Archive for the 'Stimulus' Category

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.

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17
Oct
09

Use Your Words!

Birther, Becker, Rushian, Becker-Head, Breeder, Bigot, Racist, Closed-minded, Hater, Greedy, Uncompassionate, Hypocrite, Deluded, Homophobe…Just a few names being tossed around the blogosphere lately in reference to the conservative movement. I have seen some of these in actual news articles, and I have even seen some arise in a judge’s decision (see Judge Land’s verbal levelling of Orly Taitz. Professional?). Yep. There are some naughty conservatives, too. I heard from a dear friend of mine that his sweet mother was SPIT on while campaigning for Obama. It was a shocking revelation to me as I have never been mistreated by a fellow conservative. I truly believed that we were above such mean and unproductive tactics but I’m guessing those on the other side would say the same thing.

So, we all have to accept some responsibility, but personally I try to abstain from name-calling. Many liberals are my friends, family, and even their mothers – real people I don’t want to hurt. Still, I slip from time to time. Judging from the vast world of social media, we are all slipping. When we were little, our parents told us to use our words and we have practiced ever since, sharpening these verbal skills into a weapon that would divide a nation. The rhetoric and sound bites divide us, fostering distrust and even hatred that sometimes threatens to turn violent. And yet, we continue to use our words. Words are thrown around in our culture without too much thought to their impact. The impact is that we cannot have an honest debate about important issues because both sides are shielded by rhetoric.

It’s dangerous ground. Each day, our way of life is threatened and we citizens are powerless against the tide of politicians. We are fed questionable facts but debate is stifled by fears of being called bigoted, hateful, or worse. Take, for example, the emergence of HIV in the early ’80’s. It didn’t take too long to determine that the disease was sexually transmitted and was spreading most rapidly among homosexual men. The transmission among this demographic was not specifically due to homosexuality, but to promiscuity. The cases were first isolated to San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. Officials like Harvey Milk and his supporters tried to warn the gay communities about this rising epidemic and were silenced by Gay activist groups like the Stonewall Gay Democratic Club. These groups stated that any admonition against promiscuous gay sex was a statement against the gay lifestyle and they threw such epithets as homophobe, Nazi, and sexual fascist their way. At that time, one in 333 homosexual men in San Francisco had the disease. They were concentrated in the Castro district and promiscuous men in the area could potentially come into into contact with up to ten partners a night, making their odds of contracting the disease 1 in 33. Harvey Milk, Bill Kraus, and Catherine Cusic, all homosexual community leaders tried to get the word out to protect their own, but they were continually brought down. It was political suicide to warn the homosexual community specifically of this potential danger. Unfortunately, Milk gave into political pressure and dropped the issue. Of course, it is difficult to blame him.

At that time, in 1983, there were about 5,000 HIV diagnoses in the US. It was a rare and preventable disease, had anyone heeded the warnings. Today, over 500,000 Americans are living with the disease and another half million have died from it.

Being homosexual himself, I hardly believe that Harvey Milk was trying to be hateful. I don’t really think the man was homophobic, either. And I know he wasn’t calling anyone names. The price our country has paid for his inability to speak out is dear. Now, we have more and more issues of similar import. Unfortunately, the discussion is the same. We have hurled insults across party lines so long that the line between right and wrong, good and bad, is completely blurred and nobody is willing to uncover it for fear of what will be said. The fastest way to stifle a debate is to call someone a racist or hater. But while we throw these ugly words around, lives are being lost. Money is being lost. Our national identity is being lost. We stand to lose an entire generation. Are we really going to let name-calling stand in the way of greatness we were meant for?

13
Jun
09

The American Dream up for Resale

I am not a fan of TARP. I am not a fan of the bailouts. I am not a fan of an ineffective but over-priced stimulus package. I am not a fan of a banking system that exploited consumers to the point of exhaustion, then went to the government begging for alms. With a democrat in office and a democratic congress, I would have hoped that government payouts would ultimately have helped the consumers, not simply the behemoth sized banks.

The truth is, the middle class is being squeezed dry. Now that they can’t give anymore, the juicers have gone to the government to DEMAND more. It is unfair on a new level and we Americans should be outraged. We should be afraid. We should make it stop. This is still a representative government that is ultimately responsible to us.

Here is my nutshell version of the financial crisis, complicated by great legislation like the fair housing act: In the 90’s, adjustments were made to reserve requirements, freeing up A LOT of money to lend. In the beginning of the 21st century, right off the bat, our financial sector was attacked. Businesses were dealt a physical blow that they could not overcome and Americans were frightened. To combat a financial meltdown, rates were reduced to historic lows. It was all harmless until greed walked in. With rates so low, it was no longer profitable to lend money – and there was all that new money just waiting to be loaned out… Banks had to find new ways to generate income. Standard fees were increased, but it wasn’t enough.

This is when it became sinister…Banks had to go one step further and find new sources for fee income. This is where the average consumer got involved with the financial crisis. Now banks figured out that the lower middle class may not have a lot of money individually, but as a collective, it was a great cash cow. Even more lucrative was the less savvy lower class. Banks could offer them exactly what they wanted – easy credit, overdraft protection, increased services – all for a fee. Studies were done, numbers were crunched, and the “UNBANKED” demographic became highly sought out. In the eyes of the banking industry, this demographic was practically willing to sign over their government checks for just a little more purchasing power that would soon run out.

And run out it did. When this increased purchasing power ran out, so did the increased fees. And the losses started coming in. The charge-offs, the write-offs, all began to add up and banks were about to experience a day of reckoning for what they had done.

Thank goodness for TARP or those banks would have really suffered!

But what did TARP do for these exploited customers? Credit card rates for risky customers still hover around 30%. The once-manageable rate on the adjustable second mortgage is now out of reach so homeowners can barely make an interest payment. Overdraft policies have not relaxed in the least (actually, that is a little untrue. I JUST read this morning that B of A is tiering based on the size of the overdraft). Overdraft protection that further entrenches consumers by paying offending items and drawing account balances VERY negative has become an industry standard.

And the ultimate, cruelest irony? These very squeezed consumers are paying for TARP. They are feeding their captors whose only lifestyle adjustments involve laying middle-class people off.

OMG – THIS IS WRONG!!! We were pacified by passage of the most ineffective banking reform bill of all time when really we should be rioting in the streets. I am a capitalist through and through and I love to see successful business. But greed and corruption will defile any capitalist system and that is what we are living right now. We are at risk – grave risk – of losing our way of life to this. It is imperative that we stand up for what is right. Write to congress. Tell your friends. Tell your neighbors. And for goodness sake, be vigilant. This happened as people slept, offering their financial independence as a sacrifice to an American banking system that promised an American dream that was not theirs to give. All the banking system has to offer us Americans is begged, borrowed, or stolen.

20
Mar
09

Beware the Rabid Bunny Government

Good advice is rare and precious.  I have received one such nugget that I truly strive to live by; it was given to me by my boss at my first job.  I was complaining about feeling backed into a corner by a situation and he responded swiftly, possibly before he even realized it, saying “then why’d you let them?  Why did you get yourself into a situation that put you into a corner?”

I am unsure that wiser words have EVER been said.  After chewing on it for a few days, my young self grabbed onto those words as a way of life.  What he said made me stop and look at my role in every situation and changed me in a profound way.  It is not difficult to live away from the corners, but it does take courage.  To stay out of the corners means always being up front and carefully considering the implications of decisions.  Most importantly, it means doing the right thing, regardless of where that may leave me.  In the end, I can live without excuses and without regrets.

So this is where we come to AIG and Congress.  Talk about being cornered.  For simplicity’s sake, we will look at this in the context of AIG.  Please do not mistake this simplicity for naivety.  The problem is much more far-reaching than this, I know.  BUT CAN YOU BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED TODAY?????  The latest bill passed by the House is a perfect example of what happens when we put comfort above results.  It’s somewhat ironic that in looking out for one’s own interest, he turns over control of the situation.  The situation itself takes control and the results are unsavory.

It all started when the government got backed into a corner.  It reacted like an animal frightened for its life, looking for the easy way out.  I’m sure there was a collective sigh of relief when the imminent collapse of the financial industry was staved off by a mere $160 or $200 billion (whatEVER, who’s counting).    AIG took the money, ill-advised as it may have been.  But now that the panic has subsided, the cornered-bunny-government has had an opportunity to consider what it gave up – not just money, but trust, reputation, and most likely, employment.  Back to the corner.

This time the bunny has rabies.  It is mad and it is not afraid.  Another panic-stricken vote has been taken and the government is expecting to be freed again, but I don’t expect it will be so simple.  If this latest bill passes the House, which it certainly will, our rabid bunny-government is going to fully punish the working people for the misdeeds of their employers and the poor decisions made to “help” them. 

I do not relish paying $165 million in bonuses to the motley fools who ran a company into the ground, but there is a contract in place.  Right now, the rabid bunny-government should not be allowed to tax these employees at a rate of 90%.  Yes, if you have not seen the news, the tax rate in this bill is 90%.  The American taxpayers now own 80% of AIG.  We should be able to make a decision regarding these bonuses.  I don’t remember electing officials who intended to tax at a rate of 90%, who say “we’ll let the states and cities take care of the rest.” 

Of course we, the owners of AIG, have no opportunity to make any decisions because the bunny-government leapt into this AIG purchase with nothing but survival in mind.  Instead of reacting like rabid bunnies, our congress should have treated the stock purchase in AIG like that in any business.  Contracts should have been reviewed and negotiated.  That would have been the time to review such exorbitant compensation, not now that the deal has been made and hands have shaken.  It is quite unpalatable to see a government backtracking to save face and passing discretionary tax laws that are incredibly unfair.  I believe that the text of the bill specifies bonuses paid in 2009, but what if there is a loophole.  What if bonus pay becomes fair game at a 90% taxation rate? 

We citizens should be very concerned.  We should be working together to eradicate such behavior from our government.  Class warfare may be peaking right now as the upper class is blamed for all of society’s ills, but we cannot detest the rich at the cost of liberty.  That is simply too expensive.  The bitterness that pervades the American public is sure to be our undoing.  We should not stand idly by, thumbing our noses at the rich who are about to be undone.  If we do, next time it will be us in the corner.

16
Feb
09

Bliss in a Ponytail

Has the cliche “ignorance is bliss” caused us as a culture to discount the intelligence of many a bubbly cheerleader?  Not just pom pom-toting-ponytailed high-school cheerleaders, but the ones we meet as adults, too.  The ones who remind us to keep moving forward when we can seem to move our feet on our own.  Personally, I have been very guilty of it.  Anytime I see a ponytail bounce by, trailing a cheerful “hello,” I assume that ponytail is attatched to a sweet but empty head.  I have always held to the conventional wisdom that those who know the most are going to finish first and best.  We need to know what is happening if we are to be protected against it or to benefit from it.  I refuse to fault myself; this makes perfect sense. 

HOWEVER, I have recently found myself nearly unable to cope.  I didn’t even notice how bad it had become (make not mistake, my children had) until I turned off talk radio and chose instead some vapid music to sing with until my throat bled.  It was great.  I had no idea until I was nursing my very sore and scarred throat that I had been unhappy.  Lately the world has become nearly unbearable.  I have steeped myself in statistics.  The size of the stimulus package.  The dollar amounts actually going toward infrastructure.  The dollar amounts that may not result in economic gain.  Previous GDP’s and the stimuli pressed through at those times.  The resultant tax burdens.  Child pornography.  Human trafficking.  Teen drug abuse.  The last time I had an oil change.  The unemployment rate…You get the very large picture.  I determined that I would unplug for a while.  No more talk radio in the car and no more internet research and NO evening news.  No newspapers, except the Target ad on Sunday. 

First, I began my experiment with a certain amount of fear.  I felt so isolated and I felt that I would be ill-equipped to protect myself and my family in the event that – I don’t know – there was a literal fan and the world became covered in, well, you know…Then I had an epiphany.  Thank GOD.  I realized that yes, it is ridiculous to live a life of complete ignorance.  But just as ridiculous is to climb under the covers over what amounts to little more than a lack of control.  I can learn all I want about every issue facing us as Americans, but this does not change the fact that I have no control over these issues.  Right now, I am not part of a majority.  I can write my congressmen and petition all I want, but I am unlikely to change the outcome. 

Now, I would never condone squandering one’s life in complete ignorance Paris Hilton style.  BUT, to determine one’s moral compass and live in such accordance, permits a life of ignorance.  My daughter argued with me the case of Oedipus (not Paris Hilton), making the case that a life of ignorant bliss would surely lead to complete destruction.  Oedipus seemingly had no moral compass.  He was living an ignorant and self-destructive life of incest, addiction, and all the other trappings. 

However, to determine a standard of living and adhere to this would fully allow one to exist in complete ignorant bliss.  For instance, were I to save 20% of my income, avoid debt, and donate 10% to the less fortunate, I would easily avoid increased taxes and now that the economy has turned, I would be unconcerned.  I would have savings to rely on and no debt to worry me.  This isn’t just a financial matter.  To live as outlined above, I would have to avoid envy and covetous behavior.  That is probably the very root of many financial ills. 

If I had lived a life based on a strong moral code, the concerns of our nation would not be mine.  As our situation worsens, I could use my strength to truly combat suffering.  I would not be beholden to debt, or even a job.  Is it possible that keeping my mind centered on the events happening each day in this culture is where true ignorance was born?  It seems that my extensive knowledge of these many problems has done more damage to me and my psyche than complete ignorance would.  Perhaps, had I ignored that which I could not control and instead worked just on myself, I would not be overwhelmed at this moment.  I would then be a worthy adversary. 

Whoever thought that the cheerleaders are the true heroes?

01
Feb
09

The Stimulus in the Corner

A man I look up to a great deal gave me some advice.  It was the best advice I have ever gotten.  I felt backed into a corner with no way out, so I was complaining and he said, “Why would let someone back you into a corner?  If you live right, you’ll never be in the corner.”  At first, I thought he just didn’t understand that I didn’t have a way out.  Then I realized that I had absolutely gotten myself into the situation and I had no choice but to find a way out, by changing my attitude in a drastic way.  The funny thing is, I don’t even remember the situation I was in.  I just remember this advice and the many choices I have made because of it. 

Our nation is backed into a corner.  Collectively, we were irresponsible and we landed ourselves up against a wall with now way out.  We achieved some financial success, but saw no reason for gratitude.  Instead, we borrowed more to satisfy our every whim.  Then, we failed to hold our leaders to any standard.  In our apathy, we stopped expecting honesty and objectivity from our media.  Now, we have a mess and we need to change our attitude.  Actually, we need to change our entire lives.  Everything needs to be different. 

We’ve been offered a solution in the form of an economic stimulus.  Now the question is whether to take it or leave it.  It is so appealing.  We could accept this solution at little or no cost – right now.  Eight hundred and nineteen billion dollars is so much money.  Properly spent, it could solve all of our problems, to be sure.  What then, would it leave our children with?  The interest alone on this $819,000,000,000.00 is more than we have spent on the war in Afghanistan.  The size of the spending package is equal to the national budget in 1984 and it is two thirds of our current budget, that’s for all government spending.  All of it.  In the ’90’s, a $19 billion dollar stimulus package was on the table and Bill Clinton, not known for fiscal responsibility, said it was too aggressive.  That was less than a quarter of the size of this package just a little over 10 years ago.  This money means $5000.00 for every household in America.  Right now, to fund the bill, every household would have to cough up $5,000.00.  When the nation is paying it back in 20 years, our children will bear the burden of $819 billion plus all that interest.  The tax burdenwill be crushing.  What this means is that this package will create another bubble, tantamount to the housing bubble or the tech bubble, that is destined to burst.  The question is, what will become of the next generation when this colossal bubble bursts?  If we pass this stimulus package, we are keeping ourselves backed into this corner. 

So what if we don’t?  I would love to say that this is a media-induced frenzy, and there is some evidenct to that point.  It is not hard to believe that if the economic situation is dire enough, we will do anything to solve it long before we take the time to truly consider our options.  And let’s be informed.  In the ’80’s, a time that keeps popping up in the media, unemployment hovered around 7 per cent and peaked briefly around 10.  It was believed then that if unemployment sunk below 6 per cent, inflation would run out of control.  Six to seven per cent unemployment was the goal then and that’s exactly where we are now.  We are moving higher, but is that the result of media-induced hysteria?  Everybody I know is employed right now, but nobody will spend.  When spending stops, commerce stops.  When commerce stops, production stops.  When production stops, jobs are lost. 

Also, the housing numbers for December are in.  New mortgages rose by 6.5% in December.  January is proving to be one of the busiest months many in the mortgage industry remember.  Those official numbers will be in within the next few weeks.  Interestingly, this optimistic news did not get a lot of press.  I, for one, am so hungry for positive economic data that I leapt on the news.  I waited for it to be touted near and far, but then, it fell flat.  In fact, to recall the exact figure I had to find the Australian version of the Wall Street Journal. 

Another thing we cannot deny – corporations are still making money.  American business is still profitable.  It may not be as profitable as shareholders and board members would like, but profits are there.  In the ’80’s, a lot of business was not profitable, not at all.  Then, the general population seemed to have enough common sense to understand that some years are better than others.  This was not a profitable business cycle.  This is not where we are right now. 

I have to wonder if our situation merits $819,000,000,000.00?  I really, truly want to believe that it does not.  But I don’t want to be wrong.

So every time I am confident that the media has hyped us to the edge of sanity, I remember the reason we are here.  Hedge funds.  A credit market gone wild.  In the last decade, the United States has lost ground as a producing country.  We offer services, intellectual property, and money.  Even in the beginning, when I was young and clueless, I looked at our credit markets and wondered where the money was coming from.  How, I wondered, did Household credit have enough reserves all of a sudden to loan billions of dollars to high risk customers?  It seemed that every company was doing this and I knew a very small bit about reserves and risk factors and it simply didn’t make sense.  I was 27 when I noticed this, and I was certainly no economist.  SO, how did Alan Greenspan miss it?  How did the OCC miss it?  How did we end up here where are lending institutions have a trillion dollar shortfall in reserves?  That is the crux of the problem, one trillion dollars, or one and a half, but whose counting?  When I remember that huge number, I have to wonder, do we need $819,000,000,000.00?  Possibly.  Should we take it?  Will it make a difference?  Will it make it worse?

It will make it worse.  It may save us now, in the short term, but we should be very concerned about what we are leaving to our children.  If we could find it within ourselves to change our way of life and to change our attitudes, we could keep our children out of the corner.




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