Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Gimme Generation

Let's start with the idea of "there but for the grace of God go I" as recognition that the nation's economy is struggling. Looking at the country as a whole it is easy to generalize but when it is you and yours that are unemployed, have lost your house, or your retirement it puts a personal component on the discussion. So if this is happening to you, I empathize. I wouldn't want to be in that spot either.

All of this said, the election of Barack Obama seems to have culminated in a total loss of personal responsibility. We have lost our work ethic and our desire to improve. Life isn't about what we can contribute, it's about what we deserve; and fairness is about making sure that we get what we deserve.

For me, the view of the American dream has never been clearer. I grew up broke (not poor, just broke) in a single parent home. Once you were old enough to work, you did. College wasn't just a dream, it was expected. If you wanted to make something of your self you needed a good education. Settling into the 45 years of employment from college to retirement has had its ups and downs but through lots of hard work, long hours, personal sacrifice, paying cash instead of credit I've managed to find myself squarely in the middle class.

Having "arrived", I struggle with the sense that Americans are owed something and wonder why I should continue to focus on doing the right things ... making my house payment on time, saving for retirement, helping others, etc. ... when the government will support / bail out that those that don't do these things at my expense.

The government continues to grow and consume more resources. The President and President elect have either spent or would like to spend trillions on new programs that dramatically increase government control of our lives. The Social Security and Medicare programs are bankrupt and won't be there for the middle class when we retire. The only solution proposed by government is more government. The concepts of self reliance and personal responsibility have been totally lost to the Gimme Generation.

Somehow I'm pretty sure this isn't what the founding fathers had in mind when they dumped tea into the Boston harbor.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

You Can Always Serve as a Bad Example?

One of the things that President Elect Obama suggested during the election was that he had a great range of advisors to assist him once he became President.

During the first days following the election we are getting our first look at some of those advisors and from my view the area of advice that most concerns me are those focused on the economy. With great fanfare associated with his contacts to Warren Buffett, Paul Volkers, and Robert Rubin, you have to wonder how Jennifer Granholm fits into the mix.

For those of you that don't know, Jennifer Granholm is the current Governor of Michigan and is about 1/2 way through her second term. As a politician she represents the kinder gentler approach to politics that Americans claim to be looking for. Granholms tenure as governor can best be characterized as disappointing.

When Governor Granholm was re-elected in 2006, she did so with on the basis that the first term was not her fault and she had the ability to lead Michigan to a brighter future.

In 2007 Michigan was one of 3 states (Michigan, Delaware, and New Hampshire) to be in a recession. In October 2007 she led the enactment of 1.75 billion in new taxes. In August 2008 Michigan's unemployment rate stood at 8.9% (50th out of the 50 states).

These are not the kind of results that deserve to be rewarded by a leadership role in an administration that will shortly be trying to address the exact same issues for the country that Governor Granholm has been struggling /failing with in Michigan.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Taxation Update

It looks like Obama is rethinking (again) his approach to taxes. I noticed yesterday he'd updated (via one of his ads) the income limit from $250,000 to $200,000.

The problem with his changes on amounts is that it looks like: A) he doesn't understand exactly who pays taxes and B) that if he becomes President you can expect that number to continue to fall until he gets to the people that don't actually pay taxes today. If you are paying taxes today, you're not paying enough. If you're not paying taxes today, you deserve more from those who are. That would only be fair.

So what do we really know about Obama's tax approach?
  • Tax Increase ... We must repeal "George Bush's Tax Cuts". This has largely been portrayed as a tax cut for the wealthy but it actually spanned the entire population. Here is an interesting write-up on what really happened based on the "George Bush Tax Cuts".
  • Tax Increase ... The ideas we have for spending money on everything from healthcare to kindergarden far exceed the current income of the US government. So if we want all of these new programs we are going to need to pay for them.
  • Tax Increase ... We are going to cut income taxes for 95% of the American people. Since 40% of the American people don't pay income taxes at all and since the $250,000 number (and the associated 95% number) keep falling you can bet that if Senator Obama is talking, your taxes are going up.

I think I see a trend here.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Understanding the Message

Yesterday, I was buying a book at Borders and was listening to the employees discuss Sarah Palin's capabilities as the Vice Presidential nominee. One of the statements that was put forth was that Sarah Palin had only worked 12 hours since becoming Governor of Alaska.

As I ran through the checkout line I mentioned that this was an incorrect characterization. You can like or dislike Mrs. Palin for lots of different reasons but its obvious that work ethic is not an issue.

Recently John McCain appeared to take a step back in his message when at Townhall meetings he indicated that we do not have to fear Barack Obama and that Barack Obama is not an Arab. The first reaction to McCain's correction was "Gasp. Does John McCain realize that he's behind and the people are taking his messages to heart? What the heck is he doing?" What he was doing was pointing out that there are lots of reasons to be against Barack Obama but fear and racial orientation are not the things that should be driving our selection process.

This wasn't about changing the tone of the campaign or redirecting the message. McCain was simply trying to make sure that we understand what the message is. This is subtlety that is easily lost on us as we make the final run to election day.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Who Would You Rather Rip You Off

The Obama campaign has an ad suggesting that once he's in power we won't have oil companies or bankers ripping us off anymore. It just makes me all warm inside knowing that Barack is taking a personal interest in our economic well being. That he cares and is looking to change the system and address past offenses.

Of course it would make me feel a whole lot better if in addition to caring and offering "change" he actually understood what the hell he was talking about and wasn't offering to simply enhance the ripping off process.

Obama is right on when he points out that the bankers ripped us off. Of course since Barack is buddies with many of them and either takes their advice or their money, you'd have to figure he knows a little something about how the process works. The folks at Fannie Mae supported billions of dollars in bad loans, knowingly cooked the books to provide a distorted view of their operations, gave millions of dollars in bonus to people who did not deserve them, and stuck the American tax payer with a HUGE tab. To bad Obama didn't exercise any of his concern in his role as Senator to prevent the fleecing of America.


The reason that he didn't do anything about this travesty was that he actually favored Americans getting ripped off. It was good for his buddies, good for the policies and organizations he believes in, and matched his beliefs on exactly what the role of government should be.

This is really the core of it. We weren't just ripped off by the bankers. We were ripped off by the Democrats policy of giving loans to people that couldn't pay them back and ripped off by the people that borrowed (read stole) the money that they knew they'd never be able to or have to repay.

When Barack Obama moves from being a Senator to being President this is exactly the kind of policies we should expect. A President that cares enough to spend your money on policies and programs that we can't afford without regard for the people that will be writing the check. I feel better already.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Why to Vote for Obama

Near as I can tell there are three reasons that you should be voting for Obama.
  • He gives a good speech (at least with a teleprompter). W's way with words has long been a sore point for denizens that don't want the rest of the world thinking of the US as a band of redneck hicks.
  • He cleans up well. Obama has fair amount of charisma in both his presence and his speech. He's not a bad looking guy, dresses well, and is engaging on the campaign trail.
  • He's black. If you're voting against him, you're probably racist; if you're voting for him, you probably think it is about time we had a black president.

It is worth noting that none of these items has anything to do with the substantive issues that are facing our Republic today. The fact that Obama is either wrong (e.g. how to handle Iraq) or lying (e.g. middle class tax cut) or misleading (e.g. health care) on the vast majority of key issues seems to be totally lost on the majority of the registered voters.

The unfortunate thing is that unless things take a dramatic turn in the next 25 days, the people that do care about the issues are going to get the type of government that majority of Americans deserve.

Put a Fork In Him ... He's Done

This pains me but John McCain is about out of time.

The two years of campaigning leading up to the general election are about done and it looks like Senator McCain is likely to remain a Senator.

There are still a couple of outs ... the election turnout could go bad for Obama (though with ACORN in the game encouraging folks living and dead to vote early and vote often this seems unlikely). John McCain could say or do something that so grabs the conscousness of the America public that people of both parties flock to him (hasn't happened yet, but hey ... you can always dream). Barack Obama could do something incredibly stupid to tank his campaign and see the biggest change in the polls since Bush 41 kicked butt in Iraq.

In all likelyhood .... "Not gonna happen". America survived 8 years of W and can probably survive 4 years of Obama as well. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Why Obama Is Wrong For America

Here are 5 reasons:

  1. National Security and Foreign Policy -- Obama has repeated demonstrated that he is not the right man at the right time to manage our foreign policy . His willingness to surrender in Iraq and create a power vacuum in the middle east; his naivety in understanding how to communicate with the truly evil regimes of the world; his playing both sides of an issue: in Iraq where he attempted to negotiate a delay in troop withdrawals until after the election and in Canada where he told the Canadian government one story about NAFTA and American workers something else.
  2. Background and Affiliations -- Obama has not addressed his past in a way that makes sense. Rev. Wright, Bill Ayers, and ACORN just to get started. So far Obama has been able distance himself from these folks but it is clear that they have had significant influence on him. These are not influences that will make America stronger.
  3. Taxes -- Obama is flat out lying on taxes. First, there is no way that he will be able to fund all of his spending initiatives without raising taxes. Second, he totally mischaracterizes who pays taxes today. The top 10% of wage earners pay 65% of the income taxes; the top 50% of the wage earners pay 96% of the income taxes; This means roughly 50% of taxpayers pay no income taxes at all. Just how much more skewed does this need to be to create "fairness".
  4. Leadership -- What exactly has Obama done that provide examples of strong leadership? Answer: Nothing. He played partisan politics in the bailout / rescue / screwing of the American taxpayer; he has only been in the Senate for 3 years and he has spent 2 of these years running for President; from community organizer to State legislator to US Senator he has not come up with new ideas or been a driving force to make things happen under his watch. Other than a charismatic smile and being well spoken, there is simply not much there.
  5. Socialism -- When you look deeper into the things that Obama holds near and dear, the kind of change Obama is proposing can best be summed up in one word. Socialism. That is the kind of change we can do without.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Good Thing There's An Election Coming

When you look back on the legacy of the Bush administration, you kind of have to wonder. Does Barack Obama have it right when he says the last thing we need is four more years of W?

Actually, I think Obama has it exactly right ... four more years of the of George Bush would be devastating for America ... but not for the reasons Barack is running on.

Let's start with the Bailout / Rescue / Screwing that the we got this week. There is no question that the policies (primarily Democratic, but with lots of blame to go around) of making credit highly available to people that should not have had access to it has created a serious problem for our financial markets and that something had to be done.

Now other than pointing out that we had a serious problem (as opposed to "crisis") and pulling the parties together ... was there any other leadership that was offered? Not that you could tell. Did it occur to him that we'd been through this before? Did it occur to him that the private market had resources to help deal with this as well (thank you Mr. Buffet, Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo)? Did it occur to him that we didn't need to add billions of dollars of additional earmarks to this proposal?

But this was just the latest example of a situation were W provided weak leadership.

Barack Obama says that John McCain votes align with George Bush 90% of the time. I think in the last debate Sarah Palin indicated that Barack Obama voted with George Bush 96% of the time (that's what I heard, I'm not sure whether that's what she meant). The truth is W is a go along to get along guy on most domestic issues -- and you can see his direct impact in the huge amount of growth of domestic spending in the last 8 years (something that somehow Barack never points out)

It took him over 5 years (over one whole term) to break out the veto pen for the first time. George Bush votes with EVERYBODY. He has stepped it up a bit but still has only 28 total vetoes and 33% of those have been overridden by Congress. We haven't seen this type of leadership since Warren Harding.

America could definitely use some fresh leadership that would take us in a new direction.

VP Debate

Basically another draw.

Palin scored more points and showed that she can speak publicly. So on the "one heartbeat away" question she scored.

If you were undecided before ... you're probably still undecided.

Nothing happened to make you change you vote one way or the other.

It is about time the gloves came off in this campaign. We are two years into it and still have undecideds. The politically correct / polite approaches are not going to work. If you want to win you are going to have to bring a sledgehammer -- this is especially true for McCain Palin since they are losing.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Wow ... Go find $700 Billion Somewhere Else

We seem to be looking for some statesmen that can lead this country.

Whether the issue was that this was the wrong plan or that it was to much of the right plan it looks to have gone down big -- along with your 401K portfolio.

Democrats -- 141 for, 94 against (40%)
Republicans -- 66 for, 132 against (66%)

One voter that just didn't know what to do.

207 for; 226 against (this wasn't the final / final count, but was the count at the time I was watching)

You can look at this lots of ways, but in the end, this problem was caused by the government with lots of room for blame (yes, I'm looking right at you Nancy Pelosi).
Unfortunately the same people that were responsible for the mess are still here for the clean-up and they have failed mightily.

Nice job gang.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Call it a Draw

The first McCain / Obama debate went off to a draw.

If you were looking for Obama to get a bit of schooling by McCain of Foreign Policy ... well, yes that happened.

If you were looking to see if McCain can handle the task of speaking in public (comparable to Obama and contrasted to W) ... well, yes he can.

But if you were looking for McCain to knock foreign policy out of the park or for Obama to fall on his face ... nope. Didn't happen. Obama was able to hold his own. The people that were for him before the debate are still for him. The folks that were leaning his way can still lean and feel OK about it.

The problem for McCain is that he needs more than ties in these debates. The country is already divided by party lines -- people who will not be easily swayed regardless of what is said at these debates -- leaving 15% +/- of independent or undecided voters that need to be wooed in order to tilt the balance of the election. McCain needs to provide stark, compelling reasons for why Obama is not their guy.

McCain could have scored some more significant points by hitting Obama on Obama's discussions Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki on delaying troop withdrawls. During the economic discussions he needs to hit Obama with more details get more details The bit about Obama on earmarks (almost $1 billion) was strong but is something that McCain needs to continue to press. Obama again pulled out the "90% agreement" point which McCain hasn't strongly rebutted. McCain is also going to have to be clearer and more direct on the ideas of taxation, where the money comes from and where the money goes.

Friday, September 26, 2008

House Republicans Walk Out

When I first heard this, I couldn't believe it.

Walking out is NO WAY to solve the financial problems we are now facing.

Then I did a quick Google on "House Republicans Walk Out" and found that they do this fairly often. If they don't get their way, they pick up their ball and go home.

We need them to get back in the game .... NOW.

They don't have to agree with everything being discussed but they absolutely need to be part of the process.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Obama Looks Presidential

McCain Suspends Campaign

Are you serious? WTF?

Obama responds "A President needs to be able to deal with more than one thing at a time". Exactly.

I'm reminded of Ross Perot exiting and entering his campaign. That giant sucking sound you hear is could be voters being pulled to the Democratic Party.

Not the message we needed at the moment.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Stuck on Stupid

Neal Boortz whines about the mortgage bailout

Neal ... you are totally missing who is really being bailed out here.

The reason a bailout is needed is not because we feel sorry for all of the home owners that made bad decisions and now can't pay their mortgage bill. If it were just the consumers that were effected, there would be no bailout.

Since you don't get it .... the reason we are doing a mortgage bailout is to save the other people that were impacted that we can't let fail: namely the banks that offered the mortgages, the investors that loaned the monies to the banks, and the companies that bought or secured what is now bad debt. These are the people that are really being bailed out.

The primary blame for this mess lies with Congress. They created a regulatory environment that allowed this problem to happen in the first place. The secondary blame lies with the banks and lenders .... "Hmmm, let's see ... your credit record is spotty at best. Wait, I know what we can do. We'll lend you at least 100% of the value of the house and consolidate all of your other outstanding debts into your monthly house payment as well. Oh and to save you even more money, we can do this with a variable rate loan". Duh!!!!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Energy Rebate Checks?

Obama supports energy rebates to put a few dollars in the pockets of all Americans.

Well isn't that special.

My first question is how this meaningfully differs from the approach of offering a "gas tax holiday"? My second is how either of these approaches provides a meaningful solution to managing the cost of energy?

So far both the Democrats and Republicans have completely failed to do ANYTHING. What we need from the President and the 435 members of congress -- and particularly McCain and Obama -- is leadership. Instead of looking for problems, look for solutions. Instead of spending money with pandering programs like Energy Rebates and Gas Tax Holidays, invest in solutions that will provide long term value and benefits to our nation.

The focus on short term problems is great for the news cycle but will never result in addressing the world-wide need for energy. The idea that a country founded on the principles of capitalism and a market economy would subject company CEO's to public scorn because they had the gall to earn a profit margin of 8.5% is unbelievable. Congress should be called to account for their actions (and lack there of) rather than trying to shift the blame to someone else.

If we focus on the solutions to the cost of energy, then finding reasonable alternatives to our current course becomes much simpler. The core problem we have is that demand is out pacing supply ... so here are some rocketsciencesque approaches to addressing the issue:
  • Find more supply of the fuels we currently use the most of. Here are a couple places you might want to look: ANWR and of the coast of Florida. It isn't like we don't have any more oil or gas reserves available. While not perfect, the oil companies have proven that they can develop oil fields without destroying the environment.
  • Expand the types of energy creation we have available. Solar, wind, hydro-electric, and nuclear are all viable sources of energy. Solar, wind and hydro-electric are all renewable / clean sources of energy. Folks like T. Boone Pickens have ideas and vision for addressing some of America's energy needs. Rather the spending money pandering, invest some of those dollars in people like T. Boone Pickens.
  • Stop standing in our own way. The fact that we haven't built a new refinery in over 30 years is contributing to the lack of supply for processed crude. Refinery's are great except for the smell of sulphur down wind. Wind mills are great except they kill birds. Hydro-electric dams are great except they kill fish. Nuclear is great except for the spent fuel rods. Rather that bending entirely to the pure environmentalist point of view (which is what we have been doing), we need to use some common sense and balance environmentalism with economic considerations.

It really isn't asking to much to expect our candidates for president to do more than perform vote buying exercises. Both candidates tell us that they are agents for change. How about showing us some leadership for a change.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Stuck on Stupid

How do you make sense of people that have lost all touch with reality?

  • Overheard comment. "Either the government can pay for it, or we can pay for it.". Hello. Who exactly pays for the stuff the government pays for? Oh, that's right. That would be us.
  • The real role / value of big business. Socialism / communism alive and well in the United States. This guy is positively sickening.

Airport Security

Do you ever wonder if you are getting your money's worth for the dollars being spent by the TSA to make flying more secure? Does the $4.9 billion proposed for 2009 make us safer than we on September 10, 2001? How much liberty do you need to give up to make flying safer?

If you look at TSA results since 2001 we have been able to enjoy air travel without planes intentionally flying into buildings, blowing up midair, or experiencing other terrorist threats (that we are aware of). But still, when you look at the process you have to wonder, is this because TSA is on the ball or because planning and executing a 9/11 type event takes a lot of money, planning and preparation, and dumb luck.

So far the approach has been primarily focused on the addressing passenger security and reacting to new ideas that the nut cases (dangerous nut cases, but nut cases not the less) come up with. It seems the results are mixed at best:
  • Nail clippers as a weapon. Because the 9/11 terrorists used box cutters as part of their attack things like nail clippers were banned. This resulted in tons of lost stuff but there is no indication that it has made flying any safer. Truth is, just about anything can be used as a weapon, it isn't hard to conceal items with sharp edges that don't beep, and there is no monitoring for someone trained in martial arts ("these hands are registered with the FBI as lethal weapons").
  • Scanning is more art than science. The idea that we can take a fully loaded suitcase or computer bag, run it through a scanner, and catch everything that falls onto the exception list is dreaming. An Inspector General report from 2005 discusses some of the issues but the real problem is that scanning by itself is not a complete solution. I'm sure I'm not alone as someone that has unintentionally had stuff pass through security. What do you do when liquids (neatly packed in a 3-1-1 quart size bag) pass through screening without raising an eyebrow? You simply pick up your bag and continue on before any one takes another look at the x-ray machine.
  • Some folks are more equal than others. What do you make of it when TSA agents reporting for duty are not required to walk through an x-ray machine? How about pilots that are allowed to bring bottled water through with no questions? Sure, the expectation is that these folks are known entities that have gone through a extensive pre-screening. The problem is that these lapses in security represent holes that can be exploited.
  • The magic 4'S. Things have lightened up significantly since the early days following 9/11 but the idea that we rely on random selection to catch bad guys is a huge problem. There is definitely a need for randomness in security but it should be in conjunction with more educated selections. Yes, this means that we should be doing some type of profiling / passenger interactions to focus the selections.

These are just some of the problems with the passenger screening process. While the front door -- passenger screening -- may be slightly ajar. The back door -- air freight -- is left wide open.

Creating a totally secure environment for air travel is a challenging goal and probably one that is unattainable and undesirable if it were. The impacts of cost and loss of liberty would simply out weigh the value of security. Still, the TSA could get a lot more bang for our buck by eliminating window dressing for security, removing political correctness from the screening process, and using a lot more common sense.

As a follow-up item / reference, the TSA has a blog site -- the Evolution of Security -- that provides some excellent information and commentary.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

The Declaration of Independence posits that we are endowed with "certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". For many Americans, these are big words with deep meaning. The challenge is that most of us don't seem to know what they mean.

From my son's fifth grade democracy field trip where we learned that "pursuit of Happiness" allowed you to ignore the rule of law to Thom Hartmann's idea that "Life" equates to socialized medicine we have it exactly wrong. Fortunately I was able to have a reasonable heart to heart with my son and explain how the pursuit of Happiness works, but there were probably 4 or 5 folks listening Thom that may have bought into his views.

If we start with the point made in the Declaration that Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness are inalienable rights. These are rights that the government neither grant nor take away. But wait, it gets better. The Declaration of Independence was a letter to King George letting him know that his approach for ruling the colonies wasn't acceptable. As you scan through the Declaration there are a number of complaints and concerns raised but not once in the document does Thomas Jefferson assert or complain that the right of health care is not being provided.

There may be valid reasons that we should look at revising the health care delivery system in the United States but the word Life in the Declaration of Independence isn't one of them.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Why Flying Isn't Hard

It is amazing the amount of babble that you hear when it comes to flying: the planes are too full,
the tickets cost to much, security is to hard to deal with, there is no customer service, etc., etc. etc.

There was a time when crossing the United States was a big deal.

To get started, you needed to sell, throw out, or simply leave anything that didn't fit into your covered wagon. Then you needed to be able to dedicate six plus months to the trek. Once you started there was no guarantee you'd make it across at all, let alone alive. Challenges included getting lost, starvation, Indian attacks, disease, and the weather.

The speed and safety of the crossing improved significantly with steam locomotive but it could still be a perilous trip. The passenger train of the day was not designed with all of the creature comforts you might desire. Seating was cramped, air conditioning non-existent, and windows often needed to closed to avoid the cinders from the boiler. Boiler explosions and train derailments were common dangers that could leave you stranded, injured, or dead.

All of which brings me to the challenges of flying. Everyday ten's of thousands of people are flying across the United States. The typical environment includes air conditioning, a padded seat, something to eat / drink, and a bit of entertainment. Statistically, flying is the safest way to travel.

But my goodness, you should hear people whine when their plane is delayed, when the plane is cramped, or their luggage is misplaced. In 232 years, we have become a nation of total babies.

Come on people, SUCK IT UP.