Monday, March 31, 2008
It's time for all of us to get angry about what is going on with the economics of this country. We are continuously being sold a bill of goods by the powerful elite and what we get for our money is appalling.
Look at the price of gas: Record highs at $3.20 a gallon this week. We are hearing that $4.00 by summer is possible. Is it any wonder that the economy is tanking. Gas and diesel affect every single aspect of our lives and if the price doubles as it has in the past few years eventually the wheels are going to start coming off.
So what is being done? Do you suppose they (meaning the powers that be) are authorizing new drilling and refining of the vast oil reserves in this country - say, like in Alaska at ANWR, or maybe the oil rich waters of the Gulf of Mexico where the infrastructure already exists to process it. No, of course not.
What our illustrious politicians are doing is placating farmers and environmentalists. Democrats and Republicans alike are going "green" and suckering us into believing that ethanol is a good deal for everyone. Oh yes, big business is playing right along. I mean to tell you it's a sham. It's a bigger and more dangerous sham than the Global Warming /Climate Change sham.
So, here we are as a nation sitting on billions of barrels of oil in Alaska, beneath our coastal waters and in oil shale in the western states and what are we doing? We are converting our food into fuel for our cars. It ought to be a crime. It's immoral. Frankly, it's insane.
Nearly a third of all the corn grown in the United States last year was made into ethanol. This is our food, ladies and gentleman. Food prices at the grocery store are skyrocketing. Soon enough, poorer third world countries will succumb to famine so that our politicians and environmentalists can feel good about themselves. Talk about selfish bastards.
Business does what business does - it exploits opportunity. We have 80 or 90 new ethanol refineries being built and touted as responsible patrons of the planet while oil refineries are opposed at every turn. The amount of energy wasted to make ethanol alone, not mention the highly subsidized costs should be enough for wise men and women to see the folly of it. This is economics 101. If is costs more to produce than what we get in return it's a loser! These refineries also pollute the air and water. Try living near one as thousands of residents in St. Paul's West Seventh St. neighborhood did before the state shut down the Gopher State plant a few years ago. The stench was unbearable.
Still, the sham continues. We see all the car makers pushing cars that run on "green" fuel while in the same glossy magazines they push bigger and bigger engines, and larger and larger vehicles as if gas was still $1.50 a gallon. This is flipping insane. Electric cars are just around the corner we are promised - they're always just around the corner.
I would bet that if you could dig it out you'd find the same people sitting on the boards of Exxon, BP, Ford, GM, ArcherDanielsMidland and all of them with multi-million dollar lobbies in Washington DC and all the state houses. It's an intertwined club with vested interests in keeping our elected officials fat and happy.
That be said it's no secret that various governments around the country are subsidizing ethanol production to the tune of 9 billion dollars a year while simultaneously erecting high tariffs on imported ethanol. If it is so good for the environment then why keep the price artificially high with protectionism? Silly question, I withdraw it...
It's time to get angry. It's time to start writing and calling our elected officials and demanding a stop to this. We are going to destroy the one thing that has allowed this country to grow and prosper: the ability to feed our population at a reasonable price.
Please consider this the next time you fill up your gas tank on the way to the grocery store...
Monday, March 24, 2008
During the "Good War" President Roosevelt had the press on his side. Anyone using propaganda to undermine the war effort was dismissed as a crackpot or arrested as a traitor. The War Department relied on a sympathetic press to suppress secrets that would render aide and comfort to the enemy. If for example the press was actively undermining the President at every turn early in the American intervention into the Pacific and European theaters when our forces were less than effective our enemies might have been emboldened resulting in even more casualties.
To this day one can still marvel at the way America worked together in the war effort. Propaganda and fear were used on our own citizens in a way that would be thoroughly rebuked today. It was a different time. The survival of the country was paramount and almost no one relished our defeat. Not so today. The day after a clear majority in Congress passed the authorization the use of force to oust Saddam Hussein the loyal opposition and their corporals in the media began its unrelenting attack on George W. Bush and the war effort.
Forget the effect this has had on our national psyche and focus on the practical day to day job of fighting and dying on the ground. It's bad enough that the most prominent newspaper in the country routinely snubs the Commander in Chief and publishes national security secrets that had been leaked. Considering that a major American cable news channel suppressed news of Saddam Hussein's murderous atrocities in order to maintain a bureau in Baghdad should anyone be surprised that the mainstream media would use its power to undermine American policy.
Studies now being published show a direct cause and effect of the reverse propaganda dished up on a daily basis by most of the print and broadcast media in terms of violence in Iraq. (Click here to read the Washington Times article on this topic) When Senate Majority leader Harry Reid declares that "the war has been lost" and when CNN, NBC, CBS and PBS air stories of retired generals and former presidents raising doubts about the situation on the ground the rise in violent attacks in Iraq is directly measurable.
From the article:
The increase in attacks is more pronounced in areas of Iraq that have better access to international news media, the authors conclude in a report titled "Is There an 'Emboldenment' Effect? Evidence from the Insurgency in Iraq."
The researchers studied data about insurgent attacks and U.S. media coverage up to November, tracking what they called "anti-resolve statements" by U.S. politicians and reports about American public opinion on the war.
It is not an uncommon phenomenon for protesters to suddenly come alive when a camera shows up. In this situation people are dying as a direct result of unbalanced, skewed news coverage intended to weaken the resolve of the war effort on all fronts.
Much of the blame can and should go to the Bush administration itself. For one, the administration, stung by the "Mission Accomplished" fiasco, stopped it's own propaganda effort. In failing to highlight adequately major accomplishments and bolster the reason for engaging in this conflict as more and more evidence of Saddam's atrocities and support of international terrorism surfaced (and, yes, ties to al Qaeda ) it allowed the media to form the public opinion narrative. Secondly, it can not be defended that it took so long for the President to change tactics when things clearly took a turn for the worst. This paralysis or stubbornness only emboldened the insurgency and the anti-Bush media. Still, even after the "surge" produced the results it was intended to the media either straight up denied it or ignored it altogether. Hardly good journalism.
History will be the final judge of how this venture plays out. I think it's still quite possible that Iraq will become the jewel of the Arab world if local terrorism can be contained long enough for the economy to bloom. There can be no doubt that Iraq's neighbors have contributed to the chaos fearing a successful democracy (of sorts) next door would put pressure on them to loosen the grip on their own populations.
All that being said it is still unconscionable that the American and international media knowingly and deliberately provide aide and comfort to a despicable enemy that indiscriminately kills and tortures military personnel and civilians alike. It's one thing to ask journalists and their editors to sugarcoat everything and quite another to have the media literally actively work for the terrorist's cause.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
The article is a brief essay on a list of highly intellectual thinkers who were forced to leave their liberal friends and the Democratic Party.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
I hate to do another piece on Global Warming but this is significant. It seems the "heat" is missing. Scientists are at a loss to explain it.
In a revealing story on www.npr.org called "The Mystery of Global Warming's Missing Heat" Richard Harris explains the dilemma facing the true believers.
In fact, 80 percent to 90 percent of global warming involves heating up ocean waters. They hold much more heat than the atmosphere can. So Willis has been studying the ocean with a fleet of robotic instruments called the Argo system. The buoys can dive 3,000 feet down and measure ocean temperature. Since the system was fully deployed in 2003, it has recorded no warming of the global oceans. "There has been a very slight cooling, but not anything really significant," Willis says. So the buildup of heat on Earth may be on a brief hiatus.
So, they mean to tell us that the oceans, which make up over 70% of the Earth's surface, have not warmed at all? In fact the oceans have actually cooled. How can this be?
Maybe the "deniers" are on to something when they point out that land based monitoring stations near growing urban heat islands could be providing scientists with skewed data. This coupled with decades of satellite data that has also showed no significant "global" warming is feeding the mystery of the missing heat.
I have also read that global temperatures fell by 0.6 degrees celsius in 2007 which is remarkably the exact number they had placed on the increase during the entire 20th century. One year does not a trend make, but isn't it interesting that we are all shivering in the face of this all this dire and significant global warming.
From the article:
"But in fact there's a little bit of a mystery. We can't account for all of the sea level increase we've seen over the last three or four years," he says. One possibility is that the sea has, in fact, warmed and expanded — and scientists are somehow misinterpreting the data from the diving buoys. But if the aquatic robots are actually telling the right story, that raises a new question: Where is the extra heat all going? Kevin Trenberth at the National Center for Atmospheric Research says it's probably going back out into space. The Earth has a number of natural thermostats, including clouds, which can either trap heat and turn up the temperature, or reflect sunlight and help cool the planet. That can't be directly measured at the moment, however. "Unfortunately, we don't have adequate tracking of clouds to determine exactly what role they've been playing during this period," Trenberth says.
Well, I think this sums up what the CAGW skeptics have said all along: "We don't know what we don't know." We shouldn't be automatically dismissive, but we also should not allow politicians and policy makers create laws and regulations that will limit our economy and deny the developing world a chance to develop based on something we don't really understand.
Monday, March 17, 2008
I hate being a pessimist. Yet, here I am happily wallowing knee deep in it. I want more than anything to have hopeful, optimistic feelings about the future. I mean really, what else have we got if we haven't got the future?
Optimistic people are said to be happier. I like happiness, I guess. But just hold on a minute. Pessimistic people are thought to have a more realistic outlook on life. For instance: have you ever played the Power Ball lottery? Ok, who has a better grip on reality every Wednesday and Saturday night? I rest my case.
Maybe it's just the constant stream of bad news coming at me 24/7 from cable TV news. Maybe it's this perpetual Presidential election. Maybe it's $3.00 a gallon gasoline. Maybe it's the deflated sense that people in my life will never live up to my meager expectations of them. Then of course there is me, myself and I, Mr. Disappointment himself.
Attitude Baby, Attitude
I guess it's really all about attitude, right? We all know from the 657 worthless self help books we have read that attitude is the key to everything (after communication, of course). There is nothing the right attitude can't cure. Ah, well, except pessimism.
What is the difference anyhow: An optimist explains away bad and painful events as temporary, isolated and external. What a putz! The pessimist explains them as permanent, pervasive, and personal. Yeah, now you're talking.
Never mind, no one will show up anyway.
Take The Test
from Dr. Martin Seligman's book, "Learned Optimism"
Here are my results:
Permanence Bad Score = moderately pessimistic
Permanence Bad Score = moderately pessimistic
Permanence Good Score = very pessimistic
Pervasiveness Bad Score = very pessimistic
Pervasiveness Good Score = average
Stuff of Hope = severely hopeless
Personalization Bad Score = very high self-esteem
Personalization Good Score = average
Total Bad Score moderately = pessimistic
Total Good Score thinking is = quite pessimistic
Good minus Bad Score = very pessimistic
I think I win!!! No wait I sure some one will get extremely pessimistic. Dang it, I knew I wouldn't win...
Thursday, March 13, 2008
We hear the politicians claiming the 10's of millions of Americans that don't have health insurance are entitled to it. I don't know about "entitled" but access really is an issue that should be dealt with.
Here's the deal...
There are government programs that offer health insurance to those who can't afford it. Oddly there are huge piles of unused cash sitting in government bank accounts set aside for these programs. In my state it is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Why is that, you just might be inclined to ask???
The truth is they make it so difficult for the potential applicants to comply with the paperwork requirements that they are as likely to say f@%k it as they are to say "where do I sign".
Case in point: my daughter. A 22 year old that is still "thinking" about where she wants to go to college after taking a year off after high school (this is year 3). She can't be on my policy unless she is a full time student. She doesn't make enough at her job and no health care insurance is available anyway. So the government option seemed like a good idea.
It is was an extremely intrusive process and I can guarantee you if it wasn't for my wife dotting all the i's and crossing all t's it would have never went through. My daughter and 90% of people of her age and life experience could not see the daunting process all the way through. We literally submitted the same material 3 times. When the letter came looking for the one piece of paper we had submitted at least 3 times, but this time with a deadline of yesterday, well, we nearly lost it. Simply put it was ridiculous.
So I ask... Why would we want to hand our health care system to the government? What we have isn't perfect, but there are some excellent ideas out there short of socializing the whole thing.
In my own personal experience having educated myself and landing one good job after another I have always been offered a health insurance plan and have had nothing but excellent health care.
If Hillary or Obama get their grubbies on the health care system it will be worse for everyone not better, of this I am convinced.
Saturday, March 08, 2008
An overview of my findings can be best conveyed with this graph:
margin of error + or - 3.5
The first thing that is evident is that taxes take the largest bite of my income. The Federal Income tax was easily the largest obligation in the tax category. I was, however, amazed to find that sales tax was only 2.2% of my tax bill or 0.5% of my total outlays in 2007.
In a distant second is insurance, but it's not even close. Health insurance was the largest single item in the insurance category. No surprise there.
Food claimed 10% of my money last year. This may in fact be low because a goodly amount of the 5% of my income withdrawn from ATM's surely went to food. Much of the rest of the Instant CASH was given to parking attendants. Also consider that the food totals were taken from grocery store receipts where it can be assumed that a percentage of those receipts contained non food items.
The 9% spent paying interest on debt will most assuredly go down significantly next year as will the 6% spent servicing consumer debt as I have paid off all the non-mortgage debt. Conversely the mere 3% spent on gas/car could double with even one significant car repair. My car gave me no trouble last year requiring only new tires and routine maintenance.
The household category was a catchall for anything related to the house from furniture purchases and home improvements to paper towels and home computer memory upgrades. The 5% spent on "the house" is not necessarily a baseline for anything as any self financed major improvement would skew any budget plan.
The 3% given as gifts or Church/charity is low by our historical standards but due to some debt issues I chose to concentrate on paying down debt rather than charitable giving. I also embarked on a plan to build some savings/emergency funds as to avoid having to use credit cards for large purchases or unexpected expenses. In a very disciplined way I was able to put away 6%!
The following is an explanation of how the study was conducted.
1. My wife and I keep separate finances so these percentages reflect only my expenditures. Currently she pays from her income the energy bills, the cableTV/Internet and telephone bills as well as regular visits to the butcher shop.
2. Several thousand dollars was unaccounted for after all the data was collected. This is due to imperfect receipt retention and forgetfulness as well as human error. I have given this report a + or - 3.5 margin of error in any single category.
The data for the report was gathered primarily from receipts, bills, bank statements, W2 statements, 1040 forms and payroll stubs.
Each of the 16 major categories is made up of one or more sub categories.
All taxes - Federal & State Income, FICA, Medicare, sales tax, gas tax, property tax, tax serviced within bills
Savings - all savings and investment accounts
Credit debt service - non interest portion of consumer credit bills
Shelter debt service - non interest, non tax, non insurance portion of mortgage bills
Interest - all interest paid on all forms of debt
Food - groceries, restaurants, etc
Gas/car - all car related expenses, minus gas tax and sales tax
Medical - pharmacy, co-pays, OTC drugs, out of pocket expenses
All insurance - health, life, car, house
Retirement - money paid into 401K plan
Household - household items, furniture, home improvement, garbage collection, City services, computer/office
Hobbies/entertainment - all leisure time activity expenses
Personal/clothes - haircuts, toiletries, clothing
Communications - cell phones
All fees - anything self described as a fee (including government mandated fees)
In conclusion I can say I am not surprised that taxes are my biggest expense. Thanks to having a child deduction, mortgage deduction and charitable giving deduction my tax bill amounts to about a quarter of my income. This is as high as it ever should get in a perfect world. Without these deductions I would be closer to 50% than to 25%. It is my plan to do this again in a few years to see how it changes when my kid is no longer a deduction and my house is closer to being paid off. It should be interesting.
Saturday, March 01, 2008
What a fool I was.
I don't think I can be faulted for having the "audacity of hope". Having lived my entire life in the shadow of the mushroom cloud it seemed that a tremendous weight had been lifted the day I watched the Berlin Wall come down from half a world away. Like dominoes the Warsaw Pact fell culminating in the crumbling of the Soviet regime on December 31 1991.
The world smelled a lot sweeter then. I was entertaining the notion that humanity had achieved the end of war!
What a fool I was.
Like a lot of people I had dismissed Islamic terrorism as a nuisance and frankly someone else's problem. Life was too good worry about such things... George H. W. Bush was the president and although he was not as firm an anti-socialist as Ronald Reagan I was quite convinced that American socialism had been fully discredited and wasn't coming back. Living way up north in Minnesota I had no inkling that an unprecedented invasion of illegal immigrants was about to take place. Political correctness was a seemingly harmless prod to get us to choose our words carefully in public settings. China was a nation of a billion plus souls and a million telephones. Surely they were by no means an economic threat to the juggernaut that was the USA.
What a fool I was.
Measure twice, cut once. That's what Ross Perot told us - a good piece of common sense advice. His crazy like a fox routine cost G.H.W. Bush a second term and Bill Clinton and his wife became the president. But this Clinton fella was full of the "audacity of hope" himself and seemed to be different kind of Democrat. It was clear he was a narcissist. His self absorbed governance style meant he had no real convictions and his presidency would lead to nothing of any consequence (that is once his wife's health care grab failed).
What a fool I was.
I did not consider that Clinton was methodically denuding the military. I did not notice he sold his country out to the Chinese Communist Party for campaign contributions. I did not realize that he was loosening immigration policies, looking the other way as the southern border was being overrun. I did not comprehend the implications of his disregard of those pesky Islamic terrorists. Yeah, Bill Clinton was a different kind of Democrat for sure.
What a fool I was.
But alas, that was all over when George W. Bush "finally" moved into the White House. The adults were back in charge. I liked the sound of tax cuts. I liked the thought of the brakes being applied to an insidious creeping socialism. But then September the 11th happened.
For a while I was quite impressed and extremely proud of the President and the American people. This Bush the Younger was a man of action. He exuded a clarity of purpose. I thought we had on our hands a historic presidency in the making - a real war time hero.
What a fool I was.
"Bring it on" was what G.W. Bush said to al-Qaeda after the fall of Baghdad. The sage advice of an earlier commander in chief to walk softly but carry a big stick was ignored. It was all down hill from there.
In his first term (besides taking the country to war against dangerous Islamic extremists) President Bush signed tax cuts that were slooowwwly phased in, but were inexplicably set to expire anyway. He signed campaign finance reform that destroyed the historic fund raising advantage the Republican party enjoyed. As a bonus it legitimized a renown America hater Mr. Moveon.org himself - George Soros. He signed the No Child Left Behind law that cemented the federal Department of Education instead of dismantling it. He signed the Medicare Part D law that was the largest expansion of government entitlements since LBJ. Actually, he signed everything that landed on his desk, not once using the veto to send a message to the deficit monsters in an out of control congress. Still, with the economy turning around, Saddam Hussein in custody and gas prices finally stabilizing I was sure we would come out of this historic period safe and sound...
What fool I was.
Bush was reelected. That was the last thing that went his way.
The Iraq war went south. A hurricane named Katrina destroyed a major American city. An embittered opposition party and the mainstream press tagged teamed their unrelenting attacks on the President. The southern border was literally being overrun by illegal invaders from Mexico and all points south. Vital Social Security reform died at the hands of a Republican congress. Gas prices at the pump sky rocketed. Dick Cheney shot his lawyer... These, my friends are just the high points.
In 2006 the Republicans lost both houses of Congress after a disappointing 12 year run. We now sit in a political black hole called a presidential election. OK, at least we have a few really good Republicans running and I was convinced John McCain had no chance of collecting the nomination.
What a fool I was.
So where does this leave the world just over a decade and a half after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War?
-We are still at war
-We suffer at the gas pump like never before.
-We pay more for everything, but especially food
-We watch our wealth being drained from our 401K's and the equity from our homes
-We watch helplessly as an invasion of illegal immigrants flood our cities and towns
-We fiddle while socialism creeps into every aspect of our lives
-We hopelessly endure the loss of manufacturing capacity to China and southeast Asia
-We wither under a Global Warming propaganda machine that is on the verge of radically altering society based on extremely shaky science
-We are party to demographic trending in the West that points to the literal extinction of dozens of ethnic groups by the turn of the next century
-We really haven't stemmed the tide rising Islamic radicalism
-We are witness to the siege of tiny Israel, attacked mercilessly for simply existing
-We sit idly by while Africans in Darfur, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda are slaughtered
But hey, there's a new season of American Idol! Is Britney Spears still behaving badly? Oh and isn't that Roger Clemens a rascal? I'm just saying ...
We have to have priorities, right?
(God, save us)