Archive for the 'Economy' Category

04
Oct
11

Frail Honor, the Most Dangerous Kind

Well THIS is not what I wanted to write about. But there it is, Freshly Pressed, all about the protest on Wall Street and the virtue of the down trodden. Our future is in a lot of trouble. Seeing all these young Americans out in the cold to support their cause reminds me of an accidental moment of clarity I experienced in high school. It was Veteran’s Day, and instead of enjoying our new snow, I was sitting in English Lit. I’m pretty patriotic, so I had the thought that reading Lawrence Furlenghetti may not be the best way to honor our precious vets. I stood up and mentioned to the class how our time spent studying poetry was indeed undermining the sacrifices made by generations of veterans. Within minutes the tempera paint and posterboard were pilfered from the art room and we had some respectable signs. We paraded through the halls and quickly gathered a following that represented the ENTIRE school. Every student left class to support the Veteran’s Day cause. There we were, in the falling snow, on the side of the highway drinking hot chocolate and shouting something about freedom and sacrifice. The media was there within the hour and we clambered for their attention as they expounded on our devout patriotism.

Obviously, we were all lying. But the question is, were we lying to the media and our teachers? Or were we lying to ourselves? In that moment, every one of us was convinced that it was our teenage duty to honor the veterans. I was a little proud of my act of rebellion. As a teen, I was NOT rebellious and this would go a long way toward redeeming my straight-laced reputation. However, the pride was tinged with a nameless fear. I knew very well that the only reason the entire school walked out behind me was because they wanted to. I had successfully appealed to their inner-most wishes for a day off and I made it look honorable. At that moment, human nature stripped a layer and I discovered the simplicity of manipulation. Turn a person’s frailty into that which makes him honorable and he will stand for much less than he could be. It is easy to recline in one’s excuses, but so difficult to live up to an expectation.

Now, I see these protesters on Wall Street and all over the country, youth who were traded honor for mediocrity, and I am sad for our future. I would like a youth that is prepared to rise up and embrace the challenges ahead, enjoy the freedom of our new found globalism, and spread a better way of life to the truly downtrodden masses (not the ones being fed organic veggies and pasta in the street). Unfortunately, what sleeps on Wall Street right now is only bringing this nation further into despair. With it goes the hope that would bring prosperity to those who need it most.

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21
May
11

Time to Unpack

I’ve called it History’s Quandary. The Middle East, where enemies and allies change by the day and the best we can ever hope for is choosing the least unfortunate. Right now, our president is standing in fallout that is too deep to sort through, and for that he deserves our sympathy. Presidents before him have acted on the best knowledge to make the best decisions only to be judged by generations of history.

Right now, though, the President is not only drowning in the fallout from the troubled Middle East, but also at home. His Israeli peace plan has brought nothing but controversy over a steadfast ally. I have a knee-jerk opinion on what he said, but I like to do a little research before I speak out on the Middle East, so I’ve spent two days reading the blog circuit regarding this speech, Hamas, Abbas, Netanyahu, the Muslim Brotherhood…Finally I came to a conclusion.

It’s time to unpack, America, or our baggage is going to drown us.

Every comment stream I read turned into a circular argument of name-calling, blaming, excuses, and hate. Is this what our great nation has become? Golda Maier said that there will be war until Palestinians can learn to love their children as much as they hate the Jews. What about us? After reading all I have, it occurs to me that Americans are so caught up in rhetoric, we cannot reach a viable solution on any issue. In the name of being right, we have forgotten that love fosters growth, but hate destroys everything in its path. The Israeli conflict is an appropriate backdrop for such a realization. Israel, though a small and young nation, has grown more than many of its peers in the area. The nation is democratic, based on a general concept of freedom. It’s peers are bent on destruction. Nothing can destroy and intimidate its way to prosperity – not governments, ideas, egos, or armies.

We Americans inherited a legacy of peace and prosperity that we have squandered. Now that it is threatened, we are up to our ears in blame and hate that jeopardizes our future. We cannot even agree on good an evil. When we reached out to the Katrina victims, there were criticisms. The Gulf oil spill? Not an environmental tragedy, but a political blame-fest. We fight about gunmen in our schools and killings on the border. Obama compared children being blown up on school buses with the humiliation of occupation and NOBODY SAID A THING. Children are being killed, people, and we have turned it into a political debate without spending a moment to grieve for humanity.

America has always stood for what is right and good. She has been a bastion of freedom and solace. Right now, though, America doesn’t know what is right and therefore cannot stand. Instead, we have replaced good vs. evil with red vs. blue and are battering both to the ground. I promise that our skirmishes over things like abortion and clean water will look luxurious when we are fighting for existence. If we cannot come together and remember that a dead child is a tragedy no matter who her parents were and that injustice is a scourge, we will fall from within.

Right now, we are carrying our own versions of history in heavy backpacks that weigh us down, hindering our movement and keeping us out of the fight. We have got to unpack those so that we can step up and remember that good is worth fighting for. The enemy is powerful, but he should be easy for us to recognize – he’s the one threatening our future and that of the world. Usually, he has less problem saying he is bent on murder than we have believing him.

12
Sep
10

The Most Dangerous Weapon

Freedom of speech was supposed to protect citizens against an overgrown and biased press. There is a lively debate over just how free our press is right now, and I hold that the free press is easily found, but must be pursued. Unfortunately, the press that is offered without pursuit is beholden to ratings and being able to provide desirable interviews, and is much less free than it should be. The free press has eloped with our government.

The marriage of our popular media and our government has replaced our ability, or, more aptly, our desire for objective thought. For every issue that arises, there are 27 pundits to tell us what to think about it and how to react. The daily news covers portions of stories, leaving us shocked with every detail that a decent pundit can reveal, and, therefore, use to earn trust.

This is almost a useful service in our busy world. Except for one huge detail. Virtue. Our politicized media tells us to be virtuous but fails to define the standard. There is none. Those who tell us how to think, to feel, and to spend, bully us into a belief system of charity and guilt but they refuse to stand up and define the solution. They fail to stand on an absolute, yet they ask us to stake our livelihood on their wavering expertise.

Ayn Rand says that the most dangerous man is one who uses pity as a weapon. Stop. Think. Have truer words been spoken? Think of how we all felt when the stimulus package passed. Think of the way we were told to consider healthcare. Remember the pleas of the sick, the emotion involved in this nation-altering decision.

I challenge the media to define virtue before they ask us to be virtuous. In fact, I’ll supply the definition, then they need only stand by it. Virtue lies in the protection of human rights at any cost. Equal rights belong to the rich and the poor, to every race, creed, and gender. Make no mistake; this is not an endorsement of furthering our welfare state. The problem with Marxist theory is that “from everyone according to his ability, to everyone according to his need” requires mere humans to define ability and to define need. Invariably, the definition of need expands as the definition of ability contracts. It’s a slope of destructive enabling that panders to human whim. If we are to settle on such a standard, will we recognize the men and women worthy of ruling, those who are willing to offer definitions blindly and uphold them with the same impartiality? I highly doubt it. Impartial virtue has been labelled cruel, or unfair. And nobody is willing to wear such a title. Rather, we compromise. We compromise all that is good in the name of virtue and we are left with a welfare state that corrodes such virtue.

20
Dec
09

Midnight Clear

I think the point was lost in all my thoughts yesterday. The point is, the gifts of Christmas are grace, unconditional love, hope, and forgiveness. Unfortunately, these gifts are not ours to give. We have instead found what we can give, thus depending on retailers for Christmas joy. In our best intentions, we substituted material giving for the true blessings bestowed by a relationship with Jesus. Being steeped in the uncertainty of recession, coupled with having everything under the sun, has forced us to look deeper for meaning this year. I think it started last year, but everyone was reeling as the markets crashed around us and banks closed at a rate not seen since the Great Depression. This year, we’ve had an opportunity to adjust and regroup.

Now I have found some clarity in this season. As we boycott retailers that refuse to say “Merry Christmas” and argue amongst ourselves over the origin of tradition, we leave behind the truest Christmas gifts. There is no grace in a retail boycott. Unconditional love? We have taught our children that they are only worthy of gifts if they behave. Redemption has disappeared in the holiday shuffle as we strive for perfection in an effort to impress.

The Christmas season offers us so many opportunities, more than any other, to show the world the love of Christ. We, though, are guilty of being caught up in worldly trappings, pointing fingers and bickering over verbiage while around the world, people still starve and suffer oppression. Not having our holiday recognized by the government is not oppression, slavery and unfair caste systems are oppression, this is where we should bare our teeth. Giving gifts is lovely. It is a wonderful expression of love, but as I said yesterday, we must check our motivation. The shopping part of Christmas is far removed from the birth of Jesus part of Christmas. Shopping is not ordained in the Bible as part of any celebration. Yet we have tried to turn the shopping part of Christmas into the holiday itself.

Our fight for Christmas is a dangerous and slippery slope. The struggle over a nativity scene on the courthouse steps can easily keep the world from seeing that very child who lay in the manger, even if the struggle is “won.”

13
Sep
09

No Means No

WE DON’T WANT IT!!!!!!!! The first question we HAVE to ask is “why?” We have said no. It is grossly unpopular. Nobody wants it and even my eight-year old can tell it’s not viable. So why is our president so intent on passing THIS health-care legislation? Just today, he said to come and offer an alternative – his “door is always open,” but he followed with a warning. He has no time for people “who think that it’s better politics to kill this plan than improve it.” He also said he wouldn’t stand by while special interests “use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are.” And he warned, “If you misrepresent what’s in the plan, we will call you out.”

I’m reading the plan. It’s somewhat hard to represent because it’s all-encompassing yet still ambiguous. And there is no need. Really, we don’t need to debate what’s in the plan. We should be debating why we would have such a plan, regardless of content. This plan HINGES on the government taking over the health care system. It says that it will allow people to maintain existing insurance, but if that insurance terminates, it will not be available to the insured again. He will have to take the government option. There are propsed fines for non-compliance; I believe the fine amounts to 2.5% of income. That is an interesting formula that should give us pause. Nine million of the 30 million who are uninsured CHOOSE to live that way because they are wealthy enough to afford a pay-as-you-go strategy. This is an interesting new way to tax the wealthy. Is this how we are paying for a $900 billion plan after so recently tripling our already insurmountable deficit? Obama looked into a camera six hours ago and said that this plan will not increase our deficit. He promised. ?

My mathematically-challenged brain cannot imagine a way we can offer this plan, pay off every big business and union, and have anything left to fund existing programs. Our tax revenues shrink as unemployment increases, which it is doing so rapidly that the press is reporting “less than expected increases” with giddy optimism. The president cites 6 million Americans losing their health insurance in the last 17 months. True. Because 6 million Americans have lost jobs or benefits, or both in the last 17 months. This will not improve when small businesses are forced to ensure their employees. More Americans will become unemployed, so even more Americans will be accepting the “public option.”

Please, again ask why? It is a beautifully crafted catch-22 in which everyone ends up under the “public option.”

Really, I don’t think it necessary to debate the merits of the bill because it is not sustainable and it is dangerous. When did we begin to trust our governing officials so much that we believe they will take care of our basic comforts when money is on the line? People are calling this an answer to prayer, saying it is the most compassionate solution. Really? Perhaps it is, in this very moment, but what about in five years when the program feels the inherent financial strain? This is a lot of power to give to a group of people only 28 per cent of Americans trust.

I hate to draw likenesses between Obama and Hitler. It is too easy to make a shallow and emotional argument, yet every day it becomes a little more difficult to NOT draw likenesses. Hitler started this way. He was compassionate. He was doing what was best for Germany. He began to exterminate, with the blessing of the populace, the handicapped. He sent them to state-run hospitals where their viability was measured against the resources they consumed. If they were not able to actively contribute to the interest of Germany (in a measurable way), they were systematically murdered. Seventy people a day. The definition of handicapped broadened to elderly, to sickly, and we all know the rest. Really? Do we really believe that there will never again be a government capable of such atrocity? Even now, the curator of a German death camp turned museum says that the men who delivered death to seventy people a day were not insane. Instead, she says, “They had a purpose.”

Purpose. Purpose, at its best, instigates excellence. At its worst, however, purpose is an unspeakable danger. We, as a nation, cannot afford to live under the purpose of government.

26
Jun
09

Let’s Skip the Bread Before Dinner

Iran has become my latest obsession. Not necessarily the election; I heard that it was expected the election would be rigged long before it happened. I also learned that Mir Hossein Mousavi shares in Ahmadenijad’s ideology, minus the messiah complex, so I don’t know that the election results really matter all that much. What does matter – A LOT – is what lies in the bloody fall out. First of all, the ruling parties of Iran are showing their character. They no longer have the excuse of a scrappy George W. and yet they are bullying on their very own. We are getting an up close look at a regime bent on power and dominance. It is a precious close-up, too, thanks to the new media.

For the last couple of months, I was beginning to believe that our mainstream media had become obsolete. This last week has confirmed it. The media are fed sound bites from various press secretaries and public relations professionals and we know that the meat of the story was chewed up over lunch, never to be heard. If we do get any of the meat, it comes to us seasoned with ideology. The problem is that these people are charged with the responsibility of our opinion, something we tend to hand over quite simply.

At first it was the many stories covering the green shoots in our economy. Frankly, if I had any power, I would do everything I could to ensure that Americans felt good about the economy. Much, probably too much, of our economic success is driven by public sentiment – animal spirits is the technical term coined by John Maynard Keynes. There is a fine line to walk because it is crucial that Americans spend confidently. The downside of that involves a need to deceive. As MSN and the local stations were flooded with stories of green shoots, unemployment bottoms, and a slowly recovering housing market, China was dumping dollars. China is our largest foreign investor and didn’t like the prospectus. Russia is pushing for a standardized currency that is NOT the dollar. The United States dumped one HUNDRED BILLION dollars into the IMF, proving that the global economy is not looking much better than our own. We are a long way from a sustainable recovery. I contend that it will not happen.

But we are distracted. We have inserted ourselves into the lives of John & Kate. We wait with bated breath for the outcome of American Idol. We wonder if Susan Boyle is really the Cinderella story of the year. We accept these stories like bread before a meal, too full to pay attention to the main course. The media slides by with their sound bites and we trust them because we have already gotten what we want.

Before this week, I was finding that if I wanted news, I had to dig past all of these stories and search for credible voices on the blog circuit. They’re all over. They are first-hand witnesses not beholden to anyone for a paycheck. They are scholars and observers and employees who understand the situation better than the financial reporter who just got promoted from obituaries ever will.

Now the world is seeing it. Despite Iran’s efforts to block foreign media, we are being fed pure news. It is a collection of first-hand accounts bound together by grainy pictures and slow video. There is no opinion save the horror any human being should feel at witnessing atrocities first hand. Ironically, what we are seeing from Iran is not colored by ideology, no matter how subtle. This is what news should be. We see it and we can decide. We have a precious opportunity to see Ahmadenijad and the Ayatollah for what they are, not through the lenses of policy through which we usually see them.

This power shaved off of the vulnerability of an empire is frightening to the offenders. China is launching unprecedented efforts to censor the internet right now. India is following suit. How far behind are we? I have witnessed myself changes in search results from day to day, knowing that items have been removed. It was a quiet censorship, but what precedent will be set coming out of Iran? If Asia and the Middle East embrace censorship, is this going to be an accepted norm? We have a lot to lose, but so do they. There is one right Americans, both liberal and conservative, treasure. That is our First Amendment. We agree on this. Could Iran possibly unify us, after all? Is it possible that when nobody is toying with our opinions, we can agree on what is right and what is wrong? If that happens, America will once again be the force of goodness she was founded to be.

20
Jun
09

Redundant Robust Regulation

Because I have nothing to do on a Friday night, I hurried home from work today so I could begin reading Obama’s White Paper “outlining” his financial system overhaul. I made it all the way to page 21. I will finish, but needed to stop and breathe. The buzz is that Obama wrote this all by himself. I have not substantiated that, but if he did, he needs an editor. The first 16 pages are so redundant, I actually had to use the table of contents as a map and still I thought it was a test to prove that nobody reads these documents. There are full paragraphs repeated in the document.

I need to read the rest of it, then I need to read it again, but this should be broken down. I wondered how something so momentous was released with barely a hiccup on Wall Street and now I understand. It is innocuous. Really the first 16 pages simply state and re-state that there will be increased supervision over financial agencies of all sorts. I actually don’t disagree. The financial industry is behaving horribly right now and Obama, or whoever the author is, makes a valid point when he mentions how banks are circumventing regulation.

But there are a couple of troublesome tidbits tucked away in this document. First, it calls for increased supervision of “Tier 1” financial institutions by the Federal Reserve. This is odd. This is not a Federal Reserve responsibility. It is a little known fact that the Federal Reserve is not a government entity. The increased supervision may not be the worst idea ever, but the definition of “Tier 1” is dangerously undefined. It includes any institution that is involved with an institution deemed too big to fail. This can include smaller correspondent banks, third party payment processors, small insurance agencies and investment firms. It expands the reach of the Fed beyond where it was ever intended to be.

Speaking of the Federal Reserve, buried between all the talk about supervision, a real change is casually mentioned. The discount window is to be subject to Congressional approval. I can’t even imagine what that might mean since later in the document, it mentions relaxing emergency lending by the Fed. There are no details on either item in the first 21 pages, so possibly I have misinterpreted, but I find this confusing. It makes me wonder if anyone involved with this truly understands the Fed Funds and discount window process, because this does not seem workable.

Of course, I am not overly concerned with the Fed’s new role. I am reading the document because I want to find a real benefit to consumers. Rest easy. The Community Reinvestment Act is going to be protected and possibly expanded under this plan. Last I heard, that very piece of legislation was a great contributor to the current situation. It’s a nice idea, but it is unrealistic. There is a reason that lending standards were as high as they had been.

Another hidden dagger for consumers, the Gramm, Leach Bliley Act is going to be compromised, dissolving the stringent distinction between entities under examination. Right now, Gramm. Leach, Bliley allows banks to offer investment and insurance services, but each offering is very separate. Very simply, if you hold a small investment account with ABC bank, it cannot be considered when processing standard banking requests, such as overdraft payments or charge offs. Perhaps under the new standards, the bank will still not consider a $50,000.00 investment account when decisioning an overdraft. But the Fed, in a regulatory role, may consider you a high risk customer because of an overdrawn checking account regardless of your investment account. Such perceived risk could be detrimental to a financial institution’s rating.

Additional “benefits” to the consumer include fair and balanced disclosures. Bank disclosures are pretty much just factual regurgitation, so this seems like a red-tape-laden token. It also calls for simplified “plain-vanilla” to quote our president, product offerings and disclosure of such offerings.

A quarter of the way in, it’s hard to stand behind this. There is so much regulation, but there are very few specifics regarding the regulatory standards. There are agencies, expanded oversight, and more, but all of this intervention is not qualified. There are no defined goals. Personally, I would like to see a plan that empowers financial institutions and consumers. Too big to fail? Break it up. We have anti-trust laws on the books. CRA as consumer advocacy? Let’s get rid of unfair overdraft practices that essentially trap customers into paying an additional $30-$40 per transaction. Clarified disclosures? Why don’t we strive for financial literacy? The financial world is riddled with pitfalls and is automated to the extent that consumer need not monitor their own finances. This has led to complacency in an area most crucial to our survival. Complacency breeds exploitation.




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