Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Spare Me Your Morality Governor Brewer

A few weeks back I made the case of when government intervention is proper and when it is not.  A progressive government has brought this nation its greatest advancements in  safe food, water, drug, air, and drinking water; not to mention equal rights, pensions, healthcare, and voting rights.  Yes, when government looks to deepen and broaden society, the nation advances in education, freedom, and wealth.

When government tries to regulate or legislate morality, we end up in a bad place.  The Comstock, Mann, and Volstead acts tried to impose a government’s belief of what constituted immoral behavior.  Most recently, DOMA, DADT, and the ludicrously overreaching Terri Schiavo case exemplified a government off the rails.  Yes, government, state and federal, and the courts have often been on the wrong side of dictating and mandating which is morally acceptable based on some religious beliefs.  When a politician starts his justification of some bill or law with the law of man is secondary to the laws of God, it is safe to say some whopper of a behavioral restricting anti-liberty whopper is coming soon.

I have no problem with people of faith using their religion to help guide their personal lives or to help raise their children.  I am happy to welcome discussions of faith and morality in the public discourse.  What I have a problem with is elected officials using their faith to establish morality and subsequent create morality-based legislation.  The most recent case is here in my state, Arizona.  Yes that Arizona, the laughingstock of the nation; the place that even Mississippians point at and snicker.  It seems, Governor Brewer decided to defund Planned Parenthood based on her moral belief.  These aren’t my words, these are hers:

“I do not support the goals of Planned Parenthood because I believe in life,” she said. “They believe in choice. So let’s just cut right through the fat and tell it like it is.”

“I guess it’s imposing what I believe in,” she said. “We can still put responsible limitations on those kinds of issues. And that’s what we’ve attempted to do.”

 “We are a moral country,” she said. “We are a moral society.”

So even though no state funds went to providing abortion services, the Governor decided to cut funding to try and starve the organization because it may use private donations to perform abortions; LEGAL ABORTIONS.  So Brewer found a way to use her moral superiority to deny legally protected services.

I guess I must have missed Jan Brewer’s morality speech about us all being God’s children when she signed SB1070.  Yes I guess justice isn’t the only thing that is blind.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Did you know? 28May2012 edition

·         Private property. The number of public companies in the U.S. has dropped 38% since 1997 and 48% in Britain.

·         Show me the money. Between 1980-2000 there was an average of 311 IPO’s/year but dropped to just 81 in 2011.

·         Bursting bubbles. The average life expectancy of public companies has gone from 65 years in the 1920’s to less than 10 in the 1990’s. 

Prisons (Locked Up Nation)

·         The U.S. represents 5% of the world’s population but 25% of its prisoners.

·         In 1980 the U.S.’s prison population was about 150 per 100,000 adults.  It has more than quadrupled since then.

·         In 2009, 1.66 million Americans were arrested on drug charges, and 80% of those arrests were for possession

·         In 2011, California spent $9.6 billion on prisons vs. only $5.7 billion on the UC system and state colleges.

·         Since 1980, California has built 1 college campus and 21 prisons. A college student costs the state $8,667 per year; a prisoner costs it $45,006 a year.


·         During Reagan’s eight years in office, defense spending doubled from $150Billion to $300Billion and consumed 30% of the total annual budget and equaled 6% of GDP.

·         In 1973 America imported 33% of the oil we consumed; by 2006 that number was up to 60%.

·         60% of Scott Walker’s campaign war chest of $25million came from out-of-state donors.

Who said it:

A.       “The loss of the Panama Canal would contribute to the encirclement of the U.S. by hostile naval forces, and thereby [threaten] our ability to survive.”

B.      “The generation-long growth in our dependence on foreign oil will be stopped dead in its tracks right now and then reversed …for I am tonight setting the further goal of cutting our dependence on foreign oil by one half by the end of the next decade.”

C.      “Exactly, If he president approves of something for national security…then the president’s decision is the one that enables those who carry it out without violating the law.”

D.      “He will never again be the Reagan that he was before he blew it.”  “He is not going to regain our trust and our faith easily.”

E.       “The president was expected to have the primary role of conducting the foreign policy of the United States.”   “Congressional actions to limit the president in this area therefore should be reviewed with a considerable degree of skepticism.  If they interfere with core presidential foreign policy functions, they should be struck down.  Moreover, the lesson of our constitutional history is that doubtful cases should be declared in favor of the president.”

F.       “The Constitution supposes, what the History of all governments demonstrates, that he Executive is the one branch of power most interested in war, and prone to it.  It has accordingly with studied care vested the question of war in the Legislature.”

G.     “Air strikes would frankly not affect the situation, unless -and this a huge unless- we are prepared to commit ground troops in a prolonged military operation in Yugoslavia.  And frankly, the polls show, by two to one margins, the American people even oppose air strikes…I will not place the lives of young Americans, men and women, at risk without having a plan that has every possibility of succeeding…”


A: Ronald Reagan during 1976 campaign for GOP nomination

B: Jimmy Carter, in 1979 trying to establish a long term energy policy

C: Richard Nixon, justifying what would become GOP executive mantra: it ain’t illegal if the President does it

D: Newt Gingrich, after Reagan got busted in the Iran-Contra scandal

E: Dick Cheney, on why only the President should declare war

F: James Madison, on why Congress was granted the power to declare war

G: John McCain, arguing against military involvement in the Balkans.  Bo things have changed.

Special thanks to Rachel Maddow and Fareed Zakaria for doing the hardworking primary research.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

…and it makes me wonder

…and it makes me wonder

·         Situation in Syria is growing more complicated as Sunni insurgents have joined the fray against the Assad regime.  This is quickly pitting Saudi Arabia and Turkey against Iran and Syria and possibly an al-Qaeda/Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas versus Hezbollah while Israel sits back and monitors the situation.  The humanitarian crisis has become a geopolitical chaotic free-for-all; of course that won’t stop John McCain from calling for immediate U.S. intervention.

·         I’m no economist, but I am unsure just how synthetic collateralized debt obligations help lead to economic growth.

·         Imagine a plant in Alabama that produces goods for the consume products markets.  The plant employees hate Democrats and President Obama so they will vote for a Republican.  But the demand for consumer products is down because the 2008 financial crisis has wiped out household balance sheets and disposable income is tight.  These households purchase less as they make cleaning supplies last, they buy fewer over-the counter products, and they stretch the use of consumer staples.  As revenues drop at these consumer products company they also scale back on new product and packaging developments.  The managers at the Alabama plant see their revenues drop and realize they have to cut cost and they quickly target labor as it is the largest component of COGS (Cost of Goods Sold) and the fastest way to help the bottom line.  So now these same, now unemployed, workers will seek unemployment benefits and go to the polls still voting for Republicans.  Meanwhile, factory management has discovered the beauty of productivity gains, rightly so, and as the economy recovers they no longer need the same level of staffing.  Worse those same Republican leaders fail to see the need to invest in education for their constituents to make them more competitive for the manufacturing methods of the future.  In short time, the factory becomes uncompetitive because it lacks the necessary skilled labor to compete globally and it shuts its doors.  The end.  Epilogue: It didn’t need to end this way.

·         Nobody likes uncertainty.  Employees need to know that someone in management is looking out for their best interests.  They also trust that the firm’s leaders have set a vision and are steering the company effectively.  Investors need to understand where they can get the best rate of return.  Banks need to know if the probability of default is increasing before they approve a loan to a start-up or emerging business.  Yes uncertainty can be crippling.  Which is why I agree with the GOP claims that the economic recovery is partially being hamstrung by uncertainty.  The problem is we completely disagree on the causes of the uncertainty.  The issue is not new regulations, George Bush initiated more regulations in his first 3 years than President Obama by  a 931-886 margin, but fiscal uncertainty brought on by political failure.  The GOP controlled House and the filibuster friendly GOP Senate make compromise impossible.  Without compromise, the nation is unable to put together a long term plan that promotes growth in the short term and deficit management in the long term.  Boehner’s unwillingness to agree in principle to President Obama’s ‘grand plan’ out of fear of a GOP House insurgency is creating this uncertainty.  When Wall Street executives plead with Republican leaders to come to their senses and agree to a tax increase/spending cut compromise, they are displaying their fear of, not the unknown, but the known fact that gridlock equals uncertainty which equals anemic growth.

·         I have no doubt that Sarbanes-Oxley, Dodd-Frank, and other regulations can add costs to businesses.  It seems the biggest beneficiaries of these regulations are the consultants hired to implement the necessary controls.  Did government overreach?  That depends on whether you think the free market enterprises can be trusted to regulate themselves.  I do believe most business leaders are honorable men and women, unfortunately Enron, WorldCom,  Tyco, AIG, Lehman Brothers, and scores of others have ruined the idea of self-regulation.  The problem isn’t the presence of regulation, but the amount of ineffective legislation resulting in poor enforcement is the result of outsourcing the creation of laws to lobbyists and special interests.  Government certainly cannot regulate behavior but too many cases corporate boards are ineffective in managing risk or overseeing compliance. 

·         There’s a belief that whatever the government does, the private sector could do more effectively, efficiently, and cheaper.  There is some truth to that.  True free market competition drives innovation which eliminates waste and improves performance especially when compared to SOES (State Owned Enterprises) which tend to become bloated and stagnant.  But is that true when the government outsources or privatizes some services?  Well no.  Have you ever heard of a defense project coming in ahead of schedule and under budget?  Did you know, according to Rachel Maddow’s fine book Drift,  the Halliburton subsidiary Brown and Root charged the federal government $86/sheet of plywood to build the barracks for our armed forces sent to the Balkans in the 1990’s?  The bid price was $14/sheet, but since the government must use a cost+ model with contractors, the American taxpayer got stuck with that ridiculous bill; a price that hurricane fighting residents in Florida never see during the peak of price gauging.  The scary part of plywoodgate?  The price increases were necessitated to cover “Management and Administration” also known as non-value added overhead.  Now what was that about government waste.

Government bashing is easy but putting a Venture Capitalist at the helm isn’t a solution. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Should Neal Sedaka be Fed Chairman?

In March 2008 JP Morgan Chase, through some governmental guarantees, purchased Bear Stearns as the investment bank collapsed under the weight of its failing asset-backed securities portfolio.  Six months later Lehman Brothers, the 4th largest investment bank in America,  filed Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection.  The contagion would spread and claim banks around the globe, and a possible total collapse of the world’s economy was only prevented via strong government action to bolster confidence in the banking sector.  But how did we get so close to the abyss that the failure of one investment bank led to a global crisis?  Suddenly the phrase “Too Big to Fail” was everywhere at once.  The last time that soon-to-be ubiquitous phrase was used with regards to banking was the 1984 near collapse of the banking industry when the then seventh largest bank, Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust, failed after making some risky gas and oil bets. 

The causes of the 2008 financial crisis have been analyzed and debated: Government Housing Policy, bad lending practices, borrowers not understanding their loans, leveraged investment banks, collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps, poor risk management, hedge funds, inept Fannie and Freddie executives, incestuous credit agencies, weak regulators, weaker congress, and flat our greed.  Yet even with all of the above devils in play, should the severity been so great?  Should a Lehman failure cause such a bank run and loss of confidence?  After all plenty of banks fail.  Since 2008, there have been 437 bank failures:

·         2008: 25

·         2009: 140

·         2010: 157

·         2011: 92

·         2012 (through May 18): 23

There were some big banks in that mix such as Wachovia and Washington Mutual, but I don’t remember anyone worrying that any of those 437 casualties being too big to fail.

However, that doesn’t seem to be the case with the really big banks. Are our biggest banks too big to fail?  Should we break them up so that failure is manageable?  A bill to break up the biggest banks in 2010 failed miserably.  The White House [like very Administration since Reagan has been opposed to force break ups alternating between fewer regulations and more regulations]  opposed the bill and instead pushed for the Dodd-Frank Bill.  But is the tide turning?  I hope so.  A bi-partisan effort amongst Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republicans John McCain and Richard Shelby could be gaining traction.  Three Fed presidents, Dallas Fed president Fisher has been historically outspoken about the size of the largest banks, have become increasingly vocal about breaking up the largest banks:

Dallas Fed president Richard Fisher:

·         February-2012: “I am of the belief that the power of the five largest [US] banks is too concentrated.”

·         May 2012: “At what point do you reach a size you do not know what’s going on beneath you?  And if you get to that point, you are too late.”

Kansas City Fed president Esther George

·         April 2012: “I believe the first and most important step that we can take is to eliminate TBTF policies.  Our largest institutions not only survived the crisis, but in many cases, emerged as even larger players.”

·         “The five largest US banking organizations in June 2009 were given ratings on their…debt that on average were four notches higher than what they would have received based on their actual conditions alone.  Such advantages are enormous and highly unfair to those institutions not receiving them.”

St. Louis Fed president James Bullard

·         May 2012: “I would back my colleague [Dallas federal Reserve Bank president] Richard Fisher in saying that we should split up the largest banks…it would be simpler to have smaller institutions so that they could fail if they need to fail.”

The concerns about too big to fail include the unfair advantage that the biggest banks have over the smaller players and  what happens when the banks become too big to save?  If we were near the abyss in 2008, are we better or worse off now.  Well if you thought banks were too big then, you’d better sit down.  The top five bank holding companies hold $8.5Trillion in assets at the end of 2011, equating to 56% of the U.S. economy according to the Federal Reserve.  In 2006, these same five institutions amounted to 43% of the nation’s entire GDP.  The top five and their assets:

1)      JP Morgan Chase:            $2.3Trillion

2)      Bank Of America:             $2.1Trillion

3)      Citigroup:                            $1.9Trillion

4)      Wells Fargo:                       $1.3Trillion

5)      Goldman Sachs:                                $0.9Trillion

While some past and present administration officials such as Geithner and Goolsbee have defended the big banks, the one chilling thought I retain from 2008 was Tim Geithner, then serving as NY Fed president, thought the best way to stabilize the volatile situation was to actually make the banks BIGGER.  Geithner worked feverishly on the Merrill Lynch and Bank of America merger while trying to get Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan to merge.  In some bizarre world, the preferred solution to too big to fail was to make them even bigger.  Marry an investment bank with a commercial bank, call the new entity a bank holding company and allow the commercial banks depositors provide capital to the overleveraged investment bank. 

Is it any wonder that Americans and investors got nervous about the recent losses at JP Morgan Chase?  Today, there are half as many banks as there were in 1984 and with so many assets concentrated in so few institutions, is it any wonder that legislators, regulators, and others are nervous?

So while I blog here from the middle, I believe liberals are wrong that the government and Fed can effectively regulate the TBTF parties and I believe free market lovers are equally wrong that the market can regulate itself.

Funny, investment professionals love to tell clients about the importance of diversification.  Looks to me that our nation’s assets and GDP are inadequately diversified. 

Ergo, if the elephant is too big, make it smaller…one bite at a time.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Arizona All-Stars:
Jan Brewer on the need for SB1070: "Our law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert either buried or just lying out there that have been beheaded,"

John McCain on the need to build the dang fence: "We are concerned about, particularly, areas down on the border where there is substantial evidence that some of these fires are caused by people who have crossed our border illegally,"

Jon Kyl on justifying tax cuts for the wealthy: “You do need to offset the cost of increased spending, and that's what Republicans object to. But you should never have to offset cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans.”

Joe Arpaio on sending a deputy to Hawaii to find a birth certificate and Macadamia nuts: “It’s one deputy, so what? We have security issues, too, that I can’t got into. For six months we were not spending any money. When you’re doing investigations sometimes things change, you put more resources into it.”

Steve Smith (State Senator)on building his own fence along the Mexico border: “We have had a couple of great things come out of the private sector. Two of the top fence manufacturers in the world have already pledged support for either straight donating sections of the mile or giving it to us at cost. So again, there is a lot of moving parts here. We have construction companies in Arizona willing to put it up for free. We are going to use inmate labor to help dig the ditches and do all the trenching. We are paying for them anyways, we might as well put them to work. So we have got a lot of hands on deck here, and I think we can get it done.”

David Gowan (State Senator) on allowing concealed weapons in all public places including universities: "You don't know when a criminal is going to carry a gun anywhere.  That's the purpose of carrying a gun with you, to defend yourself."

Russell Pearce (ex-State Senator) on wishing to get all dark skinned people out of Arizona: "There is no provision in the 14th Amendment for the declaration of citizenship to children born here to illegal aliens."

Lori Klein (State Senator) On handguns after she pointed her weapon at a reporter in the capitol building: "I don't like chocolate ice cream.  Am I going to force you not to have any?" 

Ken Bennett (Secretary of State and Romney election co-chair):  “I’m not a birther.  I believe that the president was born in Hawaii — or at least, I hope he was.”

Scott Bundgaard (State Senator) at the scene of a roadside domestic fight with his EX girlfriend: "I demand you take these handcuffs off. I'm State Sen. Scott Bundgaard and according to Article 4 of the Constitution you cannot detain me. I'm immune from arrest when the Legislature is in session in which it currently is."

Jesse Kelly (Congressional candidate):  "It's not only illegal immigrants coming across. It's not only drugs. There are terrorists that come across that border."

JD Hayworth (former congressmen and radio talk show host): “Low unemployment numbers are clear indicators that Republican tax relief and economic policies are spurring growth and helping businesses hire new workers while providing American families with job security.”

And that’s just the first team.  

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Greatest Threat to Liberty is an Attack on Free Thinking

I just finished reading Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby.  Over the past few weeks I have Tweeting and Blogging about freethinking and secularism as I read the outstanding Jacoby book and conducted some related research.  The words of Madison, Jefferson, Whitman, Lucretia Mott, William Lloyd Garrison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton,  Robert Ingersoll, and Clarence Darrow were moving and alarming at the same time.  Moving in the passion and power of the word, and alarming that in 2012 the same battles are being waged.  The same battles from the social conservative powered conservative political apparatus that would deny equal rights, that would turn us into a Christian Taliban, that claim love of the Constitution without understanding its beauty.  Yes the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The idea of freethinking, the idea of being ABLE to challenge the status quo without fear of reprisal is why America is the greatest nation on earth.  Make no mistake about, the forces of fundamentalism have been declared defeated on many occasions since this nation’s birth; the creation of the constitution, the emancipation proclamation, the Scopes Monkey Trial, the Warren Court, and Roe v. Wade were victories for the free thinkers.  Yet here in 2012, we have the resurging Evangelical right trying to roll back civil rights, equal rights, woman’s health, and individual freedom to some pre-civil war revival.

I have concluded this with some of my favorite quotes from some of America’s greatest voices; except the last one, he’s just a hack.

O I see flashing that this America is only you and me,

Its power, weapons, testimony are you and me,

Its crimes, lies, thefts, defections, are you and me…

The war (that war so bloody and grim, the war I will henceforth forget)  was you and me…

I am for those that have never been master’d,

For men and women, whose tempers have never been master’d,

For those whom laws, theories, conventions, can never master.

I am for those who walk abreast with the whole earth,

Who inaugurate one to inaugurate all.

I will not be outfaced by irrational things,

I will penetrate what is in them that is sarcastic upon me..

  – Walt Whitman following Lincoln’s assassination

“If Religion be not within cognizance of Civil Government, how can its legal establishment be said to be necessary to Civil Government?  What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society?  In some instances they have seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of Civil Authority; in many instances they have seen the upholding of the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberty of the people.  Rulers who wish to subvert the political liberty, may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries.  A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it [liberty], needs them not.” – James Madison

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute-where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote-where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference-and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him...where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice.” – John F. Kennedy

“That [Humanism] was the key word for us. And it’s a positive word – not the negative that conservatives have tried to make it.  To me, a good Jew is someone who believes in the equality of human beings and reaches out to those in need.  That’s what Andy believed-and that’s why he went to Mississippi.  Not because God told him to do it but because he believed in human beings helping other human beings.” ---Carolyn Goodman, mother of Andrew Goodman murdered on June 21, 1964 in Mississippi the day after the U.S. Senate passed the Civil Rights Act.

It is not the possible rise of Sharia law I fear, but the existence of a conservative political party influenced by conservative Christianity that challenges the freedom I hold near and dear. - Diggaduh

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Did You Know?

Indiana Senator Richard Lugar was crushed in the GOP primary by Tea Party candidate Richard Mourdock.  Lugar’s downfall: he voted for both Supreme Court Justices Sotamayor and Kagan, voted for the DREAM Act, voted for nuclear disarmament, and worst of all: he compromised.  Here is a man who pressed for a balanced budget amendment, cuts to social safety net programs, opposed healthcare reform, and opposed the debt limit increases.   Conclusion: The Club for Growth that bankrolled Mourdock’s campaign and other alleged fiscal conservative Tea Party-aligned organizations are really concerned about race, the white race and threats from minorities.  This fiscal conservative mantra is hoax.

A vote in the Colorado legislature to allow civil unions never came to pass as Republican Speaker Frank McNulty stalled long enough so that a midnight deadline could be reached to end the legislative session.  If passed, this law would have made a Colorado the 1st state that had previously banned same-sex marriage to allow civil unions.  Alas, another politician prevented the vote from ever happening.  Shame on you Mr. McNulty.

Facebook’s $104Billion market value, for basically a company to sell ecommerce advertising, is close to the following:

·         Eli Lilly and Bristol Myers Squib combined

·         Daimler and BMW combined

·         Caterpillar and Boeing combined

·         Morgan Stanley and Citigroup combined

·         Kraft Foods, Kellogg, and Heinz combined

According to CNBC.com, 8 in 10 Facebook users say they have hardly ever or never clicked on an ad.  $104Billion, huh?

According to Bloomberg.com, in the 51 years since JFK took the office of President, the 23 years with a Democrat in the WH have increased private jobs by 42million; for the 28 years under GOP control, the number is only 24million.  Still undecided?

Since mid-2009, the number of federal government employees is unchanged.  While at the state level, 100,000 jobs have been shed, and at the local level 500,000 jobs have been lost.  Hopefully, the bottom has been reached and the return of hiring education professionals is near.

Still think electing a successful businessman is a good idea? Look at Florida and Rick Scott, 9% unemployment and a governor with 34% approval rating.  Still undecided?

Israeli Arabs and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox)are not required to comply with the state’s mandatory civilian or military service requirement.  That’s about to change now that Netanyahu’s Likud party is unified with centrist Mofaz’s Kadima party.

438 white rhinos were illegally poached in 2011 and in 2012 the pace is expected to increase to 600.  At this rate by 2016 more rhinos will be killed than are born.

66% of Russians think government corruption will increase under the new Putin regime while 64% think they themselves will be victims of police or prosecutorial abuse.

During the 1st quarter, Fannie Mae actually made a profit of $2.7Billion, marking the 1st time that the GSE didn’t need federal funding since it was taken over by the government in 2008.

Sad news for Team Palin.  North Dakota has passed Alaska as the country’s number two oil producing state.  Drill Baby Drill has been surpassed Frack Baby Frack.

There was a little battle within the Tea Party in Nebraska.  State representative Deb Fischer upset the Huckabee/Tea Party Express backed Attorney General Jon Bruning and the Santorum/Club for Growth/DeMint backed state treasurer Don Stenberg.  Could it mean success for Democrat Bob Kerrey in November?

Scott Walker has a $25million war chest for his recall campaign of which 60% came from out of state donors including Sheldon Adelson and Rich DeVos.  Thank you Supreme Court.

From The Atlantic: Germany’s entire police forces fired only 85 bullets in 2011.  In New York City the police fired 84 shots at a single murder suspect in April.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

House Defense Authorization Bill: $642Billion of Toilet Paper

The House voted 299-120 to pass a new defense authorization bill with 77 Democrats voting along with all but 16 Republicans.  This vote was a purely political stunt with many voting in favor to help their own re-election bids as nothing says strong defense like approving spending for weapons and bases we do not need.  In fact the budget exceeds the what the Pentagon even asked for.  Some specifics:

·         In clear opposition to the President’s plans and budget, the House defense bill calls for funds to keep a force of 68,000 troops in Afghanistan through 2014.  Neither the DoD nor the American people support this measure. 

·         The bill calls for development of an East Coast missile defense system on top of the additional funds to the $30Billion spent on the West Coast missile defense system.  To date, $150Billion has been spent and the House wants another $44Billion for a system that Joint Chief Chairman Army General Martin Dempsey says is unnecessary.

·         A halt on base closings that the Pentagon has already approved.  Nothing says local politics better than a Congressman fighting the closure of a local base.

·         The bill ignores a ruling Wednesday by a federal judge striking down an unconstitutional provision that allowed the government to detain without trial suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens. 

·          Clearly going where no House bill should go, the bill would prohibit same-sex marriages on military installations.  Obviously still smarting from the DADT repeal, House Republicans use this bill to push a conservative religion/conservative politics position.

·         Add it all up and you have a Republican House that has at best ignored, at worst reneged on the agreement reached last year when the not-so-super-committee failed to come up with a solution following the debt ceiling debate.

This bill has no hope of going anywhere.  Harry Reid will use his pocket veto to make sure it dies in the Senate sparing the President from having to veto the bill and suffer political attacks from the right and Romney that he is against the troops.  A hollow charge, nonetheless, it denies Boehner his pulpit too.  What the bill does show is that the House GOP has no regard to the wishes of the American people, does not put their money, or should I say our money, where its mouth is with regards to spending cuts, believes it should dictate social policy to the Armed Forces, and that Republicans and Democrats will fight for local constituents in lieu of national needs.

Well done Boehner, Cantor, et al for wasting more American taxpayer money on a bill that is going nowhere, a bill that ignores the wishes of the American people, a bill that is unconstitutional, a bill that caves to social conservatives, and a bill that violates your own agreement from last year.  Well done.  Well done indeed.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Questions, Opinions, Thoughts, and Observations

  • Greece is the battered wife in its Eurozone marriage.  Everybody will be better off in the long run if they separate sooner rather than later.
  • The GOP presidential candidates tried to outdo each other in describing how tall and wide they wanted their border wall with Mexico while simultaneously talking about tearing down Jefferson’ and the other Founding Fathers’ wall between church and state.
  • Why do I think in the coming months we will be hearing about the failure of Spanish and Italian banks severely impacting US banks?  Perhaps because I have seen this move before.
  • Speaking of movies, when will Hollywood learn to leave classic cult favorite TV shows like ‘Dark Shadows’ alone?  Tim Burton failed miserably with his flat reboot.
  • Mitt Romney and his economic team believe we have a spending problem, not a revenue problem.  Not sure how you can say that when corporate tax revenues were $188,677,000 in 1998, $370,243,000 in 2007, and $181,085,000 in 2011.  Yet corporate profits are at record highs.
  • The above notwithstanding, the escalating cost of Medicare cannot be offset simply by increasing taxes on the rich.  Long term spending and revenue reform is necessary.
  • Why are so many freaking people so lazy that they can’t put their shopping carts in the collection bins?  It’s a 20 foot walk for Pete’s sake.
  • I’m all for the First Lady’s wellness and nutrition program but when cities ban fund raising bake sales, I have to ask what the heck?
  • Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu has himself a new unity government after the opposition Kadima Party joined his Likud led coalition that includes several far right parties as well.  Many in Israel think this new unity government resembles the 1967 consolidation of opposing parties that lead up to the Six Day War.  Let’s hope this is not a precursor to an attack on Iran.
  • I’m no economist, but if the dollar is appreciating against the Euro and Pound and commodities are priced in dollars, wouldn’t that be a reason why prices of oil and gold are dropping?  And once it starts dropping, the speculators and hedge fund managers jump in with their short positions.  Just a theory.
  • An advanced society does not spend more money on prisons than higher education. 
  • What is up with sports fanatics?  After missing a potential game winning shot for the Lakers Wednesday night, Laker guard Steve Blake’s wife Kristen received this tweet "I hope your family gets murdered."  I guess booing is so pre-social media.
  • GOP pundits and operators love to claim that President Obama is waging class war by pitting the rich as the enemy against the rest of America.  Funny that those same GOP pundits and operators love to pit public sector workers against private sector workers.
  • If a man would follow, today, the teachings of the Old Testament, he would be a criminal. If he would follow strictly the teachings of the New, he would be insane. – Robert Green Ingersoll

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A wall of separation

Excerpt from Mitt Romney’s speech at Liberty University last week:
The protection of religious freedom has also become a matter of debate. It strikes me as odd that the free exercise of religious faith is sometimes treated as a problem, something America is stuck with instead of blessed with. Perhaps religious conscience upsets the designs of those who feel that the highest wisdom and authority comes from government.

But from the beginning, this nation trusted in God, not man. Religious liberty is the first freedom in our Constitution. And whether the cause is justice for the persecuted, compassion for the needy and the sick, or mercy for the child waiting to be born, there is no greater force for good in the nation than Christian conscience in action.

Religious freedom opens a door for Americans that is closed to too many others around the world. But whether we walk through that door, and what we do with our lives after we do, is up to us.

I am struck by Romney’s words.  Has there been a plethora of court-ordered or government mandated church closings?  Has any religion been banned?  In fact the only attack on religion I see is so-called Christians blocking attempts by Muslims trying to build mosques and Islamic centers.

Romney’s lack of intellectual honesty is obvious when he claims that people think “highest wisdom and authority comes from government”.  Romney slams the laws of man, the law of the land, The Constitution, in one paragraph and seconds later speaks of the greatness of the same document.  Yes Mitt, the highest authority DOES come from the government in the form of our Federal, Legislative, and Judicial branches.  Certainly you took a civics class in junior high.  As for ‘highest wisdom’ coming from the government, I think eight years of a George W. Bush administration ruined any belief in that claim.

Like many religious leaders, Romney once again fails to see the true meaning of the establishment clause.  Over the last few weeks I have done a great deal of reading and writing on this subject, and I am dumbfounded that political Christians believe the sole purpose of the 1st Amendment is to prevent government from encroaching into religion.  The 1st Amendment allows all citizens to be free to practice or not to practice a religious faith.  It also forbids the establishment of a state religion at the expense of other faiths or freethinkers.   

As Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black wrote in the majority opinion of McCollum v. Board of Education “Separation means separation, not something less.  Jefferson’s metaphor in describing the relation between Church and State speaks of a ‘wall of separation,’ not a fine line easily overstepped….In no activity of the State is it more vital to keep out divisive forces than in its schools, to avoid confusing, not to say fusing, what the Constitution sought to keep strictly apart….it is the Court’s duty to enforce this principle in the full integrity.”

Romney’s final paragraph is actually quite accurate.  People enjoy a level of freedom here that is unmatched anywhere else in the world.  And yes, what you do with your live and your opportunities is up to you.

While many at Liberty University surely lapped up what Romney had to say, I will go with Robert Ingersoll:

“They knew that to put God in the Constitution was to put man out.  They knew that the recognition of a Deity would be seized upon by fanatics and zealots as a pretext for destroying the liberty of thought.  They knew the terrible history of the church too well to place in her keeping, or in the keeping of her God, the sacred rights of man.  They intended that all should have the right to worship, or not to worship; that our laws should make no distinction on account of creed.  They intended to found and frame a government for man, and for man alone.  They wished to preserve the individuality of all; to prevent the few from governing the many, and the many from persecuting and destroying the few.”

So the likes of Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, Buchanan, Robertson, Falwell, and other political Christians can preach about the mythological attack on ALL religions going on today and they can use the same vigor to establish their revisionist beliefs about the founding of the country.  In both cases they are equally wrong.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Monday Mishegas May 14 2002

Ina Drew, Chief Investment Officer at JP Morgan Chase, and her 15.5Million salary are out.  The 30 year employee could be getting another $14million as a severance package.  Yes because nothing says pay for performance like getting a $14million bonus following a $2Billion and rising loss.

'I'm fine = I wish I could tell you how I really feel.'  The words of 13 yr old  seventh grader Rachel Ehmke who hanged herself after repeatedly being harassed and tormented by her classmates.  The latest ‘Mean Girls’ episode shows that while right wing social conservatives like Arizona’s Cathi Herrod try to portray bullying as a gay problem, this current bullying is neither gender nor sexual orientation specific.   Today’s social media makes the ordeal of bullying a 24/7 hell that goes beyond the classroom.  Parents, school officials, law enforcement agencies, social services, and healthcare specialists need to snap out this lackadaisical approach.  A 13 yr old girl is dead.  A girl who never kissed a boy, but was unrelentingly labeled a slut.  No, we’re not fine.

If Bill Clinton was the 1st black President, and now Barack Obama is the 1st gay President, I wonder:

·         Would Jon Huntsman be the 1st Chinese President?

·         Would Mitt Romney be the 1st Cyborg President?

·         Would Newt Gingrich be the 1st interstellar President?

·         Would Rick Santorum be the 1st Cardinal in Chief?

·         Would Sarah Palin be the 1st Illiterate President?

Yahoo Chief Executive Scott Thompson stepped down on Sunday, 10 days after being accused him of padding his biography by faking a computer science degree.  I guess he’s ready to start his political career.

Thank you Justice Kennedy.  According to the LA Times, 70% of political ads aired to date in 2012 have been negative compared to just 9.1% in 2008.  Yes Citizens United has certainly made election campaigns better.

93% of immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship correctly answered 6 of 10 questions about American history and government.  In a similar survey, only 65% of native born Americans could get 6 of 10 questions right.  My guess the number for members of Congress would probably be closer to 30%.

And I leave you with this: the Republican Party is indeed the Party of No.  No new ideas, no understanding of global affairs, no willingness to negotiate, no sense of justice, no long term plans, no sense of honor, no concern for the poor, no love for the weak, no affinity for hope.  It’s time America.  It’s time to just say no to the GOP and their exploitation of this nation’s value.