Monday, December 6, 2010

An Open Leader to President Obama: Fight For Us

Mr. President,

Last year, you were asked a very pointed question by a woman who wanted you to give us a reason to follow you. You gave her your normal policy answer, but it is now clear you missed the point she was trying to make. You didn't get what she was trying to tell you. The result was the 2010 Election. Mr. President, we need you to lead.

One has to ask why a President who has passed as much significant legislation as you have is viewed so weakly. It is easy to blame the right wing media, but it really isn't about them. President Clinton found a way to get through the Echo Chamber with positive marks, even today. He didn't pass half the landmark legislation you have in two years, so what's going on?

The defining moment was on health care reform. It is where you lost your base and your independents. You told us that we would change Washington. You told us that we could change the world. You told us that things would be different. You told us that we wouldn't be helpless to profit hungry corporations, but we would be given choices to bring them in check. And then you compromised. We didn't get what you told us was the key to all those things: A Public Option.

Health Care Reform was something that could have been passed in two months before Senator Kennedy died with a Public Option. Instead, it dragged on for month after month after month, and you sat on the sideline publicly. I am sure you and the White House was working behind the scenes to make a deal to get it done, but none of us ever saw it. And yes, we looked. The Public Option is where you lost your mojo.

Democrats lost 2010 because of two reasons: You failed to lead them on health care reform and lead the American people through the economic troubles; and the Democrats were so busy reading polls trying to figure things out that they couldn't even take a stand on the most basic of policies of tax cuts before the election. Those two things tell us, the American people, that neither you nor the Democratic Party wants to lead.

As we had to Christmas, we see votes on tax cuts that Democrats know will fail for the sake of taking votes. It would make sense if there was a strategy to get the votes and then use them to publicly pressure Republicans with a PR strategy to get what you want. Instead, we got how you were "disappointed" but that is all you ever get.

Mr. President, maybe you aren't getting it. We want you to lead by fighting for those ideals you put forth in your campaign. They weren't just ideals to be compromised on. That would be the way Washington has always worked. We didn't vote for doing things the same way Washington always has worked. We voted to change how Washington works. You were fired up and ready to go, but we haven't seen you fired up over anything since you took office.

Mr. President, there are defining moments. For President Bush 41, it was raising taxes. For President Reagan, it was telling the Soviet Union to tear down a wall. For President Clinton, it was standing up to Republicans and shutting down the government over Social Security. What will be your defining moment?

You need to pick one and make it. We need you to pick one and fight for it. Whether it is insisting that unemployment benefits and each tax bracket be passed as separate bills to be voted on separately; whether it is a public option; whether it is a new stimulus bill; whether it is deficit reduction; no matter what it is, pick something and fight for us. Show us what is important to you.

Don't be "disappointed." Do something. Fire a shot across the bow. Use your Veto. Spend a week talking about nothing but one issue in strong terms instead of soft policy nuances.

If you want your base back. If you want your independents back. Stand up and fight for us. Stand up and show us how you are making Washington about us, not about deals and compromises. Show us how you are making America better for us and not business as usual.

Until you stand up and fight for us, you may be on your way to being a one term President who will have your accomplishments simply repealed.

The Tea Party gained power not because everyone believed in it. Heck, the platform is hardly coherent. The Tea Party was about the government caring about us and doing things for us instead of business as usual. The Tea Party was nothing more than the far right Ron Paul Libertarians and Paleoconservatives appealing to the independents who voted for you not because they agree in ideology but because you didn't stand up and fight for the things you said you would.

Mr. President, it is time to get off the sidelines. You should have started fighting for us two years ago. But if you don't start now, you will have started too late.

Simply put: Mr. President, Fight For Us.

Fed Trying to Grow Economy, Republicans say Focus on Deficits, Actions say otherwise

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke spoke on the economy in a 60 Minutes interview about the economy, explaining the concern about long term job growth and the need for more economic support to boost the system.

Bernanke explained the Federal Reserve will continue to boost easing efforts because the federal government has sent the signal it will focus on deficit reduction instead of additional stimulatory efforts. By focusing on deficit reduction, the American public can rest assured the job growth outlook will not improve anytime soon. Deficit reduction means policies designed to save money, not to get money flowing through the economy which is what creates jobs.

Bernanke's comments seem to indicate the federal government needs to do more for the recovery, not less. The problem is the deficit has grown so large it is difficult to deal with for most Americans. The numbers are larger than they could have imagined.

It is similar to the Reagan era, where a debt topping $1 trillion was unimaginable. Yet, Reagan's budgets increased the debt 180% in eight years. We got used to it. Similarly, politicians ran on deficit reduction, but did little work to honestly cut it. The insistence on passing tax cuts costing $700 billion for the richest among us indicates the same is true today.

The mistake was made a decade ago, and we will be struggling to overcome it for decades to come. When deficits are run up, they need to be paid off. In 2000, American voters decided they did not want to pay off that debt. They made the choice to take a tax cut and ignore the debt, leaving it for future generations. Today, we have far less flexibility to deal with the economy because of those voting decisions.

We made our bed. Now we have to lay in it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Tax Deal: What Does It Say About the GOP and To Our Kids?

For many people in America, they can be thankful this holiday season that there is an apparent deal in the works to deal with unemployment benefits and tax cuts. During an economically troubling time, generally speaking, tax increases or cuts of things like unemployment benefits can be economically troubling.

However, it does show somethings that are significant:

First, the claims of focus on the deficit by the Republicans during election season were a token campaign promise at best. They are about to agree to maintain $700 billion in debt for the top bracket of tax cuts, while adding to spending by extending unemployment benefits. Deficits should not be the primary focus during economic troubling times, but it does show the dishonesty of the Republican's approach.

Second, it shows how Republicans think of the richest among us. They have held hostage tax cuts for everyone else and unemployment benefits for those who are unemployed in hard economic times (not lazy people, but people who are simply struggling to find a job). They seem to believe that the rich are struggling too, and that those making over $250k and $1 million per year need lower taxes as much as those who can't find jobs need unemployment benefits to survive. That much is evident as they held up Democrat bills that have renewed unemployment benefits and tax cuts for everyone under both of those levels.

Republicans ran on the idea of all deficits are passing on the costs to future generations for today. I can understand the ideas of running deficits for people to keep them from starving to death and spending the winter on the streets in the cold.

I have to wonder how they explain to their children why they are going to pay $700 billion plus interest on future debt so the richest among us can pay 3% less in taxes.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Just for Fun: 10 Technological Failures

I caught this article detailing the "Top 10 Tech Failures" and thought I would put it here.

There are many reasons for their failures, and they reminded me of some that I saw when I was younger, as well as some I didn't know about. For the tech geeks among us, or simply the trivia geeks, take a look.

There may be a quiz later.

Understanding Technological Advancement

What is the next Facebook Killer? Pete Cashmore writes an interesting article with a pretty good understanding of how technological replacement happens.

Essentially, he argues that technological clones don't overtake something. Diaspora, for example, has sought to be just like Facebook only more private. Yet, it has barely gained any traction for all its efforts. It is too much like Facebook long after Facebook built its base.

Ironically, Cashmore argues Facebook may be the next Google Killer because of the amount of information it has about people in its own databases that Google doesn't necessarily have access to.

The point and reason I focused on this article was simply because I often push the idea that we must build new small businesses. Therefore, I wanted to give people a basic understanding: Business wins because it takes a different angle to do things better.

While Vonage is taking on traditional phone companies by trying to do the same type of thing: create a landline, only cheaper; the major companies went for the cellphones to undermine Vonage by making landlines obsolete.

While power companies are seeking to set up the fight over controlling alternatives to our current energies, they haven't embraced solar or wind power for a simple reason: to embrace it is to give up control over power because you could (and should) be building them on your roofs without them. They want a power source that is more efficient than oil/gas/coal and allows them to control it.

While e-mail certainly hurt mail, what is killing mail is not email but rather Facebook, Text Messages, and more that make the "letter" obsolete. We can now communicate so freely and easily that one has to wonder who writes letters anymore?

Then again, how much more significant is an actual hand written letter when you receive it, than say... a text or a poke?

GOP Holding Middle Class Tax Cuts Hostage for the Rich

As the GOP hold legislative bill after legislative bill hostage, effectively shutting down anything the Democrats can do, it is important to realize what they are creating for you and me. One such important area is in tax cuts where the GOP will be holding our tax rates hostage in order to give the richest Americans their tax cuts, and they are willing to screw the rest of us in order to get it for them.

Now, I don't totally blame the GOP. After all, if my major cash donor was going to take a tax hike, I guess I would stand up for them too. I just wonder what the rest of Republicans are thinking.

One such program is the Making Work Pay tax cut in the Stimulus Bill that is set to expire. It is the tax cut most Americans got from the Obama Administration to give Americans $400 for single people and $800 for married couples. However, the GOP is holding it hostage as well as many other tax benefits that Middle Class Americans normally get.

Half the problem is the amount of lies and disinformation that is out there. Politifact has gone through and done a lot of myth debunking on both sides... take a look and send letters to your congresspeople to deal with the realities of the tax cut debate instead of the myths.

Tom DeLay: The Latest GOP Criminal, The Next GOP Super Hero?

Former GOP House Majority Leader Tom DeLay couldn't avoid justice for committing money laundering under Texas law. There can be no liberal bias claims in this one. There can be no liberal witch hunt in this claim.

Yet, there is no doubt he will join other conservative felons in finding a high paying job for his actions. The conservative code of loyalty for "taking a bullet" for the party runs so strong that it is the major exception in their views on the Rule of Law. Loyalty over ideology.

I doubt that conservatives or liberals really think through what they are voting for, other than a party they believe represents their views more closely than the other. I doubt that conservatives ever really figure out that the people they vote for run on a platform based on the idea that government is corrupt and fails, then they elect them, only to find out their policies failed or were corrupt.

It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Instead of realizing they are electing corrupt failures, they simply cite it as proof that government is horrible, and keep electing the same type of people, only to wonder if the problem can ever be solved.

Then again, as a society, we eat tons of fast food, find out it is killing us slowly through obesity, so we get upset and buy another extra large Big Mac Value Meal.

The problems in society aren't structural. They are us.

Drug Arrests Prove Border Fence was Waste of Money

A recent drug arrest indicates one more reason why a "border fence" was such a joke: Tunnels. The recent tunnels found were a half mile long, as deep as seventy feet below the surface, with light rail to move drugs through.

While the drug debate is another question, I have to admit when I first read the article, the first thing that came to mind was just how meaningless "The Wall" idea was to stop immigration.

Since the beginning of "The Wall" being put in place, I have seen video of people simply walking around it in three feet of water and numerous stories of people tunneling under it, showing how a billion dollar project can be simply a waste of time.

I remember talking about how a "Wall" would simply leave people wanting to illegally immigrate to find other ways of getting here. They said I was overreacting, the wall would work. Apparently, I wasn't.

Until there is more incentive to stay in Mexico than there is to migrate here, no wall, no Coast Guard, no "virtual fence" will keep illegals out. It is really that simple. To prove the point, just look to Canada. With an even more open border, we don't really have a huge Canadian illegal immigration problem do we?

The Left Must Stop "Feeling" and Start Thinking

Someone sent me a link for Alternet today, and while I had seen people post stories from there, I really never read many of their articles. I had a feeling it was a left leaning website, but had some interesting views, but I just never went there... until today that is.

I caught some interesting articles, and some had good points, but one common theme I seemed to find was the notion that the "rich" are "heartless" and corporations lack "compassion" and so on. The constant playing on "feelings" sounds whiny and pathetic honestly.

If your answer is don't cut Social Security because it is heartless... then cut it. If your answer is don't cut Medicare because it isn't compassionate... then cut it. If your answer is don't cut Unemployment Benefits because it is mean... then cut them.

You just have to do better than that. Those may be some of the worst arguments ever. Society can't make good policy decisions based on not being heartless anymore than based on Biblical reasons. Public policy just demands more thought on our part.

Social Security is a good idea not because it shows our heart, but because of a few reasons. First, it is a safety net for those who take risks and encourages risk takers to start new small businesses because they know that even if they fail, they will not be homeless. And those small businesses drive the economy. Second, it is good for business because no one runs a good business with homeless old people begging in front of their businesses. Third, it is good for government and taxes because it means old people don't get arrested for vagrancy and loitering costing taxpayers in jail time. Fourth, it is good for the economy because it doesn't drain consumers paying for their parents, so they can drive the economy in other ways.

Sure, it also has a heart, but that just isn't a good public policy reason for any policy. We need better policies. We need more thought in Washington and less emotionalism. Both sides would be better to learn that.

Friday, November 19, 2010

What Does Ahmed Ghailani's Conviction on 1 of 285 Charges Mean?

The case of Ahmed Ghailani's conviction on a charge of conspiracy to commit terrorism, but acquittal on 284 other charges has created a stir about President Obama's trial of Gitmo detainees in civilian court.

Some Republicans have indicated it is evidence that President Obama made the wrong decision about trying these criminals in civilian instead of military courts. They imply that Ghailani would have been convicted of more charges in a military court.

However, this does create some questions that we need to address as a society:

Do we determine the validity of a court system based on the outcome we want or the process that protects people? Remember, our court system was put in place because our founding fathers believed it was important because in a free society, people had to have the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof should be on the government. They wanted to make sure government did not have too much power to wrongfully imprison people for political outcomes. Were they talking about exactly this type of situation, where it is politically popular for convictions even if someone may be wrongfully charged?

What makes anyone thing military courts would convict at a higher rate than civilian courts? Sure, civilian courts have more rights than military courts, but in a post 9/11 world, does anyone really believe there is a civilian bias to free people charged of terrorists? The case was tried in New York City. Can anyone reasonably believe that New Yorkers have a desire to acquit terrorists? That claim is a bit outside the scope of rational thought, in this writer's opinion.

At some point, people need to move beyond emotionalism and a complete lack of rational thought, and stop buying into mindless talking points, and think about what is being said by talking heads. This may be one of those cases.

Is California on the Verge of Leading the World in Energy Innovation?

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger makes the case that California is leading the way in Green Innovation and Technology. Given that energy problems showed themselves most in California years ago when they had blackout problems due to energy company collusion, it isn't surprising they would rebel and seek to control their energy future.

Many remember the blackouts of California, but few remember the court decision that determined Texas energy companies colluded to create the power shortages. Power companies have been trying to lobby and campaign against alternative energies to stay in power, even promoting myths and unsubstantiated claims to undermine alternatives or scientific evidence. Many have bought into it, but some still remain as staunch advocates for controlling our energy future in sustainable ways.

While the energy revolution going on doesn't take away power from energy companies, it does shift to more sustainable means of powering, and creates new jobs, new technologies, that will be the foundation of a global economy at some point. Some places have required shifts to microgeneration of power on all new homes which will empower people to not pay massive energy companies for power, but not enough at this point.

We will be watching Governor to see if your energy revolution continues and what impact it has globally. However, it certainly has the potential to put California on the cutting edge of global energy technology, which could turn California around yet again to lead America and the world's economy. We will be watching.

Unemployment Benefits or Tax Cuts for the Rich: What does our choice say about us?

Congress is facing a decision about unemployment benefits and tax cuts which may reveal the changing priorities in America.

There is no doubt that unemployment benefits should not last forever. However, the question really is about how to address a large economic downturn that hasn't fully recovered. When almost 10% of Americans are unemployed, and even more are unemployed but outside the system's definition of unemployed, cutting things that prevent consumers from spending is generally a bad thing. Consumer spending drives our economy, so cutting it would hurt businesses, the jobs of other people, and the people who receive the cuts.

The budget deficit does need to be dealt with though. So the things we keep and the things we cut say volumes about us. The tax cuts being fought over are for those making over $250,000 a year currently. Certainly, not in economic trouble. And the debate is over about a 3% increase on the top margin of their taxes, not their entire taxes.

So the question is: Do we prioritize the richest among us or those who need our help the most in an economic downturn?

And what does it say about us when we make this choice?

How will GOP Freshman Deal with First Debt Ceiling Vote in a few Months?

With an annual deficit of over a trillion dollars and an economy still very fragile, not growing jobs, and with major concerns of a double dip; the debt ceiling is facing Congress in the next few months leaving freshman on the right in a difficult position: Do you vote to allow the debt to grow to keep government running while you campaigned against raising the debt ceiling OR do you vote against the debt ceiling raise and shut down government, kill vital services for people, and risk destroying the US economy almost overnight?

No one argues that the deficit needs to be addressed, however, how that is to be done is another question. Everyone likes the talk of shared sacrifice or cutting the budget or raising taxes depending on their views. However, they never seem to want it to be their taxes raised or their projects cut.

Additionally, while the deficit needs to be managed, to shut down government and refuse to allow any further spending so sharply could have several negative consequences, including crashing the economy very quickly as people suddenly and dramatically lose benefits and services.

To cut over a trillion dollars from government spending overnight would absolutely crush the economy too.

At some point, ideologues need to start dealing with reality. The question that concerns us should be: will we have to suffer from their naivity?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Obama in India: Day One-$10 billion in New American Business and Laying the Groundwork for the Future

President Obama's trip to India has resulted in $10 billion in deals for American businesses on Day 1. It turns out that President Obama has taken an unusual approach by bringing hundreds of American corporate officers with him to India to work on finding business opportunities for American exports to India, and American projects in India. While highly unusual, the approach of creating links between American businesses with foreign businesses and governments to create jobs in America may be one more notch in the Obama belt.

Demographically speaking, the largest generations of the American population are either preparing to retire, or are in school preparing to enter the economy. That means the bulk of American consumers are not in the prime of their spending on consumer products to grow the economy. To speed up the growth of the American economy, exports will be a key area. That is why continuing to develop alternate energy technologies is so important.

India has a massive population, but it also has significant goals for development. Both India and China have needs for energy in their most rural areas, but oil and gas will not meet those needs. There simply is not enough of it in the world, and adding so much demand for it will only increase the prices which are probably already too high for provincial people in the two countries. That means, they need alternative energies to develop.

India already has some projects whereby their students go to universities to learn how to build some technologies, and they are making them, and selling them in the provinces. The result is villages with reliable nighttime power for the first time. That means the child in the village no longer has to make a choice between working on the family farm to survive or doing homework for school. With light at night, the child can do both. It is creating new opportunities for Indians.

It is also creating opportunities for American companies who seek to meet the emerging needs of the Indian and Chinese consumers. Their workers are largely low skilled in the factories America outsources to. That means higher technology products and developmental products are industries that America has and can export to help India and China. It is a win-win situation.

These types of deals will increase production here, which also means increases in productivity and decreases in prices, and that benefits the American consumer. We will be able to purchase these goods at lower prices; and more importantly, alternative energies that are focused on microgeneration empower Americans to both live free of energy corporations, but also to minimize their monthly bills which allows them to spend in other areas.

Day One has been a big success for President Obama's trip. It is not enough to say all of our problems are solved, but it is a good start. Initial reports are that Day One will create about 50,000 jobs in America. Given some of the comments made on Day One, it may well lay the groundwork for far more jobs and far more business than we know at this point. It is good to see someone laying the groundwork for the future.

Texas Conservatives Ready to Turn Away Medicaid: Leave Intellectually Disabled and Children Without Care

In the wake of the election this week, Texas lawmakers that ignored the $25 billion budget shortfall during the election discussion, have now decided that to address that shortfall, they may elect to eliminate Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIPS).

The focus of Medicaid is for the poorest among us, but it also includes people with intellectual disabilities as well as other disabilities. In other words, the Texas Legislature, run by conservatives, wants to put the mentally retarded people out on the streets, without any funding to take care of those who can't take care of themselves.

Keep in mind, those that can take care of themselves, probably are not receiving Medicaid funds in Texas Supported Living Centers. The thousands and thousands of individuals who live in those centers, some of which have severe physical handicaps to go with the mental disabilities, would be put out in the streets to fend for themselves if they have no families (and many of them don't).

Keep in mind, many of them are in facilities because their families have either died, could not take care of them, or could not afford to take care of them. Their care is very expensive, but does that mean we should take our ideological conflicts out on them? Did they really have a choice? Or are these legislatures saying they don't deserve to live if they can't get a job to pay for themselves.

What are they going to do when some of them are put on the street, but are fed through tubes? Let them starve? Or let them die as they aspirate food into their lungs and die of pneumonia?

What are they going to do when some of them are put on the street, but are bed ridden and cannot walk? Leave them on the side of the road until someone runs over them or they die?

What about the children? Are we going to put the children in the middle of our ideological conflicts, leaving children to get sick and die if they can't find a job to make up for what their parents cannot afford?

At some point, Texas conservatives need to realize that while they are waging an "ideological culture war," they are also screwing Texans.

At some point, Texans need to start realizing what is going on instead of simply doing the same ole thing over and over, and still ranking last in the nation in education, and first in minimum wage jobs, and first in food stamps.

It is one thing to take it out on the intellectually competent poor, they chose to vote you into office. It is quite another to take it out on the intellectually disabled who don't vote, the children who can't vote, and both who are defenseless and innocent victims on your chosen battlefield.

I guess they will just call it collateral damage and ignore them. I don't know about you, but I can't ignore them. They deserve better. We owe it to them.

The Suspension of Olbermann Exposes MSNBC

Keith Olbermann donates $2400 to 3 candidates, and has been suspended indefinitely. Sean Hannity has given thousands to Republican candidates, but nothing. MSNBC says it is a sign that Fox is a political organization and MSNBC is a news organization that has higher standards.

It could just be me, but it seems as though MSNBC doesn't want to admit the same thing Fox fails to admit: Both are focused on political. To say that Olbermann is a "journalist" is a bit of a stretch. He is a pundit, an advocate, a critic from the left who openly goes after the right. To proclaim the suspension based on them being a "news organization" is to admit the deception, implicitly, that MSNBC is playing the same game as Fox, only from the other side.

If they had the integrity, they could have easily said "Olbermann is clearly an advocate with his show, and as such, is not bound by the policy of ethics our journalists have" and they would have actually saved the credibility of their journalists... but they chose not to.

MSNBC, in its prime time show selection, has shown the world it wants to be the left wing Fox. Olbermann is simply the antithesis of Hannity or O'Reilly on Fox. Sure, you can argue credibility issues to differentiate them, but they are each pundits or advocates for their parties. Let's not lie to ourselves and proclaim that Olbermann, Hannity, O'Reilly, etc., are objective journalists. They are pundits, advocates, and spending money for their cause probably increases their credibility with their audience, not decreased their credibility like it might with a journalist.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Prison Business in AZ drives anti-immigrant laws; Civil Campaign in CT; Mail from Yemen; Rally to Restore Sanity; and GDP Report Delivers Message

Thoughts for October 30, 2010:

* The GOP Model continues: Big Business pays GOP lawmakers in Arizona to get the immigration law that was so highly protested in private and write the legislation for the people they buy to pass it. Then they fan the flames of emotion on issues, pushing hot buttons without regard for actual policy facts, and the result is big prison business living off of govt subsidies to make massive profits: The GOP version of Socialism.

* I wish this was the way politics was done: Two candidates, being civil, engaging in open discussion continually through a campaign, without negative attack ads, focused on helping their state to be better. The ability to have an honest discussion without worrying about negative ads, political gotchas, and pasts from 20 years ago is a campaign near extinction, sadly.

I wish it would catch on. But there is too much money on the line, too many people buy into these tactics, and quite frankly, it doesn't pull in audiences in a 24/7 news cycles. It isn't sexy, but it is how things ought to be. Too bad the odds of it becoming common are about the same as Rush Limbaugh campaigning for Barack Obama in 2012. Just ain't gonna happen.

* Today's major event has to be the US bound packages from Yemen, some containing bomb materials, that were intercepted. There are numerous debates that will abound, and many of them will be emotional but completely lacking any thoughtfulness.

I think people don't understand just how lucky we are. Al Qaeda isn't seeking to kill Americans, but rather to break America and its global credibility. It isn't to cause chaos. It isn't to kill millions of Americans. It is to expose America as a global hypocrite, a dominater not a liberator.

God protect us the day they realize they want to kill Americans and realize how easy it really is. The amount of chaos, disruption, and death that a few people acting independently and simply is something most Americans don't realize. It doesn't take a nuke. It doesn't take anthrax. All it takes is a few people dedicated with enough creativity to see the easy and the obvious.

America needs to live up to its values and stop just talking about them to turn away this threat. Until it does, we will continue to be in danger.

* Who's going to Rally to Restore Sanity? Apparently, there is a broad range of people, ages, and reasons for going. Don't forget, there are a ton of events going on around the nation in numbers that are incredibly impressive for those who can't get to DC.

While Stewart's message is the same as it was when he addressed CNN's Crossfire crew years ago; I am sure he hopes it will have more impact today than it had then.

Our focus on the clash, the conflict, that creates negative ads that seemingly are increasingly jumping the shark in campaigns appears to have eliminated the ability to have civil discourse in all but one race in Connecticut. Will people get the point or jump on their own reason for going ignoring Stewart's reasons? Only time will tell.

* The GDP Report brought a mixed bag: The GDP grew 2 percent in the third quarter. However, it was lower than it could have been because most of the purchases were imports instead of domestic products. There are signs of consumer and business confidence improving, but it takes time for that to create jobs, and it takes time for it to build upon itself.

The question for many Americans is how long will it take to create jobs? The answer needs to be that they should start utilizing the best business environment around, where starting your own business in this internet era is easier than ever before. Don't wait for a job, start a small business. And if you have a job, you should start one too.

The sad reality is given how the election appears to be lining up, the economy will not receive any additional stimulus, but will probably see a decline in government stimulus efforts. That means any gains will have to come in spite of conservative efforts to dampen the economy by cutting spending in areas like unemployment, food stamps, welfare, social security, and medicare.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Reading the Stock Market. Obama the Anti-Colonialist or not so much? Cutting Defense? Implications of Rove's New Power . New Financial Tools.

Thoughts for Thursday, October 14, 2010:

* It is interesting to see how people try to figure out economics based on the stock market without understanding it. Since 2003, the market has been driven by dividends, which doesn't mean economic growth necessarily at all, and can be a negative sign of expansion.

And if you are heavily invested in the market, you may want to move your money before 2013. We may well be looking at a significant market crash/collapse around 2013. Why would it do that? Think about what happens when the largest generation and the first generation so broadly invested in the stock market starts to retire and pull their money out of their 401k to retire on, most of which is in the... wait for it... stock market. Put your 401k into another retirement fund that is not market reliant before then. The flip side: Great market pricing opportunities around 2015.

* One of the most embarrassing CSM pieces ever spouts that President Obama is an ideological copy of his father (by implication a communist, and many other things) meaning he is "anti-colonialist." It is poor argument because it creates a poor argument with weak internal linkages. Why do people write garbage like this? The answer is simple, some people aren't taught to critically evaluate it better than this.

Look at Obama's policy actions: Focus on privatizing local space, shift NASA's mi...ssion to Mars and planetary missions (which are expensive), which means spreading the costs among nations so the American taxpayer doesn't have to foot the bill for everything (fiscal responsibility), and use that opportunity to improve relations with Muslims for national security reasons... seems more pragmatic than anti-colonialist. There is still the colonizing of space through planets, and privatizing the colonization of local space and the moon. Hard to call that decolonizing.

Then again, some will believe anything the RW spouts without thought.

* Ron Paul and Democrats call for cutting Defense Spending to balance the budget. Defense spending is out of control, that is true. And to say cut defense to a reasonable number makes sense. But there are two problems with it:

In the generic sense to say cut something is one thing, but when you get down to the specific cuts, support shifts dramatically. That makes all cuts hard.

The black budget is so woven throughout the whole budget, not just the DoD budget, that defense spending cannot be reigned in honestly until we start to expose the black budget. Some estimates have the black budget ranging as high as almost $1 trillion in the budget. That is probably too high, but the hundreds of billions may well be true.

So what can you do? Take the anti-American hits for trying to balance the budget or fail to heed Eisenhower's warning and go broke?

* Karl Rove seem to have more power outside the White House than inside it with his raising of $56 million to spend on campaigns nationwide. Outside groups aren't a problem... ugh... dating back to the Swiftboat group in 2004 and before, outside group influence has shifted the balance of power from individuals to the corporate cash cows (Thanks SCOTUS with Citizen's United for a bad decision).

It wouldn't surprise me to start to see corporate wars fighting for government contracts in the future through the election of political parties, all done through fundraising by outside groups who can function largely outside the campaign finance rules that parties and candidates must endure, but are closely enough linked to almost seem in lock step.

Is it a better world? Imagine the founders and their reactions.

* Here are some interesting ideas emerging in money management and social networking. Take a look, and share your thoughts. I am still thinking threw some of the implications of them, but here is your chance... what do you think?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gays and Gay marriage, Unemployment and Trickledown Economics, and Progressives as a Social Movement

Today's thoughts for October 7, 2010:

* For the first time in 15 years, less than 50% of the nation opposes gay marriage. There are still more people that oppose gay marriage than support it, but it is significant progress for gay marriage advocates.

The question has to be about the strange supporters and opposition to gay marriage. The "anti-government" party that claims to want liberty, freedom, and choice for all Americans wants the government to outlaw gay marriage, a free choice for individuals to make; whereas, the "pro-government" party wants the government to allow people to be free to have more choices about who they may marry. Is it a role reversal issue? How ironic.

* Jobless filings fell below 450,000 this week, which is the lowest we have seen in about three months. It shows signs of progress, but is still high for a "recovery" period. Clearly, there is reason for concern about having so many jobless claims and prolonged unemployment above 9%. President Obama has taken heat for his claim that we needed the stimulus plan to keep us below 8% unemployment, showing America he is a politician, not an economist.

One major reason is the focus on trickle down economics that has largely been accepted in the last 30 years, largely as a misunderstood theory. The way it is commonly understood is that if we give money to rich people, they will spend and invest it, creating jobs for all. That is a big mistake as we are finding out. Currently, US companies are sitting on a ton of cash and not spending it. They claim many reasons, but the primary one is that American consumers aren't spending like before, and thus, they won't get a solid return on their investment.

Reagan had the right point, but it was spun out of control. If we give people incentive to invest, incentive to take risk, incentive to start their own business, and the freedom to do it, they will create new businesses, new industries, and new jobs for everyone. The problem became when it shifted to giving the rich everything, and praying they would invest it to create jobs for everyone. Currently, they have the money, but aren't investing it in jobs.

To create new jobs, we need to shift from major corporation lovefests, to incentives and leveling of the playing field for new small business owners and innovators. We need to insure things like Net Neutrality which give benefits to small business owners; we need to level the playing field between corporations and small businesses which has been skewed to corporations for too long; we need to remind people that they have skills and should take the risks to start their own businesses instead of just job hunting; and we need to restore the tax incentive structure to help corporations re-invest their money to avoid a balanced capital gains and dividends tax.

* Periodically, friends and family find links to articles and send them to me for my thoughts. Nate Silver's column in 2009 recently became one of those articles. Nate argued about a distinction between types of progressives, differentiating between "Radical Progressives" and "Rational Progressives."

While semi-interesting in its application, it became pretty obvious it was little more than the basic application of social movement theories. If you simply re-frame it in terms of any movement, where "zealots" or "core" members of the movement start it, and to grow the movement, they must appeal to more moderate people which create two "factions" of a movement, it becomes the exact same thing.

That is, in general, how a movement works. A small group of people get upset or energized over a cause. They have a view that is specific, but they need support. Others see the problem that energized the group, and join in. They may not share the exact vision, but they support ending the problem in a similar way. The movement needs to get more people to achieve its goals or it will remain small and eventually die as an ineffective movement. Thus, it often moderates its message to get more followers.

As the movement gets more followers, two paradoxical things happen: First, the movement gets larger and stronger. Second, the core group often loses influence since the followers are more moderated. The result is they get upset when the movement doesn't go after or achieve the more "radical" views of the original group, but instead the more moderate views are adopted.

In many ways, it is an incremental approach for change in society that utilizes the zealots as leverage in a societal "negotiation" for change.

It was nice to see someone apply basic social movement theory to a situation properly, but it wasn't some revolutionary piece of work. It wouldn't surprise me if some student in a social movements class in the last three years hadn't already done something similar. They just didn't publish it on their blog.

* I try to avoid Sarah Palin commentary because it is just too easy to take a shot at. However, Sarah recently said she "chose" not to be gay. This leads to a couple thoughts:

First, I highly doubt Sarah thought about it at all before her first attraction to a male. I know that I haven't found anyone tell me they actually thought about their first attraction's gender prior to being attracted to them. Maybe someone on the internet will stand up and shout, "I was 5 and I actually had a thoughtful discussion with myself about whether or not I should like Johnny or Jane in Kindergarten. Anyone? Bueller?

Second, I think the question of whether or not we choose to be gay or straight may be one of the biggest wastes of political time we face. I find it ironic that those who shout the loudest for "liberty" actually care about people exercising that liberty between two consenting adults in their own bedrooms. Whether someone chose to be gay or was gay by nature is irrelevant. They are two or more consenting adults, why should they have to justify those actions to the state, their neighbors, or anyone else if they keep the sexual behavior in their homes and bedrooms?

Oh, and who cares if they kiss in public? If you don't like it, don't watch! You can turn your head the other way when I kiss my wife too, but I am still going to kiss her in public and private. Anything beyond that, you don't get to see. If you see it, you went looking for it, and they aren't to blame.

It could be me, but the gay vs straight debate may be the most idiotic issues of the day. If you want to be gay or straight, go for it. If you want to enter into the contract of marriage, go for it. If a church wants to marry you, go for it. If an employer finds a benefit in giving you and your partner (gay or straight) access to benefits, go for it. After all, it is supposed to be a free country, right?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Stewart And Colbert: What's the Point?

Source after source continues to try to figure out what to make of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. While it doesn't seem that difficult, it appears that Republicans didn't get Colbert before they asked him to speak at a White House affair only to be shocked that he was not one of their own. Today, the Christian Science Monitor asks if they are walking on dangerous ground and getting serious with their events in Washington DC this month.

It seems that people don't seem to understand the role of comedy in society. Comedy is a mirror that shows us ourselves. It tries to get us to see something that we might otherwise ignore, or that is too serious a topic for us to see in another light. It seeks to show us something about ourselves in a different, often a deconstructionist light.

To ask if Stewart is getting serious is to ignore his past. It seems as if they forget when Stewart went on Crossfire and asked the pundits to "stop," as he explained just how they were "hurting us." Stewart has been making a serious point for quite some time as a media critic through the lens of comedy. He has done it well enough that many young people actually get their information from Comedy Central instead of news organizations.

What people forget is that in this day of 24 hour media, where networks don't use news as a loss leader or a public service, but as a profitable vehicle; the news gets presented in a way to attract viewers, not to serve the public. And that isn't evil, but it is a reality that far too few realize. And when you don't realize what's going on with the media, it is too easy to get duped. And that is where Colbert fits in, as he shows just how bad this propaganda machine can go.

Don't get me wrong. Stewart is correct. It isn't the left or the right. It is the media machine that tries to define the "news" as a debate of two ideologies instead of some attempt to find an objective truth (note: this does not mean objective in an unbiased sense, but rather objective in the attempt to discover and report the information discovered with as little "spin" as possible.). It is the media machine that focuses on the clash, not the public service, not the "truthiness" of the information, not the importance of the subject.

Fox is the right wing media machine, MSNBC has decided to move to the left, and CNN has long focused on the drama regardless of truth or implication. None of them care about what matters to society or the people involved other than that those people should create the type of story they want for their viewers because they believe those are what attracts their viewers. And more viewers means more ad sales and more profits, while suiting their purposes.

Stewart is a critic, but he is also an artist. Artists tend not to focus on their wallets as much as the significance of their views of society, and how it ought to function. Thus, explaining Stewart's comments on Crossfire where he begs with the pundits to help the people instead of the corporations and politicians.

Whether Stewart's interpretation is correct or not, he clearly has indicated that he feels a responsibility to fight "for the people" against the politicians and the corporations in that appearance. He views himself as one who can see through the things others can't see through, as well as being able to present it to the people in a way that makes the problems apparent to them.

The primary question isn't about whether or not Stewart and Colbert take themselves seriously, or are trying to be serious with a point; all comedians have a serious point.

The primary question is: will their audience get the point, act on the point, create the right changes, and create those changes in time to have the desired impact before it is too late.

The focus isn't right versus left. The focus is on the process: How can the people make informed and intelligent decisions in the democratic process if they are never given the relevant information about the people and the issues they are voting on?

Stewart and Colbert seek to show the people the smoke screen, not to decide the policies. And that is their role as critics.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Will The Tea Party Splinter; Are Americans Battling Depression; and How Important is Pre-Natal Life?

Sunday Review:

* Republican Senator John Thune spoke about the possibility of the Tea Party splintering off of the GOP on Sunday. That isn't a very good sign for the GOP considering the Tea Party is simply the invigoration of a group of Republicans that show up periodically throughout US history. It sets up the possibility of what has happened in Kansas, where the differences in the GOP split the party so badly that a Democrat was elected Governor twice, while being in a party that was dramatically smaller than the other.

Given the disjointed nature of the Tea Party platform, such a split may well be coming regardless of what the GOP does. The party itself is a paradox in its interest groups and their values. It can only be a matter of time before such a split happens.

* Who would have thought that one in ten Americans is battling depression? I have to admit, I didn't expect the number to be that high, but I also realize a lot of depression goes undiagnosed. One has to wonder what the cause of the depression rates might be. It is plausible that the economy and unemployment rate has a lot to do with it, since they are at comparable levels.

There could be various other causes too, from the stress of the political election season, to the decline of real wages, to marital problems, and more. It may point to a niche market exploding for motivational speakers and life coaches though.

* The debate of how we grow up has largely focused on the nature versus nurture debate, but new research is indicating that the pre-natal period may be just as important. Research is finding that the cycle of poverty may start before birth for many people, as well as that sweet tooth you may have. The research is still in its infancy, but if you are considering having a child, as my wife and I are, pre-natal health may be just as important as everything you do after birth.

Things to work on include managing stress, avoiding toxins, and having a healthy diet. There are many things that are important, and using the internet and the information available today to find out what one should do before having a baby is a parental responsibility. We owe it to our children just as much as health care or a college education.

Moving Beyond Political Blame: Honest Viewing of The Debt

Candy Crowley's State of the Union interviewed Republican Ed Gillespie where he indicated that President Obama had significantly raised the deficit far worse than President Bush. This is not a new claim, but one that the Right has perpetuated on talk radio, on social media, on blogs, on Fox, and so on. Even Politifact can't seem to get it right, as they evaluated a Dick Durbin statement in June:
For those keeping track, the debt estimate for the end of 2010 -- two years into Obama's term -- is $13.787 trillion. That's a 38 percent increase over two years. Looked at another way, the debt under Bush went up $4.357 trillion over eight years, while it has gone up under Obama by $3.801 trillion in two years.
However, they seem to have changed their evaluation in August, when evaluating a Chip Rogers claim:
Third is that it's not fair to blame Obama for budgets that he didn't control, Riedl said. The 2009 budget went into effect Oct. 1, 2008, almost four months before Obama took office.
By Riedl's reckoning, for 2009, you can hold Obama responsible for discretionary spending he signed off on after he took office, plus the $220 billion of the stimulus package spent that year. You can also pin the debt for fiscal year 2010 on him as well.

This comes to about $2.1 trillion,...

The easiest way to explain this is as follows:

The federal budget does not start in January. It starts on October 1. That means the budget ends on September 30.

When a President takes office, he has eight months to work with Congress to get a budget passed. When President Obama took office, the spending going on was from President Bush's budget. On October 1, 2009, President Obama's first budget took effect. Given that the budget was passed in 2008, it is impossible to blame President Obama for the budget ending in 2009.

In fairness, sometimes, emergency spending measures are passed that impact the immediate budget. In 2009, the Stimulus Bill had some tax measures that did affect the 2009 budget, estimated to cost about $220 billion. However, most of the stimulus bill took effect in 2010.

To assign credit/blame, let's look at the budget numbers.

When President Bush's first budget was passed in 2001, the debt was: $5,807,463,412,200.06.

When President Bush's last budget ended, the debt in 2009 was: $11,909,829,003,511.75.

About $220 billion of the 2009 deficit belonged to President Obama, so to be fair, we will take it out to make the number $11,689,829,003,511.75.

We are not counting the 2001 tax cuts that took effect in 2001 and applied to the Clinton budget because we don't have a good value for that. So President Bush gets a favorable accounting for his debt evaluation.

Thus, President Bush's credit/blame for the debt over 8 years is valued at $5,882,365,591,311.69 or an increase of 101.28% over what he inherited.

It is time that we move past the ignorance of "on my watch" blaming and credit for actions when many of the actions were put in place prior to someone taking office, or happened with no relation to the person in office.

Until we get a better understanding of our world, we will continue to credit and blame politicians for things totally unrelated to them. We will also continue to insist that government is responsible for the consequences in our world, even when they had nothing to do with it or should have nothing to do with it. We need to look at what is really going on, seek to understand it realistically not ideologically, and move towards individual action first.

In some cases, political action needs to happen. But too often, we get so caught up in assigning blame, we don't even seek to find out why something really happened. The recession didn't happen because of political actions of the GOP or the DNC, but because of basic demographics. Yet, both sought blame very quickly. We must move past that.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Glenn Beck: Why does anyone find him credible?

On the occasion I catch Glenn Beck's show, I often wonder to myself, "why would anyone find this guy credible?" I still wonder, but I have a feeling it has to do with his saying what they want to hear, more than actually being accurate. That's one of the fundamental problems: People, too often, look for what they want to hear instead of trying to figure out what is true.

Given the amount of credibility that Republicans give to Glenn Beck, I wondered what politifact thought of his statements. I have seen politifact quoted by both conservatives and liberals as being a good fact checking source. I occasionally question some of their statements, but as a baseline, they are relatively accurate. Here is their history on rating Glenn Beck's statements:

As you can see from the running tally in his PolitiFact file, we've rated 17 statements by the Fox News talk show host. It's fair to say that record skews toward the False end of the Truth-O-Meter.

His record (as of Aug. 27, 2010):

True 1
Mostly True 1
Half True 3
Barely True 4
False 5
Pants on Fire 3

Beck earned a True for his claim about the life expectancy of men and women when Social Security was created (he was trying to make the point that the program was not meant to benefit as many people as it does today) and a Mostly True for his claim about public support for the Arizona immigration law.

They continue:
He's earned more False ratings than any other.

He's earned them for his claim that union president Andy Stern was the most frequent White House visitor; that less than 10 percent of Obama's cabinet has private sector experience; that Mitt Romney's health care plan was bankrupting the state of Massachusetts; that 45 percent of doctors said they would quit if health care reform passes; and that the United States is the only nation with birthright citizenship.

We define Pants on Fire as a statement that is ridiculously false. Beck earned one for his claim that John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, "has proposed forcing abortions and putting sterilants in the drinking water to control population."

Beck also earned a Pants on Fire for his claim that the health care reform bill provided health insurance for dogs.

Today, Beck earned his third for comments he made about the Restoring Honor rally. He claimed that the government was trying to close the Lincoln Memorial for similar rallies in the future, implying that the government was trying to silence his political speech. We found no evidence to support that. Pants on Fire.

Why in the world would anyone believe this guy?

Ron Paul tells Tea Party they are being "taken for a ride"

In private conversations and even some debates on John Cornyn's Facebook page, I have mentioned that the Tea Party won't ever create the change they want working within the Republican or Democratic Party. It appears I am not alone.

Ron Paul wrote that the Tea Party is being "taken for a ride" by the Right by the likes of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck.

Paul is correct in his statements that we can't possibly deal with real deficit reduction with 700 military bases in over 120 nations around the world; we can't possibly deal with the deficit while fighting wars overseas that we haven't paid for; we can't possibly deal with deficits while paying for urban projects that belong to local governments to build on the federal budget.

However, Paul doesn't go far enough in his explanation. The GOP, which is where most of the Tea Party resides, has been a party of small government talk for the last forty years, but hasn't done anything to actually cut the budget or reduce deficits at all. The best they can do is lay claim to racing Bill Clinton in the 90s for deficit reduction, but that credit really belongs to Ross Perot for scaring both parties into reducing the deficit. Even in that case, they didn't shrink spending, they raised revenues with a tax increase and slowed the growth of spending.

To think the Republican Party has any hope of shrinking spending is a joke. Listen to the candidates. Not one is running on cutting spending enough to put even a small dent in the deficit, and they aren't willing to raise taxes. Until they are ready to list hundreds of billions of spending cuts in annual spending, not some 10 year projection, they can't possibly be taken seriously for the goals of the Tea Party.

And Ron Paul knows it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Can Conservatives Self-Reflect?

I was posting on a forum when someone made an observation: They noticed that for examples of racism, examples of hatred, examples of poor behavior, that no "Republicans" could admit the problem, none could apologize for it, none could even talk about it. They simply attacked. It caused me to think about it and write the following. This is my commentary on discussion with conservatives (of course not all, but many) on public forums, and in several cases, in the media and public sphere.

This is nothing more than my observation. It is not scholarly. It is not researched. It is simply my observation from interacting with conservatives as both a libertarian, and a pragmatic voting Democrat at different times over the last decade and a half. Tell me what you think. Does it reflect your experience?

It says they don't self-reflect. They don't care about what they do, as long as they can focus on hating you.

It says they don't think about their impact on the world. All they care about is their daily life. It is all many of us care about, but they don't even glance up to think about things beyond their immediate time and space.

It is a game. To far too many, it is not real. They post, but don't think of their impact other than to say "I win" or "my side won an election." They make up things that are beyond any sort of rational understanding. Heck, back in the day, they called Clinton a communist when he was anything but. It is a broken record repeating itself over and over and over. It is a game, like a 5 year old with his hands on his ears shouting "I can't hear you if you're talking, I can't hear you if you're talking,...".

Notice them. Watch them. My money says their response to this will not be to answer the claims but rather it will be to attack me. That's the strategy. It goes back to the first thing, if they have to answer something, if they have to defend something, if they have to face it, if they have to recognize it, if they have to think about it... it might all fall apart.

Truth be told, the GOP is a group of people that are philosophically contradictory at their foundations... Neocons are about elite empowerment and manipulation of the masses, Christian Cons would love a theocracy as long as it was their Christianity, Paleocons are fundamentally about liberty and limits of govt, and moderates are about some combination of the above but put into a more pragmatic framework. At their foundations, they contradict... govt religion and limited govt can't co-exist, just as govt manipulation of the masses can't co-exist with liberty and justice... it is how Kansas got a 2 term Democrat governor.

They can't reflect. If they did... what explosion might result?

Their only uniting theme is hating a common enemy. The enemy of mine enemy is my friend. That is why they cannot self-reflect. That is why they can only attack.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Diet Breakfasts Just Suck: Can't we do better?

This week, my doctor informed me that my cholesterol levels were too high, and so it was time to make some changes. Like most Americans, I have a few pounds to lose so I figure it is a good time to change the type of foods I eat and exercise. The exercise part is pretty easy for me, I have exercised a lot at various points in my life. But the eating part... that is a different story.

I do like to cook and have lots of recipes. I understand a lot about diet too. So I realize I need a good meal to start the day, and lighter meals to end the day. I realize bacon and eggs just isn't going to cut it. So what's the answer?

I go to various websites from weightwatchers to food network to and the result is the same: snack food for breakfast.

I am sorry, but the more I read, the more I got this "have a smoothie and wheat toast" and it made me wonder what they were thinking. All of the breakfast foods were light, but nothing seemed to indicate an understanding of how humans eat. When we are trying to diet, we are looking for things that make us feel full. I don't know about you, but a smoothie doesn't keep me full for very long, and toast... pullleeeeze.

One diet plan said to eat a breakfast bar. Have you ever just eaten one breakfast bar? They may have the calories but I am starving within 20 minutes after one. They would have been better off saying "eat an apple an hour."

We may have to re-define breakfast to get something substantial in our stomach for a diet. After all, some diet advice says eat your biggest meals in the morning and for lunch, and go light in the evening. It seems to make sense to me that way the food is burned off instead of stored. The question is how to do it while keeping the cholesterol down.

At this point, the smoothie might be nice on the way to work after eating lemon pepper salmon with rice for breakfast, but that won't last for long. I need some variety. And yes, dinner is a light mango salsa tilapia fillet with 1/3 cup of rice, and watermelon for a snack before bed. Heavier early meals, lighter evening meals, and gym time after work. Hope it works.

But for God's sake, would someone put some thought into a decent breakfast menu that isn't ultra-vegetarian or too light for a normal person? Don't make me return to those high cholesterol and fatty breakfast sandwiches.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Home Energy Efficiency Going Off Grid: What Took So Long?

Over a decade ago, someone engaged me in a discussion about alternative energies and their potential. They insisted that we would build massive power plants for solar and wind power. I insisted, that was such a waste and missed the point of alternative energy. He looked puzzled. I told him the power of alternative energy isn't within the traditional grid systems, but rather through microgeneration.

Today, 750,000 have taken this to heart, taking themselves off the grid for their power to create a more sustainable lifestyle. Contrary to the anti-environmental right of the political spectrum, this doesn't mean giving up modern conveniences.

Of those 750,000 people, the stories (linked above) include things like powering hot tubs, charging cellphones, and watching big screen televisions... all off grid. Alternative energies and energy efficiency would ultimately fail if it meant we had to give up our lifestyles, but it turns out that in many cases, we can have our cake and eat it too.

In the early part of the 21st century, when California was having blackouts; I was left wondering what is taking so long to shift to microgeneration. It turned out that some cities like San Diego started requiring alternative energy generation on new housing starts. Unfortunately, many areas that are generally Republican controlled have opposed this largely to be a good opposition, but hurting themselves for the sake of saying "NO!"

President Obama sees this potential for a market and has acted on it through the 2009 Stimulus Bill which helps to give tax credits for home improvements for alternative energies. Baby boomers would be smart to take advantage of this opportunity.

The best thing anyone retiring can do is to minimize their bills. Why? Their income will not increase in retirement, and will probably be below their pre-retirement income. We also know that energy costs will increase over time. That is the trend throughout American energy history. To minimize the impact of those increases by investing in alternative power sources on their homes is a smart financial decision.

The question still remains... why is America taking so long to either go off grid or to minimize the impact of power companies on their wallets?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Crisis of Imagination

It is not uncommon to hear the public outcry in response to the automaker bailouts, regardless of where you travel. If one wants to hear it hyped to its potential, one only needs to read a Republican Facebook page or blog. This week, I got to enjoy that conversation about the failings of American automakers on Senator John Cornyn's Facebook page.

The cries about the early reviews of the Volt, an electric car, are mixed. Some have said it is a poor car, others have said it is a good car. Compared to other electric cars, it is priced rather high. The right wing echo chamber has made a point of shouting them as loud as they can to indicate that somehow President Obama is responsible for the micromanaging policies of the automakers. I think this focus has missed the point.

This is the second generation of electric with the first generation ending up in a California desert dust heap. Too often, we fail to understand the first generation of anything. We get caught up in its failure or its possibilities depending on our views of the product ideas, and we attack or boast about it regardless of its own merits.

I remember being told how great the video disk would be for our future. As a teenager, one of my friend's parents had one. The quality was better, but when I looked for one myself, the price was huge. We now know that was the precursor to the DVD and what comes next.

Upon discussing this topic, my father reminds me of the early days of the computer when hard drives were not talked about in terrabytes or gigabytes but rather kilobytes. By today's standards, it wouldn't hold even one picture off my cellphone. A crisis of imagination.

The talk is of its battery shortcomings or of its only 40 mile range before it shifts to being gas powered, or the electricity fueling it coming from coal power plants which doesn't save the environment at all. The talk ignores the breakthroughs coming in battery technology or nanotechnology to miniaturize the battery that is strong enough to power a submarine for a time; or the way technology has always been expensive early until the profits of the extravagant consumers bring down the prices for everyone and fuel further development. A crisis of the imagination.

American automakers have failed America for quite some time. They have tried to stifle innovation resting on their history. We saw President Bush give them $1 billion in funds for researching hydrogen powered cars a year after Japan had been selling them in Japan. Today, one can read all the problems of American hydrogen technology that makes it a decade away as a real possibility, but Japan is already exporting them to Canada and a few in California, and European automakers have found the answers. A crisis of imagination.

There are plenty of questions left on what the future of our automakers will be, but until they address the crisis of imagination, they will continue to fall behind the world. Yes, they will find ways to sell cars and survive but America, the nation that invented the automobile, will no longer lead that field. Maybe the next place for them to think ahead is to ask, if we can put a film on high rise building windows that looks like a window tinting, but acts like a massive solar panel to generate power; why can't we help to power a car with a solar film on our cars? Sure, it won't fuel it alone, but maybe it helps to charge the battery while we are parked at work. A crisis of imagination.

We seem to have a great imagination to start things, but we fall behind because we get stuck in what is, and we don't push what can be. While we marvel at the iPhone, Asia has cellphones that make ours look like child toys. To lead the world for the next century, we will have to move beyond our self-imposed limitations, we will have to move beyond our fear of having to learn new things, we will have to move beyond our "I like it the way it is" mentality. We will have to move beyond our crisis of imagination.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Helen Thomas Resignation and What it Tells us about Ourselves

Helen Thomas, the dean of White House reporters, has resigned amid controversy over her statements about Israel. Thomas has been covering the White House for fifty years. CNN reported the comments like this:

Thomas, who is of Lebanese descent, made the comments to Rabbi David Nesenoff of, who told CNN his hand-held camera was in plain sight on May 27 when he asked her for "Any comments on Israel?"

"Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine," she responded.

"Any better comments on Israel?" Nesenoff asked.

Thomas replied, "Remember, these people are occupied and it's their land, it's not German. It's not Poland."

Nesenoff asked where the Jews should go, and Thomas responded, "They should go home," which the White House reporter identified as "Poland, Germany ... and America and everywhere else."

Thomas has had a long and storied career which has now come to an end at the age of 89. However, the situation should give us some pause and highlight some things we might want to think about. Before I start, this is not intended to be a defense of her remarks, but rather an understanding of some things they bring to light in our society.

First, we should remember that Thomas' statements are not factually inaccurate. The lands owned by Israel currently were taken over from Palestine through terrorism and civil conflict. Yes, the conflict has dated back for millenia, but the current conflict is over Israel taking this land and the fight for control of religious sites that both religions find meaning in.

Before you have some knee-jerk reaction, this is how many states are formed. Israel's efforts are not that unusual in terms of history. I have always wondered why people have to believe in some fairytale about the origins of their nation instead of dealing with the truth. I guess it has something to do with their roles in the narratives of good versus evil.

Killing a bunch of people to take over a nation probably doesn't make one feel very "good" when told without the spin of "rising up" or "manifest destiny." Such is the problem when dealing with feelings versus the reality of situations. After all, we celebrate Columbus Day in America, when Columbus was a pretty brutal guy, and the Spaniards were pretty brutal compared to many civilizations.

That history does not undermine the great things that America has done, the greatness of the Hispanic and Latin cultures throughout the Americas and their influence around the world, it simply explains some of our origins.

In the case of Thomas and Israel, it does something else: It exposes a real thread throughout America in regards to the state of Israel. Whether it is World War II guilt, the number of people of Jewish origins in America, or some other factor; in America, it is almost impossible to make an honest and fair assessment of Israel without getting attacked.

Books about Israel or the Israeli lobby in America have been attacked and shunned. Articles and authors who speak critically of Israel, whether right or wrong, have been painted with a broad stroke of "anti-Semite," whether it applied or not. Don't get me wrong, there are some people who are real anti-Semites, just as there are people who are true racists. However, the parallel of overuse of the terms racist and anti-Semites is probably more true than either group would like to admit.

Thomas was Lebanese born, and as a result, she would potentially have strong anti-Israeli feelings. That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone anymore than an Israeli born person might have anti-Palestinian or anti-Muslim feelings.

In her case, it was not something that was said in her writings and no one has found anything anti-Semitic in her work. I guess that begs a third point: Do people with strong feelings deserve to have a job? Especially if they do it well enough to be thought as highly of as Thomas was for so long?

Conservatives really have a bad taste in their mouths from Thomas' remarks and dealings with President G.W. Bush; and her harsh questioning of President Obama recently over the Iraq war probably didn't give anyone an incentive to step up for her.

Isn't that what a White House reporter is supposed to do? Shouldn't they put the President's feet to the fire for the people a little? In today's age where reporters look to make politicians look good in trade for perceived access, Thomas' "toughness" was a breathe of fresh air.

In an age where partisanship rules the day of pundit journalism, Thomas held both a Democrat and a Republican's feet to the fire over key issues like going to war. That isn't to say Thomas didn't have opinions because reporters are human and have them too. But she wasn't attacking to score political points, she wasn't sucking up to get an interview with the President, and she actually had built up sources to issues outside the "staged" insider "leaks" that most live on today.

Helen Thomas was no saint, but she was no devil either. What she will be is missed, most by those who don't even realize her impact, though her impact probably impacted them most. She was old school. In the end, that may have been what got her pushed out the door.

It should leave us with pause and questions about how we look at history (as Texas tries to re-write history to make it sound "better" and add a partisan spin to it), how we look at our politicians (as we hold up icons like Sarah Palin who is more dog and pony show than substance), and how we look at our assumptions about the world around us (as we refuse to allow questions of our actions, of Israel's actions, and we ignore serious discussion of our assumptions of good and bad).

People like Helen Thomas will be missed because they weren't afraid to ask those questions and to search for those answers. Thank you for fifty good years Helen Thomas, you will be missed.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

FREE Three Step Plan to Becoming a "Good Cook"

I spent today experimenting in the kitchen for my wife to see if I could create buffalo wings that she likes. She has found that she likes buffalo wings from Wing Pit, but at close to $7 for ten split wings, it starts to add up. So I wanted to create wings at home where she can get 30 split wings or so for the same $7. After experimenting, we found success.

This isn't the first time we have done this. Usually, when I tell friends about it, they respond with some platitude of "I wish I could do that" or "you are really a talented cook." And while I have to admit the platitudes do make my ego feel good, the reality is I am no great cook. I am not someone who belongs in a culinary arts school or at some fancy restaurant or on Iron Chef.

The biggest difference between me and those people is my willingness to try to find a way to cook what I want to save money. Face it, I am cheap. Fortunately, so is my wife. But it brings me to the point where I want to share my "secret" for being a "good cook" in the eyes of all your friends. And yes, my friends generally think I am a very good cook. So I will share my secret three step plan that made me a good cook.

First, you have to have an idea of what you want to cook. So either you pick something you want to cook, you watch the Food Network for ideas, or you go to the Food Network Website.

Second, go to the Food Network Website and search the recipes for what you want to cook. Read the reviews on the recipes and pick one.

Third, follow the directions and cook the recipe until you get it right. Once you master the recipe, you can tweak it to the taste you are cooking for.

That's it. That is my secret to being a "good cook." You would be shocked at how many people tell me how good a cook I am, and no, the Food Network isn't paying me.

I have used similar approaches to learning how to cook Filipino food, though on other websites of Filipinas sharing their recipes. Sure, cooking is an art for the masters, but for most of the rest of us, it still isn't rocket science to be good, though we may never be a master.

In today's online reality, it isn't hard to become good at a lot of things if you know where to look, if you can follow directions, and if you have the will to try.

Good luck and enjoy the compliments at the next party you cook for.

Interracial Marriages on the Rise: Racism on the Decline?

I have always wondered why interracial dating was such an issue for people. Of all the things that make up a person in this world, race just seemed rather superficial. I remember walking with a friend in 1990 who had moved to California from Houston. He noticed an interracial couple from across the street and said to me, "ya'll allow that here?"

I was thrown back by the question. It never even occurred to me that I would care about an interracial couple, especially if it did not include me. Why would I care what two other people do, as long as they are consenting adults, in terms of their dating? At that point in my life, I had dated a couple of Hispanic females, a Black female, and a couple of Asian females, so I really didn't get why it would be an issue at all.

Today, I am happily married to a wonderful Filipino woman, and the interracial nature of our marriage does lead to some interesting moments, but it also broadens us both. Apparently, we aren't alone in those thoughts. CNN reported that the Pew Center did a study that found interracial marriages are at an all time high (for as long as they have tracked it).

Of course, there are regional and educational differences that aren't surprising. If you live in the Midwest or the South, you are less likely to interracially marry. If you have a college education, you are more likely to interracially marry than someone who doesn't have one. And each of those makes sense, especially when you see where the internet becomes pervasive in life (more educated, more economically prosperous communities).

The Pew study pointed to the internet as one possible explanation because it allows you to get to know someone, many times before you even know their racial background. With more and more people meeting on the internet and building relationships there, they may find their interests match up before they even realize the race.

The 21st century is finding technology is allowing us to broaden what we are exposed to in terms of culture and race in ways that we have never been exposed before. We can walk right into another racial or cultural area without feeling the physical threats we might have felt fifty years ago, and it is exposing how silly some of our old attitudes were.

The result may be the end to much of racism (though it may take time and may never completely be ended) because the only solution to racism may be upon us: Interracial reproduction. As we go through generations of interracial reproduction, someday we may not be able to tell what race someone is because they are heavily mixed. Imagine the day when race becomes irrelevant.

Sure, we will probably find other ways to become biased through different ways to evaluate status or create hierarchies, but at least one may well be on its way out. It is about time.

Conservatives Up in Arms over Google's Slight of D-Day

Apparently, Google has sparked a crisis among Conservatives. They weren't in crisis about the Gulf disaster which cost jobs, food, billions of dollars, and environmental damage. They weren't in crisis over the deficits, the massive government spending, or the state of the economy. They are in crisis about... Google's failure to mention D-Day today.

Last year on June 6th Google celebrated the 25th birthday of Tetris:

On June 6th the year before that, Google recognized the birthday of Spanish painter Diego Velasquez:

But today, June 6, 2010… nothing:

Google is purposefully ignoring a big event, aren’t they? Don’t they know that this is the 77th anniversary of the opening of the first drive-in movie theater? For shame.


Today of course is the 66th anniversary of the D-Day landings, and we don’t need Google to salute all those who helped liberate Europe and keep the Nazis from their goal of global domination. The fight for freedom is ongoing, and we must never waiver so that the sacrifices of these heroes will never have been in vain.

Clearly, it was an obvious attempt by Google to slight the memory of veterans, right? After all, as they wrote, the Great Reagan spoke on this day:

Many websites and blogs you might look at today that mention D-Day will post Ronald Reagan’s 40th anniversary speech in Normandy, and in the spirit of conformity, I’m going to do the same. It was a great speech and from the heart and not the prompter:

Let's nevermind that Reagan used NOTES instead of a teleprompter many times because he had been giving speeches for a living for GE (omg, a professional speaker, but he can't fake it, right?), and they didn't have teleprompters in those days. So like many of us as we get older, we stick to the technology we are most comfortable with. For Reagan, that was note cards. Check the Reagan Library, there are lots of "note cards" from his speeches there.

Back to the point, apparently any company that doesn't tell you that today is D-Day must be unpatriotic and deliberately trying to slight our veterans (Today is D-Day, just to get in my obligatory mention of it so conservatives don't get upset with me).

Could it be that D-Day is not an actual holiday so it didn't get focus, AND that Google's point was to help people learn something they didn't already know?

Now, Conservatives could tell us one of two things: First, that people don't know about D-Day, and thus, this isn't a big deal and they are making much-to-do about nothing; or second, the people generally know about D-Day, thus it wouldn't fit the criteria that Google was using for being put up on its page.

After all, does anyone think Google was marking this day with the 25th birthday of Tetris because its purpose was to announce something everyone already knew?

Government's Role with "New Media": How about Net Neutrality?

I was skimming the media today, going through one of my favorite news sources, the Christian Science Monitor (@CSMNational on Twitter), when I stumbled upon this headline: "As 'new media' proliferate, does government have a role?"

I have to admit, I found myself wondering why anyone would ask this question. I realize the article says the FTC is looking at "information gathering" about what it could do to "help" new emerging medias, but really, what role does the FTC really have in media?

Now that we have eliminated the "fairness doctrine" for public radio waves, it isn't like anyone is focused on the role of journalism in society. Journalists are all but extinct. They have been replaced by i-reporters, pundits, Twitter, blogs, moderators, show producers, etc., all seeking ratings.

By the way, I have to admit this quote in the article made me laugh:
Adds Villanova University media expert, Leonard Shyles, “I’m not interested in having a state board decide who’s accurate. Let the marketplace decide, because I’m going to believe Joe Schmoe after I corroborate his story thru the mosaic of stories that are out there on the Internet now, not because a government agency says I should.”

I am not really sure that anyone really cares about what is accurate. Fox gets its ratings not for accuracy, but for conservativism. MSNBC takes a similar approach only to the left generally. CNN gets its ratings from creating drama and clash, not from accuracy. Let's face it, if we cared about accuracy, pundit journalism wouldn't rule the day. Having a person from the left and the right to define issues wouldn't be how we focused on reporting.

So to say the marketplace will determine journalism... that's just ignoring reality. The marketplace pays the most outspoken pundits the best, not the best journalists.

Maybe the answer is journalism is dead, for now. And what can government do for blogs? They really can't turn America into China, limiting content. Maybe the answer for government is ending Net Neutrality, that way Internet Corporations can insist that we pay to get on their network, and then charge people to get to us so they can get paid on both ends.

Instead of government controlling the "new media," it may well be corporations controlling them even more than they do today. How is that for one reason to support Net Neutrality?

National Director of Intelligence Appointed, Reaction: Do we NEED 16 Intelligence Agencies?

In my efforts to keep up with politics, I noticed the President announced his new Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper Jr. Some lawmakers seem to like him, others don't... but that isn't what struck me. Read the first part of the statement from the White House:

Today, I am proud to announce my choice for the next Director of National Intelligence —- James Clapper. With four decades of service to America, Jim is one of our nation’s most experienced and most respected intelligence professionals.

As Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, he has successfully overseen the military and civilian intelligence personnel and budgets that make up the bulk of our 16-agency intelligence community. He’s improved information sharing, increased intelligence support to our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, upheld civil liberties, and he played a key role in our effort to update and reorient our intelligence community to meet the threats of our time.

What strikes you when you read it? What strikes me is "our 16-agency intelligence community." Seriously. This guy was appointed as part of the new position created in the Bush Administration (Thank God they didn't call it a Czar or the right would have gone nuts with the title) "five years ago in response to the intelligence failings leading up to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when the aim was to coordinate often fractious agencies, including the CIA and the White House office of counterterrorism."

It would seem a smart move to have someone to coordinate the information from "our 16-agency intelligence community" but maybe someone should have asked a more obvious question: Why do we need 16 agencies in our intelligence community?

I realize the world is a large place. I realize we use a lot of different means of intelligence. I realize it might be nice to have a back up in case one agency fails. But do we really need 16? Maybe THAT was one of the problems leading up to 9/11 with intelligence confusion... TOO MANY AGENCIES!

Maybe I am overreacting, but if you wonder why our federal budget is so huge... sure, Social Security is big; sure Medicare is big; but it could also be partially due to such amazing redundancy and overreaction to things that we create 16 intelligence agencies to do the job that could be done by 1/4 that number if not 1/8 that number.

How about this: Foreign Intelligence, Domestic Intelligence, Space Intelligence, and Military Intelligence. Do we really need more than those four?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Filming Police Abuse: A Crime or an Obligation?

Three states have made it illegal to film a police officer, and more appear to be starting to follow suit:
In response to a flood of Facebook and YouTube videos that depict police abuse, a new trend in law enforcement is gaining popularity. In at least three states, it is now illegal to record any on-duty police officer.

Even if the encounter involves you and may be necessary to your defense, and even if the recording is on a public street where no expectation of privacy exists.

The legal justification for arresting the "shooter" rests on existing wiretapping or eavesdropping laws, with statutes against obstructing law enforcement sometimes cited. Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland are among the 12 states in which all parties must consent for a recording to be legal unless, as with TV news crews, it is obvious to all that recording is underway. Since the police do not consent, the camera-wielder can be arrested. Most all-party-consent states also include an exception for recording in public places where "no expectation of privacy exists" (Illinois does not) but in practice this exception is not being recognized.

While there are exceptions to the law, they are not being used in practice. Some of these may risk the public safety in various ways.

First, the denial of the ability to mount a defense by denying someone the ability to videotape their defense may well lead to the release of actual criminals who pose a threat to the public by simply creating the loophole. Constitutional rights trump people's desire not to be videotaped in a public place.

Second, given the times that abuse of people have been caught on videotape leading to the prosecution of police, and the deterrent for abuse that it creates, these "protections" for police officers may well give police officers greater license to use force. Especially given the presumption of innocence juries seem to carry for police, and the presumption of guilt juries seem to carry for the accused.

The idea that people cannot record and preserve evidence of a potential crime being committed in a public place ought to outrage both liberals wanting to protect civil liberties and conservatives wanting to protect freedoms of individuals against overbearing governments. The question is, why aren't these politicians living up to their core political beliefs?