost unreachable for anyone else.

Now, 22 days from the general election, I hesitate once more. I haven't been able to say just why. I haven't been able to get the handle on the ideas lurking below the surface. Then, today I read Esquire's endorsement of Barack Obama. Beginning the second section were these words:

"Obscured by Obama's dithering is the fact that his Republican counterpart is one of the first presidential candidates in history to run as a parody of himself. John McCain has decided on a cheap and dishonarable campaign. He has embraced the tactics with which he was slandered in 2000, and he has hired the people responsible for them. In so doing, he has become something of a mockery of everything he once purported to be."

That's it. Those are the words I was missing. I've been waiting for 18 months for the John McCain of 2000 to return. I kept thinking that once the nomination was done he'd stop bending to the will of "the base" of his party. When that didn't happen, I kept thinking that John would return at the convention. Then he nominated Sarah Palin and while the tactician in me thought it might have been a brilliant move, whatever passion I had left for John McCain evaporated.

He's not the same man he was. He is a mockery. He has sold his own soul to be the president and it pains me to watch. I liked his immigration plan. I liked his position on torture. I liked the Gang of 14. I didn't like campaign finance reform per se, but I liked the idea of fairness in elections.'s all gone. Lost in the murmur or "Rovian" advisers and focus group panelists. McCain is running the George W. Bush campaign while trying to be distinct and different from Bush. John, you can't have it both ways. You look like a fool trying.

If I wasn't staring at the idea of Nancy Pelosi having a rubber stamp in the Oval Office, I'd hesitate longer. When push comes to shove I'll do like I've done for the entirity of this presidential campaign and hope that once the ballots have been cast my old friend John McCain will come back.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

More of the same?

When have we ever elected a president based on his legislative record? Maybe before television...maybe before talk radio...maybe before the free press...

The vote for president is the vote for an ideal. It's why we are always so dissatisfied with our choices. Those clamoring around for Barack Obama want change so badly that they don't care if no one has told them what that change will be. If we get too specific then our presidential candidates drift further from what we want. The Obama campaign has also been cast in the theme of hope and most fitting that it should be. We have to hope that Obama's change is the right change for the country.

Of course, we have to hope that the change to John McCain would be the right change, too. It's hard to say. It's always hard to say.

How will the office change them? It has changed all the other occupants. There's a reason their hair always goes gray. The question isn't what these two men have said they'll do. It probably isn't even a matter of legistislation sponsored and voted. It has to do with each man's default setting. In the crucible of the Oval Office, as the ills of the world bore down upon them, what is the reaction of John McCain and Barack Obama?

I don't have that answer and am forced to guess. I won't vote for Barack Obama not because I don't trust what he says, not because I think he lacks the experience or judgment and not even because I disagree with him on key issues of our day. I can't vote for Barack Obama because I fear that Barack Obama's default setting is that the American people needn't take responsibility for themselves when the government could so handily take care of everything for us.

I work with the government everyday. Their inspectors work full-time in my plant under obligation to protect the food supply. Guess what? They don't. I read government legislation for a living and have to interpret and enforce it. Guess what? Congress doesn't have a clue. Look no further than COOL (Country of Origin Labeling). It took eight years to write, pass and implement. The week it went into effect, 31 senators wrote a letter to the USDA saying that the final rule the USDA developed wasn't what they had meant it to be at all. Eight years to write a law they didn't intend to write? God Bless America!

Barack Obama wants more of that. Barack Obama wants more regulation. Barack Obama wants more government control. I don't and so I don't want Barack Obama. Of course, if he's elected my job security goes up and I'll probably have to hire a half dozen more people so he might create jobs. And your bacon will cost $10 a pound, a burger at McDonald's will cost about the same. How long those new jobs will last at that price is hard to say?

Change is not always such a great thing. I don't care for Obama's brand of change. And the voting public doesn't care one bit about the finer points of COOL or that Obama voted for it and McCain voted against it.

If we could change the voters, now that's the kind of change I'm looking for.

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Thursday, October 9, 2008


Barack Obama. Say the name Barack Obama and you are sure to elicit a wide variety of emotions. You will probably also get a few loud verbal responses. Some people think he's the next Christ, who will save our country, and deep down they believe that as President of the United States he will somehow save the world. Others will tell you that he is the Anti-Christ, come to lead the nation and, therefore, the world to Hell at a high rate of speed.
His avid, or rabid, supporters will say look at all the new people he is getting involved in politics. "Look at how excited those people are to take part in the democratic process."
I say, when the masses realize that they can, they will vote themselves money out of other people's pockets. This was one of the reasons the founding fathers were afraid to give the right to vote to anyone other than a land owner. Their reasoning was that land owners were the ones paying the taxes. They were concerned that people not paying taxes would vote to raise their taxes without it costing.
It appears that many of his voters are avid in his support, but aren't very intelligent on the issues, or what Barack's history and plans really are. They can tell you how bad McCain is and they'll tell you how big a joke Governor Palin is, but they couldn't tell you the last 5 pieces of legislation Barack sponsored or co-sponsored. That's like saying you are a Packers fan but not knowing who their coach is, or what town they play in.
This frightens me. This means that a group of know-nothings may elect the next President of the United States, and he may be the worst thing for the country, but they neither know or care because they are caught up in a Cause. They are out to "Change" the world. Well I "Hope" they get a clue soon. If you are going to vote, make sure you know what you are voting for.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

McCain Pork

Now that the Financial Market/Mortgage Bailout has passed Congress, get out your bucket and start bailing. Because we have a lot of Pork that the American Taxpayer is going to need bailed out of.
The irony of the whole thing is that the Democrats have managed to pose this bailout in a way that appears like the Republicans added the pork to the bill before they would sign on. So the extra $110-150 Billion that was tacked on to the bill, to "get the Republicans in the House to vote for it," is 'Republican Pork.'
How sad that the Republicans fell for this. Instead, they should have made this whole thing about good legislation.
John McCain, The Watcher of all legislation should have been on top of this. He could have ridden this thing through to the end. If he would have stood up and said "NO" to the pork, and made the Parties and Houses hammer out good legislation, he could have made a big example of his leadership. Instead, he was pretty quiet about the whole ordeal. His face was shown at the meetings, but that was about it.
He suspended his campaign for this big bailout deal, but, in hindsight, what for? It's not like he really did anything. I am disheartened by Obama preaching change, but if you watch his actions, it's more of the same Partisan politics. I am also disheartened by McCain not sticking to what has made him Senate Maverick John McCain.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Dear Brother...

My counterpart encouraged me to continue the streak and make some comments for the fourth straight day. In that spirit I turn to a debate between my brother-in-law and me. It started as a squabble about Sarah Palin and turned into a debate about the fundamental questions of government. (Basically, I like to be mean to him and I suspect he appreciates that I care enough to be mean to him.)

One of the questions I posed was, "Do you think that wealth should be redistributed?" The response: people should keep what they earn, but it's unfair that the super wealthy and the businesses make all the money, while the working class does all of the work. I'd say that he hit well the sentiment of most people I know. Of course, it wouldn't do me any good to agree with him and I don't.

I returned his email with the following response:

"Let me point out the inconsistency of saying we should all earn what we make and that's it, but then go on about the rich having it too easy. Does that make Bill Gates a bad man? Does that make Warren Buffett a bad man? Should we force them to take the money they made and give it to those that didn't make any money? Because I went to school and worked my way up in the company, should I have to pay more in taxes because I've worked to be more successful than those that work for me? The achievement of wealth is not a sin. The issue...the problem, if you will, is that poor people don't understand how money works. Businesses don't make money...shareholders make money (most of CEO compensation is stock). Owners make money. For instance, I own 10 shares of General Electric. The more money GE makes the more my quarterly dividend is. I get my 10 share percentage of the profits of GE. If everyone in America owned 10 shares of Chevron then we'd all be a bit richer and I can guarantee that we wouldn't be considering windfall taxes for oil companies. The position is always that the government owes us something. If not the government, then the rich owes us something. We scream to the treetops that it isn't fair that people have so much money, but what isn't fair is when those that do work hard and do earn money have to give it away to those that don't.

Wealth requires investment. It requires the investment of time. It requires the investment of effort. It requires the investment of money. And it requires patience. I won't be rich because I bought 10 shares of GE. I'll be rich because every three months GE sends me a check for $3.50 and I put that money in a savings account. When I have enough money in that savings account to buy more stock I'm interested in, I buy some. It pains me to watch the value of the stock roller coaster around, but as long as the companies make money, I get my dividend, I reinvest and I increase the cash flow of my own personal economy. I'll be rich because I own a bit of the wealth that everyone else thinks is unfair. Being envious of the rich is not unreasonable. What is unreasonable is taking away your neighbor's lottery winnings and keeping a part of it for yourself because you weren't willing to buy your own lottery ticket."

I suppose the thing I should have added is that wealth is redistributed at every level of the income ladder. My brother-in-law and sister are working like crazy to make a living and they are paying taxes. Down the street, one of their neighbors isn't, but is reaping the rewards of their taxes in the form of welfare and food stamps. In this case, someone with a job, even a job at minimum wage would be the rich one compared to the guy that has no job at all. The wealth is shuffled down the ladder. It hurts the super rich less, but that makes it no less fair.

It's not the inequality of wealth and income that matters. It's the inequality of education and the dead weight of ignorance that matters most.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008


This bailout thing has become a convoluted mess. The Treasury secretary seems to be playing partisan politics with this thing. Senator Obama, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and Senator Harry Reid, appear to be doing what they can to make this a huge win for the Democrat party, while positioning it as a loss for the Republicans at the same time. Instead they appear to be making a bigger, more confusing mess.
Just so you don't think I am picking on the Democrats, I do think there is some effort by the Republicans in Congress to help make McCain look good on this. For instance McCain has been trying to meet and talk to all the leaders involved in both parties. The House Republicans are letting John McCain be the one credited with the idea of having an independent oversight of the running of the bailout plan, once passed. So it's not like only one party is trying to come out of this smelling pretty.
However, the Democrats are taking the lead on this, because they are the majority party in both houses. In my opinion, they are fouling the whole thing up. What are they doing? Well, besides messing around with insider information from the Treasury Secretary so Barack can try and corner in the Republicans, they are throwing so much in this bill that does not pertain to the purpose, just to get it passed, we are going to have all kinds of Pork that will add to the cost of this bill. Good or bad, it is pork.
What really frustrates me is that the bill that is being pushed now is not just about financing for the bailout. There are a few items that everyone hopes would make a difference. An increase in FDIC insurance is one. It makes sense that if people can get a guarantee on the money they put in the bank, they will put more money in the bank. More money in the banks means more money to lend. This should help get credit moving in the economy.
It also deals with tax breaks for purchasing solar panels. How does this pertain to a crisis due to bad/faulty mortgages? While it may be a good thing, I don’t think this should be part of the bill. I perceive this as pork.
There are a number of tax breaks that are meant to garner Republican votes in the house. If you are going to pass a tax break, for example postponing the AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax), then do so, but tacking it onto a relief bill for the economy seems like it is a bit out of line. While it is true that the more money that is in the economy the more jobs are maintained and created, this is more Pork.
It is hard to know for sure, but there are reports of emergency relief for the Midwest and South to help recover from recent storms. Again, this may be a great thing to spend my tax money on, but adding it to this bill so that it will get votes is called pork.
For a moment I was thinking of using a Mary Poppins analogy, ‘a spoon full of sugar’ and all, but it just doesn’t seem appropriate when we may be talking about Bad Medicine.
On Monday, the US House didn’t like the plan, with 40% of Democrats and over 60% of Republicans voting against it. This was very interesting, especially after the “leadership” said they had a compromise that would pass. It seems to me that the leadership was trying to force a plan on the American people. Instead, the people got on the phone and told their Representatives that they didn’t like it and their Representatives listened. This is the CHANGE I HOPE to see in Washington. Less bad government and more good legislation. Less partisan politics and more working together to do the right thing. We’ll see what the Senate does with this tonight.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I'm not sending an incumbent Democrat to DC.

Why I can not and will not vote to send an incumbent Democrat back to Washington this year. The last few years, the only approval numbers that were consistently lower than President Bush's numbers, are those of the Democrat controlled Congress.
There are a lot of issues facing America right now that need to be dealt with and I can not vote to put a man in the white house who has refused to deal with them while he has been in the Senate. One of these issues is Social Security.
Say what you will about President Bush, because you will anyway and most of it will just be mash rhetoric that is primarily unfactual and extremely vitriol, but President George W Bush has tried to tackle a good number of the issues facing our Nation, and the Democrats have refused to come to the table. One of these issues was Social Security. President Bush raised the issue of fixing Social Security so that it does not bankrupt the nation. He asked both sides to put forth ideas. For decades the Democrats have been railing about how Social Security is going bankrupt and needs to be fixed. Here was their chance. The Republican President is willing to play ball. Did the Democrats seize the opportunity? No. Not in the least. There were several ideas/plans proposed. Were any of them from the Democrats? NO! NOT EVEN ONE! Instead all they did was complain about the plans that were proposed. Here was their opportunity to accomplish one of their priorities, and they wouldn't even, in fact refused, to show up. Strike 1.
Next let's talk about education. We all know that America desperately needs to do something with our education system. Our ranking has been falling globally for years. We are headed into an information economy where an exceptional education is a must for every American, we need to step up the level of education our kids are getting and yet, and nothing is being done to turn up the heat. President Bush and, oh yeah did you forget Sen. Ted Kennedy put forth the 'No Child Left Behind' initiative. If you listen to just about anyone they will tell you what a disaster it is, and they will blame the disaster on President Bush and the Republicans. Yet has there been one single proposal from the Democrats? Nope. Do they ever even mention that they had a hand in it? If there was something so blatantly wrong, they should have worked to fix it when they were sponsoring it. Instead they want to blame President Bush and those terrible Republicans rather than take responsibility and actually do something constructive. Strike 2.
One of the next big issues is health care. The democrats have had control of congress for some time now. That means they set the agenda. They decide what bills get slated, what bills get heard, and what bills get voted on. Have we seen any bills on health care, or prescription drugs? Nope. Have we seen or heard anyone proposing to fight to protect the drug patents for American drug companies, so that their drugs aren't stolen and manufactured in other countries. This prevents these companies from recouping their investment in the research, development and testing of their drugs. When other countries don't honor patents that means that the companies have to charge higher prices here, where the patent is honored, so that they can continue to do business. Have you heard any democrats... excuse me. Have you seen any Democrats do anything about these issues? No? Me neither. Strike 3.
Not that I want to seem tough on crime, but I do want to seem tough on politicians. I believe we elect our representatives to go to Washington to work on these and other issues facing America, not to work on getting re-elected. If we send them to Washington to accomplish something, and they don't do anything, then I quote someone, "Vote the bums out!"

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Monday, September 29, 2008

The Oxford Debate

At the conclusion of the first presidential debate I thought – “What a colossal waste of time.”

The talking heads reminded me later that not everyone has been watching these two men for the last 19 months. For them, this may have been a refreshing and delightful evening of television. They were the fortunate ones. The talking heads also told me that this was an amazingly cerebral debate compared to most and for that reason there weren’t any memorable moments. I suppose that it was issue oriented, but cerebral…I think not. It was what debate has become – a performance. In this instance, a boring performance with more stump speech excerpts than true thoughtfulness. Anyone that watched either party convention learned nothing interesting or useful during the debate.

For my part, the first debate was actually the first time I’ve started to tune out of the presidential race. It has become an agony to watch the daily news unfolding. All those many months ago I thought that the two men left running for president were different from the rest. John McCain had spent years making up his own mind about things; some may argue that it was an impulsive and inconsistent mind, but when he told the Jerry Falwell followers that they could all go to hell my heart warmed. Barack Obama had risen rapidly with a willingness to speak truth to hostile audiences and in his case, embrace religion rather than deride it. I thought to myself – either of these men would be a nice improvement.

Not so much anymore. My love affair with John McCain ended last summer. He embraced the right wing of his party trying to persuade those he needed most to win the nomination. As he stood on the stage of Jerry Falwell’s college I started shopping for a new candidate. In the face of no better options I stuck with him. Meanwhile, I’ve always liked Barack Obama because I’ve always liked a good speech. I’m a sucker for a good speech. As Obama started piling up primary wins I kept anticipating the next victory speech. Politically, I should have been behind Clinton, but I kept thinking maybe all this hope and change brouhaha was for real…maybe, just maybe. Turns out it wasn’t, not really. Obama turned out to be an exceptionally good politician surrounded by the same old politicians that have been lurking around Washington since Bill Clinton took office.

As the debate unfolded, whatever excitement had returned by the end of the primaries had been replaced by anguish over watching the tit for tat back and forth of modern, daily campaigning. What lobbyist worked for whom? What surrogate said what? What sort of terrorists in Iran? Lipstick on a pig? God help us and god help America! By the end of the debate I was having trouble finding the enthusiasm to vote for either candidate.

It’s hard to vote for a man that can’t answer a simple question. Neither man wanted to answer the first question – do you support the current bailout plan? In their first try they spent two minutes apiece regurgitating their economic stump speech. When Jim Lehrer asked again, he got more of the same. When he asked one more time, he received grudging and vague support. It took nine minutes to answer a yes/no question. Why couldn’t either man say, “Yes, I support the bailout. I have reservations, but it is necessary for the following reasons…” Why couldn’t they? Because thoughtfulness has been stripped from politics. Why confuse people with thought and reason when they can be so easily dazzled with smoke and mirrors.

It’s hard to vote for a man that cannot say, “I was wrong.” We are all wrong sometimes. John McCain was wrong about Saddam Hussein’s capability to develop and distribute weapons. Barack Obama was wrong about the surge. I waited for Obama to say, “John, I was wrong about the surge. I didn’t think it would work and didn’t think it was worth the risk. I’m happy to be wrong about that. I wanted to take a different path and none of us here can say whether it would have been better. But John, you were wrong about parts of this too. Being right about one thing and being wrong about all the rest does not demonstrate good judgment. It demonstrates good timing.” At any time McCain could have said, “Senator Obama, I was wrong about weapons of mass destruction. I thought Iraq was further along and a more eminent threat than they proved to be. That doesn’t change my continuing conviction that liberating Iraq was the right decision. Hussein was a dictator. Hussein was a killer. Eventually, we would not be able to contain him. To say that we shouldn’t have gone to war at all because of a mismanagement of the military strategy by George Bush demonstrates a lack of understanding in how the world really works.”

It’s hard to vote for a man that can’t be honest about the political realities we face. After being repeatedly asked by Jim Lehrer whether any adjustments would need to be made to their plans when elected president in light of the financial meltdown neither wanted to give up anything. John McCain finally suggested a spending freeze. Sounds good. Barack Obama finally conceded that yes, of course, some things just couldn’t happen, but obviously we’d need to cut taxes. John McCain agreed. Obviously. We always need tax cuts. All problems can be solved with tax cuts. How about either one of these guys tell me the truth – no tax cuts, no Social Security when I retire and no way we come out of this financial crisis without a recession and complete realignment of the economy? I suppose that’s asking too much.

Then again, maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s us. Maybe we are asking too much of the presidency. We want our presidents to be something unreal. We want them to be all things to all people. We want them down-home and ordinary, but the smartest kid in the class. We want them to be funny, but inoffensive. We want them to be perfect people, but flawed. We want specifics and details, but in no larger chunk of time than a television commercial. We want candidates that are above the fray, but willing to draw blood in a fight.

We seek inspiration where none can be found. We seek answers where none are offered. We seek guidance from a steady hand when one is not extended. This is our own fault. Our candidates reflect the worst in us because at we don’t care so much what our candidates say as long as they make us feel good about ourselves.

For ninety minutes, the two men running for president did everything they could to make us feel good about voting for them and feel foolish for voting for the other guy. That just doesn’t work for me.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Bail? What happend to spending a night in jail?

Well, I couldn’t agree more, as much as I enjoy disagreeing and have a good debate. I just don’t quite see the need for a government bailout. The sensible banks, that loan money when it makes sense, are still doing well. While they may see a bit of a slow down for a time, these banks will not only survive this, but become stronger as the weak behemoth banks fall on the wayside. People will still have their jobs. They will still make their payments. They will still buy bread, and they will still pay for their cable.

Oh yes, there will be many that lose their jobs over this, and they may not find jobs in their chosen field right away, or ever. So what, There are millions of people working in fields they never dreamed of being in. For good or bad, they are doing it. They have said that this generation will work in 6 or 7 industries during their lifetime. Now they have one more down. The thing about Americans is that we survive. We thrive. For two hundred years we’ve met every challenge and come out stronger than before. To quote President Bill Clinton from a recent visit to the David Letterman show, “for two hundred years, everyone that has bet against America has lost.”

Investing and lending is a matter of risk. Every broker has heard at least a thousand times, there is risk in the market. Every investor should already know that their investments are at risk. Sometimes you win, today… you lose. There is a bull fighting adage I’ve heard, “Sometimes, the bull does not always lose.” Today the bullfighter loses. They should have seen it coming.

For years we’ve been hearing about the collapse of the housing market. Financial analysts said there would be a correction, translated ‘crash’, in the housing market. Did these big banks make any efforts to rebalance their books? Did they recognize that their investments were inflated time bombs and try to defuse them? If they have we’ve not yet heard about it. They had to see this coming for months or even years. Yet what did they do about it? Nothing that I’m aware of.

So how did these loans get made? Let’s take a moment and look at how this happened.

One loan at a time. Mortgage loan officers weren’t making loan decisions based on the customer’s ability to pay back the loan; they were make the loans based on whether or not they could sell the loans to someone else. Only they didn’t have to sell the individual loans, they loans were clumped together and sold in groups. This eliminated the responsibility of making a bad loan by preventing the buyers of these groups of loans from analyzing the quality of the loans individually. Throw in a few really good loans in with a batch of not so good loans, and the numbers as a whole look ok. It’s like the old hamburger trick. When hamburger has been sitting in the cooler for a couple of days and starts turning brown, the butcher will wrap it in some new hamburger and repackage it and people will think the whole lot is fresh. What happens to personal responsibility? It is gone.

The sad part of this is that the people who will inevitably pay if the government does not come through with a bail out are the baby boomers. They are the ones whose entire life savings is wrapped up in the markets and mutual funds. These “investments” take a dive and all of the sudden Wal-mart has a few thousand or million door greeters. Not that I’m cynical. But if the investment you planned on living off of is suddenly gone, you still have to eat, so out the door looking for a job you go.

Unfortunately, they’ve been told for years that they should put their money into the market in the form of a mutual fund of sorts. Not in particular, just put your money in the hands of someone you don’t even know the name of, and let them do what’s best for you. Removing you from the responsibility for your financial future, and leaving the guy who manages the fund without responsibility as well. Everyone is void of personally being responsible. If he performs too poorly he gets sacked, takes his paycheck and finds another fund to manage, while your money disappears with out a trace.

Yeah, that’s it. That’s the ticket. You give me your money. We’ll put it in a basket. You can pick which one. Then we’ll stand back and see what happens. What happens is some guy opens a hidden hole in the basket pulls all the money out while you are sent to get a cotton candy, and when you get back you find all your money is gone. "So sorry. Bad luck chap you picked the wrong basket. Care to take another stab at it? Just put the rest of your money in these baskets, and shake them all up. We’ll see if you can do better this time.” BAH! The chips are stacked against you, the game is rigged. The Carny always wins. The Barker knows that, but he’s not about to let you in on it, because he gets a cut of the take. Millions can’t see this coming and that is why there have been carnivals for centuries. The Carny always walks away with the money. If not they wouldn’t eat and they’d all die off.

To me this seems like a chapter out of a bad Ayn Rand novel. One that never got published. The bureaucrats have created a mess of the economy, using government money, so that they would have a reason to step in with more government money and take control. They make government backed/guaranteed home loans that make no sense. (Not even the mafia would make a loan like these.) Why would you make a loan that you can’t collect on? You wouldn’t unless there was some strategy behind it.

What is severely lacking here is personal responsibility. The people cry out for help, and instead of holding people responsible and letting them pay for their own bad decisions, the government will step in and take more control in the name of saving it’s people. It will further separate the rich from the poor, by taking a few of the rich and making them poor, as an example, and then taking the rest of the cost from the poor making their living situation even worse, all the while blaming the wealthy for the problems.

The main plot of Rand is that the Socialists running the government set out to make things go so bad for the poor that they cry out for help. Then they pit the poor against the rich, blaming the rich for the terrible circumstances and finally seize the assets of the rich in the name of helping the poor. What Ayn argues is that in doing so, they take away the very thing that will save the people. Thus the collapse of Capitalism and the rise of the new Socialist order. Everyone is happy, or miserable as it turns out, and the Elite few rule the world.

The problem I see here is that of a lack of personal responsibility. It is a parent paying the fine for the child. They child doesn’t have to pay for their misdeeds and therefore never learns the lesson. They are removed from personal responsibility, eventually they fail to believe that there are consequences for their actions.

It used to be that you could count on the Republican Party to be the party that advocated Personal Responsibility. Are they standing up for it now? NOPE. They are right in there singing the same songs as the Democrats, offering to Bail everyone out. I say let all of the bankers, mortgage lenders, stock brokers and stupid investors spend the night in jail. Make them roll doubles before they can get out and pass Go to get their $200.

Finally, since this is the season of Presidential Candidates, I would like to say something to all of you who think McCain is a Republican, You are a fool. He’s more of a socialist than President George W Bush. President Bush has done more for socialist causes than the last five Presidents. The problem for the Republicans is that McCain IS a renegade, and that’s why people like him. They like him because he isn’t beholden to any political party. In fact the Republican Party is beholden to him. If he fails, they lose miserably. If he wins they still lose. They lose; because he will negotiate a deal that he likes which will be two shades bluer than they can stand.

The good news is that he is a Renegade who gets things done. He crosses party lines. He puts together proposals and ropes both sides into agreeing to it, even though they don’t want to. The problem for both parties is that John McCain will hold everyone’s toes to the fire. I heard a recent quote, “If your toes are all that he is holding to the fire, you’re doing good.” He will tackle problems. I expect that if John McCain is the next president, you will see the return of the Bully pulpit. And if he is successful, we will see at least progress toward our problems if not resolution to some of them.

If you are an independent thinker, then I believe John McCain is your candidate. If you are a conservative, you are out of this race. We’ll see you again in four years. If you are a Socialist, who doesn’t want to see any progress on the issues that are really facing our country, but want your Party in power, then Barack Obama is your man.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Bailout

There is a staggering amount of economics that I don't know or understand. This has not stopped our president, the candidates for his job or the bulk of Congress from commenting on the current "financial crisis" so I won't let it stop me either.

Here's what I do know: $700 billion is a lot of money, the government doesn't have that much money and no one is quite sure whether it is enough money or will, in fact, do any good in the long term. The other thing I know: I don't like any of it at all.

The universal cry is that the free market doesn't work. That's was working until a couple weeks ago. It had worked with only a couple episodes for most of the history of this country. It propelled us to world dominance by the end of the last century. It made more millionaires than any other economy, created the highest gross domestic product, per capita income and overall general wealth of any economy in any country in the history of the world. Yet, it doesn't work. What am I missing?

On the contrary, what doesn't work is getting in the way of the free market punishing people for overextending their credit in the name of greed. What doesn't work is stepping in the way of the free market correcting a long overdue imbalance.

I have a few random thoughts on this whole thing. A Republican, free market loving, administration is essentially nationalizing the financial system. What? To give them credit, the plan they have proposed puts all the power into one man with essentially no legislative oversight or accountability. Meanwhile, the Democrats, always first to point out income and wealth inequality, should be rejoicing over the biggest slap in the face to the wealthy elites that could possibly occur, but instead they are happy to socialize banking to protect the wealthy they so hate. I suppose it's any obvious choice - socialize no matter the consequence because we'll all be better off with the government doing everything for us.

The financial collapse will eventually affect my family, but not that much. The food prices and gas prices have done more significant damage than any unemployment or wage stagnation resulting from corporate America not having easy credit. My family doesn't invest in mortgage equities - we don't even know what mortgage equities are. Also, I didn't buy a house in Southern California when prices were at their highest. You know way? I couldn't afford it. Neither could most everyone else, but that didn't stop them. Lesson learned.

It would seem I don't have sympathy. I don't. I think the market is about risk and those not bright enough to deal in that risk shouldn't. Those that are bright enough, but get blinded by greed and power should pay the price.

It may also seem that I don't fully comprehend the catastrophe inherent in letting the market correct itself. Probably I don't. My instinct tells me that the government bailout only delays the inevitable. Most of this problem derives from the collapse in house values and even though here in Southern California prices have dropped 35% in the last two years that means a median price of $350,000 and guess what, most of the people I know still can't afford that mortgage payment. People were making bundles of money off people that couldn't afford mortgages. Now they are losing it. Good. That's how a free market works. It giveth and it taketh away.

The government should keep my money out of it. I'm making my payments. I was bright enough not to take out a loan I couldn't afford. I've been stingy with my money and judicious in my debt. Now I get to help pay for everyone who wasn't. Government should exist for protecting my rights, not bailing out people who should have known better.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fear and Accountability

Because non-fiction books tend to bore me I've found it helps to read several at once. Though not immediately sensible, let me explain - If I get tired of one then I flip to the other. Lately I've been flipping back and forth between The Oz Principle by Connors, Smith & Hickman and The Essential Russell Kirk.

The Oz Principle is a business management book given to me by my employer. It's thesis being that the key to a successful business is accountability. The Essential Russell Kirk is a collection of essays, obviously by Russell Kirk, a man that devoted a great amount of thought to conservative political philosophy. (I wanted to know what a conservative really was and Russell Kirk's name kept showing up each time I asked the question.)

The other night I put down Oz and picked up Kirk's essay "The Rarity of the God-Fearing Man". I was struck by a synthesis of the thinking in each book. Though I wasn't buying completely into Kirk's belief that society was doomed by a lack of faith, particularly the absence of a knowing God making one suffer for moral transgression, the idea of fear stuck with me. Meanwhile, I couldn't have agreed more with the authors of The Oz Principle as they outlined the numerous techniques we all use to avoid responsibility for our mistakes. 

It occurred to me that the ills of society are manifest in the twin absences of accountability and fear - accountability for our own lot in life and fear of government taking over our lives. 

We haven't much choice in how our lives begin and for some of us that beginning can be truly horrendous. In the early years much of our lives aren't our own, but we still have choices and no matter how circumstance may hamper us we can, with effort and perseverance, better ourselves. That has always been the appeal of this country. Of course, to accomplish anything we must accept what we have been given and take responsibility for obtaining what we seek. As the authors of Oz can tell us, most never manage to do either. Most people would rather whine, complain and blame. 

As I consider the media coverage of this election cycle it doesn't take long to recognize the lack of accountability in our society. Some might say, "I lost my job because CEO's are moving all the jobs to India." While this may be the truth, it's what always follows this comment that is most disturbing - "What is the government going to do about this?"

Where is the fear of government? How can government be both the cause of all our problems and the solution? CEO's aren't moving jobs to India because the government is encouraging it. There isn't a politician anywhere stupid enough to promote job exports. CEO's are moving jobs to India because it's cheaper to do so, because customers want cheap stuff and because India will neither tax nor regulate a business out of profitability. Is government the problem or the solution?

We have become a society that refuses to accept its own failings and expects at every turn that the government will bail us out. People think they don't need to save for retirement because Social Security checks will always be in the mail and Medicare will keep us alive just long enough to enjoy it. 

Sadly, each new law is not a protection, it is a burden. Someone, somewhere will be paying a price for a few scattered sentences in a volume of regulations. A society that cannot accept a few bumps along the way, cannot accept responsibility for corrective actions when life slips from its moorings, dooms itself to the helping hand of a distant, uncaring government. 

Ethanol subsidies in the name of energy independence and low gas prices become $7.00 a bushel corn which drives up the price of beef, pork, turkey and chicken. 

Self-budgeting education funding initiatives and super-majority budget vote requirements become $15 billion state deficits and eventually mass layoffs, wage reductions and potentially the financial collapse of the California government which then defunds all the school bond measures passed in the last decade. 

Government policy promoting home ownership funds massive federal mortgage guarantors and opens the market to sub-prime borrowers which become the first to default on loans they couldn't actually afford. The flood of defaults drives the prices of homes down 25% in twelve months drying up the equity market and collapsing banks which in turn shed thousands of jobs. 

As all this happens, the people cry out for the government to do something. Sadly, it already has, but no one will accept that they couldn't afford the home loan in the first place, that ethanol probably wasn't such a good idea and that the unwashed masses micromanaging government finance is democracy at its worst. Instead, we'll get a few more laws, a few more unintended consequences and a few more people complaining rather than making the best of what they have.

It may appear that I am unsympathetic to the plight of people in troubled times. On the contrary, I have struggled along with everyone else. My family doesn't have money. The hiccups in the economy hit my family hard. What I don't have is sympathy for people that believe government should protect them constantly from the rigors of life. Government can be a force for good, but only when it is a helping hand rather than a hand out. 

If it weren't for government student loans and grants I would never have gone to college, but these were not free-ride gifts. I'm still making my monthly payments 8 years after graduating. I didn't expect something for nothing. All I asked from the government was a helping hand and now because my degree affords me a better paying job I pay the government back with that much more in taxes. If tomorrow I lose my job because California passes another law making it incredibly difficult to produce bacon I would definitely make a fuss about the government being the cause of my problems, but I wouldn't expect them to make it up to me. I wouldn't expect forgiveness for my student loans. I would leave California and move to a state where the government had less laws, not more. California would have one less taxpayer, one less consumer and would be one step closer to mercifully collapsing so that someone with sense could start over from scratch. 

We should fear the government and the politicians should fear us. We should be held in account for our own mistakes as we should hold politicians in account for theirs. Until such time each day we come closer to abandoning all that America was, is and should be. 

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Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th!

No matter your political persuasion, your notion of patriotism or degree of love for country...Happy Independence Day!

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Gay Marriage

A few hours ago California became the second state to legalize gay marriage. At 5:01 PM in San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom presided over the wedding of a couple ladies in their 80's.

Four years ago, Mayor Newsom was also presiding over weddings in San Francisco, but a court stopped that practice and voided over 4000 marriages. Thirty days ago the California Supreme Court decided the case brought about from one of those 4000 marriages and found that the California Constitution not only had no implicit ban of gay marriage but was worded such that the government was required to allow gay marriage.

In just over 4 months, California voters will march to the polls and vote on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Current polling gives the measure a 50-50 shot of passing, significantly down from just a few years ago and unprecedented when set aside the numerous similar proposals that have won in landslides in other states.

I tend to indecision on most cultural issues. I like to think of this as openmindedness. Unfortunately, in November I'll be one of the millions voting on gay marriage in California and so I'll have to make a decision of some sort.

The arguments against gay marriage fall into three veins: it's unnatural, it's unholy and it undermines the fabric of society.

Homosexuality is natural. It occurs in nature across several species including our cousins the primates. Gay marriage is less unnatural than it is nontraditional. I struggle, as many do, with the idea of two people of the same sex being married. The linguistics alone throw me. There goes his and her towel sets. Who gets the ring with the big diamond? Bob and his husband? Diane and her wife? Mrs. and Mrs. Smith? All of this comes about from the dismantling of thousands of years of societal, cultural and linguistic tradition. That can be tough for anyone, but does it justify a ban on gay marriage? I can't think it does. I find going to the DMV for a driver's license to be a nuisance, but I keep on going.

Gay marriage is, in fact, unholy. All the mainline Christian faiths are against it. The Muslims have to be against it, especially the sects that don't even let women show their faces. The religious argument fails to move me, though. First, I'll apply the baseline argument that government imposing biblical law is unconstitutional. Second, I'll argue that citing biblical text to support a policy argument is useful in debate, but worthless logic. If a person should choose to outlaw gay marriage because of biblical precedent, then that person cannot stop at gay marriage. Leviticus and Deuteronomy are littered with wonderful little admonitions and rules. Take one, take all. Of course, I haven't read the New Testament as closely and perhaps Jesus reversed a number of those rules, but kept the gay marriage one intact. Someone more attuned with the Christian faith will have to enlighten me. I'm not holy. I have no religion. The religious argument just doesn't work.

The most compelling argument regards the fabric of society. The argument goes that the fundamental unit of society is a family. In this case, a family is made of a father, mother and children. Any other arrangement of this basic unit is inferior. Boys need fathers. Girls need mothers. Both genders need the balance, the influence and the example of the opposite gender to edify them fully. As a society moves away from this fundamental order the society deteriorates.

I have always found this argument appealing. It seems reasonable. It can be backed by some fairly strong data. Alas, it isn't perfect. Single mothers raise perfectly good children, as do single fathers. I haven't seen any evidence that children raised by gay parents turn into misfits draining the lifeblood of society. Families with a father, mother and children can be as dysfunctional, corrupting and destructive as any other group; indeed, more so in some cases.

To date, no one has offered me a persuasive argument for banning gay marriage. Am I completely comfortable with gay marriage? No. It tosses dirt in the face of millennia of tradition. It alters the fabric of society in ways that cannot be anticipated. It does all of this, but that does not make it something that should not be, not in a free society that values justice and was founded on the idea that pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right.

Eight years ago I voted against the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage that is now part of Nebraska law. I did so because it was worded in such a way that a particularly careless interpretation could outlaw same gender roommates that weren't having sex. I did so because I don't like new laws because I don't like more government especially government meddling about in my bedroom.

In a few months, I will vote again and I plan to vote the same way and for at least some of the same reasons. This time I might not be one of the few who does.

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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Regarding your June 1st post, I agree completely, but for the sake of fairness let me make an addition.

The Republican Party sanctioned Wyoming, New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina and Florida. Each of those states will seat only half their delegates (the same as the Democrats compromise plan). The Republicans were less dramatic and handled it far more cleanly, but the end result is the same - some votes just don't count as much as others.

Also, the Republicans held primaries in Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam and Virgin Islands. They were less generous with delegates (Puerto Rico only beating out a handful of small states) and the delegate count wasn't nearly as important on the Republican side, but they helped choose the nominee all the same.

Of course, the Republican Party hasn't been accused of believing every vote is equal and should be counted, so at least they aren't hypocrits.

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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Of great interest recently has been the battle in the Democratic Party. One might think that a primary this heated and fought this long would be good for the country. One would hope that as these two candidates meet from state to state they would be talking about the issues and explaining their plans. They would be analyzing each others’ plans, critiquing them. The citizens would see the process of a good idea made better.

Finally in the party’s convention we would see the final hammering out of a solution for healthcare, education and gas prices, laid out into a party platform that all democrats would sign on to and work towards. Because it was a combination of all the best parts of everyone’s plans.

By now we should know who each candidate is, what they believe and how they will go about enacting their solutions, step by step. But at this point all I know is that Obama is for change, though I don’t know what change that precisely is, and that he is young and inexperienced. What I’ve learned about Hillary is that she has the best chance, of the two democrats, to win the election in November. And that she is running a negative, kitchen sink, campaign.

I know many people actively supporting each candidate, and yet few of them can tell me who has a better plan on any issue, nor can any of them even tell me what their candidate’s plan is. The biggest part of this problem is that these people are what are commonly referred to as activists. They are passionate about their candidate. They are passionately against the other candidate. Yet they can not tell me how one or the other will make my life, their life, or what really matters, how they will make our country a better country.

The most glaring problem with the democrats is not that they still have two candidates fighting for the nomination. It is that they blatantly disregard their own values. They have been screaming for 8 years about people’s right to vote. They’ve been yelling about disenfranchised voters (people not being able to vote). They been hiring lawyers and filing court cases all over the country about voter fraud and people’s votes not being counted for this reason or that. Yet they won’t let their own people cast their votes at their own convention. This weekend their party announced a ‘compromise.’ They would seat the delegates from Florida and Michigan, but with only half a vote. Since when does someone only get half a vote? Since the 3/5ths compromise in which we gave free men a full vote and slaves a 3/5 vote. The way the Democratic party has divvied up the delegates in these two states reminds me of the way the slave owner then cast the ballot for their slaves, essentially disregarding what the slave would have voted and casting their ballot the way the slave owner wants the slave to vote.

If this party truly believed in one person, one vote, they wouldn’t be having caucuses where if your candidate does not have enough votes in your precinct among the people who were able to show up at that precise time and location, you are forced to change your vote to one of the other candidates. Not to mention if you are working, homebound, or out of town for whatever reason, you don’t even get to vote. They would ensure that no matter your circumstances, you could cast your vote and your vote would be counted. They wouldn’t be penalizing the voters in a state because a few changed the date of their election, they would be working with that state to make sure that every voice was heard.

In announcing their decision this weekend on the Democratic website, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and Rules and Bylaws Committee Co-Chairs Alexis Herman and Jim Roosevelt gave the three principles they made their decision on.

“One, that we must be fair to the voters in both states. Two, that we must be fair to both campaigns who abided by the rules in good faith and three, that we must be fair to the 48 states that followed the rules.”

One, I’m not sure how giving them less than a full vote is being fair to the voters in both states. Two, Well to tell you the truth I don’t really care about the “campaigns”. Three if they were concerned about being fair to the other 48 states, then why do those states each get less of a say about who the candidate will be then a single American territory?

If they want to play by the rules they wouldn’t have representation from American territories selecting their candidate for president, since the Electoral College does not give any representation to the people in the territories. They wouldn’t be giving Puerto Rico more delegates than 25 of the states. If the party hadn’t seated Florida and Michigan delegates, one territory would have more influence in who their party candidate is than 27 of the 50 States. Quick math, that is 54% of the states. I’m not quite sure how this is fair to any of the other 48 states, or how this can be construed as playing by the rules.

While I still personally believe that the best way to get something/anything done in government is to be a member of either party, I am coming to a greater understanding of why our country’s founding fathers were so adamantly opposed to political parties.

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In July 1813, John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson, "So many Subjects crowd upon me that I know not, with which to begin." And so I think it is with us.

This is an election year and the historic length of the campaign, the candidates and the ongoing 'drama' have fueled an unprecedented interest in politics that touch on every dimension of our lives. There are any number of subjects that could be addressed. There are, indeed, any number of subjects that should be addressed and in a manner less fitted to 2 minute debate banter and highly polished campaign posts.

So many subjects crowd upon us but let me start not with the details, the proposals, the political gamesmanship (because they will have their time), rather let me begin with the concept of selfishness.

It begins the other day with one of those ubiquitous emails passed through the hands of cyberspace. This one was sent to me from an office colleague and the subject line read: 545 People. In the email someone had copied over the words of a short essay by Charley Reese. Mr. Reese went about explaining how the whole of the United States government is run by 545 people (435 Congressmen, 9 Supreme Court Justices and 1 President) and that they and they alone are responsible for whatever mess we now find ourselves. It's all agreeable enough and the fanfare for his words can be easily seen with a quick search for his article online, but added to my email and not included in the original was a last line encouraging us to vote them all out of office. Oddly enough, we never actually do that and the reason comes from another, more recent piece of writing.

Last Thursday, Victor David Hanson, wrote an article for called All About Me. In it he assesses how the baby boom generation has taken to solving problems. They want it both ways - more oil without more drilling, affordable housing that always appreciates rapidly in price, generous Social Security with lower taxes. He concludes with the following:

Our present problems were not really caused by an unpopular president, a spendthrift Congress, the neocon bogeymen, the greedy Saudis, shifty bankers or corporate oilmen in black hats and handlebar moustaches -- much less the anonymous "they."

The fault of this age, dear baby boomers, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

Therein lies our problem. Reese and Hanson are both correct. There are 545 people running the government, but there are millions of people voting for them. We keep buying what they keep selling.

A politician in office has no incentive to fix the country's problems. A Democratic Congress with a Republican President won't vote for a health care proposal because they need the promise of a health care proposal for campaign mailers. A Republican Congress with a Democratic President won't vote for a gay marriage amendment because they need the promise of a gay marriage amendment for television commercials. A large number of people make a great deal of money by fighting the good fight without any end results.

Meanwhile, the American people have no stomach for sacrifice. Congress may have abysmal favorability ratings, but individual Congressman have sky high numbers. As long as the pork barrel projects and federal money keep coming back to the home district the votes keep coming in. The voters lament the rising deficit, the weakening dollar, the rocketing fuel prices and the myriad scandals, but as long as someone is bringing home the bacon they keep voting in the same old purveyors of pork. We rarely ask ourselves, "Is it good for the country?" In the booth, alone and unpestered, we ask ourselves, "What's this guy going to do for me?"

Congress and Presidents want to keep their jobs. Voters want everything that helps themselves and doesn't hurt them. We are selfish creatures. The men that created this country understood that and were fearful of the whims of the masses. Unfortunately, time has eroded the protection of checks and balances that they envisioned, not because the system is failing us, but because we are failing ourselves.

There is so little thoughtfulness because thoughtfulness takes time and effort. There is so little of substance because substance takes time and isn't nearly as entertaining as the latest minute long video on YouTube. We have created a world of slogans and branding. We think of Democrats and Republicans as if they were Cadillac and Lincoln and how cool, intelligent and rich we are is evident by the party listed on our registration card.

Are we Democrats because we believe in the Democrat's solutions or because all our friends are Democrats? Are we Republicans because we believe in the Republican's solutions or because our parents were Republicans? More importantly, do we profess to believe in whatever talking points the party has put up on their website because we simply don't have the time or interest or thoughtfulness to have our own ideas. Have we become so enamored with our own thoughts and so distrustful of our own thinking that we cannot tolerate listening to anything that doesn't already agree with us?

I hope we have not. I hope that the two of us are not alone in thinking that there is a time, place and necessity to say what we think and not what the party brand requires, the voters desire and the world will little care about in a couple years. The government is more than 545 people and the solutions to all of our problems throughout the history of this country have involved sacrifice and something more than simple self interest.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Politics Isn't A Party

John Adams didn't care for political parties. He thought they were bad for democracy. I tend to agree. My biggest concern with the modern incarnation of political parties being that they replace individual thoughtfulness. Too often I'm arguing my point against a person reciting what they've heard on talk radio. I'm arguing with the party line not a person. Simply put, that's not much fun. I can read the platform for that.

Anyway, my hopes for this little adventure is to get a friend of mine to take the bait and contribute his thoughts here along side my own. We agree on any number of things, but we disagree too and that is the point. Four years ago, we thought the men running for president needed to actually talk about things and we wrote one scathing bit of political hay before we realized that we didn't agree quite enough to make it a joint venture. This time around, we talked about doing the same thing and I still thought we'd never be able to agree enough to make it work.

Then I thought of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (it helps when Adams seems to be just about everywhere these days). From 1812 to 1826, Jefferson and Adams wrote 158 letters to each other after years of virtually no communication. The long silence resulted from some strenous political disagreements and just a bit of personal effrontery. In the end, though, it was all put aside and the two men went about explaining themselves to each other and to prosperity.

In real life, outside the political arena, that is what we do. We talk things through. We disagree. We argue. We walk away thinking the other is possibly just a bit nuts, but we seldom come to blows over it. We just want to be heard and if our listeners are too foolish to see the light of our wisdom that is their loss and not our own. There couldn't be anything more American than that.

Here is to another go at it. I'm no Jefferson and my friend is no Adams, but we can dream...

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