States Visited

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My vote...a follow up.

Not that I need someone with a PhD to validate my analysis, but apparently I won't be the only person not voting...

Good read.

McMussolini or ObaMarx?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Playing in the blogosphere

Friday, October 24, 2008

I was playing on the blogs this morning and I came across Scott Adams' blog - he's the creator of the Dilbert comic.

Here is his entire latest post -

I plan to start hoarding supplies soon. There should be some big riots after the election. Here's a sequence of events and conditions that would lead to rioting. Do you see anything on the list that isn't likely?

The economy stays bad for a another month

Obama has a clear lead in the polls before election dayMcCain wins anyway. While the real reason for the polling discrepancy will be racism, there will be a widespread belief that the election was rigged. And there will be plenty of real and imagined evidence that it was.

Riots will break out, partly out of genuine anger, partly to get that new flat screen TV.

We know the country can get past one suspicious Presidential election, because it did exactly that with Gore versus Bush. But two in a row would turn even normal citizens into conspiracy theorists. Given the anxiety over the economy, concerns about abortion rights, and the continuing wars, you have a perfect storm for revolution.

Interestingly, the only person who could stop the riots would be Obama himself.

Other than how stupid the Obama campaign would look for having spent several million dollars renting a HUGE facility for their victory party, I really haven't given any thought to how the country might react to a McCain win. Now that I think about is scary. Especially when a McCain win would, in all likelihood, mean that Obama wins big in the popular vote but lost the electoral vote. I have visions of the Rodney King riots bouncing through my head, except all over the country and not just in L.A.

I think this is unlikely because there are just too many electoral votes leaning towards Obama right now...but, unlike an opinion poll, you don't have to answer to anyone once you step in the voting booth.

I wish I had written this...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I came across this on a blog that I read on a regular basis -
Every advocate of central planning always - always - envisions himself as the central planner.

Man, is that right on the money.

Gotta give the man credit -

I've come to a decision...

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Last night, as I was burning some calories on the elliptical machine, I was thinking about which candidate would get my vote in November.

I have read speeches, I have read debate transcripts, I have seen commercials and listened to interviews and one thing is so painfully obvious it borders on absurd - there is no way in hell either of these candidates should even be considered for the office and the fact that these are our choices makes it clear that the entire American political system has failed.

Saddam Hussein was 'elected' by 100% of the votes in several Iraqi elections during his tenure. We all laughed at the notion that his 'election' was anything other than staged. What kind of election is it when there is only one man on the ticket? Well, what kind of election is it when we have two chose between two morons from the same political aristocracy? Is that really an election? An election should be a chance to choose between two or more alternatives but we have gotten to the point where there is so little difference between them, despite all of their bloviating to the contrary, that their really isn't much of a choice. To offer a simple analogy - After dinner you can choose to have ice cream or pie for dessert. Both choices are obviously 'sweets' but they are very different kinds of 'sweets'. We no longer have this kind of choice available - in this election we have vanilla ice cream and chocolate ice cream, but they are both still ice cream. Henry Ford once said that a person can have any color car he wants as long as its black. In America, we can vote for the candidate of our choice - but he or she must be part of the political class.

I voted for George W. Bush over Al Gore and John Kerry, not because I thought George was a great statesman, but because he was better than the alternative - and boy was I correct in both of those assumptions. But, I can't do it any more. I can't cast my vote for the lesser of two idiots because all you get is an idiot. I can already hear the arguments: 'don't complain if you don't vote' and 'if you don't for for X then Y will win' and 'our right to vote is a big part of what makes America great,' etc. I've said them all myself. And I was wrong.

An Iraqi that stepped into the voting booth and cast a ballot for Saddam Hussein was not voting to give himself the right to complain because he had no real choice. His vote did nothing but give legitimacy to a corrupt system. We have no real choice and I am no longer going to cast my vote to give legitimacy to this corrupt system. My vote, and all the lives that were lost to protect that right, is too important to me to waste on either of these numskulls.

I'm looking for recommendations

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

I am putting together two lists of books, fiction and non-fiction, that really should be "required reading." My brother and I have discussed this at length and I have two pretty good lists going but it seems like I am always coming across something that I think I should add that I can't believe isn't already on the list. Any suggestions?

For entertainment purposes only!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

At the risk of rendering myself completely irrelevant in terms of a serious discussion, a thought occurred to me this morning. It began when I saw the name of the new department created by the bailout bill - the Office of Financial Stability. The name is so absurd and so ridiculously Orwellian that I actually double checked to make sure someone wasn't just being facetious. Nope. That is what they named it. My mind just kept turning it over and over - how could they possibly choose a name that far removed from reality? Didn't they realize how much it had to sound like one of the "Ministries" from 1984? And then it occurred to me that it was NOT an accident. After all, who could possibly argue with a decision handed down by an office whose only job is to provide financial stability?

As I was pondering the underlying reasons why the government would use psychological tools against its own people - and that is precisely what is happening - it lead me down a rabbit trail of thoughts that made my skin crawl.

I've said repeatedly in my blog that either our politicians were woefully incompetent or corrupt to the core. I've also said repeatedly that I am convinced that there are no longer two separate political parties in this country, just two arms of the same party always bickering amongst themselves but always putting themselves ahead of the citizens.

As I was thinking about our new Office of Financial Stability and just how unlikely it is that the new finance czar will produce anything like financial stability (using the 'successes' of the drug czar at dealing with drug problems and the energy czar at fixing our energy problems as a guide) I was also thinking about how we got here in the first place. As I was trying to come to terms with those things I read an article about the Congressional questioning of Robert Fuld, the former CEO of Lehman Brothers. The first thing that caught my attention was the comment by Rep. John Mica (R-FL) when he made it clear just exactly why Fuld was in Washington, "In case you haven't discovered your role, you're the villain." I have no doubt Mr. Fuld bears some responsibility for the actions of his company but he is no more the villain than the members of the House doing the questioning. Something about that statement just doesn't sit right with me. Perhaps it is just too true - he was brought in to be the lamb of sacrifice so the House could wash their hands of their sins. Washington has clearly circled the wagons and started pointing fingers at everyone but themselves. Then, either during his questioning or afterward by a reporter, he was asked why the government didn't bailout Lehman Brothers when it stepped in to bail out so many others. He didn't know and said, "Until they put me in the ground I will wonder." Look, he is super-rich and I don't feel sorry for him, but it is a good question. Why was Lehman Brothers allowed to fail when others of comparable size were deemed 'too big to fail' and saved? Something about that doesn't make sense to me...I kept thinking.

Beginning in the early 1990s pretty much every office and department in the federal government has consistently and repeatedly made horrifically wrong economic decisions and compounded those wrong decisions with even more wrong "solutions." The number of people making horrible decisions is mind boggling. This pattern cuts across party lines and across multiple administrations and continues to this day. The House, the Senate, the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Deparment, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the administrations of Presidents George H. W. Bush, William J. Clinton, and George W. Bush, along with countless departments, committees, and offices. How can this many people consistently make that many bad decisions? These are supposed to be some of the best and brightest in the world. How did we get here? How is this possible? Is it all just the result of a 'perfect storm' of bad luck, bad decisions, bad investments, and bad timing? Or could this be exactly what some have had in mind all along?

That sounds preposterous, I know, but, forgive me for a moment of conspiracy theory. In a period of just a few months we have seen half of the home mortgage business nationalized, a huge chunk of our financial markets placed under direct federal control, and the institution of an office that will control the 'financial stability' of the country. In less than one year we have seen the federal government step in and take control of perhaps the last major capitalist system in the country (world?) under the guise of 'saving' us from a mess the government helped create. We already have an essentially nationalized passenger rail system, an airline industry taking giant leaps towards federal control, an auto industry that will be essentially under federal control in less than a year, a nationalized retirement system, a nationalized old-age medical insurance system, a nationalized emergency response system and it appears we are on our way to a complete national health system. And those are just the big ones I can think of off the top of my head. All of those things, and many more, are now under the direct control of a handful of people in Washington. It is ludicrous to think that a small group of people are pulling off the biggest conspiracy in the history of mankind, essentially taking over the entire United States right before our eyes, but is that any more ridiculous than having that many 'experts' make that many bad decisions over so many years?

The thought also occurred to me that this could be the first truly tangible stages of World War III. What? Our financial meltdown is rocking the entire financial world. Most of us live our lives without any real understanding of just how important the United States is to the rest of the world. The U.S. is probably the only country in the world capable of surviving a complete global financial meltdown. Again, this seems almost unimaginable, but could all of those bad decisions have been a deliberate manipulation of the markets to trigger a global collapse that would cement our status as the world's only superpower? Not a hot war or even a cold war but a silent war waged with financial paper rather than bullets and rhetoric? For all of the talk about changes and freedom, it was our seemingly limitless defense spending that led directly to the fall of the Soviet Union, so there is precedence for our using economics as a weapon.

It is not like I am breaking any new ground here. I have, off and on over the years, read lots of things online that pointed to some sort of behind the scenes, shadow government that was made up of the ones really pulling the levers. If you want to get really, really deep into it just run a few google searches on the Bilderburgs, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Skull and Bones Society and the Trilateral Commission. Weird stuff.

I have always written it off as nothing more than conspiracy theory nut-balls, lumping it in with the stories about aliens at Area 51 and other X-files type stories. For entertainment purposes only. And, for the most part, I still do. Perhaps in a few years, possibly decades, I will find it incredibly amusing that the level of incompetence in Washington rose so high that it actually made one of those ridiculous theories seem plausible. In the end I think it was, and is, nothing more than a 'perfect storm' of inadequate, career politicians doing everything than can to make sure they get re-elected and doing it all on the backs of willing taxpayers who are more than happy to trade freedom for a free ride. Term limits, anyone?

Welcome to the new world, comrades!

Random thoughts

Monday, October 06, 2008

A sure sign that the world might be coming to an end - Vanderbilt is in the Top 25 and Florida State, Miami, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Michigan are not.

Another sign that the apocalypse is upon us - arguably the best writer on Conservative American politics is an openly gay Roman Catholic that isn't even a citizen of this country.

If human zygotes were being threatened by the building of a power plant or a refinery liberals would be screaming from the mountain tops and filing hundreds of lawsuits to protect it. It is only a 'lump of cells' when it is inconvenient to think of it any other way. Either that or the lawsuit to protect the red-tipped swamp darter has something other than protecting the environment at its heart.

Alabama is ranked 2 and shouldn't be any higher than 8th.

John McCain cannot win the debate on the economy when he, nor his advisors, can explain how a problem caused by government intervention can only be solved by more intervention. Go read this if you want to hear it from someone other than me -

People in Birmingham often ask me about living in the north. I explain that I am technically still in the south because I am below the Mason-Dixon line. I tell my friends in Baltimore that no one in the "south" thinks of Maryland as being in the south. I now have absolute proof. The last two minutes of the Alabama - Kentucky game were interrupted to show a tribute to Michael Phelps. Nothing short of a national emergency - something along the lines of 9/11 - would cause a station in the 'real' south to interrupt a close football game with two minutes left.

There is now another video of children offering 'praise' to Obama. Only this time they are chanting and wearing military fatigues. Hitler Youth anyone? This stuff scares the crap out of me.

Two things are becoming painfully clear - (1) Sarah Palin, while beautiful and approachable, so far seems to be in WAY over her head and (2) McCain and his advisors couldn't possibly have spent much time vetting her for the job. Maybe she could grow into the position, but, right now, it scares the hell out of me to think she would be one heartbeat away from the Oval Office.

As unqualified as I think Palin is to be President and as much as it scares me to consider it, I would rather have her than Obama...I think.

Even playing fantasy football can't get me interested in the NFL.

"Debate" analysis

Friday, October 03, 2008
"Debate" analysis
I use the term "debate" lightly - unless you consider two people ignoring the moderator's questions, saying whatever comes to mind, and generally spouting nonsense a debate. Seriously, why do they need a moderator? Just have lights that come on when it is your turn to talk and go off when you have to stop.

I watched about ten minutes and switched over to ESPN to watch football. It was horrible. Even my curiousity about how Palin would peform wasn't enough to make me sit through that. I don't know when or how this started - probably when they started being televised - but none of these "debates" are debates. It is just a series of one-or-two-line, short answer, blips in which each person tries to come off as witty or tries to catch the other in a 'gotcha' moment.

What is really sad is that if one of the candidates actually engaged in real, philosophical answers (if that is even possible when you only have 60 seconds to answer) he or she would get destroyed in public opinion polls. People don't want to hear that, they want to hear which candidate is going to offer the biggest carrot and the smallest stick. I think part of the problem is the questions of the moderator. The moderators are trying to ask the questions that 'the people' would ask. I understand where they are coming from but that opens the door for all of the garbage (most of which is highly confusing) from the candidates.

I'll give you a quick example. Last night one of the first questions asked was, "...the next question is to talk about the subprime lending meltdown. Who do you think was at fault?"That is a stupid question for a debate in that format. There is no way to give a legitimate answer to that question in 60 seconds. It would be tough to give a really good answer in 60 minutes! You do not ask that kind of question in that kind of format if you want real answers.

The Presidential debate is set for next Tuesday. Ohhh, I'm so excited to watch THAT. Uh, thanks, but no thanks. I would rather watch static. WAIT, I have an idea. Comedy Central should broadcast the debate in split screen with Obama and McCain on one side and Statler and Waldorf (the two old guys in the balcony from the Muppets) giving running commentary on the other. I would PAY to watch that!

Go read this. Now.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

It is a message from the future.

I have a question...

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I'm sure some of you may have seen the video of the children singing a 'praise' song about Obama. If not, you probably can't find it anymore. My understanding is that it has been on the campaign website since August and on youtube and other places, but once it started getting huge numbers of hits - and so many people found it...disturbing - it has been taken down almost everywhere. I really had to dig but finally found a copy of it here -

I am going to put the lyrics to the song at the bottom of this blog.

Here is my question: Why is this so disturbing to me? Normally a children's choir singing songs would make me smile, but listening to a group of children sing praises to Barack Obama made my blood run cold. At first I thought it might just be because it is about Obama, but I don't think so. I'm pretty sure I would have the same reaction to a song like that about any politcian. Immediately I had visions of the Hitler Youth singing about the glories of Nazism under Adolf Hitler or the children of China singing praises to Mao Zedong. However, I will admit that knowing that Obama, like those two, has called for compulsory community service by children and adults in return for government benefits and that he is full of other Marxist leanings probably made my reaction stronger than it otherwise would have been.

Am I overreacting? Maybe there is a precedence for this in this country but I can't think of one. I just kept thinking, "What kind of a politician has a video of children singing about him?" When I watched it a second time something else caught my attention - the parents (I'm assuming) and other adults in the audience. If you have ever seen the face of someone in church having a true spiritual moment then you know how these people looked. There is something deeply unsettling about seeing people have those looks while watching children sing about a politician or really any man for that matter. Especially a song with these lyrics -

We're gonna spread happiness
We're gonna spread freedom
Obama's gonna change it
Obama's gonna lead 'em

We're gonna change it
And rearrange it
We're gonna change the world.

Now's the moment, lift each voice to sing
Sing with all your heart!
For our children, for our families,
Nations all joined as one.
Sing for joy and sing abundant peace,
Courage, justice, hope!
Sing together, hold each precious hand,
Lifting each other up;
Sing for vision, sing for unity,
Lifting our hearts to Sing!
Yes we can
Lift each other up
In peace, in love, in hope
Change! Change!

Maybe I am just overracting...?

Somewhere Karl Marx is laughing his beard off...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I have written fairly extensively about the Marxist leanings of a certain Presidential candidate and I have also written about the march to the left of our government as a whole. Well, I'm not the only one that's noticed. I see no point in writing the things I've been thinking when someone has done it for me -


Thursday, September 25, 2008

I only have a few minutes but I just had to throw out a quick comment on Bush's speech last night. Again, I didn't watch it, but I read the text.

I am not going to rehash what got us here or the merits and demerits of the proposals being tossed about. I will however point out something he said that indicates to me that the entire Washington establishment is either woefully ignorant or playing some kind of power game.

"...these are not normal circumstances. The market is not functioning properly."

The market is doing exactly what the market should be doing - punishing bad decisions and risky investments that fail. The market IS functioning properly. The problem is that no one likes the results. But sooner or later you have to reap what you sow. And we've been sowing this debt-fueled, super-leveraged economy for years. I've been blogging about this for...well, as long as I've been blogging.

There is no doubt that without a bailout of some sort we are going to see an unprecedented economic collapse. A whole generation of Americans are going to get a first-hand look at how bad things got during the Great Depression. You may recall that it took the Second World War to pull us out of that depression.

On the other hand, if the bailout put in place contains provisions along the lines of the original proposal - essentially creating a financial emperor that can do whatever he wants (check out this week's Newsweek cover if you don't believe me) - then we will quickly no longer be the United States of America anyway. We will have avoided economic collapse but it will have cost us the very things that make us America.

Remember these times and the decisions that were made. I think it is safe to say that, regardless of what Washington does or does not do in the next few weeks (days?) the impact is going to be felt for years, possibly decades. We are living in an historic time.

Shocked (scared?) beyond words...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I just finished a quick read of a proposed bill for the government bailout and I can't believe it. I can't. I read the words heart stuck in my throat. Here is a link so you will know I'm not just making it up:

If you scroll down you will find the following:

Sec. 8. Review.
Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

I want you to read that sentence again. Non-reviewable? By any court of law or administrative agency? This bill would give Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson powers that cannot be revoked by the Supreme Court, the House, or the Senate - essentially unlimited, unchecked, unreviewed power. I wonder if we will have to call him King Paulson? So much for the Constitutional separation of powers and checks and balances.

Oh, I'm sorry. Section 9 says its only for two years then he will give up all of that power and we will get back to normal. Whew. That was a close one. I mean, everyone knows dictators give up their powers peacefully all the time.

And if that doesn't scare you enough, go here:

Continued brilliance!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Thank God we have so many smart people in Washington to save the day!

It appears that two of the primary figures in the trillion dollar bail-out of the government sparked credit crisis are going to be a former CEO of one of the companies involved in the bad loans (who was at the helm while they were being made) and a guy who all along insisted there was nothing wrong at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. (Sigh)

If I wasn't absolutely scared to death that I am watching the fall of the United States this would be the funniest thing I have ever seen.

"My philosophy, like color television, is all there in black and white."

28th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

Friday, September 19, 2008

Let me see if I've got this straight:

The federal government, in its infinite wisdom, stepped in and monkeyed with the supply/demand dynamics in the home mortgage markets.

This tinkering, all done with good intentions, sparked a massive profit-fueled home buying bubble.

Billions up billions of dollars became available for home loans to anyone that could "fog-a-mirror." Companies made loans they should not have made and people took out loans they could not afford.

Much to the surprise of no one, prices went up. And up. And up. And up. And up. In fact, they went up so much, people stopped buying so many. At the same time the lenders were seeing big jumps in foreclosures on some of these loans so interest rates crept up and lending requirements stiffened. Buying slowed dramatically.

Economics lesson – when supply exceeds demand, prices fall.

Home prices are falling all over the place. This, in turn, has led to even more foreclosures as more and more people have home loans they cannot pay and that far exceed the value of the home and their payments, which are tied to an interest rate, increase. This further increases downward pressure on home prices. The loan companies that made bad loans and the people that took out loans they could not afford are paying for their bad decisions - the lenders with huge losses and bankruptcies and falling stock prices; the buyers with home foreclosures and ruined credit. The 'market' is doing exactly what is should do – 'punish' people for bad decisions.

But wait – the federal government, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that something must be done. Their solution – monkey with the supply/demand dynamics again! It appears that Congress, with the help of the Federal Reserve, is going to step in and, somehow, let the lenders unload all of those bad loans and avoid being punished for their bad decisions. I would wager a substantial amount of money that a similar program is already in the works to do the same for the people that took out loans they could not afford. I just read a brief summary of what is known so far – the first cost estimate: $1 trillion dollars.

So, if that figure holds, we can add that $1 trillion to the $5 trillion for bailing out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac coming to about $6 trillion (in less that three months) to add to our already $9 trillion in debt for a total of about $15 trillion dollars. I am certainly not an expert on international finance, but I know two things for certain: 1) this country is already in debt up to its eyeballs and doesn't have $15 trillion in cash sitting in a vault somewhere and 2) we will have to issue bonds to raise that money and foreign governments have been gobbling them up.

We are in the midst of the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind. The United States is sending billions and billions of U.S. dollars to China, Japan, and the Mid-East as we buy cheap products, oil, cheap labor, etc. And they are loaning OUR money back to us at interest.

I do not have many answers but I do know that, just like the borrowing frenzy that sparked the housing bubble and subsequent crash, this is an imbalance that cannot exist in perpetuity. Sooner or later the U.S. government borrowing bubble is going to burst.

As an aside, I wonder if Obama is still out campaigning on tax cuts for 95% of working families? If he is, I want some of what he's smoking. It's probably the same stuff that Larry Langford and his Olympic Committee have been smoking for the last few months.

At this point all I can see to do is just go ahead and amend the Constitution to get rid of even pretending that we are what we were. So, here is my proposal:

Amendment 28 to The Constitution of the United States:
Henceforth, it shall be the duty of Congress to enact such laws as deemed necessary to ensure that all persons and respective businesses are not held accountable for their decisions should those decisions produce results inconvenient to the decision makers.

And, with that, I am off to Rehoboth Beach to sit in the sun, enjoy a cocktail or five, catch up on some reading, watch college football and have some good times with great people and try not to think about the disaster unfolding all around us.

Happy Anniversary!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I hate feeling so pessimistic; ignorance is bliss, I suppose. I'm sure some of you have been hearing about it but the federal government has agreed to bail-out AIG in return for about 80% of its stock. I understand why they did it and I'm not sure I could offer a better alternative, but, in less than two months, we have the federal government taking a controlling interest in half of the home mortgages in the country and now the largest insurer in the country. In other words - nationalization.

It doesn't take a PhD in history to know what happens to countries that have governments ignoring its own laws to do things that are for the 'common good.' If you don't know, then I...I really don't know what to tell you. Go read. A lot.

The anniversary?

September 17, 1787 was the day the Constitution of the United States was completed and presented to the Constitutional Convention. It took about a year and a half from its completion for it to be ratified and become the law of the land. I wonder if 18 months from now we will all be realizing that the U.S. Constitution, as we knew it, died 221 years to the day after it was born?

Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is the group of accountants that has to try to make sense of the mess in Washington. They are about as non-partisan as a group in Washington can be. The have put a price tag on the government bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Are you sitting down? $5.4 TRILLION dollars. Yeah, on top of the $10 trillion we already owe.

The following information is from this article:

"Peter Orszag, CBO director, said: 'It is the CBO view that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be directly incorporated into the federal budget.'"

Okay, the numbers are enormous and the taxpayers are going to have to pick up the tab. So, what else does it mean. It means the United States, forever the most stable, solid, consistent, financially stable government in the world, just got demoted.

"The price of credit default swaps on five-year US government debt hit a record 18 basis points in early trading, according to CMA Datavision. This means that it costs $18,000 a year to buy insurance on $10m of US government debt."

I know most of you are saying, "What?"

"Tim Backshall, chief strategist at Credit Derivatives Research, said the price implied that the US was more likely to default on its obligations than Japan, Germany, France, Quebec, the Netherlands and several Scandinavian countries. Traders said the CDS market for US debt was illiquid and it was hard to see evidence of increased concern over US creditworthiness in broader market prices." (Emphasis mine)


Friday, September 05, 2008

And, finally, we are to the end and John McCain.

Like his choice of running mate, he changed up the order a little on the Standard Operating Procedure, but it was still there. He did, however, say something that I have not heard a candidate or President or pretty much anyone in Washington say for a very, very long time:

"We're dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal and endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights. No country ever had a greater cause than that."

I have no idea what he is going to say next, but it sure is nice to hear a politician at least acknowledge it. This is the promise of American – nothing more, nothing less.

"All you ever asked of government is to stand on your side, not in your way. And that's just what I intend to do: stand on your side and fight for your future."

Well, he is off to a good start. He, unlike Obama, seems to at least grasp the real promise of America.

"She's (Palin) tackled tough problems like energy independence and corruption. She's balanced a budget, cut taxes and taken on the special interests. She's reached across the aisle and asked Republicans, Democrats and independents to serve in her administration. She's the mother of five children. She's helped run a small business, worked with her hands and knows what it's like to worry about mortgage payments and health care and the cost of gasoline and groceries."

As I mentioned in my remarks on her speech, he record on cutting taxes and balancing the budget aren't quite a rosy as presented here. She may have cut taxes on individuals and other businesses, but she roasted the oil companies and basically instituted a wealth transfer from the oil companies to the people. However, she would bring a huge unknown to Washington – a "real" person that has actually lived a true middle class lifestyle.

"I don't work for a party. I don't work for a special interest. I don't work for myself. I work for you."

Okay, he's still talking the talk, saying the right things…

Oh, boy, now he's throwing out names of citizens showing how much he cares. If this wasn't the millionth time I've heard a politician do this it would carry more weight.

"I fight to restore the pride and principles of our party. We were elected to change Washington, and we let Washington change us. We lost the trust of the American people when some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption. We lost their trust when rather than reform government, both parties made it bigger. We lost their trust when instead of freeing ourselves from a dangerous dependence on foreign oil, both parties and Sen. Obama passed another corporate welfare bill for oil companies. We lost their trust when we valued our power over our principles. We're going to change that. We're going to recover the people's trust by standing up again for the values Americans admire. The party of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan is going to get back to basics."

He is still talking the talk. All of these things are true and deserve to be said, but we've heard it all before. That last part about Roosevelt scares me a little, though. Roosevelt was one of the very first to start throwing around Progressive ideas.

"We believe in low taxes, spending discipline and open markets. We believe in rewarding hard work and risk takers and letting people keep the fruits of their labor. We believe in a strong defense, work, faith, service, a culture of life, personal responsibility, the rule of law and judges who dispense justice impartially and don't legislate from the bench. We believe in the values of families, neighborhoods and communities. We believe in a government that unleashes the creativity and initiative of Americans. Government that doesn't make your choices for you, but works to make sure you have more choices to make for yourself."

Well, there it is – the message of Barry Goldwater and the message of George Bush. Goldwater never had the chance to show what he could do as President. Bush did and he, with the help of a Republican House and Republican Senate, screwed the pooch. I want to believe it. I want to believe he believes it and will fight to make it happen, but history says he won't. It isn't all his fault. The entire party is to blame. I'm still not comfortable with the words "make sure you have more choices." How is the federal government going to do that? If it is by cutting taxes and getting out of the way, perfect. If it is by trying to deliberately do things to the economy, it is just Barack Obama all over again.

"My health care plan will make it easier for more Americans to find and keep good health care insurance."

BOOM! That was the sound of his promises starting to crack. Government in the health care business scares the bejeepers out of me. I really don't know exactly what his plan includes, so I'm not going to completely write him off, but I do know it doesn't contain the word 'universal' and that is a very small step in the right direction. My guess is that it will be some sort of hybrid plan that allows for private ownership with public funding. Grrrrr…that's not much better. Incremental socialism.

"Keeping taxes low helps small businesses grow and create new jobs. Cutting the second-highest business tax rate in the world will help American companies compete and keep jobs from moving overseas. Doubling the child tax exemption from $3,500 to $7,000 will improve the lives of millions of American families. Reducing government spending and getting rid of failed programs will let you keep more of your own money to save, spend and invest as you see fit. Opening new markets and preparing workers to compete in the world economy is essential to our future prosperity."

Oh, Senator McCain, you were soooo close. You almost had it. Everything was just peachy until the last sentence – "Opening new markets and preparing workers to compete in the world economy…" I will give him a bit of a pass on "opening new markets" because he doesn't say what that means and it could mean signing trade agreement treaties (which is good), but it could also mean directly subsidizing businesses (which is bad). But, I can't let that last phrase go without a few words. It is absolutely NOT the job of the federal government to be training people for jobs. That is absurd and it is a vote buying scheme.

"We will use our community colleges to help train people for new opportunities in their communities. For workers in industries that have been hard hit, we'll help make up part of the difference in wages between their old job and a temporary, lower paid one while they receive retraining that will help them find secure new employment at a decent wage."

Here is more of that crap. So some bureaucrat in Washington is going to monitor wages paid at certain jobs, monitor what someone is now getting paid and stroke a check to cover the difference? This is not a job for the federal government and there is no way to effectively manage this from Washington, either financially or productively speaking.

"Education is the civil rights issue of this century. Equal access to public education has been gained. But what is the value of access to a failing school? We need to shake up failed school bureaucracies with competition, empower parents with choice, remove barriers to qualified instructors, attract and reward good teachers, and help bad teachers find another line of work… I want schools to answer to parents and students. And when I'm president, they will."

I understand where he is coming from here but I couldn't disagree more with that first sentence. Education is not a civil rights issue because you do not have a right to an education. You cannot have a right to something that must be provided by someone else and still live in a free society. We may, as citizens, decide that public education should be a priority and is worthy of our tax dollars, but it is not a right. I completely agree with his assessment that schools should be subject to competition and parents should have a choice, but none of these are things that should be within the realm of the federal government. In the first place, this is not a job for the federal government. In all of the debates about the form and duties of our government that were had by the Founding Fathers, to my knowledge, education was not mentioned once. Second, why do we need an additional layer of bureaucracy, an additional layer of 'professionals', an additional layer of payroll and insurances and benefits on top of all of those that already exist in every state, county, parish and city in the country?

"My fellow Americans, when I'm president, we're going to embark on the most ambitious national project in decades. We are going to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don't like us very much. We will attack the problem on every front. We will produce more energy at home. We will drill new wells offshore, and we'll drill them now. We will build more nuclear power plants. We will develop clean coal technology. We will increase the use of wind, tide, solar and natural gas. We will encourage the development and use of flex fuel, hybrid and electric automobiles."

Here we go with the government going into business. There is a role for the federal government here but it isn't what he or Obama believe it to be. The full explanation of how it would work is well beyond what I want to get into here, but it is all a matter of supply and demand. If we quit importing so much oil from OPEC, and know those reductions are coming well ahead of time, the government won't have to do anything, our companies and economy will do it, in spades.

"My grandfather came home from that same war exhausted from the burdens he had borne, and died the next day. In Vietnam, where I formed the closest friendships of my life, some of those friends never came home with me. I hate war. It is terrible beyond imagination."

I cannot even begin to imagine what this man suffered in Vietnam. Can anyone? He personally experience things that make our scandals at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo look like a fifth grade field trip. He was tortured and held in confinement as long as I was in college. It has been decades since a President has had the kind of service he gave in the military. I would wager that no President has ever given so much of his own blood for his country. Perhaps I am naïve, but I trust this man when it comes to the military and politically Senator Obama would be a fool to get too deep into military matters with him – I don't care where he finished in his class at the Naval Academy.

"We need to change the way government does almost everything: from the way we protect our security to the way we compete in the world economy; from the way we respond to disasters to the way we fuel our transportation network; from the way we train our workers to the way we educate our children. All these functions of government were designed before the rise of the global economy, the information technology revolution and the end of the Cold War. We have to catch up to history, and we have to change the way we do business in Washington."

Man, is he ever right about all of these things, but he couldn't be more wrong if he thinks Washington should be the place providing the answers. He doesn't really say how he wants to address these problems. He is still saying the right things…but will he do it when in power? History says not a chance.

"A lot of prisoners had it worse than I did. I'd been mistreated before, but not as badly as others. I always liked to strut a little after I'd been roughed up to show the other guys I was tough enough to take it. But after I turned down their offer, they worked me over harder than they ever had before. For a long time. And they broke me. When they brought me back to my cell, I was hurt and ashamed, and I didn't know how I could face my fellow prisoners. The good man in the cell next door, my friend, Bob Craner, saved me. Through taps on a wall he told me I had fought as hard as I could. No man can always stand alone. And then he told me to get back up and fight again for our country and for the men I had the honor to serve with. Because every day they fought for me. I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's. I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency; for its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again. I wasn't my own man anymore. I was my country's."

Maybe his is using his time as a prisoner of war for political gains. Maybe he is tugging on our heartstrings and filling us full of what we want to hear. Perhaps I am cynical enough to believe any person seeking that office has an ego so big that he or she would do it in a heartbeat. But, I cannot attack what he said. As the son and step-son of men who served in Vietnam and have personally shared their stories with me, as a student of history that is aware of the absolute, unimaginable horrors that so many of our soldiers have faced over the years, as the beneficiary of the freedoms guaranteed by the sacrifices of so many, I will not question the words of the man on that subject. I will argue his politics, I will disagree with positions he takes and decisions he makes, but there are certain things I will not question because, thanks to him and millions like him, I've never been asked to do it. Thank you for your service, Senator.

"If you find faults with our country, make it a better one. If you're disappointed with the mistakes of government, join its ranks and work to correct them. Enlist in our armed forces. Become a teacher. Enter the ministry. Run for public office. Feed a hungry child. Teach an illiterate adult to read. Comfort the afflicted. Defend the rights of the oppressed. Our country will be the better, and you will be the happier. Because nothing brings greater happiness in life than to serve a cause greater than yourself."

In the end, he actually said a lot less about policy than Barack Obama, so I have a lot less to write about. I want to believe him. I've gone back and read what I wrote and, even though I should know better, I am drawn to it. I am drawn to the politician that seems to understand what this country was supposed to be rather than the one that has some vision of a world as it should be that looks nothing like the America our Founding Fathers created. I do not agree with all of his positions, not in the least. He still sees government involvement in far too many places in which it should not be involved, but he said the right things so far, as limited as they were. We've been here before. George Bush said the right things. The Republican congress and Senate said the right things. But they did something else. And I really see no reason to assume, at this point that a McCain administration would be any different.

What a choice we have to make!

Hockey moms, pitbulls, and lipstick?

Friday, September 5, 2008

I am trying to catch up from the long weekend and the RNC getting all out of order due to hurricane Gustav, so forgive me if I'm running behind.

So, what did Sarah Palin have to say?

Well, she started off with a small twist, she put the Standard Operating Procedures in a different order…(sigh)

I will get back to this later, but she does bring something to the table that no one has brought to Washington in a very, very long time – she has actually been just a normal, everyday citizen for most of her life. I am trying to figure out who would be the last person to come to Washington that could say that. She mentioned Harry Truman, but that is misleading (she's apparently learning quickly), he was in the Senate before becoming President. I really can't think of anyone at least as far back as Roosevelt that wasn't a career politician. I could be missing someone, though.

And she brings something else that is, as far as I know, entirely new to the table –

"And as the mother of one of those troops, that is exactly the kind of man I want as commander-in-chief."

I can't help but think it will be difficult to attack her in debates on the war in Iraq when she can respond that she believes in the cause enough to continue the fight with her own son in harm's way. Agree or disagree with her politics but a woman willing to send her first born son into a war is a true believer in it being justified.

Okay, once we get through all the usual trappings, we finally get to something solid.

"Americans expect us to go to Washington for the right reason and not just to mingle with the right people. Politics isn't just a game of clashing parties and competing interest. The right reason is to challenge the status quo, to serve the common good, and to leave this nation better than we found it."

She gets off to a really good start but finishes with a whimper – it's that "common ground" nonsense again. That line of thinking is so pervasive that it has crept into the vernacular of the Republican party. It comes across as a watered down version, but it is still there. We have gone from a left and a right, Conservatives and Liberals, to left and more left, Liberals and Socialists. Regardless of what may become of Iraq, Al Qaeda, etc., George Bush's legacy will be the ushering in of the complete abandonment of the principles of the modern Republican party.

"Our state budget is under control. We have a surplus."

Well, yeah. In an August 10th article in the Seattle Times (released two weeks before McCain named Palin as his running mate) they point out that, "Over the opposition of oil companies, Republican Gov. Sarah Palin and Alaska's Legislature last year approved a major increase in taxes on the oil industry – a step that has generated stunning new wealth for the state as oil prices soared… That helped push the state's total oil revenue – from new and existing taxes, as well as royalties – to more than $10 billion, double the amount received last year… Palin's administration last week gained legislative approval for a special $1,200 payment to every Alaskan to help cope with gas prices… that check will come on top of the annual dividend of about $2,000 that each resident could receive this year from an oil-wealth savings account."

Raising taxes on oil companies and giving the money to the people – a windfall tax on oil profits - that doesn't sound like a Conservative to me. That is the policy of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Alaska is flush to the gills with oil revenues…but at least she admits it:

"When oil and gas prices when up dramatically and filled up the state treasury, I sent a large share of that revenue back where it belonged: directly to the people of Alaska."

At least Obama has the decency to tell you he is going to enact a massive income redistribution scheme. He uses pretty language and makes it sound wonderful, but at least he admits it. This is the Republicans at their best. Preach a great game, say all the right things, but legislate like Democrats when they can get away with it – especially if it will buy votes. Pay special attention to the last few words of that sentence, "back where it belonged: directly to the people of Alaska." So, in her mind, the profits of the oil companies really belong to the people of Alaska – that is the exact same socialist/communist logic of Barack Obama, yet, I am certain it was met with thunderous applause at the RNC! They deliver speech after speech about smaller, less intrusive government, lower taxes, free market economics, yet, as soon as they have the power to do so, they do the exact opposite.

"Our opponents say again and again that drilling will not solve all of America's energy problems, as if we didn't know that already. But the fact that drilling won't solve very problem is no excuse to do nothing at all. Staring in January, in a McCain-Palin administration, we're going to lay more pipelines, and build more nuclear plants, and create jobs with clean coal, and move forward on solar, wind, geothermal, and other alternative sources."

Here we go with adding jobs and duties to the federal government – even as they slam Obama for how his plan increases the size and scope of government. The rest is just a cheap one-off against Obama. You can disagree with his plans, but he does have some ideas as to he wants to do about energy and natural resources and they do not include doing "nothing at all."

And that was really about it. In the end she did what the vice president is really supposed to do at a convention – be a cheerleader for the presidential candidate. In total, I have to say that she really didn't say that much. She tossed out some pretty good zingers on Obama, the same kind of one-off sound bites that Biden threw at McCain. I broke them out here because they are, to me, the best one line attacks of either convention – direct punches to the face:

"But listening to him speak, it's easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform - not even in the state senate."

"In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers. And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change. They're the ones whose names appear on laws and landmark reforms, not just on buttons and banners, or on self-designed presidential seals."

"My fellow citizens, the American presidency is not supposed to be a journey of 'personal discovery.' This world of threats and dangers is not just a community, and it doesn't just need an organizer."

Along with being a cheerleader, part of the job as Vice President, regardless of the party, is to be the attack dog – a pitbull, with or without the lipstick.

The Grand Finale!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

We ended up in the car driving back from Pennsylvania as Barack Obama was giving his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. The man is a very good least when he has a teleprompter. Listening to him speak of change and the promise of America it was easy to get caught up in the moment, to get drawn into the words and to find yourself nodding in agreement. Reagan had this gift - to use the power of delivery to convert people to his position even when they continued to disagree. I printed the text of the speech to read on the flight to Birmingham Friday night, alone in my thoughts and away from the power of his delivery. As one would expect from a great orator with weeks to prepare and refine a speech containing many controversial things, it is tough to really break it down from what it sounds like he says into what he really says.

The speech began as they most always do, with a nod to his family and his upbringing. Standard Operating Procedure. But it quickly gets interesting. I am going to tackle his speech in the order his gave it.

"It is that promise that has always set this country apart - that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams as well."

Wow, who can argue with that? I can because it is a very subtle distortion of the promise of America. He's right, the promise of America has always been that this is a country in which each person can pursue his or her individual dreams, but it is more than a stretch to add the qualifier "come together as one." When it comes to the role of the federal government, America comes together as one only on rare occasions and under certain circumstances. We are not some collective consciousness that works as a whole for the betterment of our comrades. We are a nation of individuals, following our own dreams until a threat or a need arises that forces us to put aside our own lives and come together as one, but this is only temporary. These events are so rare that they are easy to remember – September 11th, the Tsunami disaster, hurricane Katrina, to name a few. Obama's vision of a constant unity that exists above and beyond our individual lives is not part of the promise of America; it is a redefining of that promise through the prism of early twentieth century progressivism. If it were just this one mixed message I would write it off as nothing more than lazy language or a simplification of a complex thought, but, as we have already heard this theme in previous speeches and will again in this speech, I must conclude that this was not an accident.

"Tonight, more Americans are out of work... More of you have lost your homes and even more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can't afford to drive, credit card bills you can't afford to pay, and tuition that's beyond your reach. These challenges are not all of government's making. But the failure to respond is a direct result of broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush."

There is a lot here, but we will start with the unemployment rate. Ignoring the debate as to just how much direct control a president has over the unemployment rate, this assertion, while technically correct, is a little misleading. The current unemployment rate is higher that it was when Bush took office. That is beyond question. What Obama ignores is that it is still extremely low at about 5.7%. I am not old enough to remember the unemployment of the 1970s but I do know it was a lot higher than 5.7%, yet to hear Obama you would think we are in the midst of the Great Depression. I'm actually not going to dig any deeper into this because I think it was a one-off cheap shot. The real meat of that paragraph is in the last sentence - "failure to respond."

In my previous blog, I outlined some of the new and expanded tasks of government in 'world as it should be.' We can now add to that list Barack Obama's belief that the federal government should be actively involved in bad home mortgage decisions, bad auto loan decisions, and credit card debt. He acknowledges that some of these problems are not the fault of the government (however, there is a VERY strong argument that government pressure on mortgage lenders to make loans to marginally qualified borrowers, along with their failure to enforce already existing laws, played a big role in our current sub-prime mess), but he quickly assumes that the federal government should step in and bailout individuals who make bad decisions.

Just a few sentences later he adds another role for the federal government to play –"We are more compassionate than a government that lets...families slide into poverty..."

I cannot emphasize this enough - in the world as he sees it there is no part of our lives in which the federal government will not be involved.

I am completely ignoring the fact that he lays the blame for it all at George Bush's feet. This is really getting absurd. I am not a "W" fan, but the guy is not single-handedly responsible for everything bad that happens, none of the good things that happen, and every bad policy decision for the last thirty years. By the end of this campaign George Bush will have been responsible for the Cuban missile crisis, the fall of the iron curtain, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and Noah's flood. Good grief.

"John McCain has voted with George Bush ninety percent of the time."

I know he wants to do everything he can to tie John McCain to George Bush, but someone needs to remind the Senator that George Bush doesn't vote for anything. Again, I cannot chalk this up to lazy language when he has had weeks to prepare. This is a deliberate play on the ignorance of the average voter when it comes to how things actually work in Washington.

"How else could he (John McCain) propose hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks for big corporations and oil companies but not one penny of tax relief to more than one hundred million Americans?"

The United States has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. Contrary to what Obama and his party would have you believe, corporations pay LOTS of taxes. I know because I prepare the returns. My firm gets paid very well to minimize those taxes as much as possible but they still pay handsomely. [The recent news about the thousands upon thousands of corporations that do not pay taxes on big profits was a flat-out distortion of the truth. S corporations do not pay any federal income taxes because the shareholders report all of the profit on their personal returns. The corporation is technically not paying any income taxes but the profits are still being taxed - as personal income.] There is some pretty strong evidence that indicates the lowering of corporate income taxes would slow the exporting/outsourcing of jobs, would encourage foreign investment in the U.S., and would encourage existing domestic businesses to bring more of their foreign income into the U.S. All of these things would stimulate our economy. We will revisit this entire idea shortly.

The second part of his statement is even more misleading than the first and it is the same argument put forth when George Bush was trying to get his tax cuts pushed through. The most recent data from the IRS tells us that there are about 100 million Americans, the bottom 40% of the returns filed, who did not pay any income taxes. None. This begs the question - How do you give a tax cut to someone who doesn't pay any taxes? Apparently in the 'world as it should be' this is possible but it's not in the real world.

Obama wraps up this series of attacks on McCain with this gem - he would "privatize Social Security and gamble your retirement. It's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it."

To Barack Obama, investing in the stock market is gambling. A single male born after 1966 and earning average wages will receive an average rate of return on his Social Security taxes of about .5%. Yes, you read that correctly, 1/2 of 1%. He would earn better than 3.0% if he put it into a bank savings account - and this totally ignores the fact that if he dies and has his own account, the money goes to his heirs, whereas with Social Security it goes to the government. How is making more money and getting to keep it and leave it to your family a gamble? There is another way to look at this. Investing in the stock and bond markets, and even putting money into bank CDs, is an investment in the future economic development of the United States. Why would Barack Obama tell you that to invest your retirement money in our economy is the same as gambling? And he says John McCain doesn't get it. The Social Security program is not about good investments or about helping people in retirement. It is about POWER and control.

But he was just getting warmed up!

He (McCain) has subscribed "to that old, discredited Republican philosophy - give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is - you're on your own. Out of work?... No health care?... Born into poverty?... You're on your own."

We are now back to taking shots at McCain and the Republicans for cutting taxes on people who pay taxes and giving bigger tax cuts to people who pay more taxes. I find it very, very interesting that a man who has gone out of his way - all the way to Berlin, in fact - to imitate President Kennedy, would completely ignore the fact that Kennedy also followed that "discredited Republican philosophy." If you cut taxes, it stimulates the economy. I find it even more interesting that Obama and the Democrats will readily admit that the rebate checks that were sent out last year did, in fact, stimulate the economy. How is it possible that a rebate will stimulate the economy but tax cuts will not? It will and he knows it. His position is not about doing what is best for the economy, it is about power and control and using the money of a few to buy the votes of the many.

There is one other subtle, but very important, piece of that quote. Barack Obama believes that a tax cut is not letting people keep more of the money they earn; to him that money already belongs to the government and a tax cut for someone with a high income who pays high taxes is simply the government giving "more and more to those with the most." This last point is so important I am going to repeat it – to Obama a tax cut is not letting someone keep more of what they earn, it is the government giving someone more money.

We also can add two new jobs for the federal government in the world as it should be - keep people from being "out of work" and do something - he doesn't say what - for someone "born into poverty."

Throughout the next several lines of the speech he goes on and on talking about "the fundamental promise that has made this country great" without ever telling us what it is or what it means. At one point I actually thought he was going to get it right - he was so close.

"When I hear a woman talk about the difficulties of starting her own business, I think about my grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle management, despite years of being passed over for promotions because she was a woman. She's the one who taught me about hard work. She's the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me."

But it was a bait and switch! He told us about his hardworking grandmother who DID understand and live the promise of America. He drew us in, tugged at our heartstrings, and then shared with us his vision of the promise of America -

"What is that promise? It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect...that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road. Ours is a promise that says government...should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves - protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new science and technology... That's the promise of America - ...the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper."

Apparently it is now the job of the government to make sure that we are nice to each other and treat each other with "dignity and respect." Those are noble qualities and it would be nice if we all observed them, but is that a job for the government? It certainly isn't in the Constitution. How do you enforce it? What if you are disrespectful of someone? Is that a federal offense? We can add this to the list of new jobs for the government.

I would love to ask Barack in which article of the Constitution he has found the outlining of the responsibility of American businesses to "create American jobs, look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road." I have read the Constitution, the actual original Constitution, along with most of the writings of the men who wrote the Constitution, and none of it says anything about those things at all. I would also really like to ask him what exactly constitutes the "rules of the road," how do you enforce it, who decides what it is, who wrote it, do they teach it in law schools? Basically, what the hell is he talking about?

Then he outlines even more jobs for the federal government: "protect us from harm," "keep water clean and toys safe," and "invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology." Man, this list is getting pretty long. How in the world is he going to pay for all of this?

Finally, he closes this line of thinking with one of the most popular lines in our Constitution, "I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper." Uh, no. Where is he getting this stuff? I mean, I know where he's getting this particular stuff, but no matter what role Judeo-Christian values may have played in the founding of this country, it is NOT in the Constitution of the United States as a job of the federal government. Think about what it means to be someone's keeper; think about the level of involvement one must have in the life of the one being kept. This is the government Barack Obama wants to create.

He then changes gears and gets back to policy items.

"Unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America. I will eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow. I will cut taxes - cut taxes - for 95% of all working families. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class."

Well, to start, I don't really know of any tax breaks for corporations that outsource, but I will concede the fact that 1) there could be something out there of which I am not aware and 2) he may be playing with the words and facts a bit to make a point. Regardless, that does pose a bit of a problem. I will get back to that problem in just a minute but first I want to point out that I think I have prepared maybe ten small business returns that had capital gains taxes and the amount of tax, combined, is very small. This might be the biggest deception in the entire speech. That entire sentence from the cutting taxes to the benefits for start-ups and high-tech jobs is pure puppy poo. It doesn't make any sense. Oh, it sounds good, but it is just intentional, misleading gibberish. That sentence tells me either his tax advisers are complete morons who have no understanding of the tax code and how it affects American businesses or he knows the American people don't have the first damn clue what he's talking about so he can say whatever he wants - as long as it sounds good it is good. Okay, back to the problem above.

He insists he is going to cut taxes on 95% of all working families. Well, under our current tax laws only about 50% are paying taxes, thus 50% are not paying taxes. If we take 95% of 50% that leaves us with 2.5% of working families having to make up the difference. But we aren't finished, yet.

"I'll help our auto companies re-tool, so that fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I'll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars... I'll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy..."

Add those things to our list of new jobs for the government. Incidentally, it was this same line of thinking that has led to Amtrak becoming, essentially, a nationalized railway. It sounds like he is well on his way to having the federal government in the car business. All of the big three American auto makers are on the verge of bankruptcy. If he is going to have auto companies to build these cars the federal government is going to have to bail them out and pay off or guarantee their debts. Not only will the government be building the cars but it will be helping the people buy the cars they are building! So, in addition to tax cuts for 95% of working families, he is also going to give tax cuts to companies that keep jobs in America, develop new jobs, produce renewable energy and build automobiles.

I do find it amusing that he has no problem at all giving billions of our tax dollars to companies that have bankrupted themselves but calls it greed when an oil company wants to keep more of the money they earned. Nevertheless, he has been spending billions upon billions, potentially trillions of dollars over a period of years, and, at the same time, giving tax cuts to 95% of American families and some select companies. Something doesn't add up…

And he continues to spend money on education and health care and increased benefits. I'm not going to go through all of those things again, except for one line:

"If you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education."

The government offering to help a soldier afford a college education doesn't bother me in the least, but "commit to serving your community" makes me raise an eyebrow. What exactly does that mean? He doesn't say, but there is something about the federal government offering financial incentives for the youth to do something in the communities that just sounds a little too Hitler Youth for my tastes.

Finally, he tells us how he's going to pay for it all, including the tax cuts.

"I've laid out how I'll pay for every dime - by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don't help America grow... I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones that we do need work better and cost less..."

I really don't know what to make of the first part of his plan, "closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don't help America grow." I am not terribly familiar with the taxation of international transactions, but it sounds like he is telling us that large, international companies should be expecting massive tax increases, which will certainly discourage non-U.S. businesses from coming here and will discourage U.S. businesses from expanding into foreign markets. It also concerns me that helping America grow functions as some sort of litmus test as to which companies will be subject to tax increases. Should we expect some sort of commission that will examine every company in America to determine if it helps the country grow and subject it to additional taxes if it doesn't meet their standards? So, the first part of his payment plan calls for huge tax increases on international business, making an already uncompetitive U.S. tax environment even less appealing, and potentially opening up an entirely new method of determining taxability based on the company's ability to help America grow. The people who run large, international businesses aren't dumb. Why would they continue to do business in the United States if they are a foreign corporation, or remain located in the United States if they are a domestic corporation, if taxes are so high that they lose money by being here?

In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, the dean of Columbia University Business School, R. Glenn Hubbard, points out that the increases in Social Security and Medicare spending alone would require that federal taxes be raised by more than 50% to make up the shortfall. In Obama's plan there will be no reduction in those benefits and 95% of American families will get a tax cut, which means that 2.5% of the people are going to see their income taxes more than double to make up the difference from Social Security and Medicare alone – and that is assuming his tax cut is very small. The bigger the tax cut, the more that 2.5% will have to pay. It is worth noting that this 2.5% contains most of the small business owners. But he isn't finished raising their taxes.

As we have moved through his vision of the 'world as it should be,' Barack Obama has outlined an expansion of government unprecedented in its scope - a government that will be involved in every aspect of our lives from cradle to grave and is going to require almost unimaginable amounts of tax revenues to fund. It sounds wonderful to hear a candidate talk about cutting spending on existing programs to help make up the difference, but the last year in which the federal government spent fewer dollars than it did in the previous year was 1954 – the year following the end of the Korean War. Prior to that, the last drop occurred in 1946 following the end of World War II. Only twice since 1940 has the federal government actually cut spending, yet Barack Obama, insists that, not only will he be the first president to get congress to cut spending, he is going to get them to do it on a massive scale – all without cutting benefits.From there we briefly move into foreign policy.

"You don't protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington… If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice…"

I commend this approach. It is indeed impossible to rely on diplomacy alone to protect our freedoms and those of our allies. It is his attack on Bush and McCain that is interesting because just a few sentences later he offers his strategy for dealing with Iran and Russia -

"I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression."

In other words, he is going to talk tough in Washington. Doh! Only in his 'world as it should be' is his strategy different than Bush's.

As he approaches his grand finale he tugs at our heartstrings again:

"When Washington doesn't work, all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it's best to stop hoping, and settle for what you already know."

His psychology is accurate but his entire premise hinges on a critical assumption – we should be turning to Washington with our hopes and Washington is broken when it is unable to satisfy them. But this should not come as a surprise because it fits into his vision of the world as it should be. His is a world in which the government is the ultimate provider from birth until death; education, employment, and retirement; health care and personal finances; a government that gives to each according to his or her need and takes from each according to his or her ability. His is a world in which the government stands to eliminate the need for personal responsibility – he has a program to make sure none of us are held accountable for our bad decisions. This is a government that bears no resemblance to the one conceived by our founders and that made us the most prosperous, powerful, free nation in the history of mankind.

Just to summarize what we heard during the convention, here is a list of the new jobs and roles that Barack Obama believes should fall under the control of the federal government:
"Build an economy"
"Provide opportunity to work"
Provide "health care for every American"
Provide "education from preschool to college"
Become an "instrument of public good"
"Transform the economy"
"Help them (people that get knocked down) get back up"
Help people who have "lost your homes"
Help people whose "home values plummet"
Help people with "cars you can't afford"
Help people with "credit card bills you can't afford"
Help people with "tuition that's beyond your reach"
Help "families that slide into poverty"
Make sure we treat each other with "dignity and respect"
Force companies to "create American jobs, look out for American workers, and play bythe rules of the road"
"Protect us from harm"
"Keep water clean and toys safe"
"Invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology"
Encourage a society in which I am "my brother's keeper; my sister's keeper"
"Help our auto companies re-tool"
Help the "American people afford these new cars"
Use financial incentives to encourage the youth to "commit to serving your community"

Is there a role for the federal government in any of these areas (and the thousands more in which it is already involved)? Yes, especially in the areas of clean water and protecting us from harm. I am not making an argument for no government, but I am extremely cautious as to what these open-ended statements mean to Barack Obama when placed within his vision of the world as it should be. A strong, capable military and the willingness to use it in the face of a threat will certainly help protect us from a certain kind of harm, but an all-powerful police state that is involved in every aspect of our lives would help protect us from other kinds of harm. Given his vision of the role of the government I have to think he was referring to the latter rather than the former. There is a place for our federal government and at times it must get involved in our lives, but what Obama wants to create is beyond that, beyond anything ever conceived by our Founding Fathers, much closer to the government envisioned by Vladimir Lenin than the one James Madison helped create.

His 'world as it should be' is one in which the government provides the ultimate security blanket for every aspect of the lives of its citizens but at a monstrous cost. The price for a world of complete security is a complete surrender of our freedoms. As someone much wiser once observed, "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Man, I'm glad I'm not watching these things. Standard Operating Procedure. Talk about the family. Check. Tell everyone about your great parents. Check. Tell everyone how much you love the country. Check. Talk about God. Check. Try to be witty. Check. Above all things mention Pennsylvania, we need those electoral votes. Check. Now we can get to it.

Uh, not really. I sure hope this speech sounded better than it reads. I can sum it up in one sentence: Every bad thing that has happened on the entire planet in the last eight years, from hurricanes and earthquakes to home foreclosures and social unrest in Rwanda, is George Bush's fault (with John McCain's support) and electing McCain will just bring four more years of bad things.

This is a hard speech to break down because all of the 'guts' of the speech are short, one or two line quips, demagoguery at its finest, that require very long, detailed answers and explanations. It plays on the prejudices and, quite honestly, the lack of understanding of the audience. I won't go through them all, but I will give a couple examples.

"He (McCain) voted 19 times against the minimum wage for people who are struggling just to make it to the next day. That's not change. That's more of the same."

I'm not going to really get into this because this is not the time and place for a full blown economic analysis of the effects of minimum wage laws. I will simply throw out a couple of thoughts that might indicate there is much more to the story than what is being presented by Senator Biden.

For example, there is some pretty strong empirical evidence that shows increases in the minimum wage reduce the number of low-wage jobs – if you increase the minimum wage to help lower income workers you actually reduce the number of low income jobs to be had. If that is the case, have you helped or hurt the low income worker?

At the same time, there is quite a bit of data that suggests very few of the 'working poor' are actually employed in minimum wage jobs. A recent study indicates that about 75% of workers earning minimum wage live in a household with a family income 50% higher than the poverty line, with an average family income of about $40,000 per year. If that is the case, then changes in the minimum wage really don't do a whole lot to help many people.

I will also throw this out there just as food for thought. It has, admittedly been a couple of years, but I did a little digging at one time trying to find a job that paid minimum wage. I couldn't find one. I am certain they exist, but everything I could find – sacking groceries, carrying boxes, cleaning floors, etc., - all paid more, and, in some cases, quite a bit more. It certainly seems like the supply and demand mechanism of the market has already pushed the 'real' minimum wage above that required by law.

Enough about that. My point is that there is more to voting against minimum wage increases than whatever Biden is trying to imply.

"Even today, as oil companies post the biggest profits in history, nearly $500 billion in the last five years, John wants to give them another $4 billion in tax breaks. That's not change. That's the same."

I have written about this before, but I'm going to throw it out there again. Using just Exxon as an example, since it is the biggest oil company out there - in 2007 Exxon posted a $40.4 billion profit. Wow, that's a lot of money – and it is their AFTER tax profit. They paid $30 billion in taxes. THIRTY BILLION IN TAXES. That works out to an effective tax rate of 42.6%. Even if the entire $4 billion in tax breaks went to Exxon for a single year (which it doesn't), it would have reduced their 2007 taxes down to $26 billion and reduced their effective tax rate to 36.9%. It is painfully clear that Biden's remarks are much ado about nothing. It makes for a great sound bite because the numbers are big and people hate high gas prices, but there has to be more to this story, otherwise, it just doesn't make sense.

"Barack Obama will transform the economy by making alternative energy a national priority and in the process creating 5 million new jobs and finally, finally freeing us from the grip of foreign oil. That's the change we need."

I think it should be fairly obvious that the next president, regardless of his political party, is going to make reducing dependence on foreign oil a national priority. Their reasons for doing so and methods employed may be different, but it is going to happen. Now pretend you are the CEO of ExxonMobile or any other oil/gas/energy company. What are you going to do? Do you think that CEO will throw up his hands, say 'Well, we had a nice run," and sit around counting his money while their stock tumbles (and his stock options lose value), profits decline and they march towards bankruptcy or do you think he will get his people working as fast as possible to develop new ideas to stay on the forefront of energy supplies and to continue their profitability? I am certain it will be the latter (according to their annual reports they are already doing it), if for no other reason than their jobs (and their stock options) depend on it. At the same time you have to wonder, who will be the most efficient at developing those alternative energy sources – a company whose financial future depends on it or a government passing out grants and contracts? Would we be better served in letting ExxonMobile spend their billions of dollars on their own research and development or taxing ExxonMobile, taking a cut for ourselves, and giving that money to someone else for research and development?

Again, I am not arguing in favor of one or the other here. I am just pointing out that Biden has thrown out a great 'one-liner' that has some resonance with the voters but really very little substance on its own. It requires deep and significant thought to address. I will say that it seems pretty clear that his position is that the government can make better decisions that the market.

"I have never seen a time with Washington has watched so many people get knocked down without doing anything to help them get back up."

This hits on the theme from the two previous speeches. I have to ask the same old question, is it the job of the president, or the federal government for that matter, to help people 'get back up'? Furthermore, is it even possible for a government to do this? How does it ever decide who needs help and who doesn't and how much to give when it gives? Can any national government ever manage that effectively for a country of our size? Regardless, it does serve to offer more insight into their view of the role of government in our lives:

"Build an economy" and "provide opportunity to work";
Provide "health care for every American" and "education from preschool to college";
Become "an instrument of public good" and work for "the common good";
Stop "giving windfall profits" and "transform the economy"
And now, "help them get back up."

And that is just from three speeches. Cradle to grave, start to finish. Their 'world as it should be' includes an omnipresent government involved in every aspect of our lives.

"Barack Obama's going to deliver that change, because, I want to tell you, Barack Obama will reform our tax code. He will cut taxes for 95 percent of the American people who draw a paycheck. That's the change we need."

Man, that sounds good in a speech. 95% of the American people what draw a paycheck will get a tax cut! Sweet! Yeah, stick it to those rich jerks in the top 5% that don't pay their fair share! Except that it is a complete pile of horse poo. According to the IRS, in 2006 a tax return had to have an adjusted gross income of $153,542 to be in the top 5%. A nice living, but not exactly jet-setting. And that same top 5% that everybody knows doesn't pay their fair share, paid 60.14% of the income taxes paid.

So, we now have a plan that puts the government into almost every minute of our lives: providing education, jobs, health care, retirement, and a safety net for when bad things happen. All while giving tax cuts to 95% of workers. Huh? The only way to make this possible is ENORMOUS tax increases on that top 5% (which includes a huge number of the small business owners providing the vast majority of new jobs in this country) and on corporations (which provide the rest of the new jobs and the stocks that most of us have in our retirement portfolios).

If you are a small business owner, or a well-paid professional for that matter, which makes more sense to you: You can (1) work your butt off, hire more people, increase productivity and earn a relatively large income only to see most of it go to taxes or (2) you can cut your productivity, not hire the extra help because it isn't needed, and work only a fraction as hard, yet end up with the same 'take home' income because you stayed out of those high tax brackets. Which choice would you make? What kind of tax plan institutionalizes punishment for achievement when it is going to require greater and greater tax revenues? The exact same reasoning applies to corporations as well. When you reach the point where every additional dollar of income is costing you more in tax than you are making in profit, why keep increasing income?

I'm stopping here. I've already said too much. It's just more of the same. One line jabs with little substance that play well in a sound bite.

And just in case you are wondering, I am going to tear up the speeches at the Republican convention, too, although it will be much more difficult. Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans have a history of saying all the right things. The Democrats have (mostly) bad policy but at least they generally tell the truth about it. The Republicans are generally just hypocrites that say one thing to get elected and do another once in office. That is the real legacy of the Bush administration.

Round 2

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

So, it's on to round two and its time to see what Hillary Clinton had to say. I still didn't watch it, though. I'm playing fantasy football for the first time and our draft was last night.

There are different standards of measure for what makes a great speech. Two of the most important standards of measure are the content of what is said and the structure of how it is presented. Ignoring the content, this is a masterpiece in structure. The first step is to say a few things that are true and obvious and is felt by the entire audience, get them on your side:

"…America's greatness is bound up in the lives of the American people – your hard work, your devotion to duty, your love for your children, and your determination to keep going, often in the face of enormous obstacles."

And then you have to stir some emotion within the audience:

"I will always remember the single mom who had adopted two kids with autism. She didn't have health insurance and discovered she had cancer. But she greeted me with her bald head painted with my name on it and asked me to fight for health care for her and her children."

[To digress for just a moment – This anecdote may be true, but it smacks of a lie or, at a minimum, a stretching of the truth. How does a single woman, without health insurance, go about adopting two special needs children? There has to be a lot more to this story.]

Now that we've tugged a few heartstrings and ratcheted up the emotion, lets get down to business:

"I ran for president to renew the promise of America. To rebuild the middle class and sustain the American Dream, to provide the opportunity to those who were willing to work hard and have that work rewarded, to save for college, a home and retirement, to afford the gas and groceries and still have a little left over each month."

She is a deft politician and she has spent a lot of years standing beside a true master of the art. You have to really dig deep to figure out what someone of that skill level is really saying. I'm not making that up. Do you remember Bill Clinton himself, during all of the Lewinsky mess, pointing out that his response to a question depended on the definition and use of the word "is?" At first read that last quote seems innocent enough but there is one VERY important word in there – provide. She ran for president "to provide opportunity to those who were willing to work hard." Is that the job of the president or the government? She wasn't finished with this theme.

"To create a health care system that is universal, high quality, and affordable so that every single parent knows their children will be taken care of."

We can debate about the merits and demerits of universal health care, but that is not what caught my attention in that sentence. It is the second part that gives some insight into how she sees the role of the president. Again, ignoring whether universal health care is a good idea or not, is it the role of the government to put parents in the position to know "their children will be taken care of"? Or should government exist so that parents can put themselves in the position to take care of their children? That subtle, but profound, difference is not an accident. In the 'world as it should be' that they are trying to create, the government takes care of the children 'from preschool to college.'

"To make America once again a nation of immigrants and of laws."

This is politically brilliant. She says something obvious - we were founded as a nation of laws, not of men, and we are a nation of immigrants, not of indigenous people – but it carries a double meaning in today's political environment. What she is implying, but not saying, is that by changing the laws to legalize that which is currently illegal we are being true to our roots. This is a very subtle declaration of amnesty for illegal aliens.

"To restore fiscal sanity to Washington and make our government an instrument of the public good, not of private plunder."

Again, another politically brilliant statement. It starts with a little political garbage – there isn't a politician in Washington, from either party, that thinks spending money on their programs of choice is a bad idea. But she follows that with a really slick attempt to redefine how we see the role of the government. Raising income taxes on the 'rich,' nationalizing private businesses, and putting huge taxes on 'windfall profits' is no longer 'private plunder' it is now part of a government being an instrument of the public good. We will see this again before she finishes as well.

"We need to elect Barack Obama because we need a president who understands that America can't compete in the global economy by padding the pockets of energy speculators while ignoring the workers whose jobs have been shipped overseas. We need a president who understands that we can't solve the problems of global warming by giving windfall profits to the oil companies while ignoring opportunities to invest in the new technologies that will build a green economy."

She actually takes a bit of a chance here because what she really says in the first sentence is 'I know most of you do not have any idea how the futures markets work but you do know that it affects gas prices and you hate paying as much as you are for it, so I can demonize them all I want and you will play along.' It is really a bit of a low blow, but it isn't the most important thing she says in that quote. The most important part has to do with her view of the role of government we mentioned previously when she spoke of the government providing for the care of the children. Here it takes on a bit of a different role – "giving windfall profits to the oil companies." We can debate how and whether the government should address global warming at another time, that is not the issue here, it is her view that the oil companies are not earning those profits in the free market, they are being given, that should raise the alarms. It implies that those profits are not the property of the shareholders but of the government and that the government has the right to distribute them at their will. In her view, and that of Obama, the 'world as it should be' contains a government that functions as a giver and a provider of almost everything.

"You know, America is still around after 232 years because we have risen to every challenge and every new time, changing to be faithful to our values of equal opportunity for all and the common good."

We have risen to every challenge that has come with each generation and we have, at least to this point, done our best to be faithful to our values. But she's thrown in a nice little twist at the end, a couple of them, actually, that perverts that message into something entirely new. First, she added the word 'changing.' This is really subtle, a play on Obama's 'Change we can believe in theme.' You remember; a change to the 'world as it should be.' By itself that really doesn't add anything to what we have already discussed. It is her additional qualifier, "the common good," that is not part of our historic values and might be the most disturbing thing she said all night because of what it reveals about her and how she and the man she is supporting see the 'world as it should be.' That she used that phrase is not an accident. "The common good" has been adopted by those on the far left as an apt description of their progressive values.

A federal republic with separation of powers cannot exist for long in a government operating for the common good. A government that works for the common good only recognizes majority rule – it does what is best for the most – even if that means changing or ignoring the law to do it, minority rights still exist but in name only. There is very little about a government operating for the common good that holds true to the traditional values that made America great. It is a true democracy, and, according to Marx, the first step down the road to socialism and, eventually, communism.