Friday, July 31, 2009

Quick Hits: July 31, 2009

Quick Hits for July 31, 2009

* I just have to wonder how a public option would do both: Be so horrible no one would want it, and undermine the private insurance companies by having everyone join them. If no one would want it, then how would it do anything but boost private insurance company sales? And if it would undermine private insurance companies, doesn't that mean they would be providing better services at better prices, so who wouldn't want it? Their arguments make no sense except to expose their poor reasoning against health care.

* After using the Wii Fit, I have to wonder why we can't use a platform like the Wii to create Wii Medicine tools to create telemedicine from home as a way to evaluate whether patients just need bed rest, to pick up a prescription, to go to the doctor's office, or to go to the emergency room, to save health care costs and increase safety from people with contageous illnesses. It just seems too easy and too much of a common sense approach that I have to wonder why it hasn't already been done.

* The average family pays $12,000 a year in health care costs. Really, how much more could a public option cost than that for families?

* As silly as I thought it was to report the choice of beers that President Obama was going to drink at a meeting, it is even more embarrassing to watch a US Representative whine about the President's choice of beers. Thought I have to admit that I didn't know that Bud, Miller, and Coors were now owned by companies overseas. I guess there is just one more case for drinking American made microbrews, Sierra Nevada being my choice (hint hint for endorsement dollars for my 2 followers.)

* While driving while texting is absolutely more dangerous to everyone on the road and ought to not be done, is anyone else surprised that the federal government is reacting so strongly to the new study out that says it is 23 times more dangerous to drive while texting than not? When did we lose common sense so much that we thought to ourselves, "it is a good idea if I read these text messages and respond while driving instead of watching the road?" Maybe someone could just enforce wreckless driving laws instead.

* Cash for Clunkers sounded like a really great deal until someone underfunded it. Who would have thought that almost a billion dollars in tax credits would move so fast at $3,500 to $4,500 per car? That is over 211,111 cars cashed in and probably sold to replace those old cars in just SIX DAYS!! Heck, at that rate, if American automakers had been making more fuel efficient vehicles, they probably could have made a fortune on Cash for Clunkers. I am hearing that some cars are already sold, loans signed, but people are sitting without their new cars waiting on Congress to say "we will fund the program for more than its original budget." Let's hope they keep going.

* Bipartisianship is overrated considering that all it takes is one side to simply insist on saying "no" all the time so that the other side can't fulfill promises of bipartisianship. If you watch the state congresses in California and New York, it is one of the biggest reasons why they have their budget problems: the minority party has simply said "NO!" in a way that it gridlocks the state's budgets. If Democrats did that in some predominantly Republican states, we could be saying those things about Republican states that they are saying about New York and California.

* I used to wonder why Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) opposed universal health care, being a doctor. A friend told me the story that he was a doctor who lost a lawsuit over his care, and became an administrator. That might explain why he is focused on protecting doctors from lawsuits by limiting payouts, even if a patient is now crippled for life and will have need for constant care and no future possible income. Yet, he will talk about patients, but it is always in the context of protecting or giving power to doctors, not the patient's health care. For Burgess, doctor is a title he earned through school, but administrator or elected private sector bureaucrat is more like it.

* Some environmentalists have announced a "clean energy race." I think it is a cleaver take off on the "space race", but it needs more context. To simply say "clean energy race" seems rather simplistic by itself. To say something like, "China and India have 2.3 billion people and tons of US dollars to spend, with massive plans on modernization that traditional energies can't meet, thus creating a need for a clean and renewable energy race for nations around the globe to suck up their modernization spending. If America can lead the way and produce massive amounts of clean and renewable energy for their rural villages and towns, it could be a massive boon for American businesses, American workers, and the foundation for a revolution in America's energy future. It is a race we need to win to re-emerge as the world's technological leader!" would probably dramatically help their cause.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Quick Hits: July 30, 2009

Quick Hits for July 30, 2009

* In an economic climate where companies are sucking up to consumers, why would anyone steal? I watched someone get caught for shoplifting and asked myself that question. Most major businesses are so friendly with their return policies that you can almost rent things and return them after you use them with a receipt. It isn't that you would want to, but they have set up their rules so that you could if you wanted to. In that kind of climate, why risk the jail time, the fines, or the mark on your record? I just don't get it.

* I guess the media has this need for the most extreme people every once in a while. How else do you explain the coverage of people like Fred Phelps every few years, or the "Birthers" that just don't have a clue, despite the facts being put in front of them. They might want to put tinfoil on their heads so that Obama doesn't brainwash them with his secret mental powers and new governmental powers to make them believe he is American and not from Saturn.

* Apparently, Oklahoma needs a reality check. James Inhofe (R-OK) said that using oil and gas does NOT cause pollution. If there is a more clear case of someone either being corrupt (in the pockets of the gas and oil lobby) or ignorant of information needed to do their job, I haven't seen it. That doesn't mean we shouldn't use gas and oil, but to simply ignore the truth about what we use is one of the most grossly incompetent moves I can remember seeing.

* I have a hard time understanding how Dante Stallworth killed a person and got 30 days, while Vick got over a year in jail. I guess it shows the impact of being an actual caring person that Stallworth stopped, called 911, and seemed to actually care about what had happened; whereas Vick seemed focused on clamping down in hopes no one would give him up. It sends a message that it is better to take responsibility rather than run from it for your actions. It probably helped the Falcons though that Vick got put away for so long.

* With television shows like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, or about marrying a millionaire, have we really created legalized prostitution, whereby women or men will do just about anything for money and celebrity?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tony's Home Economics Rule #2-Packaged Food

When at all possible, make it yourself. Why? Simple economics: Someone has to prepare it. You can pay for the labor of someone else or you can do it yourself. Paying $4 for a small portion of watermelon that is cut up, or paying $4.50 for the whole watermelon, cutting it yourself, and having three to four times more food: that's the choice. The later gives you the same result for $1.25 to $1.50 per portion instead of $4.

The same can be said for prepackaged foods in the freezer or refrigerator. Does it take more time? Yes, but it can mean significant savings that you can spend elsewhere and it can mean more family time and cooking lessons for the kids that may create better eating and financial habits that may last a lifetime.

However, the big gains are in your health. Many prepackaged foods are full of huge amounts of sodium which your doctor will tell you is bad for you. It is a big reason why Americans consume two to three times more sodium than they should and why we have many health problems.

Whenever possible, avoid the pre-packaged foods. It will save you money, give you some fun, and improve your overall health.

Quick Hits: July 28, 2009

I appreciate the political ticker, but did CNN really need to edit the ticker and headline it on their website just because President Obama decided to drink beer with guests? I don't care about the President's beer choice anymore than I care about the endless number of people on Twitter telling me they need caffeine in the morning.

As a Laker fan, I just don't understand Lamar Odom. Coming off a $63 million dollar contract, meaning he isn't running low on money, he can't seem to decide where to play basketball next year. The Miami Heat are reportedly offering him $34 million over 5 years (just under $7 million a year) and the Lakers have offered him $30 million over 3 years (10 million a year) or $36 million over 4 years (9 million a year). In both cases, Odom gets more than two million a year more, with future contracts to sign to increase the value. What's worse, his high school friend, Ron Artest, came to play on the Lakers partially for a title but also partially to play with Odom. What's Lamar thinking about?

For the life of me, I still don't understand what the difference is between a "health savings account" and saying "go put money in your savings for some future health care problem instead of buying that house or car." For people like my 34 year old brother in law who has had to have 3 MRIs in the last two months and still hasn't been fully diagnosed, the idea of a health savings account really wouldn't have covered his full diagnosis, much less whatever the treatment starts to be. I just wonder what kind of quality solutions Republicans could have had if they spent as much time on finding solutions as they do on trying to come up with these cute names for saying "save for a rainy day."

Tony's Home Economics Rule #1-Eating!

Limit Eating Out. It sounds simple but people usually don't realize how often they eat out or buy things "on the run" and how much that adds up to. I used to be a big fan of Starbucks (still am actually, but I just don't go there often anymore). That is until I realized that I was spending $4 a day there which translated into $28/week, $112/month, or $1344/year. Once you see how it adds up, you start to ask yourself, "is that mocha worth $1300 a year? What else could I do with $1300 a year?" And now Starbucks is about a once a month thing, replaced with coffee from home for about $10 a month.

That's the easy stuff though. Fast food starts to adds up too. At $5 to $10 a meal per person, it is easy to see the costs, however, you are probably saying "but it costs more at home to make food." The answer is if you are buying a ton of processed foods, it may (actually if you use coupons and shop well, it is still cheaper usually). However, learning to cook and prepare your own food, even to bring with you to work, will help you dramatically cut down on costs as you learn to do it.

To illustrate the point, my wife and I make our food and take it to work. Usually, on Sunday night, we will cook a dish and again on Monday night. We will rotate through those dishes for lunches as left overs throughout the week. In the end, our lunches now cost us under $3 each and usually we end up under $2. We rotate dishes so we don't eat the same food everyday. Compared to eating $5-10 a day at fast food, we have saved at least $520 each this year for a total of $1040 or more.

If you are eating out for lunch at sit down restaurants, you can probably add a lot more to your savings than this. I realize that some jobs really "require" sit down lunches or Starbucks meetings to function, but in those cases, it is probably paid for by the company or is tax deductible anyway, so it really doesn't fit this case. But on other days, where it isn't covered or an important meeting, bringing lunch can save.

There are fringe benefits to doing this on top of the savings and ability to use that money elsewhere:

* Learning to cook. If you are married, this can be fun because it is something you and your spouse can do together for more relaxing and fun time. If you have kids, this is a great skill to help your kids learn once they get to the right ages (my mother insists I started before I was five. That might be a little over exaggerating on her part). And if you are single, it is just one more way to impress your dates (trust me, my wife loved that I knew how to cook and is now learning to cook more, but still likes to cook with me).

* Healthier food. Once you start seeing what is in your food, you start to realize all of the fats and preservatives that are often in fast foods. You also start to figure out ways around things for a healthier diet. For example, my father is at the age where the doctor says restrict your salt intake. My wife worries about my health (she's a worrier, what can you do?), so we have really limited salt in our foods and found other flavors to replace the loss of salt. It probably makes my doctor happy and it makes her happy, and the food still tastes great.

Now, don't get me wrong. I still enjoy an occasional trip to Jack in the Box or some other fast food place, but once every month or two saves us a lot of money and is far healthier than the alternative.

If you need recipes (this is how you learn to cook, find recipes, follow directions... over time you will learn to deviate, but start with the recipe and master that first!), I recommend family and friends as one starting place if they have them written down.

The other place I go is Why? Not only do they have fairly good recipes, but you can read the reviews! Just like buying a computer or a camera, people don't have the same tastes or wants in their foods. Reading the reviews can tell you if a dish really didn't meet expectations, if it was really good, or if it wasn't great but by changing one thing, you can make it great. I can't tell you how many times I used the reviews to change a recipe and struck gold!

The bottom line is this: By making your own food at home and buying less processed food in fast food places, you can save a significant amount of money and eat healthier saving you health care costs in the long run. The money you save can be used for other things that you want. Mine paid for this laptop this year and contributed to our month long vacation overseas that we have coming up. Where will you spend your savings?

Tony's Hits and Misses-July 27, 2009

I am going to put forth some thoughts that come up each day. These probably won't be long posts, but more quick hits than anything. Here are today's:

* I keep hearing people talking about Sarah Palin. I just don't get it. She has run a small town by any standards as a Mayor and didn't even finish her term as Governor of Alaska, and people want her to be President? That doesn't even count her incredibly poor grasp of issues in the last election. Now, she believes she is too good to deal with a "lame duck session" and has left it for her Lt. Governor. I guess if she isn't the shining cheerleader who is the center of attention, it isn't worth it for her time. It shows how low American politics has gone in quality.

* I keep hearing how the Republican Party is looking for Obama to fail and sniping, but I really haven't heard any actual solutions to problems for America from Republicans. They were in control of Congress for 12 years and control of all of government for 6 years, and still had no answer for 50 million people without health care and far more with inadequate health care. Are they trying to make themselves irrelevant by not having answers to anything?

* You know, I believe global climate change is a problem, and I realize that many people disagree with me. However, I just don't get how people don't want to switch to alternative energies and technologies, or don't want to support their development considering it may well be a huge opportunity to create massive global exports and jobs in America, as well as reducing or eliminating many monthly bills that people have making it cheaper to live. Why wouldn't that be a good thing?

* I have to admit, I just don't understand the focus on Jon and Kate. They were cute as the parents of so many kids and were helpful in seeing some possible strategies for parenting, but why do I care about them as a splitting couple? If I was getting a divorce, it might be useful to see how they manage it with their kids, but as for their divorce and problems: I just don't get why people are obsessed with it.

That's it for today.

Tony's Rules

For years, I have put together certain "rules" that I have shared with people for various aspects of life. I have shared rules for learning, for dealing with finances, for living, cooking, and far more. As a result, from this point forward, I will be putting forth "Tony's Rules" for these areas.

I hope that people will find them useful. I hope that people will find ways to refine and evolve them through their comments. I hope that together we can find ways to help people live better.

So follow our blog and share your comments.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Understanding Health Care Deficits and the GOP

To pay attention to the health care debate is to hear about personal politics, to hear about deficits, socialism, and far more in terms of distortions, but too often we forget the basics of deficit numbers. I hope to clarify that a little here.

People are worried about deficit spending into the future, but there is a very hidden context that people don't talk about: demographics. Our population has a group of people who are already retired, they are the "greatest generation." There are a decent sized number of people, but we have always had enough people to pay for them.

The key group are the children of the greatest generation: the baby boomers. They have been the largest generation in US history until recently. They drove the economic growth in the Reagan and Clinton years, and are now almost 50 to just over 60. Unfortunately, they are getting ready to retire or starting their early retirements. When you read huge deficit projections around 2013, that isn't because of some hidden program growth or projected inflation, it is because the baby boomers are starting to retire and pick up their social security and medicare checks.

When 60,000,000 people or 1/5th of the total population and over one third of the working population (and the highest income level of the working population) goes into retirement and starts drawing social security and medicare, it is easy to expect higher deficits considering they won't be paying into the revenue base. In other words, they will go from the base of tax revenues for America to the largest group of government subsidies in American history.

Some may ask about the other generations, but Generation X just isn't large enough to pay enough and the Echo Boomer generation is now the largest generation in American history, but are still in high school and college. It will be another 12 years or so before they are able to fill the void left by the retiring baby boomers in terms of revenue streams. It is this generational difference that caused the recession to start with, but that's another article.

The key point being, the big picture of deficits happens no matter what anyone does in about five years. It stems from the retirement of the baby boomers and until we get the echo boomers or exports to drive the economy, we won't have enough revenues to cover the costs.

This is why it was so important to keep paying down the deficit in 2000 instead of going into tax cuts and massive deficit spending during the GOP controlled Bush Administration years. They failed to address these issues or prepare for them. But now, it is too late. The deficits are inevitable until the baby boomers start to die off and the echo boomers get into their major money making years.

The only hope to address this is to a) get the younger generations involved in paying for it, and b) to find ways to cut costs. The Obama programs are designed to start addressing these issues by getting everyone in the population paying into health care and by finding ways to cut costs.

The GOP likes to talk about the young opting out of health insurance, but there are two major consequences of it: 1) when they get sick, we are still left with the bill; and 2) they cause the costs of health care to become unaffordable as fewer pay into the system.

However, the GOP won't talk about the reasons why these deficits are coming. And now you know why. As one Republican strategist indicated, it is better politically to kill this than to make a sensible compromise. The point: politics as usual dictate GOP politics, instead of focusing on solutions for America's problems.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Obama's Birth Certificate and the GOP

The latest cases of distraction on the right being pushed focuses on President Obama's birth certificate. One woman even took over a Republican's townhall meeting, while another supporter refused to serve in the military proclaiming the President isn't a citizen. Even El Rushbo has gotten into the fray creating the implication he may not have kicked the prescription drugs yet.

The conspiracies abound, including the official birth certificate from the state of Hawaii is a forgery. However, Snopes debunks these myths, as does, and Republican Congressman Castle (DE) admits President Obama is a legal citizen.

The discussion has created legal cases that have not won a single case and have not had enough merit for the USSC to bother to review them. Keep in mind, the vast majority of the judiciary has been appointed by Republican Presidents, including seven USSC Justices.

One has to wonder exactly why these people believe this in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It is pretty clear that this is the result of punditry and the real implications of GOP innuendo that they have used for years, and have taken to new heights in the last decade. This is the same kind of strategic use of rhetoric that was used and made fun of, that we all laughed at in Wag the Dog, but Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney used to shift the topic to Iraq as a threat by proclaiming "we have no evidence that Saddam was behind 9/11" after 9/11 and created the long standing belief by core Republicans that he actually was.

It is this use of language in a way that creates these swells by using obviously wrong questions but hiding behind the "it was only a question" defense to spur minds to take off in conspiracy mode. Yesterday's Hardball interview with a Republican sponsoring a bill illustrated the point as the Congressman speaking of the need to pass a bill to force Presidential candidates to submit their official birth certificate before they run for office. The Congressman refused for most of the interview to admit that President Obama was a legitimate President, obfuscating the issue until the very end. At the end, he did admit it but not cleanly, leaving himself "wiggle room" to pander to this group.

It has to make you wonder if you need to create such conspiracies to keep your base together. It has to make you wonder if your best answers and best plans for the future of America are less important than a debunked question or charge to keep your base behind you. Maybe we are about to see the split of the GOP behind rational and conspiratorial Republicans. Either way, it does make it pretty clear that the right has a real problem with truth and rationality just the way GW had a problem with the two. Will they ever learn the lesson?

Government Bureaucrat or Insurance Profiteer?

I find myself both perplexed and laughing at the latest GOP commercials on health care in my area. The big push shows a bureaucrat between a doctor and patient denying coverage. Without much being run for ads against it in Texas, it isn't surprising that the push in Texas seems to support opposing it. Yet, one has to wonder where the commercial or discussion is about that insurance company between a doctor and their patient.

No matter which way the health care debate goes, there is going to be someone between you and your doctor. That is inevitable in 99% of all cases. To illustrate, my brother-in-law has had a mass found in his brain. The doctors think it may have spread there from somewhere else and the insurance company balked at a spinal MRI, and are still disagreeing with its necessity after the fact even though it showed a mass in his spine. The doctors think that may have spread from elsewhere, but the insurance company is balking at doing an MRI on the rest of the body to find out the full story because it is expensive. My brother-in-law's doctor's need for the tests to get a full picture of what is going on appears to be secondary to the insurance company's profits.

It serves to illustrate the key point, someone is always between the doctor and the patient. The question really should be do you want a private person who is only responsible to their boss who is only responsible to a board seeking dividend payouts that come from profit margins; or should it be a person who is responsible to the people you vote for every 2, 4, and 6 years?

Given the difference in health care treatment that my father gets on his federal government health care in contrast to what my brother-in-law's private insurance company, I am both strongly in favor of the federal bureaucrat and his federal rules, and grateful that my health has been good enough to not have to test the system personally.

Following Directions is a Key Resume Skill?

I am starting to wonder if the skill "can read, listen, and follow directions" might actually be a significant skill on a resume. Sure, there are traditional communication, organization, computer and area specific skills that people have to put forth, but I am finding more and more that people are missing the basic skills of reading, listening, and following directions.

For those who don't know, I have a brother-in-law that we are putting through college, so we often send him money through Moneygram. As I was sending money the other day, I noticed a woman, probably in her 50s, who couldn't seem to figure out the Moneygram form. Now, some might say, "forms can be pretty complex," yet I have to wonder considering every single line has a direction for its use. Complicated directions like "First Name" and "Address" in her own language clearly could be confusing. Or maybe not. She was nice enough but by the time one is in their 50s, shouldn't someone have filled out enough forms for everything from applications, to medical forms, to voter registration forms, and so on?

Yet, the situation isn't isolated. At more than a couple jobs in my life, a few people are thought to be technically smarter than others who work on machines and computers because they are able to get things to work without problems compared to the majority of the people. Why? Because they follow the directions, often in the very programs that they are claiming problems to stem from. Simple directions such as "load feeder" and "enter the last four digits on last document" are not followed and create frustration and problems for workers. They simply failed to read directions before acting.

Contrary to popular myth, inability to follow directions isn't isolated to men, as women often find themselves in these situations as much as men where they get lost by not following simple directions. It may explain why so many women defer to men on technical or building issues that aren't heavy lifting or requiring high tech specialized knowledge: To avoid the embarrassment. After all, it probably should be an Olympic event for women to make fun of men in these very areas.

The point isn't to pick on women, or to call people "stupid" because I don't believe that either is true. I don't think the people are stupid, and I don't think that women are incapable of doing these things. However, I think people get so focused in one area or another that they run into these areas and simply don't focus on them. If someone is focused on printing out key information to meet a deadline, they may have trouble shifting their focus on how to load a printer, as an illustration.

However, that doesn't necessarily explain the guy driving in the lane next to me today. We had two lanes turning left. He was in the left lane, I was in the right. The gentleman was nice enough to turn his van from the inside left turn lane into the right lane cutting me off. The turn has a dotted line to follow, so it isn't like it was a secret for him. It was a pretty simply set of directions considering the sign posted in front of him indicating two lanes turned left.

It seems that the problem may be that people simple don't care enough to pay attention to the world around them. That may explain why people don't think the government does anything, even though they get their trash picked up weekly; even though their sewers keep their homes from flooding; even though clean water flows to homes for drinking and cleaning; even though roads give them paths to and from work, school, shopping, etc., for both owners and consumers; and far more.

Some might say the bad economy has made people too poor to pay attention, but we have truly become a distracted society. It is why there are cellphone bans while driving, and why employers are limiting web access for employees, and why directions are becoming almost insultingly simple. With all the noise around us, it is easy to understand why people might want to tune out things, but some things are important enough to pay attention too. Other things are so basic that it simply shouldn't be hard to fill them out. T

he problem in both cases is a lack of effort. And people wonder why we can't get anything done in America if we can't even make the effort to fill out a simple form or make the effort to pay attention when we drive.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Loss of Walter Cronkite and his Legacy

Tonight, we share the bad news of the death of one of our greatest cultural legends: Walter Cronkite. Undoubtedly, the media will tell us of the greatness of Walter and his defining roles within the news media today. However, I have to wonder if they will tell us of his lost legacy.

It is true, they will talk of the man who was the "most trusted name in news" for over a generation, but one must ask why he was so trusted. Why did my conservative grandfather and my liberal grandmother both find him as the most trusted man in news? In a world where Fox News carries little if any respect among liberals, and MSNBC does the same for liberals, one has to wonder if anyone will eclipse the bipartisan credibility of Cronkite.

Cronkite came up in a time where the airwaves were limited and considered public. To be on those airwaves, Cronkite understood his responsibility and duty to serve the American public to the best of his ability. While every human has biases, Cronkite was unparalleled in his efforts to minimize or compensate for his own biases in his reporting. In a day where "fair" reporting means having one democrat and one republican shouting talking points, I wonder if we can actually appreciate Cronkite's ability to report in a fair and honest fashion that held bipartisan trust.

Today, media is little more than a corporate money making machine that panders to interests, telling them what they want to hear more than telling them what is true. Sure, the basic facts remain true and almost the same whether it is the most far left or far right commentator, but the spin put on the "facts" is designed to pander to an audience in a way that fits their political personality.

The notions of a "fairness doctrine" made sense in the era where the airwaves are public, and the public interests matter. But in corporate America that runs cable television where a home can have more than 1000 channels, and the internet allows anyone with a webcam to broadcast their own television on sites like youtube, but at what cost?

Everyone gets their say. Everyone gets to talk. Who listens? The noise is so loud that it almost becomes a constant hum that mutes out all but the most prominent. Blogs become little more than personal therapy or the hub of a small circle of friends. Everyone talks, there are more shows than ever, but all that gets heard are the same basics of a few major outlets. The only way others are heard in any significant way is when they are echoed by the "Big Three."

Maybe, more than ever, the fairness doctrine is needed. Sure, there are lots of voices heard, but there is little truth heard. It is only constant conflict, constant battle between left and right, which creates a battle to define reality rather than an actual fair presentation of reality. The battle is often presented as fair media, but it is no where near the Cronkite standard of "fairness."

Whether or not we find a reinstatement of the fairness doctrine, what is more important is that journalism looks at Cronkite's legend and finds some sense of personal ethics instead of focusing on their own egos to build their punditry at the cost of the public. It is this loss of a public service ethic that raised Barack Obama to the Presidency, it is that same ethic that served Cronkite, and it is that same ethic that is missing in journalism today.

It isn't a left wing bias. It isn't a right wing bias. It is a complete loss of the understanding that the media is here to serve the interests of Americans, not simply pander to them. It seems that instead of checking politicians and their talking points, the media has simply started to serve them, losing its very purpose. It has become part of the political propaganda machine, a state run media without being state owned, instead of serving the interests of the people. And with it, the legacy of Walter Cronkite is lost.

Rest in Peace Walter. We will miss you. Probably more than you will miss us. Agree with you or not, you were a true journalist who earned the label as the most trusted man in journalism. We only wish that others shared your ethics. You will be missed. God Bless Walter Cronkite.

Sotomayor Hearings illustrate GOP's Problem

In today's hearings for Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor, GOP Senator Lindsey Graham (S.C.) put to rest any serious problems for the nominee. Graham indicated Sotomayor had "said some things that have bugged the hell out of me," however, her judicial record "been generally in the mainstream." Despite the GOP's claims, Graham told Sotomayor, "to be honest with you, your record as a judge has not been radical by any means."

Considering all of the ranting of Republicans and their pundits, for someone like Graham to come out and say that is pretty telling of what they really think of her: Sotomayor might be someone they try to score political points over, but there is no doubt she is a judge that is qualified and not one they can oppose based on her record. So what does that tell us about the GOP today?

Today's Republican Party isn't concerned with actually putting good justices on the court as much as scoring political points. Instead of being concerned with today's major issues of our time, they want to rally the base by taking political shots at her statements that have nothing to do with her judicial record.

The reason Barack Obama has been so successful thusfar is because he has shown leadership. He has shown the desire to figure out a plan of action and take action on issues that Americans care about. He has taken on issues that aren't easy, but has made inroads in ways that help Americans. Those that are Obama Republicans can appreciate his efforts, even if they don't believe in every single policy because of that leadership.

When those Republicans look to their own leaders, what do they hear? A focus on the "wise latina" comment instead of a focus on her judicial record. A focus on "market economics" that don't advocate any change from the status quo, where they are feeling the crunch of today's economy. A focus on shrinking government in their language after so many years of Republican actions to grow government and at a time which would be the worst to shrink government: in the middle of a recession.

When you look at the GOP solutions, they include privatizing education instead of coming up with a solution to education. It is an abrogation of leadership where they pray someone else will find an answer, even if not everyone gets the opportunity.

They include a privatizing of Social Security instead of coming up with a solution to make it more solvent into the future. It is an abrogation of leadership where they hope someone can figure out how to take care of our elderly instead of finding an answer themselves.

They include "health savings accounts" which are little more than saying "save your money, you will need it," as if it was the most brilliant idea that everyone would have done if only they had thought of a savings account. It is begging for others to find answers because they don't have one.

The Sotomayor hearing only exemplifies the strategy: score political points in rhetoric, however, actually advocating some kind of change that solves a problem... look for someone else for those answers, because the GOP's answer is always, "let the market do it."

That isn't leadership. It is an absence of leadership.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Moving Beyond Oil: A Mindset Shift Toward a New America

Last night, a friend of mine came out of the closet as a conservative to me at a party. We were in a group of friends who were conservative and he announced how we needed to start drilling for oil off the coasts. Needless to say, that doesn't change our friendship at all, but it does ask for a response that I couldn't give last night at a birthday party where it would have been totally inappropriate to start a major political discussion.

This is one of the major problems with the conservative movement of today compared to the conservative movement of the 60s to the 80s: They are very shortsighted in their justifications and very narrowly focused. The conservatives of previous years could tell you about the implications years down the road and thought out how things would work out. To oil, they would say that having it run low on supply and as price increased would drive market innovation for more solutions. They had a reason why the end of oil wouldn't be the end of the world.

Today, it is simply "there is a lot of unused oil and I don't want to send my money to the Middle East." There is no thought about the implications beyond that. There isn't a "I don't want to fund governments that are bad." There isn't a "once oil is gone, we will have alternatives." It is simple, narrowly focused, and shortsighted.

Well Tony, why shouldn't we drill the coasts? First, it is a matter of national interest and national security that we save our oil. Second, it is a matter of states' rights and local interests. Third, we must begin to realize our future isn't oil, but beyond oil and start moving towards it. Let me explain.

There is a finite amount of oil on this planet. It isn't some unlimited quantity that simply keeps restocking itself over and over. Yes, there may be more oil than we realize today, but that doesn't make it unlimited. We will discover more and learn how to more efficiently process the shale we have found but not tapped yet. But that doesn't make it unlimited.

That means, at some point, we will run out. And as we get more near that point, the price of oil will rise. The problem with traditional innovation theories of conservatives is that they are reactionary. It means we will have to go through a period of incredibly high priced oil costs and hope that we create an answer before we have to return to days of horse and carriage, assuming we could. I would say a day of bicycles, but without oil for tires and chain maintenance, it just wouldn't be possible.

Additionally, everything from medicine, plastics for distributing and maintaining food, and far more would be impacted negatively. Food would become far more expensive due to petroleum in fertilizers, in plastics (above), in delivery vehicles, and so on. In order to better deal with all of these crises that may arise, having that oil locked up to be drilled later will mean that America has a back up plan. It will mean that when the oil from the Middle East is gone, when Venezuela and Russia has dried up, when others are falling back into the middle ages, America will have oil to use. I bet that isn't what the environmentalists planned, but it is strategically smart.

What has befuddled me is the conservatives' love for states' rights, yet on the issue of oil, they want to ignore those states' rights. California and Florida have long opposed drilling off their coasts because their perfect beaches and coastlines are what bring in billions of dollars in business to their states annually. It means a lot of jobs and wealth to the people of the states. Yet, despite these interests, conservatives want the federal government to open up the coastal areas for drilling.

Of course, they will argue that the coast is not part of the state, but part of the country, but given that those states clean up any spills, and are most impacted by the events off their coast and generally govern the areas off their coast and have so for quite some time, it is a stretch to act like the states have no power over those areas.

However, the most important reason not to focus on drilling offshore is quite simply the need to look forward. Conservatives argue that it puts us behind the rest of the world not to drill this oil and increases costs, yet it does just the opposite. It creates the conditions and a favorable environment for innovation that may shift us from a global economic power on the decline to the global leader in innovation yet again, where America has been for so long.

They will say that we can do both, but the reality is that we can't. For talking about "market economics," too few conservatives truly understand them. By pacifying the immediate desires for oil, the public is placated to accept even higher prices with the promise of cheaper oil on the horizon off of our coasts. That means there are less pressures and less market incentives for alternative energies to replace oil. Anyone wanting to invest in alternatives need profit incentives to push developments forward.

To this end, if America wants to return itself to a world leader, it MUST look to the future of the world, not to the past. Oil is not the answer for the future, it is something holding us back. Japan and Germany have been moving forward and positioning themselves for the markets of the future by leading the world in environmental technology. IF America wants to lead the world, it must move forward in these innovative areas.

But who will buy it? America is the world's consumer. Yet, that isn't the market of tomorrow. The markets of tomorrow that will purchase goods are awakening in India and China. If for no other reason than pure numbers and need for energy to develop, combined with their desire for massive development, these countries will require massive purchases of goods from some countries that are willing to produce goods for their needs. In a world where even oil and coal cannot produce enough energy, where we don't trust other nations with that much of a supply of nuclear materials, what will supply their microgeneration energy needs will logically have to come from alternatives.

We are already seeing the beginning of the trend in India where solar power lighting is changing the world of local Indians who no longer will have to choose between helping their farming families and their education which is key to their future. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg. There will be energy and innovation needs for everything from population control, to pollution control, to energy demands that go along with development of nations that have one third of the world's population. Nations that hold a lot of dollars to purchase American goods and services with.

When they talk of new jobs, new manufacturing, new production, and new economics for America, it is the economics of exporting American ingenuity that they speak of. If America wants to continue to live an economically elite life, we cannot rely on low wage jobs, but rather we must innovate to new fields constantly. We cannot rely on the past energy sources, we cannot rely on the past infrastructure, we cannot rely on the past methods; we must move forward, learning from the past to lead the world in innovations.

When we look to the past as the answer, we start to move ourselves backwards, not forwards towards new innovative solutions. We must move forward if we are to lead the world instead of becoming the next former world leader. Drilling for more oil doesn't lead to the future, it simply holds on to the past.